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New Zealand

Ardern shines in Zero Carbon moment

AAP logoAAP 8/11/2019 Ben McKay

The contradiction at the heart of the New Zealand government could be seen this week at either end of the country's North Island.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern talks in Parliament in Wellington, New Zealand Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. New Zealand lawmakers joined forces across the aisle to pass a bill aimed at combating climate change. (AP Photo/Nick Perry)

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern talks in Parliament in Wellington, New Zealand Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. New Zealand lawmakers joined forces across the aisle to pass a bill aimed at combating climate change. (AP Photo/Nick Perry)
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In parliament on Thursday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern unleashed a blistering speech in support of her flagship climate change proposal.

"We are here because our world is warming. Undeniably, it is warming," she declared.

"And I am proud ... we're no longer having the debate over whether or not that is the case.

"We are merely debating what it is we do about it because, undeniably, our sea levels are rising.

"Undeniably, we are experiencing extreme weather events, increasingly so.

"Undeniably, the science tells us the impact that there will be on flora and fauna and yes, also the spread of diseases.

"Our world is warming, and so, therefore, the question for all of us is: what side of history will we choose to sit on?"

Her most impassioned cry - "New Zealand will not be a slow follower" - was a stunning riposte to the inaction in Australia and other democracies wrestling with the climate challenge.

An hour after its delivery, New Zealand had a law to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050; the centrepiece of a suite of actions to position the country at the forefront of the transition to a low-carbon economy.

The government's consultations on the Zero Carbon Bill gathered the support of the opposition National party, which should ensure New Zealand's climate framework lasts beyond next year's election.

The passage of the bill will have major implications for the 2020 poll.

Ardern's Labour will campaign on it as a major achievement.

So too will the Green party - given the architect of its passage was climate change minister and party co-leader James Shaw.

But the Nationals' decision to support the bill is a useful rebuttal, ensuring climate change isn't contested ground in 2020.

And what of the fourth party in Kiwi politics, Ardern's coalition partner NZ First?

That brings us to the second site of drama this week, the High Court in Auckland, where Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters is suing the government for a breach of privacy.

Peters, NZ First leader, is pursuing legal action after superannuation overpayments - since paid back - were made public in 2017.

In Peters' gun have been National ministers, senior public servants and frontline staff as he seeks NZ$450,000 in damages from the leak.

The Crown has defended the conduct of its staff, calling Peters' accusations "extraordinary" and "entirely without foundation".

It's an unedifying scene, particularly given Peters holds the high office of deputy prime minister - even acting as PM while giving testimony this week as Ardern returned from overseas.

The legal pursuit is true to Peters' character as a bear-headed force of nature.

This week, it served a neat reminder of the schism at the top of New Zealand's politics.

Ardern, the government's harmonising force, was able to get her bill through parliament - but not able to rein in her deputy.

And it's this tension that could be central to their successes come next year's poll.

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