14 August 2023

I did but see her passing by: Jacinda Ardern and the stardust effect

| Genevieve Jacobs
Join the conversation
Dame Jacinda Ardern and Dame Annette King

Former NZ Prime Minister Dame Jacinda Ardern and NZ High Commissioner Dame Annette King. Photo: Genevieve Jacobs.

It was just a moment, a few words, but there she was smiling warmly, hand held out to shake mine.

For much of the past decade, Jacinda Ardern has been one of the most famous women in the world. She was elected prime minister of New Zealand in 2017 and ever since has been greeted around the world as a rockstar, an icon, a role model.

But meeting her is nothing like meeting a superstar.

At the reception before her Mana Wahine event at the ANU last Thursday night (10 August), her gaze was direct and warm, her manner straightforward, friendly, low key. While others were speaking at the reception, she stood quietly to one side, not drawing focus from Chancellor Julie Bishop or NZ High Commissioner Dame Annette King.

And when the speeches ended, a room full of otherwise sensible middle-aged people, many of whom are perfectly used to meeting powerful people, mobbed the slender woman in a green pants suit as if she was a mixture of Beyonce and the late Queen.

Jacinda Ardern was by no means a perfect politician. There were big promises – like the ones to fix housing affordability, end child poverty or slash emissions – that her government could not fulfil.

READ ALSO Are people nice to strangers anymore?

When she faced the voters in October 2020, news analysis in this country suggested we’d all been a bit fooled by a fairytale and that New Zealanders were less enamoured of her than we believed.

Then she won the biggest landslide in post-war NZ history and Labor became the first party to hold majority government in a generation.

So what is it about Jacinda and that stardust effect?

The NZ High Commissioner told us tickets to the event on women’s leadership, where Dame Jacinda, legendary NZ actor Rena Owen, Julie Bishop and swimmer Bronte Campbell were interviewed by Laura Tingle, “went faster than a Taylor Swift concert”.

In the room on Thursday people were teary-eyed remembering her tremendous dignity and courage in the face of the Christchurch massacre, her ability to cut through traumatic, bewildering grief and bring people together.

“They are us,” she said of the men, women and children slaughtered at prayers, by a man whose name she never mentioned again.

She asked her people, often, to be both strong and kind. She had a rare emotional intelligence for a politician and she retained the gift of seeing the humanity in others.

I’ve always believed that most people go into politics because they want to represent their community and do the right thing. But it doesn’t always last. Grubby, grim, transactional political reality hardens people, some more than others.

READ ALSO Canberra glass artist set to crack big time with trip to study in Japanese studio

I recall running into a senior Australian politician whom I hadn’t seen since we knew each other reasonably well at university. He looked straight through me until he clocked that I (then) worked for the ABC, whereupon his eyes lit up like a heat-seeking missile in pursuit of media attention.

In some sense, I don’t blame politicians for toughening up and shutting down. People want something from them all the time, unless they hate them, which also happens all the time.

Both must be exhausting and surely sometimes incredibly boring. Both would prompt you to don a mask, smile heartily with your mouth but not your eyes and reproduce the party line until further notice. Do anything, anything necessary to stay in power.

By contrast, Jacinda Ardern showed us another way to lead and another way to serve. It was sometimes lumpy and sometimes ineffective. But in an era of brutal divisiveness and weaponised polarisation in this country and elsewhere, some of her stardust would not go astray.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

The vandalism that Ardern has done in New Zealand gets zero mention.
On any measure New Zealand has never been worse: the economy, homeless, hospital wait times, serious crime. With 46% of the nation believing she had left them worse off she made a sudden exit stage left.
Brilliant at spin but terrible at actually delivering a single fiscal policy.

HiddenDragon7:41 pm 16 Aug 23

PM Jacinda was a good salesperson in her day, but buyers’ remorse seems to have taken hold in a big way, with polls currently pointing to voters giving the boot to many of the MPs elected in the “biggest landslide in post-war NZ history” and installing a right-wing government with policies strongly antithetical to the Ardern agenda in national elections now less than two months away.

Looking from across the Tasman, it is disappointing that the Ardern “stardust effect” was not used to much better effect in relations with the Pacific micro-states, most particularly in efforts to limit the strategic intrusion of the CCP into our region.

NZ led by Ardern should have been the perfect alternative for Pacific leaders who expressed discomfort with the style and policies of Australia led by Morrison, but it never seemed to work out the way when it came to the crunch, with NZ no more effective than Australia or, at times, seemingly missing in action.

What a load of rubbish and the election hasn’t happened yet. The polls are bouncing around and are way too tight to call it. Two months till the next election is a long time in politics and anything can happen. With so much opinionated negativity from the media that want a right-wing government, National should be smashing it but they are not and they have an unpopular leader. National’s uncosted policies are not going down well with voters. Relations between New Zealand and Pacific countries, remembering that some are realm nations of New Zealand is quite strong.

Please feel free to come and live in New Zealand and live with the consequences of Spindy! You have no clue. The division, crime, homelessness and debt we have to sort out is wholly caused by her government and gormless turds continue to believe she had something other than good PR.

In the world of modern politics Jacinda Ardern shines. She has one thing that most politicians lack.


Interesting responses. 3 Posters think Jacinta was a total dud & Word Word staunchly defending her.

Seriously? Are you claiming a “straw poll” of RiotACT commentators is an objective litmus test on Jacinta Ardern’s performance?

Not at all just an observation.
For mine apart from her handling of the shooting she was an average plodder.

So what, Frank? Many judge Jacinda on what the media said, much of which was opinion with a large dose of jealousy and tall poppy syndrome. I live in New Zealand, and speak from experience.

It’s frustrating when those in the media continue to put Jacinda down by misrepresenting her numerous achievements, which is quite significant and she saved countless lives as well. National left a housing crisis and Labour under Ardern began the largest building program since the 1950s, housing has become more affordable than it was under National. Child poverty has also been substantially reduced under Ardern’s watch, she never claimed she would ‘end it’ least of all in just 5 and half years, and she never claimed that it would be an overnight fix either, her aim was to reduce it and she introduced policies to achieve that and hoped one-day child poverty would end. Recent stats show that emissions have reduced faster than what was expected. Housing, poverty, and emissions are all very long-standing issues that existed long before her time as PM, none of which could ever be fixed in just one or two terms. Jacinda said when she first took office, people needed to be patient, they can’t fix everything overnight, and these things do take a long time to sort out. The Ardern government never had a magic wand like some seemed to think to make long-standing issues suddenly disappear.

You have clearly never set foot in the country, the complete opposite is true for every claim that you have made here. She has been, and will remain, the worst leader the country has ever had.

You must be kidding ? Jacinda might have charisma but as NZ Prime Minister she was a total failure, she delivered nothing that she promised was the most authoritarian leader locking down the country during the plandemic. She is a self proclaimed communist and darling of the World Economic Forum Klaus Schwab , she shut down free speech and has left NZ a divided nation between Maori and Kiwi , somebody should have asked her what were her orders when she visited the office of Black Rock in New York ?

Load of rubbish

Stephen Saunders9:06 am 15 Aug 23

“Stardust” is dead right. She “unveiled” two highly specific promises in 2017 – cutting immigration and building homes – and failed spectacularly at both.

Immigration was substantially reduced during the global pandemic and more houses have been built under Labour after National left a housing crisis.

Are you kidding? Ardern is one of the most authoritarian political leaders of my life time. Her charisma is undeniable, but that just makes her all the more terrifying.

Rubbish, that is not true.

“We will continue to be your single source of truth.”

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.