24 Jan 2023

Ardern's final speech highlights 'love, empathy and kindness' of New Zealanders

7:00 pm on 24 January 2023
Jacinda Ardern at Rātana for final time as PM

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at Rātana on Tuesday. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Jacinda Ardern, in her final speech before handing over to the next prime minister, has used the occasion of Rātana to thank New Zealanders for their love and empathy.

Announcing her resignation late last week, she said she knew she no longer had "enough in the tank to do it justice". She said she had hoped to find a way to prepare for another year - which would include an election campaign - and another term in office, but could not.

Her five years in office has been characterised by her ability to manage unexpected crises: The Christchurch terror attack, the Whakaari eruption, Covid-19 and the recent economic downturn.

However, her departure has also focused attention to the constant, extreme vitriolic abuse she has endured from some sectors of the population - far more than others.

She used the occasion of Rātana - typically the first event on the political calendar - to temper that with a reflection on her experience of the vast majority of New Zealanders.

"For my part, I want you to know that my overwhelming experience in this job of New Zealand and New Zealanders has been one of love, empathy and kindness," she said.

"That is what the majority of New Zealand has shown to me and I want you to know that I leave with a greater affection for Aotearoa New Zealand and its people than when I started, and I didn't think that was possible.

"Ngā mihi nui ki a koutou katoa, thank you from the bottom of my heart for the greatest privilege of my life."

Celebrations at the small Rātana pā this week are marking the 150th birthday of Rātana church founder and prophet Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana.

Ardern's appearance at the annual gathering marks her final formal engagement in the top job before her successor Chris Hipkins is sworn in as prime minister tomorrow.

She said speaking at Rātana as her final official appearance in the role felt special and symbolic.

"It's special for a couple of reasons. Firstly if you're going to leave, I say leave with a brass band - and if you're going to leave with a brass band, leave with a brass band from Rātana.

She also paid tribute to her colleagues, particularly her successor Chris Hipkins, calling him "my friend Chippy".

"Kelvin Davis is right - you knew me as Aunty, I hope you know him as Chippy, because it speaks to who he is as a person: Personable, down-to-earth, practical and good with tools.

"Chippy, you're a friend and colleague to us all - but I know you'll be a wonderful prime minister."

"As leader of the Labour Party I only carry the baton for a time. The relationship between Rātana and Labour is much deeper than individuals but it will carry and continue and be strengthened."

Ardern will formally tender her resignation tomorrow, before Hipkins is sworn in at Government House.

Hipkins and opposition leader Chris Luxon also spoke at the event, sparring over co-governance and each cautioning against divisive rhetoric.

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  • Watch: Chris Hipkins and Jacinda Ardern speak at Rātana Pā