Skip to main content /WORLD /WORLD


Subscribe to one of our news e-mail lists.
Enter your address:

CNN Mobile

CNN Websites



CNN International



Interview with PM Helen Clark and Dalton Tanonaka

Interview with PM Helen Clark and Dalton Tanonaka

Dalton: She grew up on a sheep farm, rising to New Zealand panicle of power. Helen Clark is the hand on leader who loves the arts, but dislikes formalities.

And, he sings Thai country music though raised on Alva. Jonas Anderson is a hit in his adopted home, and plans to stay true to the culture. We TalkAsia, now.

Dalton: Hi, I am Dalton Tanonaka. Helen Clark is a popular leader with a favorable public image in New Zealand. She's half way through her first term as Prime Minister of a country of nearly 4 millions people. Unlike some other Asia leaders, she's an assessable head of government and she joins us now from Auckland to TalkAsia. Ma'am thank you very much for joining us.

Clark: Thank you Dalton.

Dalton: Ma'am is it true that journalists, you are so assessable, the journalists have your mobile phone number?

Clark: You are certainly right. They ring me from all over the world you know. BBC and even CNNI guess. But surely the local journalists are really plugged in and if they can't reach me at home, they ring the mobile. They chase me here, they chase me there.

Dalton: I guess the big question is do you answer your phone?

Clark: Actually, I don't answer unless I know who it is, but I always return calls.

Dalton: I see.

Clark: So, that's what counts.

Dalton: I see. That's very nice, that's very unusual actually. As you know, we talked before when you are sitting in New York, and we said in Brunei at the APEC summit. You are kind of high profile leader. Is it your mission to raise New Zealand's profile or is it your style to of business, ma'am?

Clark: I've been in politics a long time Dalton, I went to the New Zealand Parliament almost 20 years ago. So, I've had a lot of experience in working with the media, but sure, I think it's really important to put New Zealand on the map. Little country with about 4 million people, you've got to punch above your weight to be noticed at all. I think New Zealand has punched above its weight, but if a leader's out they, I know that that helps.

Dalton: Yeah, you are right. And let me ask you now. We are going to talk about a little bit of your agenda. But I want to get more the personal side of your life first. What would you say the biggest issue is on your place as Prime Minister now? The sluggish economy, native, indigenous' right. What would it be?

Clark: The biggest issue right now is, building an economy that's going to perform in the 21st century. I've been round Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, and China in the last few months and the message that I've been taking is that New Zealand is building an up market dynamic into a connected economy. And that we are not the old-fashioned, ship mutton kind of product the people associate their export in work. Sure, that's been too, but we are trying to write an knowledge wave, like other advance economies and other big challenge is to gear up people their gear of infrastructure for that we gear up rest of industry for that.

Dalton: Yeah, I know New Zealand has been one of the leaders in Asia-Pacific in talking about reshaping economy. Ma'am, your personal career, from what I understand, has been shaped by familiar baby-boom issue, Vietnam, Apartheid, nuclear testing. Would your views or position has soften or changed at all over the years?

Clark: What I've found Dalton is that over the years, the main strings move to me. I think when I was a student with long hair in the late 60s and early 70s, sure being against the Vietnam war seem to be a bit on the fringe, but it came to be a cause that probably most people in our country, in the USA. It's similar to the Anti-Apartheid Movement Somebody has got to be first to get out there and say that it was wrong and many of us in New Zealand did. It was nuclear testing. Our country put its flag up against that from the very beginning in the south Pacific. And today we don't have French nuclear testing there, so we've got to say, that we've become the main stream.

Dalton: Are there similar issues of such regional or global importance in today's world, ma'am?

Clark: I think there are and New Zealand has linked up with 7 other countries and a grouping called New Agenda on disarmament issues on an international level. And we are working with countries, which previously perhaps would have been separated North, South, or at least West divide to push for the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons. It's a bold goal, but we've got a focus on what is really desirable for the world. I think the other big issues are around sustainable development, around climate change, around human rights. And New Zealand gets its teeth into most of them.

