Jacinda Ardern mulls how to avoid being a one-term PM

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says if her Government is voted out after a single term, it'll be because they failed to bring New Zealanders around to their way of thinking.

Justice Minister Andrew Little's planned criminal justice reforms have exposed cracks in the Labour-NZ First coalition. Mr Little wants to repeal the 'three strikes' legislation, calling it the "high-water mark of policy stupidity", but NZ First leader Winston Peters reportedly forced him to backtrack.

"The strength of this coalition is that change only occurs with the support of all three parties," Mr Little said. "We are committed to a meaningful and balanced programme of change and we will be consulting our coalition partners and the public on this over the coming months."

Mr Peters has kept the door open for a repeal however, agreeing with Labour that something needs to be done about New Zealand's burgeoning prison population.

"Ask the Deputy Prime Minister himself," Ms Ardern told Newshub Nation on Saturday.

"He has spoken openly around the fact that some of these things that we have in our system, and the fact that when we came into office, on the current trajectory, we would be building a new prison every three to five years, and yet our criminal offending rate sits at about a pretty constant state. Something is going wrong. He himself has said we need to do things differently."

Jacinda Ardern on Newshub Nation.
Jacinda Ardern on Newshub Nation. Photo credit: Newshub Nation

Though the Labour-NZ First coalition (with support from the Greens) has kept its nose ahead in the polls, the public doesn't appear to be so keen on the Government's plan to reduce the prison population. A poll earlier this month found two-thirds of voters back the three-strikes law, including a majority of NZ First and Labour voters.

Ms Ardern acknowledged the Government may be getting ahead of public opinion on this issue.

"The biggest obstacle we have at the moment is making sure that we bring the New Zealand public with us. You know, this is a conversation we need to have together.

"In the past, you have seen reactions in the criminal justice area as being just that - reactive. We need to sit down together and say, 'What does it mean to create a safer New Zealand, a more effective criminal justice system?' And sometimes for some offenders, lower level, that will mean looking at some of the alternatives that exist."

She says it'll take much more than criminal justice reforms to achieve that, including "an improved youth justice system, more investment in education, better transition services, stopping young people becoming NEETS, 'not in employment, education or training', doing more around drug and alcohol issues and actually having rehabilitation that works".

And she wants the public on-side with any changes the Government does implement.

"If you end up being a one-term Government as a consequence of changes you've made, you probably haven't brought people on that journey, and the pitch that we're making, the conversation we need to have, is to - with New Zealand, is when we have a static crime rate - one actually that we want to bring down - but when we have a static crime rate but an ever increasing prison population, is that the kind of country we want to be?"

Ms Ardern is about to hand over the reins to Mr Peters for around six weeks, her first baby due this weekend.