10 Oct 2020

'First time I got drunk was at the age of nine,' PM told

6:04 am on 10 October 2020

Linda Clark's voice trembled as she told Jacinda Ardern her story: "Aged 19, I had my first puff of meth."

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Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Speaking on Friday afternoon, the Auckland woman confessed she had been rehearsing her speech to the Labour leader "for days" but still could not keep the tears from welling up.

Clark stood at the front of Moerewa Christian Fellowship Church and spoke of her troubled gang upbringing: passed between her nan and mother, and years of abuse at the hands of a neighbour.

"First time I got drunk was at the age of nine. Smoking weed hard out by the age of 13. Kicked out of school by 15."

In methamphetamine Clark found relief - "a ray of sunshine" - but it was short-lived.

"After the first year, everything just started crumbling down. Gambling. Prostitution. Violent relationships," she said.

"Stealing off my mum. Robbing my family."

In 2018, Clark was arrested and jailed for selling drugs. She was later bailed to the rehab centre Odyssey House and is now involved in Waipuna Ora, a community-run support group.

"I finally got the tools that I needed," Clark said. "I just want our whānau to know that change is possible."

Clark was one of many from Waipuna Ora to address Ardern and her Labour colleagues Kelvin Davis, Andrew Little and Stuart Nash on Friday.

"I've never in my life talked to so many people in suits!" Clark told the MPs.

Auckland man Lawrence Turner told Ardern how Waipuna Ora was helping him to help others after his stint in jail.

"You're doing a good job too," Turner told the Labour leader, to the audience's laughter.

"I seen you when I was stuck in jail, just watching you, [thinking] 'f**k, she's doing all right!'"

Earlier in the day, Ardern announced Labour would roll out a meth addiction programme to another 4000 people, if re-elected, at a cost of $38 million over four years.

The Te Ara Oranga programme - piloted under the previous National-led government - has been operating in Northland and seen promising results.

National has also committed to rolling out an intensive meth treatment programme in 11 locations, as well as putting a meth-detox bed in every DHB.

Speaking at Moerewa Christian Fellowship Church, Ardern told those gathered she felt the "weight of expectation" on her shoulders to revolutionise the justice system.

"You are right to put it there. We should all feel it and we do," Ardern said.

"What we're asking for is more time."

While in Northland, Ardern also opened a new community hub in Kawakawa, inspired by the late Austrian artist and former resident Friedensreich Hundertwasser.

The facility - which includes a library, art gallery, and public showers - was one of the first projects to receive funding from the Provincial Growth Fund.

Ardern also paid a visit to Manginangina Kauri Walk where she committed to rolling out a National Pest Management Plan to combat kauri dieback disease.

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