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Ardern had intentions and achievements

Jacinda Ardern delivers her valedictory speech in Parliament today.

As per tradition, she’ll take the opportunity to frame her fourteen-and-a-half years in Parliament – the past five as our fortieth prime minister – in the way she wishes her political career and contribution to be remembered.

It will also prompt another barrage of reckons from various commentators about what Ardern did and didn’t achieve during her time in office, before her tank metaphorically ran dry.

As opined in these pages at that point, it’s too soon to accurately assess the legacy of Ardern’s premiership – that’s a task that will have to wait for the kind of cool consideration that’s only possible beyond the hectic hurly-burly of news cycles and social media’s daily algorithm-driven outrages.

And, of course, it’s necessary to allow time for the various initiatives launched under her watch to come to fruition – well, those that haven’t already been reduced to cold ashes by successor Chris Hipkins’ policy bonfires, that is.

However, a strong indication of Ardern’s singular strengths and weaknesses – and how these would contribute to any achievements and failures during her time as prime minister – were front and centre in an interview she did back in September 2017, when she was on the election campaign trail as Labour’s newly anointed leader.

In an interview with National Business Review, Ardern was challenged about concerns on the part of Business New Zealand and other employer groups regarding Labour’s Fair Pay policy, which they saw as opening the door to an old-style centralised wage fixing system and strike action.

“We have ruled out industrial action for fair-pay agreements,” said Ardern, who went on to insist that those expressing such worries about the risk strikes were “scaremongering”.

“I don’t see the danger because I know what our intention is,” she said.

When it was suggested that intentions are one thing, and reality is another, she retorted that “when you’re leading the charge, intention is reality”.

As noted at the time by NBR’s late, great, and much-lamented political editor Rob Hosking, “That is an intriguing view – most of those who have served in cabinets previously might offer a more, shall we say, nuanced view of how governments can translate intention into reality.”

It might be further noted that it was passing strange that someone raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints appeared to be unfamiliar with the proverb “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”.

It’s inarguable that Ardern was masterful at appealing to our better angels. The problem, more often than not, appears to have been translating her ethereal aspirations into concrete achievements.

Thus, in August 2022 – almost five years after that NBR interview – Ardern appeared on TVNZ’s Q+A defending her government’s apparent inability to accomplish many of her goals by saying “What you’re asking me essentially is to shy away from aspiration… set targets lower… set out ambition that is lesser because then perhaps at the end your scorecard might say you achieved it because you set out to do nothing.”

As Mark Twain once observed, “Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.”

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