On The Nation: Patrick Gower interviews Jacinda Ardern
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says discussions have already begun on how to bring climate change refugees into New
Zealand under a Pacific seasonal employment plan.
Ardern says for now doubling the refugee quota is enough of an increase, as the country doesn’t have the resources to
support more refugees than that.
Ardern has repeated that New Zealand would only get involved with military action against North Korea if it was
supported by a United Nations resolution. And while she says there’s been no request so far for Winston Peters to help
with the North Korea situation, she says he is available to play whatever role he can in reaching a peaceful resolution.
Ardern says New Zealand should have a conversation about using measures such as a Happiness Index, rather than just GDP,
to measure the country’s well-being.
Patrick Gower: Prime Minister, thank you so much for joining us. On this trip, refugees have been a very big issue for
you, a very serious issue, personally. Is it a conviction issue for you?
Jacinda Ardern: Oh, yes, it is. But also, of course, my job is to advocate on behalf of New Zealanders. And I’ve
certainly sensed a sentiment from New Zealanders that we should make sure that we do our bit. You know, we are in a
position to be able to help – both our neighbour, in Australia, but also to lend assistance to those who are refugees
who are currently being held and resident on Manus Island and on Nauru.
Yeah. And on that, there has been some pressure on Australia from you, from New Zealand, essentially. Is that fair,
though, given that Australia takes five times more refugees per capita than New Zealand? Is it fair for us to sort of
knock them around when we take five times less?
My expectation, or what I have undertaken to do here, is certainly not to knock around Australia. I accept that they
play a huge role when it comes to their contribution to refugees and taking refugees. What I’m trying to do is make sure
that New Zealand takes its share of refugees as well. We’re on the back doorstep. We’ve made an offer; we’re here to
help. They’ve been seeking places to resettle those who are on Manus and Nauru, and I saw an opportunity for us to be a
part of that solution. So, certainly, I’m not here to knock them around but to at least make the case, on New Zealand’s
Yeah, but is it that we need to be more ambitious with our target for refugees? I know that your government will double
the quota. But do you now see, five times behind Australia, is there a need to be more aspirational than that? Than
doubling the quota?
Yes. Look, the doubling of the quota was an important step to take – it was – and that was the right thing to do.
But do you want to go beyond that is the question.
When we made that offer, we looked into what capacity we had – the ability to make sure that we resettle people
properly. And this is a key point as well with Manus and Nauru. People will ask, “Well, why only 150?” I looked
carefully at the capacity we had in our system to make sure that when we take on those refugees, we’re able to wrap
support around them. We’ve got to keep in mind these are, in some cases, victims of torture who have gone through an
extreme set of circumstances, who we need to make sure that when we take on that responsibility, we do it properly. And
that’s what we need to do with our quota as well.
So do you see a time when you will go beyond doubling the quota? Do you want to do that?
For now I think the responsible thing to do is double the quota and see that we’re able to do that properly.
One other conviction issue for you is obviously climate change, and you’ve spoken a lot about that. But for the first
time, I saw you talk about how you believe that New Zealand’s glaciers have been shrinking because of climate change. Is
Certainly that’s the advice that I’ve had. And we have been advocates on this issue. I see in part, and I’ve spoken on
this before, that we have two roles—
It’s costing New Zealanders glaciers – is that your personal view?
Yes. Yes. Well, yes – it is my personal view. But we have a role here. I use that to illustrate a point. We have a role
here not only to lead from the front and to use our voice but to demonstrate we’re taking action ourselves. And one of
the reasons that we need to do that is because we sit within the Pacific and we see and know that those around us are
already feeling the effects of this global issue. In fact, Asia-Pacific, where these meetings are being held and where
the attendees have been from, will be gravely affected by climate change.
Sure. And one thing – specific thing – you brought up is climate change refugees.
You want New Zealand to lead on that, do you?
Yeah, I absolutely see a role for us to play in acknowledging that all of us will face climate changes.
What are the practical steps to that?
One of the things we’ve already talked about is we of course already have a programme within the Pacific where we have
seasonal workers coming into work directly with New Zealand from our Pacific neighbours. Whether or not we can build in,
for instance, an element where we target those who might be affected by climate change and potentially be climate
refugees as part of that programme. We’re in the early days, but we’re looking at some options.
So you’re actually working on that. And is this urgent, actually dealing with climate change refugees? Is this urgent
for you or is this a sort of “off in the future” thing?
I think the most important thing is for us to try and slow the trend – of course do what we can to make sure that we’re
not in a position where we see a large-scale refugee situation. But we also need to make sure that we’re resilient, that
we’re also planning, that it’s about mitigation and adaptation. And part of that planning is looking around us and
saying -- what might be the needs in our regions as well and being prepared for that.
And specific action has started on that, Prime Minister?
Yes. It is very very early stages. Very early stages. Of course we’ve only been in for several weeks, but it’s a
conversation that we’re having.
Actually bringing “climate refugees”, so to speak, to New Zealand.