Dalton: Now you personally, ma'am, has been described as, let me read you these, 'intellectual, loyal, sharp-tongued, and a hands-on leader', and in fact, someone described you as, I am sure you've heard this before, described our government as 'Helengrad', and you may be personally called the 'Minister of Everything'. How do you answer those things?

Clark: I've been called all those things. Intellectual, sharp-tongued, all true. But what New Zealander is like is to know that someone is in charge and in the end the buck stops with the Prime Minister. But in the hand we run a pretty pure form of Westminster cabinet style of government. Our cabinet meets every week we have a full agenda, we run a lot of committees. We're actually a very collectivized group of people. We made decision collectively and we stand for them collectively. The Prime Minister is head of team but its not a one woman act.

Dalton: Would you say you are too much of a micro-manager as some people seem to think or imply?

Clark: Nope I haven't got time. Of course I have an opinion on many things but I don't micromanage. There are some issues that are really important that I think may need support and leadership from the top. We've have made very big and far reaching decisions about the configuration of our defense force for example and I got very, very involved in that. But by and large I like to leave the details to ministers and I paint the big picture.

Dalton: I guess in other Asian countries, it's so huge that you kind of lose track of everything, and may be New Zealand government is a little smaller where you can manage everything. But there is a danger in the other way that you lose out the details.

Clark: Yes, of course we are a small country. And it means that people are a lot more involved with their leaders then would be remotely possible in many of the large countries of Asia. People call you Helen, they're on first name terms. You go to the schools and kindergartens and you're very involved with the community and I like that. We have a very intimate democracy. Actually we're much more transparent I think then large countries are whether they're democratic or not because we're in people's faces and they are in ours.

Dalton: I described what other may perceived of you, how would you described yourself?

Clark: Well I am a very focussed person, very task orientated. I don't want the job for the job sakes. In fact as you said for you introduction I don't particularly like formality. I like informal dealing with people. I'm not into power for the sake of it. But there are a lot of things that I would like to see my country achieve so I rather single-mindedly work away at that. Economic transformation is our big push right now. We need our people more educated, more up skilled, more innovative, generating more wealth out of the discoveries we make ourselves. That's a big cause. I am myself the minister of Arts and Culture and we're driving very, very hard to support our creative people and create a unique identity for us and then we have a lot of social issue to. Most Western countries have. We're all concerned about issues like child abuse, issues like under achievement and lower social economic groups. We have a lot to get our teeth into.

Dalton: Sure now, you are talking about not liking formalities. You actually ask people to call you Helen or Miss Clark, is that correct?

Clark: Yes, I do.

Dalton: I mean does it work?

Clark: Well it does, as I say we're an informal kind of country. New Zealanders don't stand on ceremony. We were far from being one of the wealthiest colonies of the British empire. Ordinary people like my great, great grandparents came here to look for land, mind for gold, start afresh in a society that didn't have a hierarchical class structure. And if we can keep those egalitarian ideals alive and have every young New Zealander believe that they can achieve their potential I'll be very happy.

Dalton: OK, ma'am. We want to get more in the personal side of Helen Clark when TalkAsia continues, such as what she does to relax when she goes home at night.

Dalton: We are Talking Asia with New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark. She's in Auckland at the moment. Ma'am, you were born in Hamilton, raised on the sheep and cattle farm, as oldest of four girls, do you have a normal and fun childhood? Did you sheer sheep and all that?

Clark: Sheep were a bit heavy for me I think. Yes I had a normal rural New Zealand up-bringing I think. My parents had a sheep and cattle farm that had been farmed bought covered by native bush beginning in the century beginning with my great-grandfather. He and his son systematically cut down the timber and created a farm for it. That's where I grew up doing all the sort of things you do. Making hay, chasing sheep, it was a wonderful childhood.

Dalton: I guess everyone in New Zealand have a sheep farm, that's one of my friends from New Zealand said that. You are the oldest of four girls, do you ever wish you have a brother?

