Saint Jacinda, Saint Gladys

Justine Toh ponders the media’s use of ‘saint’ language to describe Jacinda Ardern and Gladys Berejiklian.

Saint Jacinda, Saint Gladys: two politicians who’ve proved peerless leaders in chaotic times.

Jacinda Ardern looks set to be re-elected as New Zealand’s Prime Minister when the country goes to the polls tomorrow. The popular leader shepherded the nation through a ‘go hard and go early’ response to COVID-19. A swift shutdown meant 25 deaths.

But even before then, Ardern’s compassionate response to the victims of the Christchurch terror attack, and the loss of lives due to the Whakaari volcano explosion, won her acclaim across the globe. London’s usually staid Financial Times gushed in a headline, “Arise Saint Jacinda, a leader for our troubled times.”

But sainthood doesn’t guarantee saintliness.

“Saint Gladys, the unrelentingly devoted public servant, has shown that she can be a mere mortal,” wrote ABC’s Ashleigh Raper after this week’s revelations of the NSW Premier’s personal relationship with disgraced MP Daryl Maguire.

Gladys Berejiklian had steered NSW through a devastating bushfire season, then the turmoil of COVID-19. Empathetic and eminently capable, she had seemed unstoppable (notwithstanding the Ruby Princess debacle). Berejiklian remains in office – for now – but under a cloud of, at best, poor judgement.

Maybe sainthood isn’t the category through which to view the rise and fall of political fortunes.

May I suggest instead the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible, in which it is written, “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die…”

It may be time for Ardern’s political fortunes to keep on rising. But, as NSW premiers before her would know, it may be time for Berejiklian’s to fall.