Jacinda Ardern is due to attend the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru on Wednesday, when the Boeing 757 which transported her deputy Winston Peters there on Monday will return to New Zealand to pick her up.
Ardern’s 11-week-old daughter Neve is too young to have the vaccinations she needs to visit Nauru so she is unable to accompany her mother on the journey. The extra round trip will cost New Zealand taxpayers an estimated £41,000.
In comments reported by the New Zealand Herald, Ardern said: “I spent quite a lot of time deliberating over whether or not I would attend the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru. I analysed all of my options.
“The other option was for me not to attend at all, but given the importance that we place on the relationships with the Pacific Islands in the reset, that equally didn’t feel like an option.
“When weighing up the logistics I asked officials to check the extra costs I would be imposing on the Crown if I were travelling separately. On balance I decided it was worth me travelling for the full day on the Wednesday to fulfil my obligations as Prime Minister.”
Ardern returned to work after six weeks of parental leave with her daughter. The birth of Neve on 21 June made her mother just the second elected world leader in recent history to give birth while holding office.
In interviews last month, Ardern said the experience of focusing on her daughter’s basic needs helped her appreciate why people with young families may not find time for politics and that it is the government’s responsibility to serve people, whether they are engaged politically or not.
She said that as she came to the end of her leave, she was anxious to demonstrate that she and her partner Clarke Gayford, who will become Neve’s primary caregiver, can create a routine that works.
“I will come back and do the job that I promised to do,” Ardern said.
RadioLIVE Long Lunch host Wendyl Nissen defended Ardern’s decision to make the extra trip on The AM show.
“Women like me, we pumped and we put that milk in the fridge and we had other women criticise us and say ‘I don’t like seeing breast milk in the staff fridge’,” she said.
“We’ve been sacrificing for years, to work. I don’t see why she should make any sacrifice.
“She’s still going to be judged… If she didn’t go, she’d be judged. She cannot win either way.”
But Twitter user Craig Douglas said: “Be a mother. Or be a Prime Minister. You can’t be both. Neve and the taxpayer deserve much, much better than you. Make the choice. Be one or the other. You are failing badly at trying to be both right now.”