New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern launched her re-election campaign over the weekend, telling supporters she is grateful for New Zealand’s “team of 5 million” and detailing her party’s plan for economic recovery from COVID-19.
The centre point of Ardern’s launch was the pledge of a $NZ311 million ($287 million) scheme to support 40,000 New Zealanders into work. The scheme will provide businesses with sizeable subsidies to hire unemployed New Zealanders.
“The new flexi-wage scheme is a key plank of our economic plan to support businesses to recover and to provide jobs to those who have lost work due to COVID,” Ardern said.
Ardern’s campaign launch on Saturday came just one day before New Zealand met a milestone achievement of 100 days without a case of community transmission of COVID-19.
New Zealand now has one of the most open economies in the world, with life back to normal for the entire population except for continued border closures. The country has reported fewer than 1600 cases of COVID-19 and only 22 deaths.
With just weeks until the election, Ardern is enjoying record high approval ratings among New Zealanders and the Labour party is predicted to record a comfortable victory over the opposition National party. Some polling suggests the Labour party will be able to govern in its own right, without its current coalition partners, New Zealand First and the Green party.
“In a COVID world, our team of 5 million has been a steady ship and I’m so grateful for that,” Ardern told supporters in Auckland on Saturday.
Adern’s speech touched on some of the defining moments of her prime ministership over the past three years – the Christchurch shooting in March last year, the White Island volcano eruption and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“These three events that devastated in entirely different ways, they drew out a response from Kiwis that was the same. They drew out a sense of collective purpose, of determination, of kindness,” she said.
“They are all values we will need as we take on our next challenge and our next challenge is huge.”
Ardern admitted this will be the COVID election.
“No one wants it to be. We would all prefer the world to be free of the health and economic impacts that this global pandemic has created. I would rather not have had to close our borders or put in place the most severe restrictions on personal freedoms in our country’s history,” she said.
“But it has been our new reality. And one that the team of 5 million have made work in the most extraordinary way.
“We now have one of the most open economies in the world and we have a head start on our recovery and rebuild.”
Ardern addressed how she stood in the same spot to launch her party’s campaign, three years earlier. She was then an untested leader, having just been elected to lead Labour weeks earlier.
“If you had told me then that our launch in 2020 would be in the midst of a global pandemic with our borders closed I would have found that very hard to fathom,” she said.
“If you’d told me that Clarke and I would have a toddler, I wouldn’t have believed we would have been so lucky.
“And if you’d told me that we would have just completed a term in government with both New Zealand First and the Greens, I’d assume you’d been watching excessive amounts of Stranger Things.
“And yet here we are.”