PM to welcome a personal hero

By Audrey Young

Prime Minister Helen Clark will host a special superhero at Parliament today - Gro Harlem Brundtland, the 66-year-old former Prime Minister of Norway and former director-general of the World Health Organisation.

Dr Brundtland is one of the two leaders Helen Clark respects most in the world, she said two years ago. The other is Nelson Mandela.

Dr Brundtland has had the type of career path Helen Clark might like to emulate: social democratic leader of her country for 10 years, leader of an important international body, and effecting far-reaching change with a no-nonsense style that she calls part revolutionary, part pragmatist.

"You cannot be so radical that you turn people," she told the Herald.

"You must get some followers. Consciously or sub-consciously that's the way I have been working since I was young."

The paths of the two women have crossed only three times, says Dr Brundtland, who is making her visit to New Zealand as a guest of the Government and keynote speaker at the women's convention in Wellington, where she received a standing ovation at the weekend.

But the links are naturally strong.

Helen Clark was just beginning to make her mark with anti-tobacco legislation in the late 1980s as a young health minister when Dr Brundtland was in her second spell as Prime Minister of Norway.

When Helen Clark was beginning to make establish herself as Prime Minister of the fifth Labour Government, Dr Brundtland at the WHO was negotiating the first global health treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

It is acknowledged within Labour circles that Helen Clark's goal after leaving politics will be serve in some international capacity.

Dr Brundtland believes that Helen Clark's experience in politics would make her well suited to international service at some stage.

Dr Brundtland's first big foray into international politics was chairing a UN commission that ushered in the concept of sustainable development - which at a local level led directly on to the Resource Management Act in New Zealand - and on a larger scale to the goal-setting of the Rio Earth Summit, the forerunner of the Kyoto Protocol to reduce carbon emissions.

She retired two years ago from WHO, turning down the opportunity for a second five-year term.

Since then, Secretary General Kofi Annan has asked her to join his "high-level panel on threats, challenges and change", the report of which is likely to form the basis of radical UN reform decisions at the UN leaders' summit in September.

Dr Brundtland explains her style of effecting change, with a keen eye to avoid alienating people on the way through.

"I have been more outspoken, more of a revolutionary person who has promoted change, but I have never done it in an unrealistic way that turns off more people than it turns on.

"When you calculate what is the potential of your work and your engagement and your efforts, do they lead to change that can be implemented or that can inspire others to implement them?

"That has been my kind of measurement.

"Some people are happy as long as they have said something they feel is right and then they have done their part. I am more looking for something that can lead to results.

"It is a combination of being willing to state things that many people are not ready to take yet - that's why I say there's a revolutionary part in me - but I am also a pragmatist. I do want to have followers so that we can get change."

Dr Brundtland that said when she made her acceptance speech at the World Health Assembly, she made what was considered a radical statement when she said "tobacco should not be advertised, subsidised or glamorised", but she believed it was possible to do something real.

"It is quite a dramatic thing that we were able, within the framework of only five years, to have enough support and then have an international negotiation finished and supported by all members at that health assembly.

"That is more than I could have expected but it shows it was right to make that radical move."

Dr Brundtland became Prime Minister in 1981 and had three stints by the time she left in 1996.

By then, pregnancy leave had been widened from 12 weeks to one year and fathers were obliged to take four weeks off during that period. (New Zealand has 13 weeks paid parental leave, and 14 weeks from December).

Her Labour party established a policy of at least 40 per cent of women in all elected party bodies and later applied that to her own Government and government bodies.

The present Conservative Government in Norway has passed legislation requiring publicly listed companies to have at least 40 per cent of women on their boards.

Dr Brundtland told the convention that when she appeared on a panel at a women's leadership seminar at the UN, it turned out that all the women had supporting and inspiring fathers.

"All fathers and future fathers should really take note."


* Age 66.

* Born in Oslo, Norway, 1939; also raised in the United States and Egypt.

* Joined the children's section of the Labour party when she was 7.


* Medical degree from the University of Oslo, 1963. Master of Public Health degree from Harvard University, Massachusetts, 1965.


* Joined Norway's Ministry of Health in 1965.

* From 1968 until 1974, worked for Oslo's Department of Social Services; Minister of the Environment 1974.

* Prime Minister of Norway in three stints: 1981, 1986-89, 1991-96. The first woman and youngest person to hold the office.

* Chairwoman of the World Commission on Environment and Development, in 1983.

* Director-General of the World Health Organisation, 1998 to 2003.


* Married to Arne Olav Brundtland, a prominent member of Norway's Conservative party. They have four children.

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