The prime minister speaks with The Bulletin about the coming year and where she intends to focus her time beyond Covid-19.
Jacinda Ardern on travelling this summer. Aucklanders are facing renewed calls from health experts and iwi leaders to stay home this summer and avoid fuelling a possible Covid-19 surge, but the prime minister says that’s unnecessary and the new traffic light system is up to the challenge.
Looking to next year. Speaking with The Bulletin for an end-of-year interview, Ardern looked ahead to the issues she expects will dominate her schedule in 2022. But first comes the test of the next few weeks as the country enters a new phase in its response to Covid-19. Unlike the old alert levels, Ardern said that people now need to make their own choices about what’s safe for them, knowing the traffic light system will support their choices.
Just because you can travel, should you? “We haven’t left anything to chance, nor have we created a system reliant on other people to add additional layers for people to be protected,” said Ardern. “For us, we’ve always built that into the system. We want people to be able to make choices, in the security that we’ve thought through the impact of movements.”
“The protection now sits with the individual person. If you’re vaccinated, you’ve got a bit of armour you’re taking with you … my advice to Aucklanders would be to follow the rules and guidance, and make your plans accordingly.”
Does omicron change the rules for MIQ? In the few weeks since the government unveiled its timetable to relax border restrictions next year, the new omicron variant has upended government plans around the world. While little is still definitively known about the variant, it appears omicron is more infectious than delta. Currently, many New Zealanders returning from overseas are completing managed isolation in central Auckland hotels. Does the new variant present a strong argument to stop housing returnees in the middle of the country’s largest city?
“No, not at this stage,” said Ardern, adding that the government’s plan to reopen the border was designed with the possibility of variants in mind. “That was built into our system, because we’ve had a mind to how to last the distance in this pandemic”.
It can’t always be Covid. Next year will bring about a focus on inequality and climate change, says Ardern. The global pandemic is “this enormous thing,” said the prime minister, drawing a circle in the air, and it touches just about everything. It’s demonstrated the need to do more on housing and social inequality as the pandemic has worsened both situations. “We continue to do a lot of work on child well-being and for me the final piece of the puzzle is in the recovery. How do we make sure we are orientating ourselves for a recovery that is climate-focused and sustainable? In 2022, I anticipate I’ll be doing a lot of ongoing work in that space and we’ve already indicated the budget will be quite climate-focused as well,” she said.
The government had a busy work programme in 2021, but some aspects were delayed. Next year, expect it to pick up speed. The remaking of the health sector, with the shuttering of district health boards and creation of a new national system, would be a large work programme for any government. On top of that, Ardern said she expects to see much more of the resource management work coming through, as well as three waters, welfare changes, the housing programme and climate change.
“On their own, these would each be considered significant. We haven’t put a brake on any of them. It’s really hard amongst all of those to say which isn’t important. They are all important. All of them in their own way have been delayed or postponed, and we can’t keep doing that,” she said.
What’s on her Spotify end-of-year playlist? Unfortunately, Jacinda Ardern uses Apple Music, so she can’t join in on the Spotify fun. However, like many parents with children, her top artist would be “Disney”. If she could filter out the Moana and Frozen, there would be a lot of Lorde, Teeks and Hollie Smith. Podcasts? She’s the prime minister, she doesn’t have time for podcasts. But one glorious day in the future, years from now, she’ll be able to tune back into Criminal and the crimes that have been solved. “They are waiting for me. Have you listened to it? It’s exceptional, it’s right up my alley.”
This is the first in a series of end-of-year interviews with MPs over the coming weeks.
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