Jacinda Ardern tells world leaders our model of democracy is 'being challenged across globe'

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has told world leaders that our model of democracy is "being challenged across the globe" and that to address issues like COVID-19 and climate change we need to value a diversity of voices and build enduring institutions.

Arden gave two pre-recorded speeches overnight as part of the Summit for Democracy, a virtual event held by United States President Joe Biden and attended by more than 100 world leaders. 

The event aimed to bring together figures from government, civil society and the private sector to lay out an "affirmative agenda for democratic renewal and to tackle the greatest threats faced by democracies today through collective action".

Notably, authoritarian states Russia and China, with which the US currently has poor relations, were not invited to the event. They've both criticised the event.

In New Zealand's National Statement at the event, Ardern thanked Biden for "bringing us together in these challenging times of COVID-19 and when other events threaten to disconnect us and divide us".

She said the summit came at a "critical time in which our model of democracy underpinned by human rights and the rule of law is being challenged across the globe".

"If we are to navigate the challenges of our time – including COVID-19 and climate change – we will need to do so in a way that reflects our key strength – the inclusivity of our societies which allows us to acknowledge and value a diversity of voices and build enduring institutions and approaches to help solve challenges and address needs."

The Prime Minister laid out New Zealand's history as a "proud, independent and democratic nation", noting we've been holding regular elections since 1854 and, in 1893, became the first self-governing country to allow women the right to vote. 

Referencing the need for democracies to evolve, Ardern mentioned the shift to MMP, leading "our Parliament [to] being now more representative and diverse", and how governments are seeking to foster "stronger, ongoing and effective relationships with Māori", including by trying to settle historical grievances.

"This settlement process has been critical to addressing the wrongs of the past and for creating a pathway for a more inclusive society in New Zealand – an areas where we must continue to work hard to realise that vision."

She also boasted of the global perception of our democracy, with Aotearoa listed as among the most democratic nations in The Economist's Democracy Index and Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index.

On new technologies, Ardern told participants nations must work together and "put human rights at the centre of our approach", working alongside both civil society and the privatesector". She gave the example of the Christchurch Call to Action.

"Advancing human rights and democracy abroad with a broad range of partners is an important priority for Aotearoa New Zealand.  And as a Pacific nation and a founding member of the Pacific Islands Forum, we are committed to working in partnership with Pacific countries to build resilient democracies, especially in dealing with the impact of COVID-19."

Ardern announced New Zeaand would commit an additional $1 million to support Pacific countries' anti-corruption efforts as well as $150,000 to UNESCO's Global Media Defence Fund and a contribution to the International Fund of Public Interest media.  

The Prime Minister was also invited to speak at a session on strengthening democratic resilience, hosted by the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

While addressing many of the same topics and themes in this speech as she did in her first, Ardern said democracy had progressed positively to date, but the world needed to be mindful that democratic systems and their progress "can be fragile". 

To thrive, Ardern said democracies needed high quality institutions, a clear social contract to bind people together and which underpins their relationship with government, an "unwavering commitment to human rights and the rule of law", a voice for marginalised people, and the ability to respond to pressing issues. 

"In these challenging COVID times, the world’s democracies have a unique opportunity to come together to ensure global health settings and our domestic health systems are better prepared for the next pandemic," the Prime Minister said. 

"Aotearoa New Zealand will work with partners to promote global, cooperative and evidence-based approaches to responding to disease outbreaks so we can ensure equitable and sustainable outcomes for all countries, and prevent deepening inequalities. 

"This opportunity to protect the health of our people - the health of our economies, and the health of democracies – should not be lost. This is what building back better is all about."

Ardern speaking at the event.
Ardern speaking at the event. Photo credit: Summit for Democracy.

She also used the summit to speak about the need to use a "free, open, secure and globally connected internet as a powerful vehicle for social progress, democratic participation and economic and technological advances". 

The summit and countries' commitment to human rights comes as the United States attempts to deal with tensions in eastern Europe over Russia's suspected desire to invade Ukraine as well as abuses in China and its rising influence in the Indo-Pacific.

The US and a number of other countries this week announced they'd stage a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics in protest of the treatment of Uighur Muslims in the Chinese province of Xinjiang. New Zealand isn't sending ministers, with Trade Minister Damien O'Connor on Thursday saying we need to "stand up"