Lisa Wilkinson: Why Jacinda Ardern Should Be Prime Minister Of Australia And New Zealand
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment so many of us started to fall in love with New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
It might have been when, still as Opposition Leader, she responded to that radio announcer who trotted out the hackneyed question as to how it would work if she got to be Prime Minister, then chose to have children and take maternity leave while in office...
Quick as a flash, and speaking on behalf of empowered women the world over, she firmly pointed out that the question was unacceptable; that a woman should be able to choose if and when she has children, and that she has the right to keep her plans private from her workplace.
Or was it the casual way she then announced her pregnancy, just one year after taking on New Zealand’s top job? There was no hoopla to speak of, no need for the country to break out either the bubbly or the Kleenex. She was going to have a baby, but it wouldn’t be affecting her job one way or another, so let’s just get on with it, shall we?
Was it the understated way she dismissed '60 Minutes' reporter Charles Woolley when he declared he was “smitten” with her, because unlike other prime ministers he’d met, she was “younger”, “smarter” and more “attractive”?
Australia was outraged and embarrassed. Jacinda wasn’t. Polite and good natured as always, she simply moved on insisting there were more important things to discuss.
Was it perhaps the sheer humanity she displayed -- and the lack of hard-line political calculations -- when she offered to take in the refugees that Australia refused to allow off Nauru and Manus Island?
In fact, I suspect it was a combination of all of the above, while, as the world’s youngest female leader of a nation, she became the exemplar of a strong, powerful woman, masterfully managing a demanding job, with little fuss, but always with an eye to unity, compassion, and a deep deep pride in her people.
What has now truly sealed her position as one of the world’s great leaders, though, is the courage and calm strength she displayed last Friday in the wake of the Christchurch mosques massacres, and in the heartbreakingly difficult days since.
In a deeply moving way she brought her country together with her swift, decisive and extraordinarily compassionate words and deeds, all in the most horrific of circumstances.
Amid New Zealand’s darkest of days, she:
· Fronted the country -- and the world -- calmly and quickly, immediately vowing to change New Zealand’s gun laws;
· Visited members of the Muslim community and stood with Islamic leaders, showing them through respectful word and deed, New Zealand is “united in grief”;
· Ensured the appropriate burial rites for the dead, and offered to help pay for funeral expenses;
· Found the perfect words to bind her country to the victims and the victims’ community: “They are us”;
· And on Tuesday, as she addressed parliament in Wellington, she refused to speak the gunman’s name: “He may have sought notoriety but we in New Zealand will give him nothing, not even his name. He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless.”
All these things, she somehow managed to do without trying to be a woman in a man’s world, trying to be tougher or more outspoken than tough, outspoken male leaders.
No, there is something about the way Jacinda Ardern has gone about guiding her nation through the eye of such unspeakable tragedy, that has been so uniquely female, so inspirational, so utterly genuine and completely devoid of politics, that women, and men, across the globe have suddenly remembered what real, engaged, compassionate and powerful leadership looks like.
May our own politicians here in Australia, as they stand on the brink of an election, please take notes, learn from her, and try to outdo her, in her empathy, integrity, unity and decisive action.
But until then, do you think she’d adopt us?