Coffee habits. Waiheke ferries. Hair straighteners. The scoops were served up faster than a midsummer beachside dairy when Jacinda Ardern spoke to Gone By Lunchtime’s Toby Manhire to recap the year.
The prime minister phoned in to the Spinoff Gone By Lunchtime studio for an end-of-year interview last week that spanned all the essential subjects: memories of 2020, Oranga Tamariki, effecting change, the Spinoff time capsule, hair straighteners and, of course, Frujus.
The year that was
Asked to pluck out a definitive, or memorable day from the Covid response, Ardern recalled the “that moment when I found out we had our first case of Covid in New Zealand”. She was at a leaders’ meeting in Sydney with Scott Morrison. “I remember that very well.” Then there were the decisions that had to be made around closing the border to all but residents.
But the moments that stuck out the most were not just the achieving of milestones, but the setbacks, real and false alarms. “From time to time I would get a call saying we’ve had a positive case. Sometimes they were. Sometimes they were false positives but that to me has been emblematic of what it’s been like; you just get somewhere and then suddenly you have the setbacks.” No matter how piffling those setbacks might seem in comparison to some other countries, “it doesn’t make it any easier.”
The Spinoff Time Capsule
What might the prime minister bung in our 2020 time capsule?
“The first thing that came into my mind,” said Ardern, warning “this is not going to be what you expect”, is a whiteboard marker.
“It would require explanation for someone in the future. During the lockdown, every day I had a routine like everyone did, I would walk from Premier House over to the Beehive, I would have my daily calls, and I would get at a particular time the results for the day. I had a whiteboard in the office and that is where I tracked our case numbers, our testing numbers, also our stocks of testing equipment, our PPE equipment and reserves. I had all of that on a whiteboard in my office. For me you know it was just waiting for the peak that we knew we would have to reach before we came down again, and just the reliance on the science that would we expected would happen with the virus did. So that whiteboard was a very big deal for me.”
Award winning journalist Annabelle Lee-Mather wanted to ask the following: should, in principle, the next CEO of Oranga Tamariki be Māori?
Ardern’s response, in part: “I think whatever we do in Oranga Tamariki has to be responsive and meet the needs of those most deeply affected by the organisation. So you’ll see that we have a member of our Māori caucus [Kelvin Davis] now the minister for Oranga Tamariki. That is a reflection of us knowing that we have to make sure this system is working for those that it currently most deeply affects.”
Ardern was perplexed that the most pressing question for Ben Thomas was about the Waiheke Ferry and gold card holders. In fact he’d wanted primarily to ask about RMA reform, but that was kyboshed by his co-podcasters. I did not tell her that.
As to whether superannuitants should continue to enjoy the state largesse of free travel between Auckland and Waiheke Island, Ardern said she was alert to the issue, having previously been an MP based in Auckland. “Of course there are people who go across in order to visit, there are also a lot of people who live on the island and use it very legitimately to come back to Auckland for medical check-ups and things they need to do, so it’s very hard to draw a distinction between those two … but ”it’s not something I’ve given formal consideration to, I have to say.”
Choking on coffee grounds
Mercifully it did not end up being, as it one point it sounded like it might, Aotearoa’s answer to the George Bush pretzel incident. It was coffee grounds that caused the prime minister to hold the phone away for a quick coughing fit. “I’m just drinking ground coffee straight,” she explained.
I don’t think she meant that literally, but it is nevertheless notable that the prime minister has, not for the first time, taken up coffee.
“I am back on the coffee, this happened a while ago,” said Ardern, “This is a hangover from lockdown.”
Demands for swift change
Asked what the pundit class, the likes of the Gone By Lunchtime podcast, get wrong or misunderstand about politics, Ardern said it was “totally understandable”, she said, but “one of the things that is probably for me the toughest is there’s often very little distance between us and some of the things that many call for in terms of pace around climate change, housing, child poverty. These are all areas where we totally agree on the principle and the destination.”
The challenge was to “make sure things stick”, she said. Having witnessed the reforms of the 1990s, “What I want to do, I want it to last. I don’t want there to be political cycles to some of the changes that need to stick, and that means, a, trying to build consensus, and, b, doing it in a way that’s sustainable.”
Award winning journalist Annabelle Lee Mather wanted to know about Ardern’s hair straighteners: what brand and what paddle width? It was a “great question”, said the prime minister. “Narrow paddle. And this is your second breaking story for this interview. I’m currently using a Remington. I do have a wide paddle Cloud but it doesn’t get used nearly as much as my little skinny Remington.”
Finally, to Frujus. In light of the recent heated debate, did Ardern like a Tropical Snow, and did she have the correct opinion, ie that it’s not really a Fruju? “I like a Fruju Tropical Snow,” said the prime minister of New Zealand. “However, there’s no going past a classic Fruju.”
Under further interrogation, Ardern acknowledged that the Tropical Snow was “really a cheap sorbet”, before digressing. “The most groundbreaking thing I have discovered this year … is the pre-made Goodie-Goodie Gum Drop ice-cream,” she said.
She added: “Rich in chocolate.”
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.