Helen Clark's next big challenge?

19:57, Jun 15 2014
Helen Clark
UN SECRETARY GENERAL? 'There will come a time when that debate is appropriate.'

Helen Clark walks into the conference room at her New York headquarters clutching the Smoke Free cup that travelled with her from New Zealand.

Five years in the big apple and she still hasn't got around to getting herself a new tea cup.

Something else hasn't changed since Clark bid farewell to New Zealand five years ago: she struggles to see a place for herself back home, though she doesn't rule out returning eventually when the time comes to ''relax'' a bit more.

That time is clearly not on her horizon any time soon, which is why there is mounting speculation about Clark's future at the end of her second term as the United Nation's third-ranked official, as head of the UN Development Programme.

Clark is increasingly having to bat away questions about her ambition to succeed UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in two years' time. 

She says she will neither rule it in or out - and adds that it is not appropriate for her to talk about the job now, given that Ban Ki-Moon is only midway through his second term.


''He has been a great supporter of mine, which is why I am here today.''

But she says ''there will come a time when that debate is appropriate and member states have got to work out what it is they are looking for in this day and age''.

The UN has never been headed by a woman, for instance - and that should matter, suggests Clark.

"I think the women of the world will be screaming 'yes'. It will be a year when a woman is making a very strong bid for the US presidency. There's a woman at the International Monetary Fund, a woman at the Federal Reserve, there's a lot of last bastions being stormed by women, so the time will come when women say 'what about the UN?'.''

Clark left New Zealand after nine years as prime minister - a feat that could be repeated by her successor John Key, who she will meet with during his trip to New York this week.

She admits it has not been a happy period for Labour since her departure, and says she won't be tuning into New Zealand media on election night though as a social media junkie she will no doubt be kept up to date.

But when she left she consciously decided to move on and ''start a new chapter'', Clark says.

After five years away, meanwhile, her time as prime minister seems like ''a long time ago''.

Her job now is very different.

''A lot of the things I engage with in the end relate back to experiences I had in New Zealand [but] they didn't expose me to drought in the Sahel or floods in the Philippines or civil war in Syria. We were very much distant from events like that.''

But harder? No, Clark says.

There have been tough times, however, particularly after the death of her mother Margaret in 2011.

Whenever she has leave, Clark returns to New Zealand to spend time with her father George.

Husband Peter also remains based in New Zealand, so Clark admits she has not had the chance to live the New York lifestyle as much as she would like. 

''I actually rather like New York, I'd like to spend more time here ... but I've been very much focused on getting back down to New Zealand for family reasons.''