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Helen Clark

Politics with Michelle Grattan: New Zealand’s Helen Clark on the pandemic inquiry and avoiding election ‘cat fights’

ew Zealand’s Helen Clark on the pandemic inquiry and avoiding election ‘cat fights’

On October 17, New Zealanders will head to the polls to vote in a general election and also on referendum questions for the legalisation of cannabis and euthansia.

In a head-to-head between two women, Labour’s Jacinda Ardern appears to be heading to a comfortable win against National Judith Collins, who only recently became her party’s leader.

This week New Zealand’s three term ex-Prime Minister Helen Clark joins the podcast to discuss the World Health Organisation’s investigation into COVID preparedness and response, and the New Zealand political scene.

Clark is a significant global player, a strong voice on the issues of climate change, gender equality, and women’s leadership, through her work with prominent bodies in the United Nations.

Most recently, Clark was appointed co-chair of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, which will present a report on how to effectively address health threats as they develop.

In New Zealand, an election in the wake of a pandemic creates a unique range of issues for voters. Ardern hasn’t committed to opening the New Zealand border, while the National party believes the border must be opened for economic reasons, but under stringent conditions. Clark is doubtful the border should be opened soon, or will be.

“I don’t think the border could be open for Christmas.

"And I’m in the school of thought that says a vaccine as a silver bullet isn’t going to give us sufficient protection any time soon. The most optimistic forecasts … [are for] later next year.

"Others – which might be more realistic – are saying later on 2022. Others are saying for years.”

And on the question whether there will be a trans-Tasman travel bubble soon, Clark says:

“At the moment, we don’t see that either. If Australia had firm borders at its state level, we could have had bubbles with New Zealand and Australian states. But that’s not the way the Australians have dealt with it. And that, of course, is absolutely their prerogative.”

With the first election debate taking place this week, Clark looks back to the election when she ran against a female leader.

“I recall that 1999 election when I went head-to-head with then prime minister Jenny Shipley. And to use a ghastly phrase, in a way there’s nothing that a lot of observers would like more than to see the two of you descend into some kind of ‘cat fight’.

"Watching Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins last night, I think it’s also fair to say that they kept it well above that level. They are so different in style. They’re a generation apart. Jacinda, 40. Judith, 61. Very different style. But they didn’t descend into pettiness of the kind that you can see in such debates. So I think the women leaders feel a real onus not to get down into the gutter.”

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Additional audio

A List of Ways to Die, Lee Rosevere, from Free Music Archive.

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