Australian economist Judith Sloan rips into 'ordinary' Jacinda Ardern

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern won the hearts of many for her empathetic response to the Christchurch terror attack, but an Australian economist isn't convinced she's the real deal. 

Judith Sloan, a Melbourne-based economist, says while Ardern has been lauded for her response to Christchurch including clamping down on gun laws, she only came to be in her position through "extraordinary selectiveness". 

"For those who follow that country's politics, the deification of Jacinda Ardern is underpinned by an extraordinary selectiveness when it comes to assessing the real political person," Sloan wrote in The Australian newspaper. 

The criticism comes amid a wave of international admiration for Ardern and her reaction to the Christchurch mosque shootings when 50 people were killed. Over the weekend an image of Ardern was projected onto the world's tallest building in Dubai in a show of thanks. 

But Sloan suggests Ardern's popularity is misguided: "I get it: she's young, a new mother with a stay-at-home partner and she's from the Left."

She pointed to the 2017 election when Ardern's Labour Party won 46 seats, which were not enough to form a government. It only managed to get through by forming a coalition with New Zealand First and a confidence and supply guarantee with the Greens. 

Ardern's deputy, Winston Peters, was described as a "nationalist-populist" by Sloan, who she said was "rewarded with the deputy prime ministership" along with three other ministerial titles - "not a bad haul for a party that received 7 percent of the vote".

Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters.
Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters. Photo credit: Getty

Sloan said the New Zealand election was "surprising" considering the "success of the previous National Party governments" under former prime ministers John Key and Bill English. She said they "artfully" steered us through the global financial crisis and Christchurch earthquakes. 

But the National Party, like Labour, did not win enough seats to form a government, and under Mixed-member proportional representation (MMP), both parties were at the mercy of New Zealand First to form a coalition. 

Sloan also took aim at Ardern's persistent offer to take some of its detained asylum seekers - an offer that was first made in 2013 under the National-led government and refused over the possibility of New Zealand being used as a backdoor into Australia.  

"Ardern has been happy to garner favourable press coverage criticising our offshore processing system and vaguely agreeing to take some refugees from Manus Island and Nauru," Sloan said. 

"But her country's annual refugee intake had been just 750 until last year, when it was lifted to 1000. New Zealand's refugee intake amounts to 0.02 percent of its population compared with our 0.07 percent."

Sloan did not mention that the Government announced in September last year it will be increasing the refugee quota to 1500 within its first term. The quota was increased to 1000 by the previous National-led government in response to the Syrian refugee crisis. 

Sloan also took aim at the Government's KiwiBuild policy, which has come under fire for not delivering on its initial pledge. In January Ardern said the programme had been "re-calibrated", with the target of 1000 homes by the end of 2019 dropped. 

Jacinda Ardern and Housing Minister Phil Twyford.
Jacinda Ardern and Housing Minister Phil Twyford. Photo credit: Supplied

"What started off as an ill-considered public housing project has turned out to be an extremely unsuccessful private real estate scam. The government estimated that there would be 1000 homes built last year under KiwiBuild; it turned out to be 47," Sloan said. 

KiwiBuild's long-term goal of delivering 100,000 houses in 10 years has been kept, however, with Ardern admitting in January that the Government will "need to demonstrate to the public what we're doing". 

Sloan, who has held a number of government appointments in Australia, including Commissioner of the Productivity Commission, also took aim at the Government's attempt to reduce the migrant intake, noting the foreign buyer ban

"If their economy turns pear-shaped, there is a strong possibility more New Zealanders, including those recently arrived migrants, could head over the ditch," she said.  

"We expect our political leaders to behave in a compassionate and forthright manner in those circumstances. Ardern has lived up to this expectation.

"But this doesn't inoculate her from criticism as a political leader trying to run a country. On many fronts, her performance has been ordinary."


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