In last week’s valedictory statement, Jacinda Ardern described herself as a “conviction politician”, a “control freak”, and someone who wears their “heart on their sleeve”.
On being Prime Minister, she said it was “A role, I never thought I was meant to have.”
In fact, she could be described as an ‘accidental’ PM - thanks to the ‘kingmaker’ Winston Peters in 2017 choosing not to form a government with National - the party that won the most votes - but with Labour instead.
And just as Labour was not ready to be in government back then, nor was Jacinda Ardern ready to be PM - her inexperience and arrogance clearly on display through her “Captain’s Calls”, which were made without public consultation, official advice, or sometimes even Cabinet approval.
That was certainly the case when, just a few months into her administration, she banned new offshore oil and gas exploration on the eve of an overseas meeting of world leaders. And while the decision gave her bragging rights on the world stage and helped her build her international profile, at home it was described as “economic vandalism” and a “kick in the guts” for the region, that not only put at risk 11,000 jobs and a $2.5 billion industry, but led to the tripling of imports of ‘dirty’ Indonesian coal, as New Zealand’s reserves of clean burning natural gas continue to decline.
Then there was the March 15 tragedy when innocent people were gunned down as they prayed. And while Jacinda Ardern led the country through that difficult time with compassion, her Captain’s Call to crack down on gun crime, saw her punishing law-abiding firearms owners, instead of targeting gangs and illegal weapons.
She touched on her obsessive approach to climate change in her speech, explaining that in 2017, “I remember sitting at my desk in the home Clarke and I shared in Auckland, writing a campaign launch speech. I knew I wanted climate change to be front and centre because I believed it would define our generation of politicians. I called it our nuclear free moment. I believed it then, and I believe it even more now.
“When I came here 15 years ago we talked about climate change as if it was almost a hypothetical. But in the intervening years we have seen first-hand the reality of our changing environment. And I have seen the people it’s impacted, like the elderly couple on the West Coast who had lived in their home for their entire married lives. They had only recently returned to it after a year’s worth of post flooding repairs when it was flooded again. ‘We’re too old to keep doing this,’ they told me. They have not returned to their home.”
Conflating weather events with climate change and dramatising the effects enabled Jacinda Ardern to not only introduce the most stringent carbon restrictions of any country on earth, but to boast about it on the world stage.
It didn’t seem to matter to her that the policies she was introducing would destroy the backbone of our economy - the farming sector - nor that New Zealand’s enormous sacrifice would make absolutely no discernible difference to global emissions.
Instead, she attempted to use her valedictory speech to coerce MPs into continuing her misguided legacy: “one of the few things I will ask of this house on my departure is that you please, take the politics out of climate change”.
That suggestion would be a disaster for our country, as Newstalk ZB host Heather du Plessis-Allan succinctly explains:
“What Jacinda asked our MPs to do was to ignore what we the voters want, and just ram through whatever they consider necessary for climate change.
“Do you want to know what that would look like, to take the politics out of climate change?
“The Government would start charging farmers for their emissions from tomorrow. That would mean up to a quarter of sheep and beef farms could shut down. It would put the fuel tax back on petrol, so you would pay another 25c per litre effective tomorrow. It would drive the price of carbon up to $120 per unit as recommended, pushing your electricity bills up 5 percent, your gas bills up 7 percent, your diesel cost up 8 percent and your petrol up another 5 percent.”
Heather is also very critical of the former PM asking others to do what she could have done herself: “It’s a bit rich to not do something and then try to shame the people you leave behind into doing it.”
Jacinda Ardern focussed her speech on the ‘positives’: “there are so many things I feel proud of. Things that I know are different or better because we had a Labour government.”
She highlighted her work ‘to uphold the Treaty’: “The creation of the Maori Crown relations portfolio under the excellent leadership of Kelvin Davis and the stewardship of Te Arawhiti. The establishment of the Maori Health Authority, the growth of Te Reo Maori, the evolution of how we see ourselves as a nation through the teaching of New Zealand history in schools, and the creation of Matariki, our first indigenous public holiday… The path we travel as a nation will not be linear, and it won’t always be easy. But for the part of the trail that I had the privilege of leading, I’m proud we took on the hilly bits.”
Unsurprisingly, Jacinda Ardern did not mention Labour’s toxic He Puapua blueprint to replace democracy with tribal rule, that underpinned so much of their Maori agenda. She didn’t explain that she had deliberately kept it hidden from her Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters and from voters during the 2020 election campaign - presumably to avoid “the hilly bits”, like public opinion.
Nor did Jacinda mention that ‘co-governance’, which has become code for ‘Maori control’, was a central component of the failing reforms she introduced for the polytechs, the health system, and Three Waters.
The polytech centralisation has turned into a disaster with cost blowouts, declining enrolments, and falling standards.
