Ardern was brought into politics by her aunt, Marie Ardern, a longstanding member of the Labour Party, who recruited the teenaged Ardern to help her with campaigning for New Plymouth MP Harry Duynhoven during his re-election campaign at the 1999 general election.
Ardern joined the Labour Party at the age of 17, and became a senior figure in the Young Labour sector of the party. After graduating from university, she spent time working in the offices of Phil Goff and of Helen Clark as a researcher. After a period of time in New York City, US, where she volunteered at a soup kitchen and worked on a workers' rights campaign, Ardern moved to London, England where she became a senior policy adviser in an 80-person policy unit of British prime minister Tony Blair. (She did not meet Blair in London, but later at an event in New Zealand in 2011 she questioned him about the invasion of Iraq.) Ardern was also seconded to the UK Home Office to help with a review of policing in England and Wales.
Ahead of the 2008 election, Ardern was ranked 20th on Labour's party list. This was a very high placement for someone who was not already a sitting MP, and virtually assured her of a seat in Parliament. Accordingly, Ardern returned from London to campaign full-time. She also became Labour's candidate for the safe National electorate of Waikato. Ardern was unsuccessful in the electorate vote, but her high placement on Labour's party list allowed her to enter Parliament as a list MP. Upon election, she became the youngest sitting MP in Parliament, succeeding fellow Labour MP Darren Hughes, and remained the youngest MP until the election of Gareth Hughes on 11 February 2010.
Opposition leader Phil Goff promoted Ardern to the front bench, naming her Labour's spokesperson for Youth Affairs and as associate spokesperson for Justice (Youth Affairs).
She made regular appearances on TVNZ's Breakfast programme as part of the "Young Guns" feature, in which she appeared alongside National MP (and future National leader) Simon Bridges.
Ardern contested the seat of Auckland Central for Labour in the 2011 general election, standing against incumbent National MP Nikki Kaye for National and Greens candidate Denise Roche. Despite targeting Green voters to vote strategically for her, she lost to Kaye by 717 votes. However, she returned to Parliament via the party list, on which she was ranked 13th. Ardern maintained an office within the electorate while she was a list MP based in Auckland Central.
After Goff resigned from the Party leadership following his defeat at the 2011 election, Ardern supported David Shearer over David Cunliffe. She was elevated to the fourth-ranking position in his Shadow Cabinet on 19 December 2011, becoming a spokesperson for social development under the new leader.
Ardern stood again in Auckland Central at the 2014 general election. She again finished second though increased her own vote and reduced Kaye's majority from 717 to 600. Ranked 5th on Labour's list Ardern was still returned to Parliament where she became Shadow spokesperson for Justice, Children, Small Business, and Arts & Culture under new leader Andrew Little.
Ardern put forward her name for the Labour nomination for the Mount Albert by-election to be held in February 2017 following the resignation of David Shearer on 8 December 2016. When nominations for the Labour Party closed on 12 January 2017, Ardern was the only nominee and was selected unopposed. On 21 January, Ardern participated in the 2017 Women's March, a worldwide protest in opposition to Donald Trump, the newly inaugurated president of the United States. She was confirmed as Labour's candidate at a meeting on 22 January. Ardern won a landslide victory, gaining 77 per cent of votes cast in the preliminary results.
Deputy Leader of the Labour Party
Following her win in the by-election, Ardern was unanimously elected as deputy leader of the Labour Party on 7 March 2017, following the resignation of Annette King who was intending to retire at the next election. Ardern's vacant list seat was taken by Raymond Huo.
On 1 August 2017, just seven weeks before the 2017 general election, Ardern assumed the position of leader of the Labour Party, and consequently became leader of the Opposition, following the resignation of Andrew Little. Little stood down due to the party's historically low polling. Ardern was unanimously confirmed in an election to choose a new leader at a caucus meeting the same day. At 37, Ardern became the youngest leader of the Labour Party in its history. She is also the second female leader of the party after Helen Clark. According to Ardern, Little had previously approached her on 26 July and said he thought she should take over as Labour leader then as he was of the opinion he couldn't turn things around for the party, although Ardern declined and told him to "stick it out".
