Jacinda Ardern: It is 'totally unacceptable' to ask women about baby plans

New Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has fiercely defended women in the workplace against what she says are "unacceptable" questions about whether they plan to have children.

Talk of Ms Ardern's political plans took a detour overnight, becoming dominated by discussion over whether it's acceptable to ask her about plans to have children after the question was put to her on The Project.

On Wednesday morning, Ms Ardern traded shots with AM Show sports presenter Mark Richardson, who argued employers - and in Ms Ardern's case the New Zealand public - need to know whether women are planning on having babies because employers are required to provide paid parental leave.

"I think it's a legitimate question for New Zealand, because she could be the Prime Minister leading this country. She has our best interest at heart. We need to know these things. 

"If you're the employer at a company, you need to know that type of thing from the women you're employing," he argued, to a chorus of, "No. No, no, no, no, no," from co-host Amanda Gillies.

When she appeared at the desk for her interview with Duncan Garner, Ms Ardern addressed Richardson directly.

Ms Ardern told Garner it's not an inappropriate question to ask her because she's spoken about it openly before.

"But, you," she said, pointing at Richardson, "for other women, it is totally unacceptable in 2017 to say that women should have to answer that question in the workplace. That is unacceptable in 2017. It is the woman's decision about when they choose to have children," she said.

"It should not predetermine whether or not they get the job."

Jacinda Ardern addressing Richardson on The AM Show.
Jacinda Ardern addressing Richardson on The AM Show. Photo credit: Newshub.

Richardson repeated his argument, saying an employer would need "to know at some stage down the line. He may need to have to allow, in his organisation, for that person to take leave."

"I'm not saying don't employ that person," he said.

"Then why ask?" Ms Ardern responded. "If you're asking the question around the time you're making a decision around employment, you're implying it's going to have an impact on whether you're going to employ that person or not.

"That is what I'm saying is unacceptable," Ardern said.

Regardless of whether you think it's a socially acceptable question, it's a question employers should avoid asking because it could breach the Human Rights Act.

"[These sorts of questions] could be seen as indicating an intention to employ, or not employ, applicants based on whether they're responsible for children or not," according to the Human Rights Commission.

The discussion about whether it's acceptable to ask a woman whether she plans to have a baby was triggered after Jesse Mulligan asked Ms Ardern whether she feels she has to choose between a career or babies on The Project on Monday night.

Ms Ardern said she has "no problem" with Mulligan's question because she's been open about the dilemma in the past.

"I think lots of women face it. For me, my position is no different to the woman who works three jobs or who might be in a position where they are juggling lots of responsibilities. You've just got to take every day as it comes," she said.

But on The AM Show this morning, Gillies said she found it inappropriate.

"This is her first day as Leader of the Opposition, her first prime time interview, and that's one of the first questions she's been asked.

"What happens if she can't have children? What happens if she doesn't want children? That's no one's business at the moment.

"That's between her and Clarke Gayford, her partner. It didn't sit well with me, and I can guarantee no one asked Bill English when he was 39 and leader of the Opposition of the National Party."

Although discussion about family plans have dominated the past 12 hours, Ms Ardern did make two political promises this morning. She completely ruled out Winston Peters as Prime Minister but said both Labour and National have to "be comfortable doing business" with him.

Ms Ardern said she'd be ramping up Labour's emphasis in three major areas - housing, health, education.

She said she's only been in the job for 24 hours and would be taking some time out to take stock.