Hyperbolic criticism of Ardern ignores cost of political work

Sam Sachdeva
Wellington, September 5, 2018
Pearl clutching about politicians gallivanting around home and abroad on the taxpayer purse makes for easy headlines.
But we should not fixate on dollars and cents at the expense of the work our MPs are elected to do.
Should politicians use taxpayer money to do their jobs?

Jacinda Ardern’s decision to fly to Nauru late for the Pacific Islands Forum has led to criticism from some – but it’s simply the cost of balancing parenthood and politics.
(Photo by Sam Sachdeva)
Stupid Scandal
It seems a question with an obvious answer, but evidently not judging by some of the hyperbolic criticism of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s trip to the Pacific Islands Forum.
The “scandal,” stupid as it is, centres on Ardern’s decision to fly to Nauru later than the rest of the delegation, meaning the RNZAF 757 has to return to New Zealand to pick her up.
According to her critics, this has led to an unacceptable cost to the taxpayer of about $80,000.
Unique Circumstances
As Ardern has noted, this situation is the result of a unique set of circumstances.
Her daughter Neve is too young to receive the vaccinations necessary for a trip to Nauru, and too young to be separated from Ardern for the full length of the forum.
Should the Prime Minister simply have skipped the event and left the diplomatic legwork to Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters?
That would have been dangerous in a normal year, given New Zealand prime ministers’ history of attendance for decades.
Government’s Pacific Reset
Coming the same year as her Government’s “Pacific Reset” – complete with promises of increased engagement with the region’s politicians – and a defence policy statement outlining the increased battle for influence in the Pacific, a no-show was simply untenable.
That is not even taking into account that Ardern deserves the same support that any new mother should receive from their employer.
She has already come back to work much sooner than most mothers would, in large part due to public and political pressure.
Balancing parenthood and politics
If there is some extra cost to balancing parenthood and politics, it is worth paying if we are to set an example for what should be possible in New Zealand society.
Risible suggestions that Ardern’s baby is “interfering” with her job are barely worth addressing, other than to say that the sooner those sorts of beliefs disappear the better.
Bridges’ travel costs
National leader Simon Bridges wisely refrained from going on the attack, saying it was up to the public to judge whether the flight was a good decision.
That is understandable given his own ‘scandal that was not,’ over the cost of transport and accommodation during his three-month tour of the regions.
The dramatic escalation of the hunt for the leaker has overshadowed the initial story, which is unsurprising given there wasn’t that much to see.
Yes, it was a relatively high figure, but one incurred for legitimate work as an MP.
There was no suggestion Bridges had been taking his Crown car on personal joy rides, and we should be encouraging politicians to (within reason) leave the Beehive beltway to hear from ordinary New Zealanders.
Easy as it is for the public and media to beat up on politicians as troughers, working ourselves into a fit of frenzy over every dollar figure is excessive.
Should we be paying for MPs to clean their moats, or to watch a blue movie? Of course not.
But they do need to travel, at home and abroad, for their work, and that comes at a cost.
Not a Holiday
Ardern’s trip to Nauru is not a Pacific holiday: she will leave New Zealand at 2 am on Wednesday and return well after midnight the same day.
And Bridges seemed the worse for wear after his long regional tour, battling a sore throat during his final appearances.
It is already a hard job, despite what some armchair commentators think – carping on about the cost of the work we elect them to do just makes it unnecessarily harder.

Sam Sachdeva is Political Editor of Newsroom covering Foreign Affairs, Trade, Defence and Security Issues based in Wellington. The above article and picture which appear in the Web Edition of Newsroom today (September 5, 2018) have been reproduced here under a Special Arrangement.


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