Heather du Plessis-Allan: Jacinda Ardern has balanced compassion with strength

Author
Heather du Plessis-Allan,
Section
Opinion,
Publish Date
Sunday, 24 March 2019, 9:53AM
We're lucky in New Zealand to have had leaders who handle crises well, Heather writes. (Photo / NZ Herald)
We're lucky in New Zealand to have had leaders who handle crises well, Heather writes. (Photo / NZ Herald)

Jacinda Ardern has been amazing.

These past 10 days have been among the saddest and most shocking in New Zealand's recent history. And on every one of those days, the Prime Minister has done almost exactly the right thing.

Deftly, she balanced compassion with strength.

Her strength she used in dealing to gun law reform and Facebook.

That gun law reform was so overdue it was infuriating. For more than 20 years, politicians have failed to make changes. The gun lobby was too loud. The politicians cared about their own electability too much. And then within a week of the shooting, Ardern banned military-style semi-automatic weapons. Politicians in the US looked on amazed and envious.

Facebook, Ardern admonished for allowing the alleged shooter to broadcast his murders in a 17-minute live stream. She demanded answers. She told them to forget about empty gestures like turning up in Wellington in person.

Her compassion she used to comfort those hurting most from last Friday's attack: the Muslim community.

The most important thing Ardern did was say the words "they are us" and cover her head with a scarf.

This is a community that has suffered the worst kind of hate crime: one that ends in death. It is a community that has been targeted for years.

As awful as it is to admit, some New Zealanders are intolerant of Islam. Intolerant is really a euphemism for a hate so deep it drove someone to send boxes of pig heads to the Dean's Ave mosque in 2016. And others to pull at Muslim women's hijabs. And prompted a group of prominent Muslim women to repeatedly beg government agencies for help.

In the days after the attack, when we all wondered how we could tell the Muslim community that we didn't feel like those intolerant people did, that we just saw them as other Kiwis, that's when the Prime Minister put on her headscarf and told them on our behalf.

We're lucky in New Zealand to have had leaders who handle crises well. Sometimes, we think that's normal, or that all leaders do their nations proud at the hardest times.

That's not always true.

Think of Hurricane Katrina. While people died in New Orleans, George W Bush stayed away on holiday. Or even closer to home, Scott Morrison in the days after the Melbourne Bourke St attack last year blamed Muslim leaders for extremism.

Not all leaders make their countries proud.

Someone this week said Ardern is the right leader for the right time and it's true.

Times like these remind you why leaders matter, why we won't elect a party if it's led by the wrong person. Because, we need to trust that the person will reflect us at a time of crisis. And Ardern has. She's reflected New Zealand and she's made us proud to be us.

GUN LAW REFORM

Kudos to the Government for banning military-style semi automatics.

It's brilliant, but it's not enough.

A gun register must also happen. It will stop dodgy gun owners buying dozens of firearms and pawning them off to gangs. It would have prevented myself and a current affairs team buying a gun without a licence in 2016. It will keep tabs on who owns which firearms.

It's worrying that Police Minister Stuart Nash doesn't sound like he wants one. Asked this week if he favoured a register, he dodged the question and said it hadn't worked in Canada. His history on gun law reform doesn't inspire confidence either. As Minister last year, Nash voiced the opinion that our gun laws are "fit for purpose". As Opposition spokesperson he supported National's decision to ditch its planned gun reform.

As time goes by, the public will lose interest in guns, but a register is a crucial component.

It must happen, or this government's gun reform will be yet another failed reform to add to the tally.

 

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