Opinion: Jacinda Ardern held her own in the Pacific and brought her own style to the role

I’ve never been a fan of the Jacinda-hype that swept the country – in television you learn how easy it is to dress something up - but it’s the substance that will make or break.

The delegation were met with bright colours and dancing. Source: 1 NEWS

Jacinda Ardern had a tough road to traverse on her first Pacific mission.

While Labour is wildly popular in New Zealand amongst Pasifika, National – mostly represented by Foreign Minister Murray McCully - has enjoyed a solid nine year relationship with Pacific Islands leaders.

The no-nonsense, business-economic focused approach of National has been an easy fit for Pacific leaders who tend to be conservative.

You can dress it up any way you like but the bottom line is all the Pacific prime ministers and presidents are older men and women are barely represented in parliament.

Jacinda Ardern will meet the Tongan Prime Minister and attend a woman's leadership breakfast. Source: Breakfast

So having to deal with a pregnant, unmarried young woman was going to be a challenge for some.

At a grass-roots level Ardern was liked enormously by the locals in all four countries she visited – Samoa, Niue, Tonga and Cook Islands.

On a political level it varied – as she said herself at today’s press conference: "Some of the relationships differ and we have very particular ones with our realm nations".

Possibly where Ardern really shined was in Samoa – her most difficult task.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi is an old warhorse, been there done that, stubborn-as and used to getting his way.

While his deputy is a woman, he’s a man’s man. 

He’s always been a great ally for New Zealand and an extremely strong leader so it would have been a difficult road to tread.

In the bilateral Tuilaepa found out Ardern was no pushover and he didn’t get everything he wanted. But that’s politics.

The PM spoke from Samoa on the $10m aid package for the country, saying she desired a more equal relationship with the “mature” Pacific democracies. Source: Breakfast

Tonga is distracted by its own political problems and Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva has ailing health but that meeting went better than expected.

The $10 million aid package towards Cyclone Gita recovery helped.

The Cooks and Niue were a triumph as part of Foreign Minister Winston Peter’s coalition deal with Labour was to allow residents to bring back full pension to the islands.

He was greeted like a hero locally and Ardern enjoyed the result.

Both are pushing a new look New Zealand in the Pacific – calling it a "reset" and in an attempt to reduce China’s influence putting more aid into what island nations themselves prioritise.

While there’s no doubt Peters has been a strong influencer, Ardern has more than held her own and brought her own style to the role.

The PM is on a whistle-stop tour of the Pacific, a trip that started in Samoa this morning. Source: 1 NEWS

While the results are yet to be seen, her first Pacific report card is a strong one.