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Q+A: Jacinda Ardern - Sexist comments frustrate me

Q+A: Jacinda Ardern - Sexist comments frustrate me

Labour MP Jacinda Ardern told TV One’s Q+A programme that sexist comments frustrate her.

KATIE But you’ve been called a show pony, a pretty little thing, superficial – you know, a whole lot of names like that. Does it affect you? How do you deal with it?

JACINDA Yeah, it does, actually. It was frustrating. Look, but I always take it in the context in which it’s issued. For instance, you know, Graham Lowe, did he intend to offend me? No. I doubt very much he did. But some of the commentary that occurred afterwards, some of that I found very hard to read. And I do find it frustrating. I got into politics to make a difference, and I want people to scrutinise my ideas, the alternatives I put up, not whether or not my hair means I’m not credible enough to do the job.

Jacinda Ardern also told the programme that she doesn’t want to lead the Labour party.

KATIE There’s a lot of talk in there about you, a lot of people talk about you being a leader of the Labour Party, the next leader of the Labour Party, the next female prime minister. Do you want to be that person?

JACINDA No. No, and I’ve always made that really clear. For some reason, in politics, everyone makes an assumption that if you’re in the game, then you must have an aspiration to be the top dog. That’s never been my aspiration since being in parliament. I’ve always wanted to be a member of a team that has the opportunity to govern and the opportunity potentially to be a minister, but I’ve never felt like I needed to be in that role in order to achieve some of the things that I’d like to achieve in politics.


Q+A, 9-10am Sundays on TV ONE and one hour later on TV ONE plus 1. Repeated Sunday evening at 11:35pm. Streamed live at www.tvnz.co.nz

Thanks to the support from NZ On Air.

Q+A is on Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/NZQandA#!/NZQandA and on Twitter,http://twitter.com/#!/NZQandA

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Q + A

Episode 30

JACINDA ARDERN

Interviewed by KATIE BRADFORD

GREG There's no doubt Jacinda Ardern is a rising star in the Labour caucus.

A recent poll placed her in fourth place as voters' most preferred prime minister behind John Key, Andrew Little and Winston Peters. But when a retired rugby league coach described her as a ‘pretty little thing’ on TV recently, some commentators zeroed in on whether there was substance to her surge in popularity. Katie Bradford sat down with Ms Ardern and asked was she hitting her marks?

JACINDA I’d say that it depends on what your measures of success as an opposition MP would be. Now, some commentators claim that success means collecting political scalps, or bodies, as it were. Now, yes, we need to hold the government to account. That’s why I, for instance, questioned Anne Tolley just this week about child poverty figures. But for me, the measure of success is doing that alongside creating alternative ideas and policies, being ready to govern, making sure that you’re doing your constituency work out in the community, making sure that sector knows who you are and that you understand what their issues are and that you’re advocating for them. So those, for me, are just as important as holding the government to account.

KATIE But are people hearing that? Are people seeing that out there?

JACINDA Well, look, not everyone watches Parliament TV, and I think we’re all realistic enough to know that that won’t be the case. But I think people are also looking for a new way of doing politics. So alongside making sure that we’re getting the ministers on their feet and answering those hard questions, making sure that you’re also trying to be constructive, and that’s a real challenge for an opposition party. That’s why, you know, we do, as a Labour Party, spend a lot of time coming up with those alternative ideas so we are ready to govern. And it does mean it’s a new form of politics, as it were, but I think people appreciate that.

KATIE There’s a lot of talk in there about you, a lot of people talk about you being a leader of the Labour Party, the next leader of the Labour Party, the next female prime minister. Do you want to be that person?

JACINDA No. No, and I’ve always made that really clear. For some reason, in politics, everyone makes an assumption that if you’re in the game, then you must have an aspiration to be the top dog. That’s never been my aspiration since being in parliament. I’ve always wanted to be a member of a team that has the opportunity to govern and the opportunity potentially to be a minister, but I’ve never felt like I needed to be in that role in order to achieve some of the things that I’d like to achieve in politics. So having worked for a year for Helen Clark in a job, I saw what it took to do it, and I absolutely support Andrew Little to do that job as opposed to me.

KATIE But everyone says that. Everyone asked if they want to be the Labour leader, they say, ‘Of course no, I support the current leader.’

JACINDA Yes, but I mean it.

KATIE What makes a difference? You know, why do we hear so much talk of this, then? Why do you think we hear that?

JACINDA I guess you’d have to ask the people that asked the question in the first place. You know, when I say that, you know, I actually say it with a tiny little bit of selfishness. I love the job that I’m privileged enough to do. And the opportunities I have to make change are fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. But I also like the ability to spend a bit of time with my family, with my friends and have just that little bit of balance. You don’t get to do that in some of these roles in politics, so I’m absolutely happy to make the contribution I can make, but hopefully, from government rather than opposition.

KATIE You talked about Helen Clark in there. You know, as a female in politics and as a high-profile female in politics, has she talked to you about that and some of those issues around that?

