As a former New Zealander, let me tell you, Jacinda Ardern uniting the country by a landslide is as fascinating as it is historic.

 

 

Most eyes are looking across the world at the upcoming presidential election in the United States. But this weekend we were looking across the ditch because New Zealand went to the polls. Jacinda Ardern easily led her Labour Government to a second term and, tellingly, she did it in her own right. The first time that has happened since NZ adopted its weird, and complex, MMP system (which deliberately favours minor parties) in 1996. 

Last time, to get into office, Ardern had to crawl to the ebullient, but capricious, Winston Peters and his New Zealand First Party to form an uncomfortable coalition.

At the weekend, New Zealand First became New Zealand last. Peters’ party petered out and did not even get the required 5% to be represented in the Wellington Beehive at all. The Greens and ACT (a libertarian party with a penchant for guns) both polled 7-8%.

 

 

Before I delve too deeply (and as an ex-Kiwi I can do this) let’s get the old jokes out of the way. Saves you telling them.

What do you call a New Zealander in a suit? The defendant. What do you call a New Zealander with two lovers? A shepherd. (That’s OK…I have a sister called ‘ Baabara’). What’s your definition of a New Zealander? A person who can’t get a job in Australia.

To counter that, the then-Prime Minister, Robert ‘Piggy’ Muldoon, was asked if he was concerned about the ‘brain drain’ from NZ to Oz. He replied: ‘Not at all. It improves the IQ of both countries’.

Muldoon and I had a testy relationship after I had written a column describing my old homeland as ‘a place where baby Austins go to die’ and that Kiwis were very well-balanced, because they had chips on both their shoulders.

Muldoon reacted by saying ‘with a name like Derryn he must be queer’ and, referring to my beard, he warned, ‘never trust a dog that barks behind a hedge’.

 

What surprises some people in Australia, is that idolatry is not always shared across the ditch. I know of New Zealanders who mock-vomit at the mention of her name. It makes her weekend victory over the Nationals even more stunning. Kiwis can be brutally pragmatic.

 

Muldoon came on my 3AW radio program during a visit to Melbourne for CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting – Ed). It was going quite well until it dawned on him. 

‘Am I speaking to Hinch?’

‘Yes, Prime Minister’.

‘I don’t talk to you’. And he hung up. From a live interview.

Muldoon and I had four things in common. We were both born in New Zealand. We both became politicians. We both worked in radio. And we both played the Narrator in The Rocky Horror Show, which emanated from NZ.

But let’s get to the current prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, one of the youngest leaders ever in any country.  An intriguing woman, whose opponents accused her of being a lightweight with no real-life experience. A political apparatchik. It is true (apart from a brief time working in a fish and chip shop) her first real job was working for Helen Clark, who became New Zealand’s first female prime minister.

She then went on the obligatory adventure to Europe but, unlike most backpackers from Down Under, she got a job in Tony Blair’s office. From memory, she was also elected president of a European young socialists group. She was elected to the NZ Parliament in her twenties and became prime minister when only months into the job as party leader.

Ardern gained genuine international admiration and respect while grappling with three major events in her first term. The Christchurch Massacre, the White Island volcanic explosion and the coronavirus.

In all three she showed compassion, understanding and leadership. Like, acting quickly to ban lethal weapons — as John Howard did after Port Arthur. And, after the Christchurch slaughter, she moved instantly to embrace the shattered Muslim community. Her speeches in (and out of) Parliament really touched people. It all built her international standing and her UN appearance was applauded. And then she also had a baby while in office.

 

 

What surprises some people in Australia, is that idolatry is not always shared across the ditch. I know of New Zealanders who mock-vomit at the mention of her name. It makes her weekend victory over the Nationals even more stunning. Kiwis can be brutally pragmatic.

Many still struggle in a country with really low wages, high taxes (which will get higher under a renewed Labour government) and high living costs. Admittedly, they have one of the most generous non-means-tested retirement pension plans in the world. Millionaires get the pension.

Any Aussie on a holiday over there can vouch for the sense of shock when you go into a supermarket – even to buy some much-lauded New Zealand cheese. You can almost put $100 worth of groceries in your handbag.

And this so-called paradise at the bottom of the world has forced housing prices up (especially in the lower South Island) where wealthy Americans have expensively seized some stunning properties for their retirement.

It was fascinating to see Ardern win re-election in her own right. So decisively.

And just to prove that you can’t totally take the pakeha out of Aotearoa, I just might make myself some whitebait fritters. New Zealand’s true contribution (along with pavlova) to the culinary world.

 

 

 

 

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