‘A place where good ideas grow and where we are good for the world’
Auckland, August 11, 2020
Standfirst: The following is the full text (with the exclusion of initial greetings) of the Address by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the Tenth Annual Indian Newslink Lecture held at Mahatma Gandhi Centre in Auckland Central on Thursday, Auckland 6, 2020. Our report of the event appears on Page 1 of this issue.
It feels fitting that I join you this evening at the conclusion of the Parliamentary term for this session of Parliament. Yesterday (August 5, 2020), I had the honour of signing papers for the Governor General confirming the dissolution of Parliament.
Last night we completed a couple of critical pieces of legislation, including the Budget, and today we formally held our adjournment debate.
The last few weeks have been full of the usual ceremonies. They include things like final Caucus meetings, valedictory speeches, farewells.
It was a reminder that the time that we spend in Parliament can often seem quite long. And at other times it can feel incredibly short. And at times, I feel I am experiencing both simultaneously.
The early days
And perhaps that is because, my time in politics started well before I became a member of Parliament.
I graduated from Waikato University at the end of 2001 and I spent my last semester at Arizona State University. But before I departed New Zealand for my stint in Phoenix, I remember having a few weeks spare and offered to do some work for then-MP for New Plymouth, Harry Duynhoven.
It just so happened that Harry’s fellow MP and friend was in need of an Electoral Secretary to cover a staff member who was on leave.
That friend was Phil Goff.
Phil will probably barely remember that time but I remember it incredibly well. It was only two short weeks but long enough, that when I graduated I was offered a full time place in Phil’s office as a Researcher.
Phil was the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Justice, and it was the latter on which I primarily worked. And around the time I started at the Office, the Ministry of Justice had completely a fairly hefty, and highly anticipated, piece of research.
I was roped in that week to help with the distribution of the report. “Send the report out to the Government MPs,” I was told. “And when you are done, you can start getting it to Opposition MPs as well.”
I got to work. And studiously got the first tranche dispatched so quickly that I managed to get the report to all members of the House before the close of play.
I remember feeling quietly chuffed when my Line Manager walked in.
“Where are the reports,” he asked.
“Gone,” I replied.
I can still remember his face. It was less the face of someone pleased with their new employee and more the face of someone stifling an anguished scream. What he had not quite explained to me was that this much anticipated and somewhat controversial report was embargoed. And I had not only broken the embargo, I had done so by sending it to every Opposition MP in the New Zealand Parliament.
There was a momentary pause before the horror set in. Then he left the room to go and share the news with my boss, Phil Goff. He was gone for what felt like an eternity. And when he returned, he told me that Phil has requested a cup of tea. That was my cue to face the music. I made that cup of tea like it was my final act of employment. I walked into Phil’s office, sat the tea down and waited for my marching orders. Phil looked up from his desk and he said just eight words: “Hello, Jacinda, I heard about your open democracy.”
He then let out that hearty laugh that only Phil Goff can deliver and I have found that laugh a great relief ever since. I did not lose my job that day. In fact I stayed on for three more years, eventually finishing in Helen Clark’s office.
Background to foreground
I could have easily stayed in roles like that, working behind the scenes. I had a quiet plan to eventually finish up though and join the New Zealand Police, a profession my father had been part of for the better part of, at that time, 30 years. And I thought it would be a good career for me if only I could master the fitness test and press ups required.
But I did not leave. And I did not join the Police. And nor did I stay behind the scenes.
And the reason why is my response to the topic “’My Vision for New Zealand.’ that you put to me tonight.
I ended up in politics and ultimately here before you because I always believed that New Zealand has within it the power and the values to live up to the expectations we already have of ourselves.
The making of a true Kiwi
If you ask anyone, no matter what their background, their age or even the length of the time that they have called themselves a Kiwi, if you ask them what it is that defines this place and us, you will hear some common themes.
We see ourselves as egalitarian. We are fierce defenders of the simple concept of fairness. And perhaps because of that, nothing gets our back up more than injustice. We love our landscapes, our waterways, our environment. We believe in hard work, problem solving. We are both pragmatists and dreamers. We do not believe in things being too hard or impossible. And we instinctively, as isolated island dwellers, we know that what we do impacts on others and that we have a duty of care to one another.
So if you ask me then what my vision is for New Zealand, I will tell you it is to live up to the vision we already have about what we can be. To be egalitarian, to be clean and green, a place where good ideas grow and where we are good for the world. And I actually believe that we have that within our power.
Mahatma Gandhi wisely said, “The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the problems of the world.”
Our strength and potential
That is certainly the case here in New Zealand. We are a wealthy nation, wealthy enough to make sure that every child born in this country has the chance to live up to their potential and to rid ourselves of child poverty. We have the resources and the right decision making and investment to see that everyone has a decent education and access to world class healthcare.
We have the innovators and small business owners that with a mixture of incentives and support can create high wage jobs that our people deserve. We have growers, farmers and manufacturers to maintain our credentials as a trading nation that is good for everyone. We have an environment that, with the right protections, can keep producing the products we pride ourselves on, while still restoring waterways and landscapes that we equally trade on too. We even have the wind, sun and water to support our transition to an economy fuelled by renewable electricity – all of the opportunities that brings in a climate aware world. We have the potential to solve the problems that we have faced for some time and that the world is collectively facing too. And to be all the stronger for it.
