‘Tired’ Ardern exits politics with look back at maiden speech, IVF and climate fight

Wellington: Jacinda Ardern has bid farewell to New Zealand’s parliament with a tearful valedictory speech, a call for more diverse leadership, and a plea to keep climate change politics-free.

The former NZ prime minister and Labour leader addressed colleagues for the final time on Wednesday, with former prime ministers and other luminaries watching from packed public galleries.

Jacinda Ardern started her valedictory speech in the House of Representatives in Wellington in Maori.Credit:Robert Kitchin/Stuff

Ardern entered parliament at the age of 28 and when Labour took power under her leadership in 2017, she became the world’s youngest female head of government at 37.

“My internal reluctance to lead was matched by a huge sense of responsibility,” she said.

Climate change was a constant in her maiden speech, in her leadership campaign launch and in her valedictory this week.

“Climate change is a crisis. It is upon us. And so, one of the very few things I will ask in this house on my departure is that you please take the politics out of climate change,” she said.

“There will always be policy differences but beneath that we have what we need to make the progress we must.”

NZ’s climate change-tackling policies – including the Zero Carbon Act, an independent climate commission and carbon budgets – are among Ardern’s signature achievements.

The 42-year-old gave special thanks to members of the country’s Islamic community, who she said humbled her beyond words with their stoic response to the Christchurch Mosques terrorism attack.

A number of survivors and widows of the 51 killed in the 2019 attack were given seats for the address.

Ardern also spoke ruefully of the rise of misinformation in politics, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“So much of the information swirling around was false,” she said.

“Seeing the rage that often accompanies these conspiracies, I had to accept that I … could not single-handedly pull someone out of a rabbit hole.

“But perhaps collectively, we all have a role to play in stopping people falling down in the first place.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern arrives with her husband Clarke Gayford and daughter Neve for the Queen’s State Memorial Service at the Cathedral of St Paul in Wellington in September.Credit:NZ Herald/AP

“They are answers I will keep looking for.”

Ardern will do that with one of the roles she will take up when she formally resigns her seat on April 15.

She will continue her work countering online extremism as NZ’s special envoy for the Christchurch Call, a multilateral partnership between tech companies and nations, while also taking up a board seat on Prince William’s conservation project, the Earthshot Prize.

As she concluded her speech, Ardern described her battle to conceive her daughter Neve, four, as she began her prime ministership.

“When I ran for parliament in my 20s I remember being afraid that I was choosing a path that meant I wouldn’t get to have children,” she said.

“I experienced a failed IVF round when I became leader of the Labour Party. I thought that I found myself on a path that I wouldn’t be a mother.

“Rather than process that, I campaigned to become prime minister.

“Imagine my surprise when a couple of months later I discovered I was pregnant.

“I leave knowing I was the best mother I could be.

“You can be anxious, sensitive, kind and wear your heart on your sleeve. You can be a mother or not. You can be an ex-Mormon or not. You can be a nerd, a crier, or a hugger. You can be all of these things.

“And not only can you be here – you can lead, just like me.”

On Tuesday night Ardern granted long-form television interviews to two broadcasters, TVNZ and Newshub.

Her last interview response indicated why she left politics.

As Ardern and TVNZ stalwart John Campbell discussed her official photo joining the ranks of former prime ministers on parliament’s walls, she remarked that soon “the only thing that will remain is that picture and how I made people feel”.

Campbell asked the outgoing Labour leader how she felt, receiving a one-word response so breathy and soft it could barely be heard.

“Tired,” Ardern said.


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