New Zealand’s new Opposition Leader Jacinda Ardern has slammed a radio presenter who asked the politician if she planned to have children.
Ms Ardern, who replaced Andrew Little as Labour Party leader on Tuesday, six weeks out from the country’s general election, described the comments by AM Show host Mark Richardson as “totally unacceptable”.
During a live interview on Wednesday morning, only hours after Ms Ardern had become the nation’s new Opposition Leader, Richardson said it was “legitimate” for New Zealanders to know if Ms Ardern planned to have children.
Richardson argued voters had as much right to know about Ms Ardern’s plans for motherhood as any regular employer would of a potential employee.
“She could be the Prime Minister running this country – she has our best interests at heart, so we need to know these things,” he said.
“If you are the employer of a company you need to know that type of thing from the woman you are employing … the question is, is it OK for a PM to take maternity leave while in office?”
Ms Ardern had previously said she would discuss her family plans and did not take issue with Richardson directing such questions at her.
But she added: “For other women, it is totally unacceptable in 2017 to say that women should have to answer that question in the workplace.
“That is unacceptable in 2017. It is the woman’s decision about when they choose to have children.
“It should not predetermine whether or not they get the job.”
Richardson defended himself by saying he would have asked a man the same question.
The interview has ignited a heated debate in New Zealand about the role of women in politics and comes with the ruling National Party, led by Prime Minister Bill English, on track to win a fourth term.
Prominent NZ journalist Hilary Barry criticised the interview on Twitter, arguing that Mr English would not have been asked the same question.
I see @jacindaardern has already been asked about babies vs career. Please can every nob who asks that ask the same of Bill English?
— Hilary Barry (@Hilary_Barry) August 1, 2017
The NZ news and culture website The Spin Off chronicled the new Opposition Leader’s first day in the job under the headline: “An incomplete account of the sexism in Jacinda Ardern’s first 24 hours as Labour leader.”
The New Zealand Human Rights Commission also weighed into the debate on Twitter.
For anyone wondering what the rules are around asking whether a job applicant is planning on having children, here's a quick reminder: pic.twitter.com/NzCv5bie9X
— NZ Human Rights (@NZHumanRights) August 1, 2017
Ms Ardern, formerly the deputy Labour leader, has inherited an opposition that last week just recorded its worst polling result in more than two decades.
She is vying to be the country’s third female prime minister after Jenny Shipley and Helen Clark, and would also be New Zealand’s second youngest leader.
The 37-year-old, who is in a relationship with NX TV personality Clarke Gayford, had already fielded a number of questions about her family plans in separate interviews before the encounter with Richardson, a former Kiwi Test cricketer.
In an interview with New Zealand’s The Project, she said she was “not predetermining any of that” and would take every day as it comes.
While the Nationals have sought to portray her as inexperienced and untested, Ms Ardern’s unique background has generated much-needed media attention for a party struggling in the polls.
A former Mormon, Ms Ardern left the church before entering Parliament. She is also an amateur DJ who performed a guest slot at Auckland’s Laneway Festival in 2014.
The Labour Party claimed it had received a $250,000 donations surge since Ms Ardern was named leader on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Bill English shrugged off Ms Ardern’s elevation to the Labour leadership, saying he was “sure she’s a competent politician”.
“The real problem for her is the Labour Party and its lack of progress over nine years in opposition – in the end, that’s what put the pressure on Andrew Little,” he said.
New Zealanders head to the polls on September 23.