Keeping Mum
Dita De Boni looks at the trials and tribulations of being a parent.

Goodbye Helen


After nine years at the top of New Zealand politics and many more before that, Helen Clark appears to be preparing to leave the bear pit for good.

Yes, she will still be the member for Mt Albert and probably advise Labour's next hierarchy on how best to rebuild the numbers. But there are few who think she'll hang around this neck of the woods when a career on the world stage may well await her.

Unlike some unkind commentators who have equated her childlessness with a dislike for children, I actually think Helen Clark is very family oriented and has a good understanding of how young families struggle to get by on the poor wages our economy pays them.

She's been savvy enough to decide, probably early on, that her incredible career ambitions could best be achieved by having no children. That in itself seems to suggest that she understands what it's like to have them.

She has devoted herself completely to the top job, travelling from one end of the country to the other constantly - or so it seemed - to fulfil her duties.

By comparison, while working mothers are hardly unusual these days, it would be fair to say that some of them set themselves lofty goals of "having it all" and then seem to fall down on both fronts from sheer exhaustion.

There are a few areas where Government services to children under the Clark cabinet are not up to snuff. But these largely seem to come from the fact MPs will not intervene in the way the Ministry of Health awards contracts.

Plunketline - which John Key has vowed to save - lost its contract to provide a mums and bubs hotline (with everything rolled into Healthline). And as stated previously, no one can really understand why Plunket services rely quite so heavily on volunteer funding which gets harder and harder to generate each year.

Helen Clark also raised the ire of some women by suggesting they should get back to the workforce more quickly. It's probably something that male politicians think too but coming from a woman it proved highly controversial.

I would say there's more to this statement than meets the eye: women with rewarding careers are largely back at work fairly rapidly, but a labour shortage has affected blue collar workplaces more accutely.

Was the Prime Minister saying women should be getting off the DPB? If so, perhaps she should have provided a few more incentives for doing so.

I think in general Helen Clark has been an inspirational leader, in particular for women.

And she's been very "womanly"in her management style. She's worked amiably with a variety of different groups, she's clearly a multi-tasker and an excellent time manager, and has proven to have a core of steel when required.

She's also lacked flair and - sometimes - a sense of humour - two traits that seem to always disappear when a woman is footing it in a man's world.

She'll still be remembered as a powerhouse in politics and an excellent overseas ambassador for New Zealand.

Meanwhile we'll wait and see what John Key brings us. He does have two children so he will have insight into the world of young children - bearing in mind he has done so with a fortune in the bank and a wife who has taken charge of the home in order that he pursues his career freely.

Lucky guy!

Pictured above: Photos and information illustrate the history of Plunket in Dannevirke. Prime Minister-elect John Key vowed to save Plunketline during his election campaign. Photo / Dannevirke News

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