Reading Fortune magazine's tribute to Jacinda Ardern yesterday, I was reminded of the Biblical saying, "no man is a prophet in their own land".
At the very time Ardern's leadership has been lauded by Fortune, which put her at the top spot on its 2021 list of the world's greatest leaders, the Prime Minister is working hard to maintain her credibility with the business community.
Ardern is usually sure-footed.
She has a great political nose and an even greater nose for PR — including her own.
But just days out from Grant Robertson's May 20 Budget, her Government over-reached when it came to its plan to impose what was widely — and in Cabinet Ministers' views inaccurately — interpreted as a public service pay freeze.
Semantics are at play here.
But the upshot is that both Robertson and the PM have since walked some way back on the initiative.
Robertson maintains the restrictions did not amount to a pay freeze. Some in business simply saw the issue as a convenient smokescreen for the unpopular introduction of Fair Pay Agreements, which is going ahead.
The Finance Minister has had to express regrets. No doubt he wishes a clear Cabinet policy had stayed in place rather than suffer yet more political embarrassment through a volte face.
This was the buzz at a BusinessNZ luncheon addressed by the Prime Minister in Auckland on Thursday. Ardern was her confident self. But other ministers — particularly Robertson — looked quite embarrassed as journalists focused on the Serious Fraud Office decision to file charges over a Labour Party donation and Ardern's plans to lead a trade promotion trip to Australia.
Ardern's address to that same audience at a dinner earlier this year bombed badly. Then, she displayed an unfortunate element of triumphalism over just how well New Zealand had weathered the Covid storm to date.
What business had wanted to hear was more concrete plans relating to the vaccine rollout, when they would be able to bring more investors and skilled professionals across the border, and some insights into the Government's strategy to further open up the country — not confirmation New Zealand's hermit kingdom status remained.
So it was a sceptical audience that confronted her on Thursday.
Some I spoke with later were enthused the Government was moving to the next phase of a strategy to re-engage with the world as vaccinations stepped up. But that was tempered by Ardern's admission vaccines may run dangerously low before the July surge.
Ardern reaffirmed her stance on vaccinations at Auckland Unlimited's "Auckland's Future, Now" conference yesterday.
A bright spot was her flagging that on Monday, Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi would share the Government's plans to loosen policies so that those "who bring a rich offering into New Zealand in terms of business opportunity and are ready to invest, and are ready to provide employment opportunities as a result" can be considered.
This was the single most significant issue that was raised repeatedly throughout Auckland Unlimited's first future-focused conference last August. Getting people through the border who would immediately contribute investment that will get Aucklanders into jobs — while maintaining public health and this country's elimination progress.
Auckland Unlimited has shared with the Prime Minister numerous examples from leaders about investment lost to other countries because the principals are not able to enter New Zealand.
"The private sector was unified in the need to develop a more sustainable border model which meets the required health standards," Auckland Unlimited wrote in an aide memoire. "Not an open border, but a border regime which gets the country's largest city and economic engine moving."
Ardern's international legacy is already assured.
As Fortune wrote, "Jacinda Ardern had already sealed her position as a great leader early in her premiership of New Zealand, by empathetically steering her country through the aftermath of a terror attack and the deadly eruption of a volcano. Then the Covid-19 pandemic struck, and Ardern targeted not just suppression of the virus, but its complete elimination. Though there have been a few scares, her strategy largely proved successful; New Zealand, a nation of nearly 5 million people, has seen fewer than 2700 cases and only 26 deaths".
The magazine noted Labour's resultant landslide re-election fuelled by her star power, her straight talk, and the fact her Government's heavy restrictions on international travel made it possible for life to continue with relative normality within New Zealand's borders.
The pressure is now on her to get on with the next — and more risky — phase.
As former prime ministerial chief science adviser professor Peter Gluckman warned the Auckland conference, "many Asian countries are now on the aggressive hunt for that talent — our Covid-free status was an advantage, but that is disappearing".
Others — including Australia's Ann Sherry — noted the competitive threat to NZ jobs posed by Australia as that economy gears up again.
Former NZ prime ministers have confronted such challenges before.
The halo effect they experience through leading offshore missions or official visits to foreign capitals to meet with world leaders tends to lift their spirits.
Unfortunately, the first question posed by the travelling media is usually focused on the latest NZ scandal or drama.