Fractious Australia has a lot to learn from the kindness and purpose of New Zealand politics | Eleonore de Jong

Before Covid, when international travel was still common, many Kiwi travelers received a similar question wherever they are in the world: Is Jacinda Ardern the real deal?

The New Zealand Prime Minister’s dedication to a new breed of politics, steeped in “kindness”, “compassion” and “cooperation” often seemed too bland to be true, especially in an era when a series of notorious bullies have been elected to positions of power around the world.

I have generally answered this question abruptly, with a combination of facts and personal anecdotes from my talks with the Prime Minister. I was interested but not this interested, more captivated by the dramatic twists and turns of foreign countries, where politics seemed Shakespearean compared to the hot and comfortable bath of New Zealand’s Labor coalition government, now in its second term and incredibly popular.

A record number of babies in the house, cradled by the speaker while their mothers and fathers gave important speeches? Cute, nice, a sweet Friday report. Freezing of politicians’ salaries during the Covid? Feeling good, of course. Any indication of a real new breed of politicians and a real new way of governing? I was not convinced.

Earlier this year, I returned to my homeland of Australia and settled down in Kimberley, still the land of cowboys and red rocks that I remember from my childhood.

Immediately, the utter dysfunction of the state-federal relationship struck me, as did the absurdity of mini-prime ministers individually vying for voice, money, and influence. I asked and read, but I couldn’t find anyone who could explain to me why the state system worked or should continue as a mode of governance.

Instead of the national unity so desperately needed in the midst of a global pandemic, personal strongholds have reigned. Even a national speed limit could not be agreed.

As the year wore on, punctuated by a failed vaccine rollout and a deaf Prime Minister to the growing cries of millions of tired Australian women, the drama of Australian politics began to seem much less entertaining and much more concerning. than when I had observed him from afar.

While tobogganing is a national disgrace when it occurs on the cricket ground in Canberra this is to be expected, so bad now that even growling like a dog at your “opponent” can happen.

And ‘the adversary’ is primarily how Australian politicians seem to perceive each other: strident, power-hungry egos vying for dominance, while transformative legislative changes languish, like the recent climate change embarrassment in the world. the Cop26.

Leaving the temperate bath that is New Zealand politics made me realize how conducive this bath was to the progress of the work.

There is a real level of cooperation and – don’t be shocked here – courtesy which runs through the government house in Wellington and extends to how the ruling party and the opposition treat each other.

Sure, there’s sledding, but it’s more of the quick beard style, rather than the really nasty.

“I’ve never particularly done things differently depending on who the person is and that’s probably a good thing, considering there have been five,” a cheeky Ardern said last week, mocking the five. opposition leaders during his tenure as Prime Minister.

One, Todd Muller, experienced a nervous breakdown during his tenure. Politicians on both sides of the house expressed genuine empathy and concern for her well-being, and her painful experience ultimately became an opportunity for mental health awareness and discussion, rather than cannon fodder or shame. public.

New Zealand is far too small for a real divide among its rulers, just as small town dwellers are to some extent forced to get along decade after decade, despite their often countless differences.

Much of the credit goes to Ardern, who has created a work environment that rewards focus and dedication. Indeed, despite her strong sense of humor, Ardern is a deeply serious politician, who joined Labor at the age of 17, driven by a desire to ‘end child poverty’.

The politicians Ardern chooses to promote are so sincere and scandal-free (think Grant Robertson and Nanaia Mahuta) that the culture has become one of true public service. She even carpools her ministers in a minibus to attend events, abolishing the isolation and pomp of ministerial cars. It’s a small gesture, but it communicates volumes about its values ​​and its style of government.

Politics are far from perfect in New Zealand, and like in Australia, there have been internal sex scandals, disappointing housing reforms and media complaints about fair access.

But the general mood is one of a genuine interest in improving the lives of New Zealanders. This makes sense, because New Zealand politicians remain, well, New Zealanders. Most are not personally wealthy or from within the corporate ranks (the new leader of the National Opposition Party, Christopher Luxon, is an exception) and most remain strongly rooted in their community and family life. There is a Wellington Bubble, but it is much more humble and down to earth than its counterpart in Canberra. Last week, a Green MP cycled to hospital to give birth – for the second time. Last month, the Prime Minister was interrupted during a live Facebook event by his daughter Neve, sneaking out of bed as her mother tried to address the nation.

These glimpses of humanity are not orchestrated sets, they occur spontaneously and regularly throughout the ordinary human lives of New Zealand politicians. I can’t be sure, but I will put some money in to have Ardern’s daughter sent to her local public elementary school when the time comes. Everything else would go against his mother’s ingrained value system and display a schism between personal and political beliefs that in four years of leadership has so far failed to emerge.

In this climate, prominent legislation has been enacted in New Zealand, including a new law to protect pill testing, the legalization of physician-assisted dying, a record increase in funding for women’s shelters and services. fight against domestic violence, measures to fight climate change and a world leading tobacco reform (aiming to make the country smoke-free by 2025).

In Australia, power often seems an end in itself. It is a goal which then hinders a real legislative reform or a real collaboration, to the great detriment of all Australians, who can only be confused and disappointed by the year which has just been, so marked by animosity. and a sense of empty spectacle.

In the New Zealand model, there is something to learn. Of course, the beehive lacks the fireworks of Canberra and sometimes a bit of sparkle. The Minister of Finance is especially interested in surpluses (and rugby) and the diplomatic style of the Minister of Foreign Affairs is disarmingly soft. The Minister of Climate Change is a longtime environmentalist. But in the hands of these – to quote Ardern’s words – “nerds” have developed a backbone and stability in politics, allowing nascent transformative change to begin. And how much necessary in the current global environment, a deep and reassuring calm.


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