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May 10, 2010 | by  | in Features |
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Jacinda Ardern

Jacinda Ardern is one of the youngest MPs in Parliament, at just 29. She has recently been selected as Labour’s candidate for Auckland Central, a seat Labour lost in the 2008 election to National’s Nikki Kaye. Salient Editor Sarah Robson talked to Jacinda about what it’s like to be a young woman in Parliament.

How did you first get into politics, and did you always want to be a politician?

I was always interested in issues, always observed—I guess—things around me. But I wouldn’t say that I ever aspired to be an MP, or woke up one day and decided that that was going to be my career goal. I was a volunteer for Labour for over ten years before I became an MP, and in lots of ways I still see myself as a volunteer for Labour, I’m just doing what I used to do in a very different way. I certainly always admired the role though, and it was certainly a job that I thought was a very privileged one. When the opportunity arose to put myself forward for the list, I gave it a lot of thought because I knew the sacrifice that was involved and what a difficult job it was, but I guess at the same time, from having watched it from afar, I thought it would be a really privileged role to have.

What was it like when you first entered Parliament, particularly being a young female MP?

I guess when I first came into Parliament, everyone is equally daunted… It felt like everyone was on an equal footing. It is a very daunting place to come and a very daunting job to take on when you first come in. I had read those stories of women who had preceeded me from decades ago, and the difference and the contrast from what I faced and what they faced was quite stark. They were coming up against a lot of really practical things, exclusion by not having ladies toilets in all parts of the building, having areas they couldn’t enter into and just the culture of the place. We have at least come far enough now that Parliament is a very very different place. But that doesn’t mean that there still aren’t challenges. I think for women, be it young women or women in general in Parliament, some of those challenges still exist and I think we still need to work hard to make sure Parliament is a place where women, at any stage of their career or life, feel like it is a role that they can take on, and at the moment I think we still have to do a bit of work to make that a reality. 

What have been some of the successes of your parliamentary career so far?

I think success is measured in a different way when you’re an opposition MP, it’s a bit different than being in government. We spend a lot of time holding the government to account and making sure people are aware of the impact of changes being made. One of my areas is youth justice and youth unemployment. We’ve seen youth unemployment rise to record levels, and I’ve seen part of my role as making sure the government is held to account in addressing the struggle young people are facing, and have faced in the recession. Last year I held a youth job summit to highlight the fact that the government hadn’t focused enough of its attention on young people. One of the other things I guess has been a big focus for me of late is becoming Labour’s candidate in Auckland Central, which happened about eight weeks ago. It’s an enormous step, to come into an area and take on the job of representing the party in a marginal seat.

What do you want to achieve in your parliamentary career?

Return a Labour government… Seeing what the government has done in the period that they have been in power, there will be a lot of rebuilding Labour will need to do. There are things that I’ve become really concerned about, and I’d like to be part of a future government that will focus on this, is the lack of attention that has been paid to our future generations in the short-sighted decisions that have been made. Some of the examples of that are the suspension of payments into the superannuation fund, the slashing of Kiwisaver, an emissions trading scheme which subsidises heavy polluters at the cost of future taxpayers, which of course does nothing to make sure New Zealand is playing its part in reducing our impact on climate change. So I think we’re letting my generation and the generations behind me down at the moment, and we need a government that’s going to make some bold decisions on our behalf and we haven’t seen that. That, I think, will be one of the biggest challenges a future government will have to take on and I’d hope to be a part of that team.

What do you think are some of the main challenges facing young women today, and how could these be overcome?

I still feel like, in some of the conversations I have with young women working in different areas, particularly those who have moved into positions of responsibility quite young, what I hear from them is that young women still feel like they’re making either/or decisions—they’re being asked to make sacrifices rather than choices. I know it’s a very grand objective, but I would like to see us working towards a country where young women don’t feel like they’re making either/or decisions, but do feel like they’re being supported to make the choices that are right for them, rather than the sacrifices we ask them to make now. That all sounds very abstract. I worked in the UK for a number of years and saw there the efforts they were making to try and make work-life balance more of a reality, rather than just a slogan—to try and make workplaces genuinely family friendly, and to remove the guilt attached to making some of those choices that might be right for us. That’s something we should be striving for.

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About the Author ()

Editor for 2010, politics nerd, panda fan and three-time award-winning student journalist.

Comments (6)

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  1. Nicola Wood says:

    @FLV your inability to actually spell Jacinda’s name correctly for a start gives me serious doubts about your knowledge of what a fantastic, talented young politician she is.

  2. FLV says:

    What a load of nonsense. Jacinta is good at using a lot of words to say nothing. Her biggest achievement was getting selected in a seat nobody else contested? Or was her biggest achievement cuddling up to judith tizard to get tizard’s endorsement for the labour nomination? Jacinta’s done nothing since becoming an MP. Like all list mps she’s next to useless. She’s going to have to raise her performance if she’s going to have a serious show of challenging Kaye in Auckland Central.

  3. FLV says:

    Sorry nicola I live in auckland central, never hear of jacinta so how do you expect me to spell her name right. Jacinta is the next judith tizard. Privileged young girl who has done nothing. The fact she says her biggest achievement is getting selected for auckland central in an uncontested selection speaks volumes.

  4. Raptor says:

    Contradiction Alert

    FLV, you said:
    “never hear of jacinta so how do you expect me to spell her name right.

    then you said
    “Privileged young girl who has done nothing. The fact she says her biggest achievement is getting selected for auckland central in an uncontested selection speaks volumes.”

    Firstly you could spell her name right because it is in the title.

    Secondly it is obvious you have heard of her.

    Thirdly, you’re a troll. I am feeding you. Now shut the hell up.

  5. FLV says:

    I know its probably heresy in labour circles, but jacinta isn’t anybody special. Who was the last Labour MP whose only achievement was getting selected as Labour’s candidate for auckland central in an uncontested selection? oh yes, JUDITH TIZARD!

  6. Nick says:

    hey flv how does it feel to be talking about nz politics over the internet and getting really excited about it

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