Jacinda Ardern on Groundswell, Barry Soper and press conference issues

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she is in contact with the rural sector regularly, it’s just not necessarily in her diary.

Act Party agricultural spokesman Mark Cameron claims Ardern had only met with agricultural leaders three times in 2021.

Catching up with the rural sector wasn’t always conducted officially, Ardern told The Country’s Jamie Mackay.

“Whilst I haven’t sat down and done a tally, I can tell you before the outbreak I’ve met our farming leaders … I then met them at the Fieldays as well and I stay in pretty consistent contact.”

The Prime Minister’s office has supplied a list of 20 rural engagements for Arden so far this year, with more to come.

While Ardern said she talked regularly with Federated Farmers, DairyNZ, Beef + Lamb NZ and representatives from the horticulture sector, she was yet to meet with Groundswell NZ.

“That’s where I sit with my engagement, rather than necessarily individuals from different protest groups.”

Groundswell’s concerns were already covered in these talks with primary industry leaders, whether they were officially booked in the diary, or in a more impromptu capacity, such as a phone call, Ardern said.

“The very issues that they are raising are the very issues that I’m discussing with those who are also representing those groups.

“So the suggestion that I’m not engaging on those issues…I just reject – we are. But I do that through those bodies, such as Federated Farmers and others.

“That’s not to say we always sit down and agree. It does mean that all those issues are raised with us and we do work them through.”

Mackay said Groundswell would argue that these groups were “tippy-toeing” around the Prime Minister.

“No. I totally disagree and that is an unfair statement to make – as I say – meeting does not mean we always agree,” Ardern said.

Labour MP Stuart Nash had recently come under fire for calling Groundswell NZ anti-vax and racist. Mackay asked if he was “out of order” for this comment.

Ardern said she would let Nash speak for himself, but she “wouldn’t make a generalisation about the group in that way”.

Meanwhile, Newstalk ZB political editor Barry Soper complained about favouritism at Ardern’s Covid-19 press conferences, suggesting they had become about media control.

Listen below:

The Prime Minister denied this.

“What Barry is referring to is simply the fact that as people yell that they want a question I just give an order in which I’ll answer them – I don’t call that control – I just call that putting order to a press conference.

“I personally don’t see any issue with that. The alternative is just simply every person is taken singly and everyone yells every time.”

Mackay asked if TVNZ’s political editor Jessica Mutch McKay and NewsHub political journalist Tova O’Brien were Ardern’s “favourites” and suggested Soper’s Newstalk ZB audience was larger.

“This is slightly bordering on the inane now,” Ardern said.

The order in which she conducted the 4pm press conferences was “practical” as it took into account the television journalists’ 6pm deadlines, Ardern said.

“I think we’ve got people who have been doing press conferences for a long time, who are now starting to over-analyse things when there is nothing to analyse.”

Also in today’s interview: Ardern said she would not implement a national vaccine mandate like Austria and whether achieving an over 90 per cent vaccination rate was enough to protect Kiwis from a fourth wave.

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