Ardern denies switching to 'foundational change' was because 'transformational' was too hard

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the Government is now striving for “foundational change”, rather than “transformational”, but she denies that the change is because transformational change was too difficult to achieve. 

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Jacinda Ardern says she used the phrase at Waitangi because her Government is laying the foundation for long-term change. Source: 1 NEWS

Ardern spoke about the change in phrase, a departure from her 2017 promise she would be transformational, in her speech at Waitangi today.

Speaking with reporters after the speech, Ardern denied the change in phrasing was because being transformational was too hard. 

“The things that will stand us in good stead for changing the way that our next generation thinks about New Zealand, who we are, things like learning history in schools, those are the things that lay the foundation for us doing things differently,” she said. 

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The prime minister announced the date for the Matariki holiday at Waitangi, as politicians spoke about the Treaty, and the work ahead of us to achieve its purpose. Source: 1 NEWS

She said every time she went to Waitangi, she wanted to show her Government continued to think about ways it could improve things.

“We’ve always been a Government that says, look, we acknowledge our problems and we will keep working on change to fix them.

“However, we also have to acknowledge that the way we’ve done things has sometimes been part of the problem too.”

Reporters then challenged Ardern on her first Waitangi address in 2018 where she asked those present at Te Whare Rūnanga to be “held to account” on a number of issues where Māori were disproportionately impacted. 

This included the lack of "transformational change" in improving child poverty and addressing Māori incarceration rates, among a range of other areas.

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The Child Poverty Monitor Report in December found little change in the number of children living in poverty and material hardship. This was exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and high housing costs. 

On the justice front, Labour has started putting people in home detention if they were sentenced to prison for less than two years, and has put in place a $98 million programme in 2019 to tackle Māori reoffending rates. But, about 50 per cent of the prison population are still Māori.

Ardern denied she was going for easy wins by making Matariki a public holiday, which she announced today would be held on June 24 next year. 

She said the issues were at the “forefront” of her Government, and that they were long-standing issues that dated back decades. 

“The idea that we haven’t made progress, I would challenge. Have we reached perfection? Absolutely not.”

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She said progress was also being made in housing affordability, through initiatives like the papakāinga housing on Māori-owned land. 

Ardern promised she would keep returning to Waitangi as long as she was prime minister and would continue asking to be held to account. 

ACT leader David Seymour said the phrases do not mean as much as actually following through on key issues.

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The Prime Minister has always promised transformational change for NZ. Source: 1 NEWS

“I don’t have a dictionary in front of me, but I would have thought foundational and transformational are both just buzzwords in the political context. 

I guess one is something that things can be built upon and the other is to change the shape of things,” Seymour said.

“I suspect the prime minister hasn’t thought that deeply about it though.”