Adulation, ego check for Ardern
Jacinda mania reached the winterless North yesterday on a rare dreary day for a region nervous the summer could bring another destructive drought.
Not 10 minutes into Ardern’s jampacked agenda was she declared the “Queen of New Zealand” by one of the speakers at the opening of the longawaited Hundertwasser- inspired community hub in Kawakawa.
The Te Hononga building has been 12 years in the making after two sets of funding from the Provincial Growth Fund totalling more than $ 18m.
And it appeared everyone in the small Far North town showed up for its opening ceremony, and at least eight people gave speeches.
The crush of fans then descended on Ardern as she introduced herself to the apprentices who’d built the building. They came bearing gifts, paintings, hugs and selfies and even followed her into the toilet as she admired it.
The mob was a slight inconvenience for Justice Minister Andrew Little, who actually needed to use the bathroom.
Next on the itinerary was the policy announcement under the kauri canopy – an hour roundtrip from Kawakawa – where Ardern, Little, Police Minister Stuart Nash, Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis and Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor stood shoulder- to- shoulder and unveiled two very different policies at once.
The first was a pledge to spend $ 32m over five years to fight kauri dieback.
The other was a law and order policy promising to extend a successful meth treatment programme to 4000 more people, set up another alcohol and drug court in Hawke’s Bay, help Ma ¯ ori women prisoners rehabilitate and scrap the three strikes law.
On a visit to the Te Ara Oranga programme in Moerewa, many thanked Ardern for visiting – but it wasn’t without an ego- check.
One man involved in the community- led Waipuna Ora recovery programme had watched Ardern become Prime Minister while he was in prison.
“I thought, ‘ Far, she’s doing alright’. But you’re a lot smaller in real life.”