Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has downplayed suggestions her speech to the United Nations was directed at US President Donald Trump, saying she was speaking to long-held New Zealand values which preceded his election.

Ardern called for multilateralism to be rebuilt in her speech to the UN General Assembly on Friday morning (NZT), warning against blaming “the faceless, nameless ‘other’” or sliding into isolationism.

Speaking to media afterwards, Ardern denied it was designed as a specific dig at Trump.

“Really I used the opportunity…to speak on behalf of New Zealand, values that we’ve had for a long time and they are focused on the role that we play as members of an international community…

“New Zealand takes a unique view, we have a unique perspective and we’ve had that for a long time – it started long before any particular president or any particular world leader.”

‘Strong and enduring’ NZ position

Ardern was not concerned about whether her remarks would cause any diplomatic tensions with Trump or the US, saying it was important that New Zealand maintained an independent foreign policy line.

“We need to speak to New Zealand values regardless of what any other world leader tends to think or their position: our position has been strong and enduring, and it is that we see ourselves as members of an international community.”

Describing her speechwriting process, Ardern said she usually received “a few bullet points” from officials but substantively wrote her own speeches.

She worked on her UN speech before leaving New Zealand but finished the bulk of it on the plane.

Me Too to We Too

Ardern confirmed a line which received applause during her speech, that the Me Too movement had to become the We Too movement, was written by her, something she came up with while in the car “late enough that it wasn’t in the prompter”.

“It’s something that I’ve been thinking about, that sense of responsibility that we have, that we have had, particularly when it comes to Me Too, women speaking up, using their voice, and now I think it’s time for us to turn that into a collective moment and collective action.”

She would not provide her thoughts on Trump’s statements yesterday in support of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the subject of multiple sexual assault allegations, saying she could “only reflect on the values that I think we bring in New Zealand”.

“We are working hard to…combat issues of domestic violence, intimate partner violence, making sure we lift reporting of sexual assault and violence – we need to focus on our record because ours is not great, but I’m at least proud that we’re confronting that.”

‘Not a popularity contest’

Asked by one reporter whether she had been deliberately refraining from mentioning Trump by name during her time in New York, Ardern responded: “I’m here to represent New Zealand, it’s not all about one other leader.”

Pressed on whether she liked Trump, she said she did not know him “personally or as an individual – I know the President of the United States”.

“I don’t think anyone comes to the United Nations for the popularity contest, we come here to present our nation’s views and I hope I’ve done that…

“We will have a contest of ideas and I think in the general assembly you’ve seen that.”

Ardern said she was unsure whether she would visit the White House or host Trump, although New Zealand’s hosting of Apec in 2021 presented one opportunity for a presidential visit.

“For me, it’s about making sure I use the diplomatic channels that are available to pursue New Zealand’s cause, and on issues like steel and aluminium I’ve certainly taken every opportunity I can to do that.”

“I did hear [Neve crying], but you didn’t notice it throwing me off my game did you?”

Ardern took to the stage with a Maori orator’s comb gifted to her by Ngati Rehia.

She said she had received it from iwi in Kerikeri when she last visited for a Provincial Growth Fund announcement.

“I was told at them time it was given to orators – it felt like something appropriate to take with me, I like sometimes to have a little piece of something from home with me on occasions like that.”

Ardern said she was not distracted by Neve crying at one point during her speech: “I did hear her, but you didn’t notice it throwing me off my game did you?”

She also confirmed her daughter’s tears were not a result of having listened to multiple dress-rehearsals at home: “I would not put her through that – I don’t tend to rehearse them too often, a couple of good run throughs.”

Sam Sachdeva is Newsroom's national affairs editor, covering foreign affairs and trade, housing, and other issues of national significance.

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