Clark: No I never wished I had a brother. No I grew up at a time when if you had brothers it was assumed that the brother would inherit the farm and dad paid a lot of attention to all those boys. I saw that in other families so we were quite relieved not to have boys in our family because we knew that girls could do anything. We did do anything. We drove the tractor, we rode the horses. We did all the things that maybe girls would have been shoved to the background if there had been a boy in the family.

Dalton: Ok, may be that shaped your life then, your career goals.

Clark: Oh I think it did. Definitely.

Dalton: You entered the University of Auckland to study politics specifically. You are the new, the only one to do that?

Clark: Actually the first year I enrolled I was going to do English and German and history. And I met an older student who said hey I've been studying politics and its been very fascinating. My family was very interested in politics and I thought to myself why not throw it in a forth subject. Of course it ended up becoming the major subject over the course of my time there. I became a lecturer at the university of political studies and I ended up in parliament and eventually Prime Minister. So maybe that was the lucky steer.

Dalton: I mentioned earlier and you mentioned about you formative issues in your life, Vietnam and the west. How active you were in these during college years? I mean you protest? Did you rally? What did you do?

Clark: When I went to university in the mid-late 60s, the campuses were very political places and we were plugged into what was happening on the American campuses with the protest against the Vietnam war. I will never forget the footage of that student being shot by the state troopers at Ken state. That made an enormous impression on our little university campus in New Zealand. I remember that when I began university in 68, the French and German campuses were in riot. Degaulle was driven from office. There was almost a student revolution going on. SO we were plugged into that. And we did get very involved in the big foreign policy issues. Yes I went on demonstrations against the Vietnam War. The incursions into Cambodia in 1970. A lot of action around the anti-apartheid movement. Those were very formative issues for me. And then the nuclear testing issues began to build up to. We were pretty activist students and pretty idealistic about New Zealand taking a position on what we saw as the great moral issues of the day.

Dalton: Let's move on to your elective "career mamma' 1975 you stood for your first parliament raise. Would you say it's different running then as it is now?

Clark: These days I think television plays so much larger a part. IN our country my family didn't get a television until 1966 so I really grew up without television and then we had to adapt to it. IN fact I didn't get a television myself until after we had gotten to parliament. So I guess our politics has grown with the television age. We all look back now and earlier television current affairs and news and we all think how stilted it all was. That's been the big difference.

Clark: Yes. That first one you mentioned 1975, I ran in what was one of our major opposition parties strongest seats. I didn't expect to win. But when I first ran seriously I did win in 1981 but sure our party lost the 81 election. It lost the 1990, 93, 96 and 99. So we've had plenty experience at losing. I think that makes you a better politician by the way. You've got to be able to learn to lose as well as learn to win.

Dalton: Sure, I'm sure that shapes your philosophy and your attitude towards other people in parties. But are you one who remembers her enemies, whether political or otherwise?

Clark: I do remember but it's a case that you can forgive you don't forget. I do have a rather long memory. But look, if you want to run politics keeping grudges you'd be so burdened off by them that you would never got off and do your job. I have a great belief in dealing with something and moving on.

Dalton:You know New Zealand right now. The top positions in your government are my New Zealand colleagues in the news-world listing stuff for me, are held by women. Do you think Helen Clark was the role model?

Clark: I was the one who broke the head on the glass ceiling coming up. It was actually pretty tough becoming leader of the opposition in 1993 in New Zealand and people really had no role model of what a woman prime minister would be like. Now of course its excepted as absolutely natural and normal and everyone knows what women can do as good a job if not better than anybody else. But along the way, we've got our first women chief justice, attorney general, cabinet secretary, second woman governor general, chief executive of the largest private sector corporation which takes 40% of the capitalization of the stock exchange. Women have got to be the heads of most of our professional associations, senior in all walks of life. SO I think the experience of New Zealand is an interesting one.

Dalton: Yeah, you seem as if you are ahead of the game there and other Asia pacific countries.