JACINDA No. I did hear her give a TEDx speech once about preserving a bit of self in some of these roles, which was a fantastic presentation, but there’s a number of women in politics who I have these kinds of conversations with, people like Annette King, even Marian Hobbs – a whole range of people I look to for advice and ideas and support. But I talk as much to those people about policy ideas as I do anything else. But I also talk to my male counterparts about the strains they have on their family lives as well, so yeah, there’s a real sense of collegiality and collaboration. Helen’s a bit too busy to be dishing out advice.

KATIE She didn’t give you anything when you worked for her, though, or when you talked about wanting to come into parliament?

JACINDA I never talked about wanting to come into parliament with Helen, actually. That wasn’t my intention when I worked for her, actually. At the end of that period, I thought, ‘This job is tough.’ I went overseas. I actually left New Zealand and spent three years just getting a bit of experience and having a really fantastic time working in London, working on business issues and working on a review of policing in England and Wales. I had a fantastic experience, actually. The first time then when I was over there, I was asked to run for parliament, I said no. It took a bit of convincing for me.

KATIE Yeah, I mean, and there’s a lot of issues for women in politics, and there’s been a lot of talk lately about this whole sexism issue. Do you find it hard? As a woman in politics, are you a victim of that sexism?

JACINDA Oh, look, I think it absolutely exists. It exists as it exists in business, as it probably exists in journalism – as it exists in a whole range of different places. I think the challenge, though, is to make sure that we confront it where it exists and say, ‘Look, as politicians, we should be held to account, we should be scrutinised, but make sure it’s on the things that matter, rather than on any superficial measure.’ And I’d say that’s all that women ever ask for on any field for it to be a true meritocracy.

KATIE But you’ve been called a show pony, a pretty little thing, superficial – you know, a whole lot of names like that. Does it affect you? How do you deal with it?

JACINDA Yeah, it does, actually. It was frustrating. Look, but I always take it in the context in which it’s issued. For instance, you know, Graham Lowe, did he intend to offend me? No. I doubt very much he did. But some of the commentary that occurred afterwards, some of that I found very hard to read. And I do find it frustrating. I got into politics to make a difference, and I want people to scrutinise my ideas, the alternatives I put up, not whether or not my hair means I’m not credible enough to do the job.

KATIE Yeah, I mean, is that in particular the sort of thing, and do you think that is a genuinely held belief that if you look good, if you dress well, if you do your hair nicely, that means you’re not as serious about politics?

JACINDA I would have hoped to have said in the past that perhaps not, but some of the commentary I saw in the not-too-distant past did make me question whether or not that was front of some people’s minds. And that’s the kind of thing we should absolutely challenge. But one of the reasons I did want to talk about that openly is because I wouldn’t want any young woman out there who’s considering a role in politics to think that this is what anyone confronts every day. They don’t. I don’t. Most of the time, people absolutely give you the ability to put forward ideas and don’t judge you on those superficial things. This is a some-of-the-time issue. So I would hope any young woman out there will not be put off the idea of politics, because it is a place young women can make a fantastic contribution.

KATIE Has it ever made you want to quit or to say to other women, ‘No, don’t, back off, get out of politics’?

JACINDA No. No. No, it’s never been to the point that it would ever make me question doing the job, ever. There’s much bigger things and issues that I find challenging in politics. Those kinds of comments, I never let get to me to the point that I would consider leaving this opportunity.

KATIE You also get criticism for doing soft media, for appearing on Next Magazine’s cover and things like that. Why do you feel it’s important to do those sort of interviews?

JACINDA Yeah, as I said, you know, in the current context, do people watch Parliamentary TV? Do they seek out political ideas in the old traditional forms? No. And we have to be realistic about that. And if someone offers an opportunity for me to take issues like child poverty into another format and reach perhaps a different audience, then that’s an opportunity I’m going to take. Now, there is a line in there, you know, that odd Jono and Ben show opportunity that I’ve said no to, so you do have to make sure that you maintain a sense of the importance, I guess, of the office of being an MP. But at the same time, we should be using alternative forms of media to reach people, particularly when those messages are so important.

KATIE Who is Jacinda Ardern? We saw Russel Norman’s quitting Parliament to head Greenpeace; if you were to quit Parliament, what matters to you? What would you want to be doing? What should people know about you?

JACINDA I think probably what gets me out of bed in the morning is still child well-being, child development. You know, if I weren’t in Parliament, I would probably be a child advocate of some description. Or I could plausibly see myself even teaching – something in the space where I felt I was still making a difference. But look, if I left Parliament, having been able to create a children’s ministry, put in place our child poverty an eradication law that mimics the UK’s legislation, if I could bring in our best start tax credit for children and babies, if I could beef up the use of Plunket as a way of early intervention for children, to prevent child abuse and harm, if I could build nurse-family partnerships in New Zealand, these are things that I would leave politics feeling proud of. That’s my goal.

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