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17 Dec

Domestic politics follow NZ PM to the UN

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Domestic politics have pursued New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to the UN General Assembly.Between a much-celebrated appearance with her daughter at the United Nations and a debut on US late-night television, it’s fair to say Jacinda Ardern has this week received attention unprecedented for a New Zealand prime minister.

But while she’s met the likes of Donald Trump, Justin Trudeau and Anne Hathaway in New York, slow-burning political sagas have demanded her attention back home.

On the eve of her maiden national statement to the UN General Assembly, Ardern was left announcing an investigation into the leak of a report finding one of her ministers had – on the balance of probabilities – left a staffer bruised during an argument.

Firing Meka Whaitiri, the minister involved – a first for Ardern, whose preferred style is one of persistent positivity – was one of the PM’s last acts before leaving for the United States.

But the reprimand came with little detail, the government saying it was a private employment matter.

On Thursday morning (AEST) the details of a leaked draft report into the allegations were splashed across the front page of the NZ Herald, saying the recently-hired employee had accused Whaitiri of grabbing her by the arm as they argued over a missed event. Whaitiri denies any physical contact.

Ardern told her media contingent in New York a probe was being launched into the leak, describing it as “hugely disappointing”.

It’s not the only headache her government is facing.

Journalists in New Zealand were on Thursday also trawling through a pile of emails and texts from Ardern and former broadcasting minister Clare Curran after opposition questions about whether they got involved in the government’s hiring of a chief technology officer.

While Ms Curran this month resigned over an undisclosed meeting during the long-running and complex saga, Ardern was in New York still facing questions about her own contact with appointee Derek Handley during the recruitment process.

She, Handley and an official report all say nothing untoward took place, but the opposition says the prime minister’s fingerprints are all over the case.

Meanwhile, Ardern made an appearance on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, going over how partner Clarke Gayford tripped over a flag during a photo with the Trumps, and reiterating that she didn’t join other leaders in laughing during the US president’s speech.

“Are you trying to create a diplomatic incident?” she asked Colbert.

It followed a spot on the Today Show and an interview with Christiane Amanpour. The shows between them are thought to have an audience of about 7 million, compared to New Zealand’s population of 4.7 million.

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