At her first press conference after her election as leader, she said that the forthcoming election campaign would be one of "relentless positivity". Immediately following her appointment, the party was inundated with donations by the public, reaching NZ$700 per minute at its peak. After Ardern's ascension to the leadership, Labour rose dramatically in opinion polls. By late August the party had reached 43 per cent in the Colmar Brunton poll (having been 24 per cent under Little's leadership) as well as managing to overtake National in opinion polls for the first time in over a decade. Detractors noted that her positions were substantially similar to those of Andrew Little, and suggested that Labour's sudden increase in popularity were due to her youth and good looks.
In mid-August 2017, Ardern stated that a Labour government would establish a tax working group to explore the possibility of introducing a capital gains tax but ruled out taxing family homes. In response to negative publicity, Ardern abandoned plans to introduce a capital gains tax during the first term of a Labour government. Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson later clarified that Labour would not introduce new taxes until after the 2020 election. The policy shift accompanied strident allegations by Minister of Finance Steven Joyce that Labour had a $11.7 billion "hole" in its tax policy.
The Labour and Green parties' proposed water and pollution taxes also generated criticism from farmers. On 18 September 2017, the farming lobby group Federated Farmers staged a protest against the taxes in Ardern's hometown of Morrinsville. New Zealand First leader Winston Peters attended the protest to campaign, but was jeered at by the farmers because they suspected he was also in favour of the taxes. During the protest, one farmer displayed a sign calling Ardern a "pretty Communist". This was criticised as misogynistic by former Prime Minister Helen Clark.
In the final days of the general election campaign the opinion polls narrowed, with National taking a slight lead.
During the 2017 general election held on 23 September 2017, Ardern retained her Mount Albert electorate seat by a margin of 15,264 votes. Preliminary results from the general election indicated that Labour received 35.79 per cent of the party vote to National's 46.03 per cent. After special votes were counted, Labour increased its vote share to 36.89 while National dropped back to 44.45. Labour gained 14 seats, increasing its parliamentary representation to 46 seats. This was the best result for the party since losing power in 2008.
After the election, Ardern and deputy leader Kelvin Davis negotiated with the Greens and New Zealand First parties about forming a coalition, as the rival National Party lacked sufficient seats to govern alone, even though National won 7.5% more votes than Labour in the 2017 New Zealand general election. Under the country's mixed-member proportional (MMP) voting system, New Zealand First held the balance of power and was, therefore, able to choose the party that would lead a coalition government.
On 19 January 2018, Ardern announced that she was pregnant, and that Winston Peters would take the role of acting prime minister for six weeks after the birth. Following the birth of a daughter, she took her maternity leave from 21 June to 2 August 2018.
Ardern intends to halve child poverty in New Zealand within a decade. In July 2018, Ardern announced the start of her government's flagship Families Package. Among its provisions, the package gradually increased paid parental leave to 26 weeks and introduced a $60 per-week universal BestStart Payment for low and middle-income families with young children. The Family Tax Credit, Orphans Benefit, Accommodation Supplement, and Foster Care Allowance were all substantially increased as well. In 2019, the government began the roll-out of a school lunches pilot programme to assist in reducing child poverty numbers, this was then extended to support 200,000 children (about 25% of school rolls) in low decile schools. Other efforts to reduce poverty have included increases to main welfare benefits expanding free doctor's visits, providing free menstrual hygiene products in schools and adding to state housing stock.
Economically, Ardern's government has implemented steady increases to the country's minimum wage and introduced the Provincial Growth Fund to invest in rural infrastructure projects.
Ardern's government cancelled the National Party's planned tax cuts, saying instead it would prioritise expenditure on healthcare and education. The first year of post-secondary education was made free from 1 January 2018 and, after industrial action, the government agreed to increase primary teachers' pay by 12.8 (for beginning teachers) and 18.5 per cent (for senior teachers without other responsibilities) by 2021.
On 2 February 2018, Ardern travelled to Waitangi for the annual Waitangi Day commemoration; she stayed in Waitangi for five days, an unprecedented length. Ardern became the first female prime minister to speak from the top marae. Her visit was largely well received by Māori leaders, with commentators noting a sharp contrast with the acrimonious responses received by several of her predecessors.
