Politics

Ardern talks climate change and UN reform

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has made the case for United Nations reform and a greater focus on climate change in a meeting with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

However, Ardern steered clear of any controversy over former prime minister Helen Clark’s failure to beat out Guterres to the job, and whether that was due to gender bias.

On the first day of a week-long stay in New York for the UN General Assembly, Ardern met Guterres to discuss the issues she would raise during her stay.

She told media the majority of their chat focused on climate change, with Guterres acknowledging New Zealand’s role in tackling the issue and Ardern discussing the impact of changing weather on the Pacific and the need to “raise the profile” of climate change at the UN.

Ardern said there was also a brief discussion of UN reform, with a reiteration of New Zealand’s support for the reform agenda pursued by Guterres.

“We need to make sure the UN remains relevant, and that means them being able to speak with one voice and the veto power has got in the way of that.”

New Zealand had long been opposed to the use of veto powers by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and believed change was crucial to public confidence in the UN, she said.

“We need to make sure the UN remains relevant, and that means them being able to speak with one voice and the veto power has got in the way of that.”

While there were “obvious blockages” to veto reform, Ardern said change was already happening in other, less polarising areas of the UN.

The day before, Guterres described multilateralism as being under attack, and Ardern said she agreed that more countries needed to speak out in favour of a multilateral approach - although she would not single out US President Donald Trump as a particular concern.

Clark, Ardern’s predecessor as a Labour prime minister, has cited gender bias as one of the reasons why she may have missed out on becoming UN Secretary-General.

However, Ardern said she did not raise the issue with Guterres, instead focusing on the opportunity to raise “issues of interest to New Zealand” and the country’s approach during Leaders’ Week.

New Zealand's economic credentials may have been remarked upon, but Jacinda Ardern said high homelessness rates meant that was not a success. Photo: Sam Sachdeva.

Earlier in the day, Ardern burnished New Zealand’s family-friendly credentials in a speech to Unicef’s Social Good Summit.

"If you ask me why I’m in politics, my answer will be simple: children,” she said, referring to the Government’s recent commitment to make New Zealand the best place in the world to be a child.

However, she noted that New Zealand was not perfect, with the country’s economic success hiding its deficiencies in other areas.

“We have had rates of growth that international commentators have remarked upon and commended, but at the same time we also had some of the worst homelessness in the OECD - I don’t consider that success.”

Ardern received two strong rounds of applause from the enthusiastic crowd: the first when she reminded the crowd of New Zealand’s status as the first country in the world to give women the vote - “We’ve had three female prime ministers, it’s not really a big deal guys,” she added to laughter - and the second when mentioning the Government’s decision to extend paid parental leave.

"I am not the gold standard for bringing up a child in this current environment, because there are things about my circumstances that are not the same, so what can we do to make sure it’s easier for women generally?”

In a panel session following her address, Ardern was quick to agree when it was put to her that she was in a privileged position when it came to raising her daughter.

“I have an incredible support network around me, I have the ability to take my child to work, there's not many places you can do that. I am not the gold standard for bringing up a child in this current environment, because there are things about my circumstances that are not the same, so what can we do to make sure it’s easier for women generally?”

Ardern said there needed to be a culture “that accepts mothers and children are part of our workplaces”, while she also targeted the gender pay gap given the preponderance of women in lower-paid areas of work.

"Giving financial security to mothers and families will inevitably flow into benefits for children.”

However, she was reluctant to name three things that world leaders should do, saying she was “less inclined to lecture others”.

“We’ve got to get our own house in order, poverty is a relative measure but we still have it, we still have it in New Zealand.”

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