And that is what we have set out to do.
Oil and Gas exploration
But not that is always especially easy. I can still remember very early in our term in Government, a phone call I had with Minister Megan Woods. She had to make a pressing decision about what to do about the block offers for oil and gas exploration. It started chain discussions about our future. We knew the consequences of that decision for future generations, for the people of Taranaki, for the workers. It was an example of the calls that had to be made now lest we make it even harder for ourselves down the track.
Now, that decision to end offshore oil and gas exploration, coupled with things like Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) Reform, Zero Carbon Act and our landmark agreement on the primary sector to price emissions in the future, that has made climate change our nuclear free moment.
Challenges amidst uncertainties
But many of New Zealand’s larger challenges will not be changed instantly. Child poverty, even with $5 billion investment and the introduction of new income support and legislation requiring us to account on poverty targets, they will still need our attention and our commitment for years to come.
Which might cause some of you to very clearly ask whether any of these challenges, or even our overarching vision for New Zealand, can really be achieved when we are in a time and place that is so fraught with challenge. Or as I have heard it called much more frequently, these unprecedented times.
My answer to that is, yes. I would argue that maintaining our sights on the New Zealand we believe in and want to build is as important now as it ever was. And while there are of course different magnitudes to the challenges we face as a nation, there are always challenges.
Mycoplasma Bovis eradicated
I recall when we first came into office being faced with a very early but hugely significant problem. Mycoplasma Bovis. The disease has slowly been spreading through New Zealand’s herd but its presence had only been fairly recently discovered.
I still remember receiving advice as a brand new government around the state of this biosecurity disaster. I was told that it had the potential to devastate our dairy industry and the only real way to stop that was to try and eradicate it.
The only catch was, no country that had M bovis show up in their herd had ever managed to eradicate it before. We set about answering the question of what to do. We pulled together a team of experts to give us the best advice possible. But it was still going to have to come down to a judgement call. After working with the industry and those most affected by the decision, we came to a call together. No-one had done it before but that was not a reason not to try. We chose to eradicate and so we rolled out our plan to get rid of Mycoplasma Bovis. And I can tell you that, three years later, we are on track to succeed.
I suspect that perhaps political careers and indeed governments, are often defined not by what they intended to do but what happened along the way to their planned destination.
Regardless, the values we apply should be the same. We did not anticipate bovis, but we knew what was important to us: our brand, our reputation, the long term welfare of our animals. And I believed we could only call something impossible once we had tried it for ourselves.
We did not anticipate March 15 (2019- the Christchurch massacre) but it is the values of kindness and belief in our collective humanity that prevailed.
Health and Economic Crisis
And we could not anticipate Covid but it is once again a moment in time for us to apply the vision for who we are in the face of a 1-in-100 year health and economic crisis.
And I hope that you can see that. I hope you see in our immediate response to Covid, which was to protect our people’s health and wellbeing. It was in our recovery plan and investments in wage support and free training apprenticeships.
I hope you see, as we move to rebuild, the focus, not just on jobs, but in the kind of jobs that support our environment that we are planning for our future. I hope you see, as we support our small business owners with loan schemes, our rebates and research and development support.
At every turn, that in a crisis of lies a chance to emphasise what truly matters to us.
I may not have necessarily planned to be here in this most privileged of roles, but perhaps, just perhaps, that nonlinear path prepared me for the very nonlinear time in this job.
That even if we have a vision for what we can be the true test is our ability to maintain that path no matter what challenges come our way.
I want to thank you for the chance to come here tonight to very briefly reflect on some of the ideas that led me into politics and some of the aspirations that have kept me here.
And while I can, and while I am here, I do want to extend my thanks to each and every one of you who has been part of recent times and a true team effort in the face of so many challenges.
It has been, and will always be, my privilege to govern in these times. My very best wishes to all of you for the remainder of the year ahead.
Jacinda Ardern is Prime Minister of New Zealand and the most admired leader across the world. At the start of her Lecture, she acknowledged the presence of Ethnic Communities, Customs and Building and Construction Minister Jenny Salesa (who was our Master of Ceremonies), Auckland Mayor Phil Goff (who delivered the Welcome Address), India’s High Commissioner to New Zealand Muktesh Pardeshi (our Special Guest), National Party List MP and Finance Spokesperson Paul Goldsmith (who gave his ‘Reflections’ on the Lecture, Barrister & Solicitor Gurbrinder Aulakh (who gave ‘A Point of View’) and former Labour List MP Dr Rajen Prasad (who provided the Concluding Remarks).
She also recognised the presence of Members of Parliament Michael Wood, Priyanca Radhakrishnan (Labour), Kanwaljeet Singh Bakshi and Dr Parmjeet Parmar (National), Police Commissioner Andy Coster, Deputy Police Commissioner Wallace Haumaha, several new candidates contesting in the forthcoming general election (on September 19, 2020), corporate heads, senior officials of the public and private sectors and business leaders.
Pictures for Indian Newslink by Narendra and Sai Bedekar.