Current Affairs

Jacinda Ardern tackles sexism, refugees and coalition questions in CNN interview

Our youngest Prime Minister in 150 years speaks out about NZ's challenges in her first international interview since taking office.

Jacinda Ardern has spoken to CNN in her first major international interview as Prime Minister.

Ms Ardern told CNN's Christiane Amanpour about the challenges her Government faces.

She said issues like climate change, child poverty, inequality and housing affordability were acute for New Zealand.

Asked if she felt a historical burden being a woman in power at what seemed to be a key moment in history for women, she said she had some fantastic female role models in former Prime Ministers Jenny Shipley and Helen Clark.

"We do have challenges that we will tackle under my leadership, including the gender pay gap in New Zealand which is acute, but also issues of domestic and sexual violence - a particular issue for us - as well as our representation across board level in the private sector but also in politics as well.

"We've started with a goal within our party of making sure that we have 50 percent women represented in Parliament, we've almost hit that goal this election but we'll continue to make sure that we lead as we would have others demonstrate what we need to achieve when it comes to women's representation."

She was also asked about whether she had knocked down the issue of a woman's right to decide when to have children - and to not have that linked to her ability to work - with her emphatic response to Mark Richardson's comments before the election.

"Probably not ... it will continue to be so until we speak openly about the fact that it's a woman's decision when she chooses to have a family, it should not be something that's raised when her future career prospects are speculated on or even if she enters into a job opportunity or an interview.

"I also believe we will be combating this for a little while to come but we need to confront it and weed it out where it occurs."

Ms Amanpour also asked about New Zealand's approach to US President Donald Trump and the potential for escalation of tensions with North Korea.

"I think probably, from at least New Zealand's perspective, the message we would send is that it's never too late to talk," Ms Ardern said.

"We are of course a nation who has championed the nuclear-free movement, we are staunchly nuclear-free and continue to promote nuclear non-proliferation."

Ms Ardern also backed the Government's position on moving towards offering refugee placement for people affected by climate change, particularly on low-lying islands in the region.

"I think that's acknowledging that we are Pacific neighbours and friends, and that areas like Kiribati are already experiencing rising sea levels," she said.

"We need to acknowledge that we are - unless we make dramatic changes - at the front of seeing refugees as a result of climate change, and so we see a duty of care there both to champion internationally the importance of responding to climate change, but also doing our bit."

There were questions about how difficult it would be to enforce those changes considering Labour was in coalition with the "nationalist party" New Zealand First.

"We've worked very hard to build consensus, we are in a coalition government - we run an MMP system in New Zealand and that has generated a coalition or support party arrangements for a number of years and ours is no different in that regard.

"We've absolutely maintained, though, our commitment to doubling the refugee quota that we have in New Zealand, it was an important point of principle for us."

She said however that her government would try to balance that with combating the problems around infrastructure.

"We haven't had a strong building programme, we have a housing crisis, so we are trying to balance now making sure we have the skills that we need that comes via immigration whilst also being able to provide those who call New Zealand home with a decent standard of living."

This story was first published on RNZ.