Current Affairs

Jacinda Ardern and her new government bring hope

In this opinion piece writer Maria Hoyle urges Jacinda Ardern: 'Let's do this.'

By Maria Hoyle

She’s been labelled ‘chicky babe’, 'lipstick on a pig' - and now she’ll answer to Prime Minister of New Zealand, thank you very much.

The unveiling of Jacinda Ardern, at just 37, as our country’s new leader is a wondrous thing indeed. Yes, it was a long labour (pardon the pun). We had to wait 11 days for the birth of this new hope. But it was worth the wait.

Jacinda is the voice of a generation – a young woman who, overnight, has changed the mood of the nation. And in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal – which led to an outpouring of revelations from victims of sexual harassment and assault – to have a young woman at the helm is an empowering sight.

Yes, one of the very first questions from a reporter last night was ‘Are you up to the job?' She’s been asked about her baby plans. Misogyny is rife, and she just slapped its face.

But while I bathe in the post-Winston-announcement euphoria, I will say this. Winston spoke of how people feel capitalism is failing them, about the need for capitalism with ‘a human face’. And he couldn’t have put it better.

Walking to work from the train this morning, I passed the many High Street shop windows and the scattering of homeless shaking their paper cups. Can there be a more powerful metaphor for the legacy of the past nine years than the homeless man sitting on a blanket with a cardboard sign, right outside the Gucci store?

Jacinda Ardern will lead New Zealand's new Government.
Jacinda Ardern will lead New Zealand's new Government.

So Jacinda. Thank you, thank you for bringing hope to me, my friends, my daughters. To a whole generation who had lost faith in the power of the ballot box. But please don’t squander this. You are said to be compassionate, empathetic, and you heard Winston. ‘A human face’. Can you make this not just good intentions, but actually put a figure on it?

Affordable housing. It’s a lovely term, but what does that mean? Because while a $500,000 home is ‘cheap’ for Auckland, many can still not afford it. We need really, really affordable housing.

Then there’s the question of wages. As the Council of Trade Unions said a few days ago, wages have slipped in relation to the cost of living, and we need to see a strong push in the opposite direction.

“It is an urgent priority for the incoming Government to boost real incomes, pay a living wage to the people they employ and establish industry standards to deliver a fairer return for Kiwis’ hard work,” said Sam Huggard, Council of Trade Unions Secretary.

Indeed, what is the good of bringing down house prices or even introducing rent controls if people are still too poorly paid to afford them? Indeed, what is the point of equal pay for women if their equal pay is still a pittance?

Then there’s the capital gains tax, which even bankers and economists have, in recent times, agreed makes total sense. And the Greens’ idea of a top tax rate of 40 per cent for those earning over $150,000. Other nations, including Australia, have a top rate for the very high earners. Why not us? There is inequality in our midst, and it needs more than fine sentiments and compassion to fix it.

So I am delighted. Hopeful. So glad there is change in the air.

Please Jacinda. Make that change. Do us proud. If only to answer that man who asked ‘Are you up to this?'