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Jack Tame: Two PMs, one night

opinion Jack Tame

By Jack Tame

Published: 4:56PM Tuesday March 27, 2012 Source: ONE News

It was a discussion of education that brought two former rivals together, smiling and hand shaking and reflecting.

The venue: Columbia University in New York.  The former rivals turned respectful peers: Helen Clark and Jim Bolger.

It's not too often the pair end up near each other these days. Jim Bolger is the Chancellor of the University of Waikato and thus spends most of his time in the North Island. You need only follow Helen Clark's Twitter account to appreciate the immense travel one undertakes as head of the United Nation's Development Programme. It's Morocco tonight and South Sudan next week. But though the cruel may joke, Hamilton isn't quite third world enough to warrant visits from the UNDP.

The engagements were set up by Jim Bolger's team at the University of Waikato.  Their delegation came to Columbia as a name-badge-and-fancy-canapés reflection of the universities' recently signed memorandum of understanding.  It gave both he and Helen Clark a chance to speak. 

Jim went first, a reflection upon the importance of United States and New Zealand political and diplomatic relations. He contrasted America's "Freedoms" with New Zealand's "Fairness". He spoke of our mutual interests and teamwork in Antarctica, and the importance of both countries actively contributing to the relationship. When at the end I asked him, if a relaxation of our nuclear position would inevitably become a necessary "contribution," he rushed to say no. He pointed out what hypocrisy it would be for the US to condemn Iran's nuclear program, and at same time condemn New Zealand's anti-nuclear status.

Helen spoke later, on the role of education in international development. She pointed to the apparent success of the UN's cash transfer programmes, in which families in developing countries are effectively paid a nominal fee for their children to attend school. She acknowledged the impact of education on other developing world problems - educated children are more likely to be HIV-educated children, while educated girls are likely to delay marriage for several years and thus avoid the dangers associated with young childbirth in the developing World.

Jim delighted in questioning her. Unlike the academics and students squeezed in the darkened theatre rows, he stepped proudly into the stage lights, and grinned as he turned to face her. She answered his question. He answered her answer. It was like the house in 1995.

But through all the discussion perhaps the least academically-minded question came last.

"So& you guys were both Prime Ministers of New Zealand. What was that like?" asked one of the Columbia's crowd.

"Quite busy," replied Helen Clark.

"Four hours sleep a night. Five am starts. Heavy coffees. Radio interviews. Television interviews. Plane trips. Caucus to plan. Cabinets to organise. Ministers to speak with.  Briefing sessions, parliament sessions, press sessions. And that's not to mention the bowling clubs that need opening and football trophies that need handing out."

She smiled.

"I'm sure Jim found it exactly the same."

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