COMMENT

I remember when Jacinda Ardern was campaigning in 2017. Her relentless optimism was often poo-pooed by the media. What was that about they asked? She talked about a "kinder more caring society". That seemed to confuse them as well.

This was not, in their view, how political leaders talk. What they didn't seem to get is Jacinda Ardern is different. And you can't blame them really. You don't get elected when you're perceived as weak. That is a word I often heard directed at our Prime Minister in her first year. Caring is a sign of weakness.

After she formed her coalition government and talked about wellbeing and reducing child poverty, the ridicule continued. Woolly stuff said our business leaders, not helpful to business confidence. They didn't get it either.

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Our Prime Minister is a young leader who hasn't grown up lounging about New Zealand and overseas with her eyes closed.

She knows despair has been embedded in our society affecting thousands of New Zealanders for decades. She knows our appalling domestic violence statistics; that thousands of children end up in state care annually; our mental health services are in crisis and around 600 of our citizens take their lives each year.

As a politician, she has seen despair etched into the faces of New Zealand's most vulnerable citizens. She knows not much is changing for them, no difference being made to transform their lives.

They remain that way today irrespective of the millions of dollars each year thrown at the problems, often intergenerational, by various government agencies.

Our Prime Minister is different because she has openly talked about wanting lives to be transformed. She isn't whispering about it either. She is willing to talk directly to those who have lost hope.

She wants her government to think and act differently. She knows what wellbeing is. It's families leading healthy lifestyles, participating fully in society, and being economically secure. It's families being responsible and self-managing too.

She isn't going to be put off by those who continue to snigger and make wisecracks. She knows the social and economic cost to our country when nothing changes.

So no one in New Zealand should have been surprised by what we saw demonstrated by our Prime Minister last week. The love and compassion shown towards the victims and their families after the Christchurch mosques massacre. It was genuine and heartfelt.

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That is something you can't fake. She has cared for New Zealanders at this time too. She knows that "place and identity" are strengths for a nation and its people. She has reassured us of both.

When invited to Davos for the World Economic Forum earlier this year our Prime Minister took along her partner and new baby. Eyebrows were raised here at home.

Her government's approach to inclusive growth through its Wellbeing Agenda and the delivery of the world's first wellbeing budget in May this year generated significant international interest. Particularly as many world leaders are grappling with constituencies dissatisfied with the status quo.

The world leaders who attended the Forum saw and heard a different type of leader. Her aspirational message was for an inclusive and better world that looks beyond GDP to a range of issues including climate change and self-improving social policy.

Those leaders can't help but be impressed now too as they observed how our Prime Minister handled events over the past 13 days in New Zealand. From what I have seen she is not like most of them. She is a leader who knows kindness is not a sign of weakness and that thinking and acting differently can transform a country.

That is her point of difference as a modern world leader.