On 24 August 2018, Ardern removed Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran from Cabinet after she failed to disclose a meeting with a broadcaster outside of parliamentary business, which was judged to be a conflict of interest. Curran remained a minister outside Cabinet, and Ardern was criticised by the Opposition for not dismissing Curran from her portfolio. On 7 September, Ardern accepted Curran's resignation.
Despite the Labour Party campaigning on a capital gains tax for the last three elections, Ardern pledged in April 2019 that the government would not implement a capital gains tax under her leadership.
In September 2019, she was criticised for her handling of an allegation of sexual assault against a Labour Party staffer. Ardern said she had been told the allegation did not involve sexual assault or violence before a report about the incident was published in The Spinoff on 9 September. Media questioned her account, with one journalist stating that Ardern's claim was "hard to swallow".
Ardern opposes criminalising people who use cannabis in New Zealand, and pledged to hold a referendum on the issue. A non-binding referendum to legalise cannabis was held in conjunction with the 2020 general election on 17 October 2020. Ardern admitted to past cannabis use during a televised debate prior to the election. In the referendum, voters rejected the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill. A retrospective article published in a medical journal suggested that Ardern's refusal to publicly back the 'yes' campaign "may have been a decisive factor in the narrow defeat".
On 5 November 2017, Ardern made her first official overseas trip to Australia, where she met Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for the first time. Relations between the two countries had been strained in the preceding months because of Australia's treatment of New Zealanders living in the country, and shortly before taking office, Ardern had spoken of the need to rectify this situation, and to develop a better working relationship with the Australian government. Turnbull described the meeting in cordial terms: "we trust each other...The fact we are from different political traditions is irrelevant". Ardern flew to Vietnam on 9 November for her first visit to an APEC summit.
In December 2017, Ardern voiced support for the UN resolution criticising US President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, saying that some decisions "that we saw by international actors like the United States recently ... took us backwards, not forwards."
On 5 September, Ardern travelled to Nauru, where she attended the Pacific Islands Forum. Media and political opponents criticised her decision to travel separately from the rest of her contingent so that she could spend more time with her daughter. Critics charged that the additional flight would cost taxpayers up to NZ$100,000. Ardern had earlier rebuffed suggestions that she should not attend the Forum, citing tradition; she would have been the first New Zealand prime minister since 1971 to not attend the Forum outside an election cycle. She was later criticised for not meeting refugees in Nauru.
On 24 September, Ardern became the first female head of government to attend the United Nations General Assembly meeting with her infant present. Her address to the General Assembly on 27 September praised the United Nations for its multilateralism, expressed support for the world's youth, and called for immediate attention to the effects and causes of climate change, for the equality of women, and for kindness as the basis for action.
On 23 September 2019, at a United Nations summit in New York City, Ardern had her first formal meeting with Donald Trump. She reported that the US president showed "interest" in New Zealand's gun buyback scheme.
On 28 February 2020, Ardern criticised Australia's policy of deporting New Zealanders, many of whom had lived in Australia but had not taken up Australian citizenship, as "corrosive" and damaging to Australia–New Zealand relations.
On 15 March 2019, 51 people were fatally shot and 49 injured in two mosques in Christchurch. In a statement broadcast on television, Ardern offered condolences and stated that the shootings had been carried out by suspects with "extremist views" that have no place in New Zealand, or anywhere else in the world. She also described it as a well-planned terrorist attack.
Announcing a period of national mourning, Ardern was the first signatory of a national condolence book that she opened in the capital, Wellington. She also travelled to Christchurch to meet first responders and families of the victims. In an address at the Parliament, she declared she would never say the name of the attacker: "Speak the names of those who were lost rather than the name of the man who took them ... he will, when I speak, be nameless." Ardern received international praise for her response to the shootings, and a photograph of her hugging a member of the Christchurch Muslim community with the word "peace" in English and Arabic was projected onto the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building. A 25-metre (82 ft) mural of this photograph was unveiled in May 2019.
In response to the shootings, Ardern announced her government's intention to introduce stronger firearms regulations. She said that the attack had exposed a range of weaknesses in New Zealand's gun law. On 10 April 2019, less than one month after the attack, the New Zealand Parliament passed a law that bans most semiautomatic weapons and assault rifles, parts that convert guns into semiautomatic guns, and higher capacity magazines.
