Tuesday 2 April 2019 | Published in Local
It’s not every day you get the chance to dine with and hear from one of the most influential and powerful people on the planet, but towards the end of next month that opportunity will be open to a couple hundred people here in Rarotonga. The Rotary Club of Rarotonga is celebrating its 50th birthday on April 27 with a special dinner and with a very special guest speaker. Helen Clark had a reasonably typical New Zealand post Second World War upbringing; born in 1950 she was the eldest of four daughters raised on a farm near Hamilton in Waikato. She went to the local Te Pahu primary school, then to Epsom Girls Grammar School in Auckland, and then to Auckland University. But that’s where the “reasonably typical” changed a bit. She studied politics and became active in the Labour Party, not exactly what you would expect of a Waikato farmer’s daughter, especially one who at the time supported the National Party. It’s history now that the Rt-Hon Clark went on to have a very successful political and international career, much of which I covered as a journalist in New Zealand. Clark was first elected to the New Zealand Parliament in 1981 when she contested and won the Mt Albert seat; it remained hers until she resigned from Parliament in April 2009. She got her first taste of governing in the term of the fourth Labour government led by David Lange that won the 1984 election. In the then record two back to back terms of that government, Clark held a number of different portfolios, starting in 1987and was also appointed deputy prime minister. Labour lost the 1990 electon and narrowly lost again in 1993. By then Mike Moore was leader of the party and Clark successfully challenged for the leadership. What followed next was six years in opposition, and despite losing the 1996 election and having poor personal and party polling figures, Clark survived a challenge from fellow front bencher Phil Goff, to lead the party into the next election. By 1999 Clark’s time had come. In a historic election that saw two women – Clark and Jenny Shipley - facing off against each other for the first time for the top job, Clark became the first woman elected prime minister of New Zeland; while Shipley had been National’s prime minister before the election, her elevation was as a result of an internal power struggle with then prime minister Jim Bolger, not as a result of a general election. Under Clark’s leadership Labour had its most successful run in government. She led the party to a new record of three back-to-back wins. It was often a reforming goverment which like all governments had its highs and lows. They say that New Zealand “votes goverments out, not in” and by the end of its third term Labour was starting to look tired, and the electorate seemed to be in a mood for change. Under New Zealand’s MMP election system National won the highest number of seats on election night November 8, 2008, and John Key became prime minister to lead the new government. Breaking with tradition Clark announced she was resigning as Labour leader and not staying on in oppoisition. In doing so she ended a record 14 years and 69 days in that role. She remained on the Labour back bench until April 2009 when she resigned from Parliament. Still only in her late 50s and with so much governance and international experience, it was inevitable that she still had more to contribute; so it was no surprise when it was announced that she had been appointed to head the (UNDP) United Nations Development Programme. Despite losing the 2008 election, a poll conducted by the New Zealand Herald newspaper a couple of months later, chose Clark as the “Greatest Living New Zealander”, she narrowly defeated Victoria Cross winner Willie Apiata. Clark served two four-year terms as head of the UNDP, part way through her second term, she threw her hat into the contest to succeed the then Secretary General of the United Nations – Ban Kee Moon – she was unsuccessful. Clark chose to end her time with the United Nations after her second term at UNDP, but continues a busy international life. In recent weeks she’s announced the establishment of the Helen Clark Foundation, an independent public policy think tank to research and tackle “the big issues”. Clark is coming here at the invitation of the President of the Rarotonga Rotary Club – Jaewynn McKay. McKay was often involved in projects with Clark during her time in government. “Since coming back to live here in the Cook Islands I have often sort ways of attracting Helen to come here and to give people an opportunity to hear her speak, knowing that she has so much knowledge to share, and is so inspirational. I was finally successful on this occassion.” The dinner will be held at the Aro’a Nui Hall in Arorangi. It will mark the establishment of the world’s best known and biggest service club, Rotary, here 50 years ago. Tickets to the dinner cost $120 and can be purchased from the Computer Man or Jaewynn (55486). -Derek Fox
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