The health system centralisation is now in danger of catastrophic failure through a chronic shortage of thousands of nurses, doctors, and medical specialists. Furthermore, health care has now been transformed into an apartheid system based on race instead of clinical need, with Maori prioritised over everyone else.
Three Waters, remains a disaster-in-waiting - a system designed to give control of water to Maori. With the architect of the reforms Nanaia Mahuta no longer in the picture, Prime Minister Hipkins is hoping some window-dressing will enable him to rush the remaining law changes through before the election - and before the majority of voters wake up to the dangerous implications of tribal control of freshwater.
When it came to the pandemic, Jacinda Ardern explained, “I have often been asked what the hardest thing was about Covid. There were so many, but the unknowns was one of them... We did lose other things along the way. One, in some ways, was a sense of security. That we can engage in good robust debates and land on our respective positions relatively respectfully. But for some, that didn’t happen during the latter stages of Covid. And while there were a myriad of reasons, one was because so much of the information swirling around was false.”
In the end it was Jacinda Ardern with her absurd claim that her Government was the ‘single source of truth’, that became a major source of misinformation. Ignoring Ministry of Health advice, she imposed one of the world’s harshest lockdowns onto the country - her Orwellian call for ‘kindness’ disguising the cruelty and heartbreak caused when basic human rights were denied and businesses destroyed.
And in spite of promising before the 2020 election there would be no forced vaccinations, she went ahead and imposed vaccine mandates, over-riding protections in the Bill of Rights and ignoring Ministry of Health advice against mandates on the basis that the vaccine would not prevent the spread of the virus.
The resulting anti-mandate protest in Parliament grounds became a dark stain on Jacinda Ardern’s legacy, and a turning point for her administration.
There is no doubt that opposition against the former Prime Minister hardened as a result of the way she handled the protest. Instead of defusing the situation by meeting the group and addressing their concerns, she stood by while her MPs denigrated the growing crowd, which included doctors, nurses, and teachers, and then watched on as the Police went in and the violence erupted.
So how will Jacinda Ardern be remembered?
It’s a question clearly on her mind: “I cannot determine what will define my time in this place.”
Maybe the answer is too confronting for Jacinda, as virtually every aspect of her administration has resulted in failure.
But her most glaring disaster will be the way she has left the country so deeply divided and far less cohesive than it was when she first became Prime Minister.
In this regard alone, her legacy is one of immense damage and shame.
Having embraced identity politics throughout her administration, New Zealand is now a country divided by race, by gender, by sexuality, as well as by vaccination status. And anyone who disagrees with Jacinda Ardern’s view of the world is accused of living in a ‘rabbit hole’ of disinformation.
The situation has been exacerbated by a media that sold its integrity to become an echo chamber for her administration - instead of acting as a public watchdog and holding the government to account.
Jacinda Ardern had the gall to state in her speech, “Debate is critical to a healthy democracy. But conspiracy is its nemesis… Those who try to dress up the issue of dis-information as being an attempt to silence people are ironically themselves shutting down a discussion that must be had… This is not a question of free speech. Free speech is a right this House is united in defending.”
Hearing the words “Free speech is a right this House is united in defending” from a leader who attempted to introduce the most draconian new hate speech regulations in our history - that would have outlawed criticism of groups defined by gender, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, employment status, family status, religion, or political opinion - was simply bizarre.
While a fierce public backlash forced her to back down from her planned crackdown on New Zealanders’ right to free speech, she continues to claim her critics are conspiracy theorists.
Nor will that stop now she has left Parliament, since Prime Minister Hipkins has created a new role for her as the Special Envoy for the Christchurch Call, enabling her to continue her push for greater censorship of the internet: “I feel honoured and grateful to continue work on the issue of radicalisation and violent extremism online.”
The problem is that her call for censorship of the internet has gone too far. Try posting up articles on Facebook criticising the Armageddon claims of climate fanatics, and not only is your post likely to be taken down, but your site threatened with closure.
Try sharing the latest research questioning the safety of the mRNA Covid vaccines from the most reputable sources, and you risk being blacklisted.
Thanks to our Prime Minister, the internet is no longer the free frontier it once was for those who oppose the woke conspiracy. One can only hope that the big internet operators see the danger and follow the lead of Twitter’s Elon Musk to greater freedom not less.
Jacinda Ardern has left our Parliament but still wonders why she is no longer universally loved in her home country. The fact that she has not figured this out for herself is in itself enlightening, and it is that lack of realistic self-reflection that was her undoing.
A kind interpretation of Jacinda Ardern’s tenure is that she was naive and impressionable, and those weaknesses were manipulated, especially by the Maori caucus to advance their agenda for Maori rule. Other interpretations are much less kind.
Dr Muriel Newman established the New Zealand Centre for Political Research as a public policy think tank in 2005 after nine years as a Member of Parliament. A former Chamber of Commerce President, her background is in business and education.