But using some of our existing programmes to see how we can accommodate within that those who might be affected by
Okay, I want to move now to North Korea, which has obviously been a subject of lots of discussion with you and the other
leaders. Now that you have spoken and interacted with these people, how real is the threat of North Korea?
Oh, look, absolutely it is taken as a genuine and real threat by those in the region. Absolutely.
And you, personally, what would you say to New Zealanders? How real is this threat?
Oh, you know, we’ve seen significant increases in testing and the capability of those tests. I think most people would
see that and know that it’s a genuine threat and that every member of the international community needs to play a role
in doing what we can to de-escalate the situation, put pressure on Pyongyang to make sure that they are responding to
the sanctions and the message that’s coming from the international community.
And if they don’t, or if there is a need for military action, is your position – because your position on the record is
that New Zealand will not join military action against North Korea unless it is backed by the United Nations. Is that
still your position?
The statement I used today at the East Asia Summit was we should use every tool available to us, bar military action.
And one of the reasons we’re so firm on that is that we are yet to exhaust all the channels that we have. In fact we’re
deploying many of them now, and with some success. So our point is those are the channels and those are the avenues we
need to keep pursuing.
And that position still stands?
It needs to have the United Nations Security Council resolution?
Even if Japan, the United States, Australia…?
Of course. You know, our view has always been multilateral approach is best. We maintain our independent foreign policy,
of course, and we’ll continually assess every situation. But, as I said today, we need to pursue every available avenue,
bar military action.
And is there an option – when you talk about dialogue with North Korea, which is an important way – is there, in your
view, a role, potentially, for Winston Peters, the Foreign Affairs Minister, to play in terms of talking to North Korea?
Do you think he is the kind of person that could interact with that regime?
Oh, that’s happened in the past. And I think it is a good reminder that actually, there was a direct request made a few
years ago now by the United States administration for support from Mr Peters in navigating a situation with North Korea
in the past. That speaks to the level of diplomacy and the level of relationship that I’ve seen Mr Peters has with
members of the international community. And I’ve seen it in play during this trip. It is an asset.
And do you think it’s an asset that could be used with North Korea?
To date, we haven’t had that request, but we remain absolutely available as a government – that includes our Minister of
Foreign Affairs – to play whatever role we can in reaching a peaceful resolution.
I mean should you put Winston Peters forward?
Look, I would certainly be open to a range of options that we can play our role. To date that hasn’t risen as a
potential possibility, but I’d never be closed off to the option.
Now, on the Trans-Pacific Partnership – and without getting into the detail and the nuts and bolts of it – your
overarching view on why that’s good for New Zealand. What is your overarching view on why the Trans-Pacific Partnership
is good for New Zealand?
We had a set of five goals we wanted to reach. We wanted to make sure that, yes, we had some decent outcomes for our
exporters. But we also wanted to protect Pharmac, protect the Treaty of Waitangi, protect our right to legislate,
protect our right to maintain our housing market—
Sure. And you’ve done that. What’s the good bit? If someone’s saying to you, “What’s the good bit here”?
And the point we make is that we’ve done that. That therefore enables us to actually place a little more emphasis on the
trade deal. Because before, the trade deal was somewhat masked by all of the bits that were much more negative. Now, we
haven’t reached a perfect agreement. But there’s no denying this deal gives us access to Japan, in particular, for our
beef, for our kiwifruit, for our wine, in a way that we just did not have before.
And what about locking us into the world? Is that important to you? Put the trade to one side; interacting with the
world – is that an important part of the TPP for you?
Look, what we have to acknowledge is that we are a small nation, and negotiating free trade agreements, multilateral
agreements, give you much greater access often in this environment. And so this has been a way that we’ve been able to
access multiple markets.
And very quickly on Australia – I mean, we’ve got leaks in the Australian media; we’ve got your threat of retaliation;
we’ve got the Julie Bishop issue; we could go on and on and on. What word would you use to characterise our relationship
right now? Because it does not look great to the outside.
Oh, look, New Zealand and Australia’s relationship is much stronger than any political new story of the day – much, much
So what word would you use?
Now, speaking of robustness – to look at a robust measure, to look at the way we measure economic growth – GDP – do you
think there is time under your government for a different measure, for a different official government measure beyond
I see room for a range, and we’ve talked about this before. You know, I want to make sure that people have a set of
markers that they can measure our success by.
Do we need to create a new one – a new official measure that looks at different elements of human happiness?
Yeah, we’re very open as a government to exploring markers that sit alongside some of those traditional economic
measures. Now, some of them we’ve already talked about. Let’s look at what’s happening for kids.
Like a happiness index?
Well, there have been talks about how you measure well-being, and I think that that’s a conversation a lot of developed
countries are starting to have, and we should too.
Okay, and just finally, how have you found the trip? You used the word ‘robust’ before; what word would you use to
describe your first outing on the international stage?
All right, thank you very much, Prime Minister, for your time.
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