Opinion

Rachel Smalley: Jacinda has chosen to step away when she is needed most

OPINION

You may have seen Jack Tame’s interview with Jacinda Ardern on Q&A on TV One on Sunday.

Quite remarkably, Tame revealed that Labour had granted Q&A two interviews with the Prime Minister this year. Two. And the first was on July 31st. Quite extraordinary. 

Why that is significant is because Q&A on TV One and The Nation on TV3 are New Zealand's only dedicated, long-form political programmes. They provide the platform to interview the Prime Minister at length -- not the 10-second soundbites you hear on the 6 pm news or the breakfast TV programmes which typically involve lots of talking over each other. 

And so the PM's advisors have said she'll speak just twice to Q&A this year. In the past, political leaders would agree to appear as and when is necessary. If there's a big issue, they'll absolutely come on the programmes. Not now, it seems. 

Why is it important? You, as the public, need to hear the PM questioned and challenged at length on everything from the economy to the COVID response to child poverty to the state housing crisis. That is democracy at play. 

So, the PM's reluctance to front on that show does a disservice to you - to the public. 

Now, however frustrating this may be, I’ll move on because I want to play you two minutes from Jack Tame’s interview with the Prime Minister because I think it's really telling.

Tame challenges the Prime Minister on the issue that is massively impacting our schools right. If you, like me, have school-aged children, you’ll know many teachers and principals are under significant pressure on the issue of masks. There are parents who want their kids masked, there are parents who don’t, and there are parents who will roll with whatever they’re told.

Except, they haven’t been told anything. The Government has off-loaded the decision onto schools and left principals to take the heat – and there is considerable heat in some cases. They should be there to oversee the education of our children, instead, they've been left to make a decision on mask usage. And that is unfair. 

Let’s have a listen to a couple of minutes of that interview from the weekend.

Well, no. Prime Minister. It doesn’t allow schools to take leadership on this issue. It shifts the responsibility for leadership from you to them. 

Jack Tame is 100% right when he challenges the PM and says it is an abdication of leadership. It is. It really is. 

There is a solution here, Prime Minister

Step up. Lead. Step up, as you did at the start of COVID. You've been elected to lead -- and you need to lead. It is wrong to leave it to principals to decide if our children should wear masks. You have the science, you have access to all that information from the Ministry of Health, you make the decision. 

This is a clear abdication of leadership. You can't pick and choose when you will lead and when you will leave it to someone else to. 

With record numbers of kiwis dying, what would David Lange have done? What would Norm Kirk have done? What would Helen Clark have done? They would have stepped up and made a decision. 

Jacinda Ardern has chosen to step away. That is not leadership and even her most loyal supporters must realise that.