Clark: I think we are ahead of the game for a lot of reason. We are a small country so social movements, which take root can really take off and also we come out of a social democratic tradition where social democratic parties like our own, those in northern Europe have played a big part in advancing women representations.

Dalton: You know, I mentioned this as we led into this segment. I want to ask you this, what do you do when you go home at night to relieve stress and relax?

Clark: Actually fall asleep. There is nothing like getting out the cabinet papers for the next day and falling asleep. But if you ask me what I like to do before I fall asleep, I do subscribe to a lot of magazines, the British newspapers and the Guardian weekly, the Economist, the progressive and often (???)of the state. SO I like just to just settle down with the overseas mags and just catch up with what's going on in the world. I do like to have a book by the bed as well to read. I'm reading one of spin doctors in the UK at the present time. So international affairs reading is what I normally go to sleep with.

Dalton: How much TV do you watch?

Clark: How much TV? I am plugged in a lot to CNN when I'm watching the dinner, cooking the dinner. I watch sky news a lot. My husband and I are great outdoors people and we're often watching the discovery channel and the national geographic so if we're at home and we're too tired to go out so we like to see what's on the box.

Dalton:Yeah, I love to watch ants building their houses myself. We'll have more with New Zealand PM with Helen Clark shortly. And how she balances homelife with politics when TalkAsia and we will also begin answering your e-mails.

Dalton:We are back now with New Zealand's PM Helen Clark. Ma'am you are married, you mentioned that, husband Peter Davis, professor of public health at the university in Otago in Christchurch. It's a commuter marriage I understand. Isn't that tough?

Clark: I guess it's been a commuter marriage for 20 years Dalton because I'm an orphan member of parliament in the capital city of Wellington where our parliament is, is 410 miles from Auckland. So all my life, for 20 years I've been going down to Wellington every week for three or four days. What changed two and a half years ago was that my husband took a job in Christ Church which is more like 600/700 miles away from Auckland so what happens now is on a Monday morning I go up to the airport to go to Wellington. And he goes to the airport with me to go to Christ Church and he stays down there for the week.

Dalton: And so you only get together on weekends?

Clark: That's right but that's been the pattern for 20 years.

Dalton: Now, I don't know if the next question is a direct result of that, but, and forgive that it is a personal one, but you have no children. Did time just slip away or was that a conscious decision?

Clark: Well I put it this way. We never made a decision to have children. We have very very buy professional lives and you know I don't regret anything about not making that decision. I love other people's kids and I have 8 nephews and nieces myself. My husband has 7 so we're not short of kids in our lives but we don't have any ourselves, but we've got on working on behalf on the community one way or another and in a sense everyone becomes part of the family.

Dalton: Well, you know we take email on the show and phonecalls ma'am and several emails we've already got in, are very specific referring to some legal issues which I won't ask you, but they deal with parental rights and custody fights and some of these things. You have no problem in addressing these issues, even though some critics may say that she's not a parent or so.

Clark: Yeah some people do say that and believe it or not the opposition in New Zealand has tried to capitalize on the fact that the prime minister doesn't have children. Most New Zealanders think what are they on about. I think they know that coz you don't have those responsibilities tying you down yourself you actually probably have more time to put into the job. SO I've all my political life come to me with quite personal problems that they want to talk about and would like some advice on and it's never been a problem.

Dalton: Yes, I guess you are the best auntie some kids could ever have.

Clark: That's right. I like to think I'm a good aunt.

Dalton: Ma'am, I do want to ask you this email from a Suresh in New Delhi, he ask are you looking at implementing e-governance in N. Z.?

Clark: Yes, we released a few weeks ago quite an ambitious E-government strategy for New Zealand and we believe that in the next 5 years or so, a very considerable proportion of the New Zealanders. We will be interacting with the government through the internet for their tax purposes, other compliance purposes, you name it. In fact we're not too far off from people being able to vote through the internet. Maybe 2 or 3 elections away. So, we are there as world leaders, not as E-governance, but also for any other comments.

