A Tongan migrant who can empathise with homelessness and a US migrant who wants to create healthier and happier towns and cities are the country’s two new associate health ministers.

Incoming Prime Minister Jacinda Ahern announced today that Manukau East MP Jenny Salesa will become the associate minister of health as well as the country’s first Tongan-born and Tongan-speaking Cabinet minister Also announced as an associate minister of health, but outside of cabinet, is US-born Green Party health spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter. (See Salesa’s and Genter’s full portfolio lists below). 

Salesa, who has degrees in education and law from the University of Auckland, first came to New Zealand when she was 16 to further her education.  Her commitment to warm, dry affordable housing springs from her family’s early experiences of homeless during their first 2-3 years in New Zealand which were spent moving from family to family in South Auckland and living in overcrowded conditions.  She entered parliament in 2014 after more than 20 years’ experience worked as a health and education policy specialist in New Zealand and the US.

“I am immensely proud, as an immigrant and as a Pacific woman, to show that anyone who comes here can dream big and can be successful, through perseverance and hard work, at whatever they set out to do,” said Salesa. “New Zealand was a land of opportunity for me and as a Cabinet Minister I can play a part in ensuring it remains so for everyone who chooses to live here”, she said.

Salesa said she was honoured by her appointment in “this ambitious Labour-led Government, which has the mandate to tackle New Zealand’s housing crisis, the recent years of funding cuts and neglect in health and education and to ensure that economic growth delivers for all Kiwis.”  Salesa, who entered parliament in 2014, said she was looking forward to briefings and then knuckling down to work.

Julie Anne Genter grew up in Los Angeles – where her father was a doctor and her mother a dietitian – and has been the Green’s health spokeperson for just over a year. Speaking to Nursing Review prior to the election about the Green’s health policy – that specifically mentioned free visits for under-18s to nurses as well as doctors – Genter said: “Of course we see nurses as vitally important contributors to health care and they need to be part of our policy solutions.”

She also said pre-election that the Greens wanted a sufficient funding increase to the Health Budget to allow for wage increases to keep pace with the cost of living. Other priorities were a mental health inquiry looking at not only investing more money but also effective early prevention and ensuring staff in acute wards were not overworked and struggling to cope with demand. “A lot of our health initiatives are outside the health portfolio like our transport and housing policies which would go a long way to creating healthier and happier towns, cities and environments.”

The UC Berkeley graduate studied in Paris before coming to New Zealand in 2006 where she gained a Masters of Planning Practice at the University of Auckland and worked as a transport consultant.  She worked as a political and media advisor at Parliament before becoming an MP in 2011.

In June this year Genter’s Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis and Other Matters) member’s bill, which would make it legal for the terminally ill and those suffering a debilitating condition to use cannabis with the support of a doctor, was drawn from the ballot.

MINISTERS of HEALTH

David Clark

Minister of Health

(Also Associate Minister of Finance)

Jenny Salesa

Associate Minister of Health

(Also Minister for Building and Construction, Minister for Ethnic Communities, Associate Minister for Education and Associate Minister of Housing and Urban Development)

(Outside Cabinet)

Julie Anne Genter (Green Party)

Associate Minister of Health

(Also Minister for Women and Associate Minister of Transport)

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