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Saying goodbye

  • 07 February 2023
Welcome to 'Stray Thoughts', where the Eureka Street editorial team muses on ethical and social challenges we've noted throughout the week.  I don’t know if former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is a Hamilton: An American Musical fan but when she announced her resignation last month I was reminded of the refrain ‘We’re going to teach them how to say goodbye’ from the song ‘One Last Time’. [In that song, George Washington tells Alexander Hamilton he’s done — he’s served his country and he deserves a little time to himself. He doesn’t need to die in office to leave a legacy and if his resignation is done right, then the country will be stronger.]

It seems to me that Ms Ardern holds some strong, and what some might say out-dated, values. That is, she believes that public service means serving the public and being a leader means leading. There have been some pretty poor examples of leaders in the Western hemisphere lately. Men who have gone into politics to use their position to enrich themselves or cronys, who have ignored laws they’ve set, have prioritised themselves and shown little empathy or inclination to make life better for those they’ve been elected to lead. And then they’ve clung to power long past their use-by date.

Ms Ardern was elected as Prime Minister in October 2017, re-elected with a majority in 2020. During the past five and a half years (and what a short time that is), she won world-wide praise for her and her government’s response to a terrorist attack of Muslim worshippers in Christchurch in March 2019. In December that year she again was called on to show leadership and empathy when Whakaari/White Island erupted killing 22 tourists and injuring a further 25. When Covid hit Ms Ardern responded quickly, closing borders and keeping the virus out of the country until vaccinations became available.

Now in 2023 when she felt she could not fulfil her duties as a leader with the energy and commitment that it required — ‘there’s nothing in the tank’ — Ms Ardern stepped away from the job. She made a point of saying that though there will be speculation about her walking away, it was nothing more complicated than the job required more commitment than she felt able to bring.

Yes, the lustre of her leadership has fallen in New Zealand itself as cost-of-living pressures come to bear and there is acrimonious debate about the lock downs and subsequent opening up