Dalton: A lot of countries are already online, you are getting to speed as quickly as you can, you're saying.

Clark: We are, and the latest I saw from ODBC report. Was New Zealand was the 9th most connected popular in the world in terms of connection to the internet now. I think we can do better than that. But we are right up there with the latest at the moment.

Dalton: Are you a techie ma'am?

Clark: I am certainly into the internet. One of my tricks that I get into the British newspaper to see what's happening over there, some British politics. My husband is English and we got lots of links there. But I use email very extensively myself.

Dalton: You don't go like chatrooms for prime ministers or presidents do?

Clark: well, you know, that's an interesting thing tool, doesn't it? I 've been in there's one called 'progressive government' which include those Tony Blair, that involved president Bill Clinton when he was still president. He tried to host other. Might be we should have a little bit chat.

Dalton: That wouldn't be bad, as long as the firewalls, the protection is there. Now, are you a gadgets person overall? I mean do carry like a mobile phone, do you have a palm pilot. I mean, are you a gadgets person?

Dalton: It wouldn't be bad as long as there's a firewall, a protection is there.

Clark: No hackers!

Dalton: Are you a gadget people overall? Do you carry like a mobile phone, do you have palm pilot? Are you a gadget person?

Clark: I am a bit of gadget I am afraid. I actually have 2 mobile phones. I have couples of . I always end of computers. I always like to have the slightest going.

Dalton: That is interesting, that is interesting. That is interesting. You know, some world leaders say I can't even type, so you are that far ahead too. So, about other personal passions Ma'am. I understand that you like classical music. That's one way to relax, you mentioned reading when you go to bed, but you put on some music. What's your favorite composer? What is your favorite type music?

Clark: Well, you can't go pass Mozart for me, but I am also very, very interested in opera. I love Verdi, Rigoletto. Opera to me has all the great passions written large in it. Envy, passion, hate , love, anger romance. I think it's wonderful. So I'll never pass by the opera, even in town quite regularly attend the ballet, orchestra, theatre. I've a lot of outdoor interests too.

Dalton: Well, you didn't go up to Beijing for the three tenors, did you?

Clark: I was tempted, but I didn't.

Dalton: Well, you mentioned the outdoors. Mountain climbing, you climbed Africa's tallest peak Killi Mangaro. What does that do for you?

Clark: It's that really about sense of personal achievement to get up to 19,000 feets. I repeated that last summer going to Mt Kilimanjaro, to Mount Mangaro, the highest mountain in the Southern hemisphere. Amazing experience. And you feel you are putting yourself against the environment. A different sort of challenge.

Dalton:I guess that is kind of a personal or physical challenge for you?

Clark: Sure, sure.

Dalton: Would you say that you are a Rugby fan? I mean, if you ask people who are the most famous New Zealanders, let's take a formal poll of New Zealanders, I'd say Helen Clark, Jonah Lomu?

Clark: It'll be Jonah Lomu, wouldn't I?

Dalton: I mean you are obviously a big fan and you follow Ruby right?

Clark: Well, rugby is something New Zealand done very, very well. We do have super stars in rugby and they do a fantastic job for the country.

Dalton: You are 51 years old, now that is very young. What is ahead in your future? Are you looking at retirement anytime soon or what are you going to do?

Clark: you know, I never look further ahead the next election. I am certainly running again if my government is doing a good job, and there's lot of excitement of the job. So I just keep on doing this as long as I feel that I can give all I got, ended on getting reasonable result. Who knows what I'll do after this job. I could just get on ballet. On the other hand that may be another challenge somewhere.

Dalton: Yeah, yeah. Now that sounds like a way to relax. Prime Minister Helen Clark New Zealand. Very nice to talk to you. Thank you very much for your time from Auckland. Now in the next half-hour here in TalkAsia, we talk with the Swedish man behind the new interest in traditional Thai music. Jonas Anderson is a hit-singing Luk Thung. And he joins us from Bangkok hear at TalkAsia.

Clark: Thank you Dalton.

See related sites about World
Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.



Back to the top