On 14 March 2020, Ardern announced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in New Zealand that the government would be requiring anyone entering the country from midnight 15 March to isolate themselves for 14 days. She said the new rules will mean New Zealand has the "widest ranging and toughest border restrictions of any country in the world". On 19 March, Ardern stated that New Zealand's borders would be closed to all non-citizens and non-permanent residents, after 11:59 pm on 20 March (NZDT). Ardern announced that New Zealand would move to alert level 4, including a nationwide lockdown, at 11:59 pm on 25 March.
National and international media covered the government response led by Ardern, praising her leadership and swift response to the outbreak in New Zealand.The Washington Post's Fifield described her regular use of interviews, press conferences and social media as a "masterclass in crisis communication."Alastair Campbell, a journalist and adviser in Tony Blair's British government, commended Ardern for addressing both the human and economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.
In mid-April 2020, two applicants filed a lawsuit at the Auckland High Court against Ardern and several government officials including Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield, claiming that the lockdown imposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic infringed on their freedoms and was made for "political gain". The lawsuit was dismissed by Justice Mary Peters of the Auckland High Court.
On 5 May 2020, Ardern, her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison and several Australian state and territorial leaders agreed that they would collaborate to develop a trans-Tasman COVID-safe travel zone that would allow residents from both countries to travel freely without travel restrictions as part of efforts to ease coronavirus restrictions.
Post-lockdown opinion polls showed the Labour Party with nearly 60 per cent support. In May 2020, Ardern rated 59.5 per cent as 'preferred prime minister' in a Newshub-Reid Research poll—the highest score for any leader in the Reid Research poll's history.
Second term (from 2020)
Ardern with Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson and Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy at the swearing-in of the Cabinet on 6 November 2020
On 2 December 2020, Ardern declared a climate change emergency in New Zealand and pledged that the Government would be carbon neutral by 2025 in a parliamentary motion. As part of this commitment towards carbon neutrality, the public sector will be required to buy only electric or hybrid vehicles, the fleet will be reduced over time by 20 per cent, and all 200 coal-fired boilers in public service buildings will be phased out. This motion was supported by the Labour, Green, and Māori parties but was opposed by the opposition National and ACT parties.
In response to worsening housing affordability issues, Minister of Housing and Urban Development, Megan Woods, announced new reforms. These reforms included the removal of the interest rate tax-deduction, lifting Housing Aid for first home buyers, renewed allocation of infrastructure funds (named Housing Acceleration Fund) for district councils, extension of the Bright Line Test from five to ten years.
On 12 December 2020, Prime Minister Ardern and Cook Islands Prime MinisterMark Brown announced that a travel bubble between New Zealand and the Cook Islands would be established in 2021, allowing two-way quarantine-free travel between the two countries. On 14 December, Prime Minister Ardern confirmed that the New Zealand and Australian Governments had agreed to establish a travel bubble between the two countries the following year. On 17 December, Ardern also announced that the Government had purchased two more vaccines from the pharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca and Novavax for New Zealand and its Pacific partners in addition to the existing stocks from Pfizer/BioNTech and Janssen Pharmaceutica.
On 26 January 2021, Ardern stated that New Zealand's borders would remain closed to most non-citizens and non-residents until New Zealand citizens have been "vaccinated and protected", a process that will not begin until mid-2021.
Ardern delivers a speech virtually at the Singapore FinTech Festival 2020.
In early December 2020, Ardern expressed support for Australia during a dispute between Canberra and Beijing over Chinese Foreign Ministry official Zhao Lijian's Twitter post alleging that Australia had committed war crimes against Afghans. She described the image as not being factual and incorrect, adding that the New Zealand Government would raise its concerns with the Chinese Government.
On 16 February 2021, Prime Minister Ardern criticised the Australian Government's decision to revoke dual New Zealand–Australian national and ISISbrideSuhayra Aden's Australian citizenship. Aden had migrated from New Zealand to Australia at the age of six and acquired Australian citizenship. She subsequently travelled to Syria to live in the Islamic State in 2014. On 15 February 2021, Aden and two of her children were detained by Turkish authorities for illegal entry. Ardern accused the Australian Government of abandoning its obligations to its citizens and also offered consular support to Aden and her children. In response, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended the decision to revoke Aden's citizenship, citing legislation stripping dual nationals of their Australian citizenship if they were engaged in terrorist activities. Following a phone conversation, the two leaders agreed to work together to address what Ardern described as "quite a complex legal situation."
