A couple of weeks after returning from parental leave, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is proving there’s something very powerful in standing by your convictions.
She’s just announced a 12 month pay freeze on the salaries of NZ politicians, meaning they’ll miss out on the 3 per cent pay rise they were due in September. That 3 per cent would have amounted personally to an additional AU$12,810 on top of her current (and still very generous, compared to other OECD leaders) $400,000+ salary.
Ardern said that New Zealand politicians are paid enough. They are already on the “upper salary scale”, and that the move will send a strong signal about what the government stands for.
Last week, primary school teachers walked off the job in New Zealand, demanding smaller class sizes and significant pay rises. Ardern said on Facebook that she saw the “stream of teachers reach the steps of parliament” and so she went down to personally hear their message. “Yes we have issues to resolve, but I absolutely believe we can do that together,” she wrote.
Ardern plans to introduce legislation that will block the politician pay increase, and she has the support of The National Party, New Zealand First, The Green Party and the ACT party.
Meanwhile, Ardern looks particularly determined to sidestep Australia in seeing New Zealand take in refugees from Nauru. Australia has already rejected her resettlement offer.
Ardern says the offer still stands, but she’s also seeking other options. She’s due to visit Nauru next month with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (should he still be in the job) for the Pacific Islands Forum, and says she plans to meet with those being held in the Australian facility during her time on the island.
“The time constraint are a bit of a difficulty, given the program,” she said during a press conference. “I have the hope, or the expectation at least, that I’ll be given the opportunity to be exposed to some of the issues around refugees on the island, what form that takes is not yet clear.”
Ardern will be bringing up the option of a New Zealand resettlement plan with leaders at the forum.
Finally (and still this month), Ardern announced New Zealand would be phasing out single-use plastic bags across the country, joining more than 40 countries to now do so worldwide (as well as some states and territories in Australia). Ardern thanked The Green Party in the process for their work on the ban.
And, amazingly, that small environmental initiative didn’t spark a party coup.
The lesson to those in Australia’s governing party, fresh from a failed leadership spill? There’s power in standing by your convictions.