What can we learn from Australia’s most popular political leader?

‘Public service is about serving all the people, including the ones who are not like you.’ – Constance Wu



In 2019, while appearing on the ABC’s Q&A program, former Liberal Party leader John Hewson said this about Australian politicians: ‘The system has become sort of inward looking and self absorbed. The sort of people who get preselected are not necessarily those who will make good ministers. The skills you need to get through the factional process to be preselected in any of the major parties are not skills that will help you run a multibillion-dollar portfolio. We’re getting the wrong people.’


The 2019 Believability Index asked participants to rate twelve politicians on six measures related to their ‘believability’:

  • Relevance: Is in touch with the issues and things that matter to me.

  • Integrity: Has strong principles and is driven by an ethical compass.

  • Shared values: Reflects my beliefs and social/political priorities and values.

  • Commitment: Has my community’s best interests at heart.

  • Affinity: A person I can relate to and like.

  • Follow through: Delivers on their promises; does what they say they will.


The New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern scored seventy-seven out of 100, being declared the most trusted politician in Australia. The next politician, Penny Wong, scored fifty-three, followed by Julie Bishop at fifty-two and then Tanya Plibersek at fifty. The first male politician was Anthony Albanese at number five, with a score of forty-six.


Ardern was re-elected in a landslide win in 2020, with a policy agenda referred to as not being left or right but in the middle. This was the first parliamentary majority since New Zealand’s Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) voting system was introduced in 1996. It was adopted from West Germany, and is deliberately designed to avoid majorities and encourage coalitions. On the evening of the election, Ardern was explicit about her plan to govern for unity. It was not for her Labour Party’s traditional believers, but for middle New Zealand. Labour’s vote came from urban centres for many years, and it still does, but the swing in provincial seats and rural seats was huge.


Watching Jacinda Ardern communication reminds me of a course on leadership storytelling that I attended. We learned of a storytelling formula designed to ‘take people with you’. Great leaders throughout history when addressing their people;

  • begin with the past,

  • explain the ‘today’,

  • and share an aspirational vision of the future.


Jacinda has had her critics recently with the pandemic, with some people challenging the possibility of a COVID zero objective that has now shifted to a vaccination plan. Possibly due to not sharing a convincing future. That said, I have observed Jacinda applying the formula multiple times while remaining genuine. An article by NBC News referred to Ardern’s down-to-earth style as ‘intimate democracy’. For example, an evening last week, Jacinda was interrupted by her daughter who jumped out of bed, while in an online address to New Zealand; and again endearing her to the public.


The key takeaway from this blog?


Remember these three simple phases, as they offer opportunities to pause and deliver the key points, making your message memorable.