In response to the 2021 Israel–Palestine crisis, Ardern issued a statement on 17 May that New Zealand "condemned both the indiscriminate rocket fire we have seen from Hamas and what looks to be a response that has gone well beyond self-defence on both sides." She also stated that Israel had the "right to exist" but Palestinians also had a "right to a peaceful home, a secure home."
In late May 2021, Ardern hosted Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a state visit at Queenstown. The two heads of governments issued a joint statement affirming bilateral cooperation on the issues of COVID-19, bilateral relations, and security issues in the Indo-Pacific. Ardern and Morrison also raised concerns about the South China Sea dispute and human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. In response to the joint statement, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin criticised the Australian and New Zealand governments for interfering in Chinese domestic affairs.
Ardern speaking during the session "Safeguarding Our Planet" at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, 22 January 2019
Ardern believes the retention or abolition of Māori electorates should be decided by Māori, stating, "[Māori] have not raised the need for those seats to go, so why would we ask the question?" She supports compulsory teaching of the Māori language in schools.
In September 2017, Ardern said she wanted New Zealand to have a debate on removing the monarch of New Zealand as its head of state. During her announcement on 24 May 2021 of the appointment of Dame Cindy Kiro as the next Governor-General of New Zealand, Ardern said that she believed that New Zealand would become a Republic within her lifetime. She has, however, met regularly with members of the Royal Family over the years and said that, "My particular views do not change the respect that I have for Her Majesty and for her family and for the work that they've done for New Zealand. I think you can hold both views, and I do."
Following her elevation to the Labour Party leadership, Ardern received positive coverage from many sections of the media, including international outlets such as CNN, with commentators referring to a 'Jacinda effect' and 'Jacindamania'.
Jacindamania was cited as a major factor behind New Zealand gaining global attention and media influence in many reports, including the Soft Power 30 index. In a 2018 overseas trip Ardern attracted much attention from international media, particularly after delivering a speech at the United Nations in New York. She contrasted with contemporary world leaders, being cast as an "antidote to Trumpism". Writing for Stuff, Tracy Watkins stated Ardern made a cut-through on the world stage and her reception was as a "... torch carrier for progressive politics as a young woman who breaks the mold in a world where the political strongman is on the rise. She is a foil to the muscular diplomacy of the likes of US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin."
Ardern has been described, sometimes derisively, as a celebrity politician.
Ardern ... revealed an empathy, steel and clarity that in the most appalling circumstances brought New Zealanders together and inspired people the world over. It was a strength of character that showed itself again this week following the tragic eruption at Whakaari.
On 19 January 2018, Ardern announced that she was expecting her first child in June, making her New Zealand's first prime minister to be pregnant in office. Ardern was admitted to Auckland City Hospital on 21 June 2018, and gave birth to a girl the same day, becoming only the second elected head of government to give birth while in office (after Benazir Bhutto in 1990). On 24 June, Ardern revealed her daughter's given names as Neve Te Aroha. Neve is an anglicised form of the Irish name Niamh, meaning 'bright'; Aroha is Māori for 'love', and Te Aroha is a mountain in the Kaimai Range, near Ardern's home town of Morrinsville.
^ abKhan, M Ilyas (21 June 2018). "Ardern and Bhutto: Two different pregnancies in power". BBC News. Archived from the original on 22 June 2018. Retrieved 22 June 2018. Now that New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has hit world headlines by becoming only the second elected head of government to give birth in office, attention has naturally been drawn to the first such leader – Pakistan's late two-time Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
^Satherley, Dan; Owen, Lisa (21 October 2017). "Homelessness proves capitalism is a 'blatant failure' – Jacinda Ardern". Newshub. Archived from the original on 24 October 2017. Retrieved 24 October 2017. Asked directly if capitalism had failed low-income Kiwis, Ms. Ardern was unequivocal."If you have hundreds of thousands of children living in homes without enough to survive, that's a blatant failure. What else could you describe it as? [. . .] It all comes down to whether or not you recognize where the market has failed and where intervention is required. Has it failed our people in recent times? Yes.