February 4, 2023

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Driving New Zealand was the “greatest privilege”, said Jacinda Ardern at the latest event Jacinda Ardern

Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s outgoing prime minister, said leading the country was “the greatest privilege of my life” in her last public appearance before leaving office on Wednesday, less than a week after she unexpectedly resigned.

“I leave with greater love and affection for Aotearoa New Zealand And its people than it was when I started,” Ardern said. “I didn’t think it was possible.”

Sparkling and sometimes emotional, Ardern speaks at the annual celebration of the birthday of Maori Tahupitiki prophet Werimu Ratana, founder of the Ratana faith. The event is the unofficial start of the New Zealand political year, and sees the leaders of the New Zealand political parties meeting in their named North Island village, along with adherents of the faith.

Ardern was the star of the show, even as PT Chris Hipkins – who will be sworn in as prime minister on Wednesday – and opposition national leader Christopher Luxon appeared to accuse each other’s parties of spreading fear or division over Maori issues in their speeches.

The Ratana Church has strong historical ties to the Labor Party, but even for someone of her political affiliation, Ardern received a particularly warm welcome, arriving in sunglasses and a korowai — a Maori feathered cloak — to cheers, hugs and requests for selfies. She said she had no intention of speaking at the event, but that plan was vetoed by her hosts.

In a brief speech, Ardern appeared to dismiss speculation – which has circulated widely in New Zealand since her resignation – that The sexual abuse and vitriol she faced at the job prompted her to quit.

Jacinda Ardern and her successor, Chris Hipkins, are enjoying the sun in Ratana. Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

“I want you to know that my overwhelming experience in this job, for New Zealand and New Zealand, has been one of love, compassion and kindness,” she said. “That’s what the majority of New Zealand has shown me.”

A number of Maori chiefs took advantage of the moment to express their support for Ardern as a leader and person, while remaining critical of some policies.

“I wear my political allegiances here,” said Chee Wilson, chief of the Maori party, referring to the indigenous designs adorning his clothing, “but Prime Minister, it is right to say thank you.” As the crowd applauded, he said, “Again, thanks.”

“Attacking families because of political decisions is unacceptable,” said Rahoy Baba, from Tainui. “[You’ve said] There was no gasoline left in the tank, but the petrol pump was always there. We would help you in the premiership – and we will help you in the future.”

Ardern will always be welcome at Rātana, he said, “to come back again and again.”

Ratana ceremonies are not traditionally a venue for overtly political speeches, but some bucked the trend on Tuesday.

Luxon used his time at the marae (meeting-place) to denounce Ardern and her government’s adoption of so-called “common governance”, a term used to refer to the joint management of affairs between the iwi (Māori tribes) and the government.

Supporters of the policies say they underscore New Zealand’s founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi, which Māori and the British Crown signed as partners in 1840. Ardern’s government implemented it to ensure Māori representation in local government, create a Māori sanitary authority, and develop a new framework for water management.

But the phrase became a political lightning bolt, with some New Zealanders’ opposition to it partly responsible for Ardern’s decline in opinion polls in the months leading up to her resignation.

“National is not opposed to shared governance in the delivery of public services,” Luxon said. “We believe in one cohesive system, not one system for Māori and another system for non-Māori.”

Opposition National Party Leader Christopher Luxon addresses the media during the Ratana celebrations.
Opposition National Party Leader Christopher Luxon addresses the media during the Ratana celebrations. Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

He said the Luxon party believed in “creating a level playing field”. “We don’t believe in equal results.”

He noted his efforts to learn Te Rio Maori – an official language of New Zealand – and said he was “very proud” of New Zealand’s treaty settlement process. But his speech compounded the National’s opposition to the Ardern government’s policies towards Māori.

Hipkins also made reference to his primitive te reo, which he said was committed to learning, saying he had grown up in a time when the Māori language and culture, and the history of New Zealand were not taught in schools – a situation Ardern tried to reverse.

“When it comes to the relationship between Māori and non-Māori, there is often a lot of uncertainty and a lot of misunderstanding,” Hipkins said. “In an environment of misunderstanding and uncertainty, it is easy to sow fear.”

But Hipkins has otherwise been very vocal about which of Ardern’s Māori policies—including condominium rule—might change when he takes office. He has promised since his nomination as leader of the He “runs a governor” over the entire government’s action planIn his first news interviews on Monday, he seemed to indicate that shared governance policies were on his mind.

He struck a conciliatory tone in his Ratana speech, however, praising a sports park near where he grew up that had been well managed under the strategy of co-governance.

But on Tuesday, it wasn’t the focus: It was Ardern.

Against the backdrop of Tuesday’s festivities, she told the audience, “If you’re going to leave, I say leave with a brass band.”

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