Jacinda Ardern on ‘Redefining successful government”

In a speech while in New York Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has outlined what she sees as successful government, as in her lofty agenda.

Redefining successful government

Speech at International Conference on Sustainable Development

I began preparing my comments for today’s event while sitting at my constituency office in Auckland, New Zealand…

You could say the artefacts I sit amongst in that office sum up my life in politics.  It started with my family, has been full of role models and support, but ultimately is motivated by the idea that politics is a place you can address injustice.

I was raised the daughter of a policeman, and was a product of the 1980s where New Zealand went through a rapid period or privatisation and economic liberalisation. We called it Rogernomics after our Finance Minister of the time, in America the same phenomenon was called Reaganonmics, and the impact on working families was similar. Jobs were lost, manufacturing moved off shore, regulations removed and the gap between rich and poor rapidly expanded.

Then came the 1990s. A conservative government in New Zealand introduced reforms that brought user pay to the fore and welfare cuts for the poorest.

I was young when all of this was happening around me, but I still remember it. If it’s possible to build your social conscience when you are a school girl, then that is what happened to me. I never looked at the world through the lens of politics though, but rather through the lens of fairness.

And that sentiment captures one of the most pervasive values that we have in Aotearoa New Zealand. We are proud but also self-deprecating. Dreamers but also pragmatists. And if there is one thing we hate, it is injustice.

These are the values I believe we need to display in our politics. Because politics is increasingly a dirty word, but values are not.

An earnest politician would be hard pressed to argue with goals like halving poverty, preserving the sustainability of our oceans or inclusive education.

And we’ve started by redefining what success looks like.

Traditionally, success or failure in politics has been measured in purely economic terms. Growth, GDP, your trade deficit and the level of debt you carry. On those terms, you would call New Zealand relatively successful. But in the last few years the deficiency of such measures has become stark.

So we are establishing brand new measure of national achievement that go beyond growth.

Like many, New Zealand has not been immune to a period of rapid and transformational change these past few decades. Globalisation has changed the way we operate, but it has also had a material difference on the lives of our citizens.

Not everyone has been well served by those changes, however.

While at a global level economic growth has been unprecedented, the distribution of benefits has been uneven at the level of individuals and communities. In fact for many, the transition our economy made in the wake of globalisation has been jarring,

Now as politicians, we all have choices in how we respond to these challenges.

We’re investing more in research and development so that we improve the productivity of our economy, we’re focusing on shifting away from volume to value in our export, and we are committed to lifting wages.

We are modernising our Reserve Bank so that it works to keep both inflation and keeps unemployment low, and we’re committed to a better balanced and fairer tax system.

But we also need to do better at lifting the incomes of New Zealanders and sharing the gains of economic growth.

We are signing pay equity settlements with new groups of predominantly women workers, taking the pressure off families by extending paid parental leave to half a year, closing the gender pay gap and raising the minimum wage.

When fully rolled out our Families Package – a tax credit policy aimed at low and middle income earners – will lift thousands of children out of poverty.

But economic gains and growth matter for nothing if we sacrifice our environment along the way, or if we fail to prepare for the future. That’s why we are transitioning to a clean, green carbon neutral New Zealand.

But of course, we are nothing without our people. We have set ourselves some big goals, like ensuring that everyone who is able is either earning, learning, caring or volunteering – including making the first year of tertiary study completely free of fees.

We’re supporting healthier, safer and more connected communities, ensuring everyone has a warm, dry home, and last but not least, making New Zealand the best place in the world to be a child.

This agenda is personal to me.

I am the Minister for Child Poverty Reduction.

If I were to sum up our agenda though, it would be simple. I want to demonstrate that politics doesn’t have to be about three or four year cycles. It doesn’t have to be self-interested or have a singular focus.

It can think about long term challenges, and respond to them. It can be designed to think about the impact on others, and show that it’s making a difference. And it can even be kind.

As an international community I am constantly heartened by our ability to take a multilateral approach, to sign up to a set of aspirations that are values based.

But perhaps it’s time to also challenge ourselves to move beyond aspiration to action.

That is what we will be doing in our corner of the world.

And I can assure you we will never, never, never give up.

Highly idealistic. It will be good if some of this can be achieved reasonably well over time.

This is in stark contrast to the succession of problems of competence the government is having to deal with back here while she is away in New York – the realities of politics can be quite different to the lofty speech written rhetoric.

Ardern has already stumbled on her ideal of ‘open transparent government’, this has blown up further in her absence this week.

She has admirable goals, and is adept at talking the talk, but the challenge for her and her government will be walking the walk. They seem to be stumbling somewhat more than she cares to admit.

It will take time to see whether New Zealand will improve noticeably under Ardern’s leadership. If things like inequality, child poverty and climate change are substantially improved she will have done very well, but it will take much more than successful speeches on the world stage.