Author: Luke Malpass

When Jacinda Ardern hits New York for the United Nations General Assembly over the weekend it will be the beginning of a hard test of her international leadership credentials.

The prime minister has secured an important bilateral meeting with US President Donald Trump. Tick. But the substantial parts of her agenda – climate change and the Christchurch Call – have been in the works for months, and could be a lot harder to make any progress on, particularly without the United States on board.

At last year's UN leaders' week, Ardern made a splash by being herself: in tow with partner Clarke Gayford and baby daughter Neve. 

Ardern and Macron got a lot of hype with the Christchurch Call. New York is the first test of how well its done.

This time around in essence it will be about the prime minister demonstrating not who she is, but what she can achieve as a global leader and how effectively she can achieve it.  

The Christchurch Call – which creates voluntary commitments for governments, companies and civil society to work together to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online – has received mostly international acclaim.

But it is hitting domestic opposition. National Leader Simon Bridges last week called it "a pretty nebulous feel-good proposal" that will do little to stop terror or help everyday New Zealanders.

Stuff caught up with the prime minister ahead of the UN trip to ask what constitutes a win at this international confab. Ardern says that working alongside, and putting pressure on, the global tech giants to stop the spread of terror online is both a key priority.

"It brings both political and a bit of financial pressure which I think is really important. I think some people have asked 'will NZ remove its government advertising on Facebook': that is a drop in the ocean", Ardern told Stuff.

The Christchurch Call aims to do what governments around the Western world have struggled to: wrangle the global tech giants – primarily Facebook (which also owns Instagram), Alphabet (which owns Google) and Twitter – to act more quickly to stop the sort of grisly video linked to the Christchurch shooting being spread online. 

That difficulty, says Ardern, is what makes getting co-operation so important.

"In terms of the response – take down policies and penalties regimes for social media who don't remove objectionable material – we can do that through domestic legislation. But actually most of that is going to have a time period where [the content remains online and] harm can be done."

In foreign affairs-land the Christchurch Call is a big deal. New Zealand rarely leads on global initiatives of this kind, but the Christchurch massacre threw New Zealand into a position of global leadership which Ardern intends to exploit.

"It's been interesting to reflect on a little bit: although this isn't something New Zealand expected ... we have a responsibility there that we never anticipated and that we never wanted. 

"Because we were the first to have that experience, I think we would have been neglecting one of the many elements of harm in that event if we didn't look at what happened online," she says.

But given that these companies are primarily regulated in the US, success can only be achieved through pressure, not the law.

Jacinda Ardern will meet with Donald Trump in New York, a definite tick.

The Christchurch Call has garnered significant international support. The NZ Super Fund is leading a group of 89 wealth funds – local and global – with $13 trillion under management. All hold, or would consider holding shares in the big tech companies. The NZ Super Fund itself holds $200 million in shares in Facebook.

If those funds were to dump their big tech holdings it could potentially hit the value of those companies. That fact alone lends real-world financial heft to the prime minister's claim. And it is a signal of the strong diplomatic work done by the government. 

French President Emmanuel Macron and New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the Christchurch Call summit in Paris.

The other key area for Ardern in New York is climate change. Although the Government's Zero Carbon Bill looks like being passed into law, emissions from agriculture remain a sticking point. Targets are weaker than the Greens would like.

"New Zealand has been asked to take a particular leadership role during that week, and I don't think that is because New Zealand is demonstrating perfection," Ardern says. 

"I think it is because we are demonstrating ambition and an action plan that's trying to take on some really tricky areas".

Jacinda Ardern at the United Nations last year.

Despite the Australian Government smarting at some of her climate change comments at the Pacific Islands Forum in August, Ardern says that behind closed doors, leaders have an appreciation that cutting carbon emissions is different in each country.

"Everyone else has got their own piece of the puzzle, but we're all unified in that fact that we know we've got to do our own bit," she says.

[Other leaders] might say 'look, your renewable energy options are great', but at the same time I think that many will acknowledge we've got a hard challenge because of the proportion that agriculture makes up for us."

Note from Nighthawk.NZ:

Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive
Powered by OrdaSoft!