'Leader in a crisis' - Ardern resigns

By Will Trafford

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced her resignation. Photo / Robert Kitchin / Stuff

"A leader in a crisis" and "committed to advancing Māori "is how National Māori Authority chair Matthew Tukaki says Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will be remembered.

“For te ao Māori, we have never seen a prime minister or a government in recent history that has invested more than they have nor done more for us,” Tukaki says.

“Natural disasters, a terrorist attack and global pandemic and the global recession. You know, as a prime minister, you get one of those things  once in your premiership… she had really bad luck, she got the lot.”

Te Ao Māori is reacting after Ardern shocked the nation by announcing her resignation as prime minister after five and a half years.

“We give as much as we can for as long as we can and then it’s time. And for me, it’s time.” Ardern told media this afternoon.

“I believe that leading a country is the most privileged job anyone could ever have but also one of the more challenging. You cannot, and should not do it unless you have a full tank plus a bit in reserve for those unexpected challenges.”

'Normalised manaaki'

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer has applauded Ardern for leading the country through crises, and trying to clean up politics despite attacks from political opponents.

“She normalised manaaki into politics and gave rise to women's voices and youth on world stages,” Ngarewa Packer says.

“She and her whānau have endured the most revolting attacks led by misogynistic right-wing sickos.”

“I support her decision - she has served her people unselfishly, now it’s time she focuses on the most important people in her world - herself and her whānau.”

Māori seats on local bodies, the overhaul of Oranga Tamariki, establishing Matariki as a national public holiday, the introduction of mandated New Zealand history lessons, and co-governance generally are all her accomplishments, according to Tukaki.

Under her watch

“The overhaul of Oranga Tamariki didn't happen as a result of a CYFS review in 2017. It began under her watch… alongside the appointment of the first Māori as chief executive of a mainstream government department,” Tukaki says.

“People forget about the standing up for Māori through local government, which has been a long-held aspiration. We're now seeing more Māori in local government and councils in mayoral roles and others."

It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Ardern. A no-show at the Ihumatao whenua protest cost her a few allies, and Covid-19 mandates presented a struggle according to political scholar Lara Greaves but she still had more fans than detractors.

“Ardern will no doubt be viewed in the history books as the crisis Prime Minister. Her empathetic response to the Christchurch terrorist attack rewrote the textbooks on how to respond after a terrorist attack," Greaves says.

“She then was prime minister through our world-leading COVID response. Thousands more people could have died but Ardern and her government's decisive action saved lives.”

Pundits have earmarked East Coast MP and Justice Minister Kiritapu Allan as a replacement for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo / NZME / Mark Mitchell

Pundits have earmarked East Coast MP and Justice Minister Kiritapu Allan as a replacement for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo / NZME / Mark Mitchell

Financing programmes advancing te ao Māori are also an achievement, according to Tukaki.

“The amount of money going to Māori has grown not just in the 10s of millions but in the hundreds of millions of dollars under her prime ministership. We've seen a record number of Māori in Parliament, on the Labour side of politics than we have done before,” Tukaki says.

The prime minister’s resignation came as a surprise to Lady Tureiti Moxon, the chief executive of Te Kohao Health and chair of the Whānau Ora commissioning agency, who lauded the prime minister for her crisis management, particularly on the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We as Māori mobilised to look after ourselves and the government then resourced us properly (via Whanau Ora and the National Māori Urban Authority).

“Getting the Māori Health Authority across the line was the other big moment during her tenure,” Moxon says.

Potential prime ministers

Moxon, Tukaki and Greaves argue there are a number of Māori MPs within Labour fit to take over from Ardern, including Justice Minister Kiritapu Allan, deputy Labour Party leader Kelvin Davis and Māori development Minister Willie Jackson, though all are yet to declare if they will stand for the leadership.

“Just look at Kiritapu Allan," Tukaki said. "I think the prime minister has previously said: ‘Wouldn't she be wonderful as a future leader?' You've got people like Willie Jackson, you’ve got Nanaia Mahuta. You've also got some up-and-coming young people as well. So for example Shannon Halbert, if he survives the election in Northcote against Dan Bidois,” Tukaki said.

Labour MPs and the public might not be ready for a Māori prime minister, Tureiti argues, but whoever the next leader is, it’s crucial they understand Te Tiriti and the Crown’s obligations to Māori.

'Convenient kicking ball'

“They need to have the courage to support mana motuhake and tino rangatiratanga – by Māori for Māori – so we are enabled to look after our own, our own way. Not undermine all the hard work to date,” Moxon says.

“‘Business as usual’ doesn’t work. It disadvantages Māori and continues to create inequities. There is no privilege in being landless, poor or sick.”

Tukaki says he hopes Māori don’t become a convenient kicking ball in the leadup to the next general election, following a changing of the guard on the ninth floor of the Beehive.

“We fail to recognise that, as a nation, we have something so unique in the world. We have a multicultural but also bicultural society. We have an indigenous language that is now not only surviving but thriving. We have a culture that is recognised around the world in terms of te ao Māori. So my hope is that we don't ascend into madness, that people play the policy, not the person.”

Covid anger

Ardern "definitely had some detractors including around Māori issues," Greaves says.

“An indication of the Labour government not doing a great job was perhaps the return of Te Pāti Māori.”

“Pockets of people were really mad at her about the mandates and the Covid-19 response," she said. "To some extent, this anger has changed New Zealand politics - potentially permanently. For example, it wasn't deemed safe for Ardern to attend some events like the barbecue on the lawn at Waitangi this year.”

“However, our work with the NZ Election Study shows she was a very popular leader among Māori voters generally.”

Sunday decision

The Labour caucus will vote on Sunday to decide on a new party leader and prime minister. If a decision can't be agreed there, the vote will go to the wider Labour Party members to vote.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Grant Robertson has told Ardern he will not be putting his name forward.

“You know what the test of leadership is?” Tukaki asks.

“When you feel that it's time to step up, you step up. But also equally, when you feel that it's time to step aside, you step aside.

“You can't get away from the achievements of this prime minister and her leadership… it's going to be really interesting where we go into the future.”

Public Interest Journalism, funded through NZ On Air