Helen Clark makes pitch for Secretary General job in speech to United Nations video

Helen Clark debriefs with New Zealand's permanent representative to the United Nations Gerard van Boheman and MFAT ...

Helen Clark debriefs with New Zealand's permanent representative to the United Nations Gerard van Boheman and MFAT spokeswoman Nicola Garvey after her presentation to the UN General Assembly.

Helen Clark has pitched herself as a unifier who can overhaul the "clunky" United Nations, and taken a swing at the organisation's lack of decisive action on tough issues, in a speech laying out her vision for the role of UN secretary-general.

The former prime minister appeared before the United Nations General Assembly early on Friday morning (NZ time) to detail what she'd bring to the organisation's top job.

"I believe the UN needs a proven leader who is pragmatic and effective, and I think I've shown those qualities during nine years as a prime minister, and seven years as an administrator [at the UN Development Programme]," Clark told delegates in her opening statement.

"Coming from New Zealand shapes who I am and what I have to offer. I come from a highly culturally-diverse country in a region of great diversity. I am acutely aware that what the UN does or doesn't do affects the everyday lives of countless millions of people."

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Helen Clark pitches for the UN's top job.

Helen Clark pitches for the UN's top job.

Clark has built her leadership platform on a promise to bring the 70-year-old organisation into the 21st century, and told delegates the coming years are vital for "renewing the UN's capacity to deliver".

While the UN charter's original ideals, dating back to the organisation's founding at end of World War II, were enduring, the nature of challenges confronting the UN had changed a great deal.

"The responsibility is to adapt and modernise our organisation so it is fit to tackle the issues of today and tomorrow," she said, adding that the UN needed to "shift the focus from solving problems after they've arisen to helping prevent them from occurring".

Helen Clark makes her way to the UN General Assembly ahead of her speech to delegates.

Helen Clark makes her way to the UN General Assembly ahead of her speech to delegates.

Before taking questions from member countries' representatives, she offered a Maori proverb: "What is the most important thing in the world? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata - it is people, it is people, it is people - and we owe it to people everywhere to make this organisation the best it can possibly be in building our shared future."

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As she wrapped up her speech, Clark received a celebrity endorsement, with Lorde tweeting her support for the former prime minister.

"I am all in for my awe-inspiring fellow countrywoman Helen Clark - she'd make an incredible UN Secretary General," the Kiwi music star tweeted.

Helen Clark appears before the UN to outline her proposed plans for the role of Secretary General.

Helen Clark appears before the UN to outline her proposed plans for the role of Secretary General.


Clark was grilled by delegates from around the world for more than two hours on issues ranging from Europe's migration crisis, terrorism and nuclear disarmament to sustainable development, climate change, social media and overhauling the UN Security Council.

She said she takes a "rather holistic" approach to the wide-ranging role of secretary-general - and emphasised a need for greater unity at the UN to identify and confront crises when or even before they occurred, instead of being the "the firefighters with the fire hose".

Clark frequently linked back to her current role as head of the UN Development Programme, saying it was crucial that a development-based approach was taken to tackling issues facing the world.

"If we take, for example, the peace and security challenges, there is very little that ends up on the agenda of the Security Council that somewhere doesn't point to an underlying deep development deficit.

"I think this whole great orchestra at the UN has to play together, so that we are not always the firefighters out with the fire hose when there's a problem, but actually we are supporting advocating for and investing in the long-term things that will make them more peaceful and inclusive societies."


Asked if the United Nations was losing credibility due to slow responses and internal politicking, Clark was unafraid to criticise the organisation - although she showed her diplomatic chops in doing so.

"The UN has tremendous convening power, and we see that at any major event here - the leaders come, the senior ministers come, but I think in the court of public opinion, it could be seen to act more decisively, and that includes on reputational risk issues.

"That includes issues like the sexual abuse [and] gender-based violence from - fortunately - a small minority of [UN] peacekeepers, but it should never happen. These issues have to be dealt quickly and decisively."

Helen Clark, sitting next to UN General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft, answers questions from delegates.

When it came to conflicts, the UN must end its hands-off approach, and instead foster greater communication and conflict-prevention, she said.

"On acting earlier, I don't just want to refer to when the first sense is that trouble might be brewing, but really going back and saying 'what are going to be the drivers of conflict and how can they be addressed' through the long-term investment in development - economic and social - peaceful and inclusive societies.

"As there is a sense of impending crisis ... I would like the UN secretary-general to maintain very, very close contact with our teams on the ground who know what's going on but don't always get heard as well as they could, because the earlier we sense issues, the earlier there can be some outreach, some attempt to engage, some attempt to see if there's a way through what might be happening."

In response to a question on the current refugee crisis confronting Europe, Clark emphasised the need for the UN to address the underlying issues, instead of responding once they reached a crisis point.

"What is driving this? This is a flight from poverty. This is a flight from fear and conflict. The big emphasis [should be] on the root causes, and getting down to what is really behind this problem," she said, adding that development and sustainable approaches were crucial in the countries from which people were being displaced.

Terrorism, Clark said, did not "occur in a vacuum", and there was "most definitely a developmental approach" to addressing the issue.

Clark recalled a recent visit to a war-torn country, where she was told that for young men, becoming a jihadist, or a drug or human trafficker was an attractive career, as the pay was high and other jobs were in short supply. Often, their only other option was to take a boat to Europe to seek asylum.

"We owe it today's youth in marginalised communities to create the positive choices - that's the way we'll get a dividend from the world's large youth population."


Clark said the UN required modernisation to remain credible and relevant, and re-emphasised her view that the UN Security Council's structure needs a re-think, saying it would be a priority if she took the organisation's helm.

She has previously proposed the addition of new permanent seats alongside the five permanent member countries that have sat on the council since the end of World War II.

Clark added that it was important that small states weren't "crowded out" of the Security Council as a result of any reforms.

She also said she had received feedback that the UN's processes could be "clunky" and "clumsy".

"Sometimes it can be a case of good people and systems that don't enable them to do their best, so you can count on me to take a close look at that pretty early on to see whether it can be better - and I'm sure it can be."

Clark suggested the UN could look to regional organisations, like the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean), to "better discharge" some UN functions.

The proceedings hit an uncomfortable speed bump when the Australian delegate was invited to question Clark, but declined to do so. It wasn't immediately clear why they did so, but the moment drew awkward laughter from the delegates and Clark herself.

Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is tipped to throw his hat in the ring as a late candidate in weeks to come.

Clark announced her campaign for the job on April 4. She was the second-to-last candidate to present to the UN.

If elected, Clark would be the first female leader of the United Nations.

 - Stuff


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