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August 3, 2014 | by  | in Features |
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Ladies in the House

Tariana Turia

What does feminism mean for you?
It is not a term I use. I am more comfortable with something that the late Merata Mita once said: “The principle of mana wahine, a Maori concept which exceeds the boundaries of feminism and incorporates a dimension of spirituality emanating from the primary element of Hine-ahu-one.  I am Maori.  I am woman, I am family, I am tribe and only one of the facets of who I am fits comfortably under the label of feminism.”

What is the biggest issue facing women in New Zealand today?
I live by the value, ‘highlight my strengths and my weaknesses disappear.’ I think we need to use our collective genius to ensure communities are empowered to develop local solutions to local problems.  In essence that is the core to Whanau Ora – that whanau are empowered to know that they hold the solutions to any challenges that face them.

Do you think being a woman has influenced your career?
Women make an enormous contribution to every aspect of our society.  I was raised by my grandmother, and my aunts Waiharakeke and Paeroa.   I have also been profoundly inspired by the leadership so many women across our whanau, our communities and our nation have exhibited.   It is only natural therefore that I have built on that influence to want to do the very best for our people. I remember my friend the late Dr Irihapeti Ramsden talking about the many roles we once occupied, in contrast to the myth-making around the warrior ancestor. She said, “once were gardeners, once were astronomers, once were philosophers, once were lovers.” We need to be proud of our capacity to be hunters and gatherers as well as scientists and businesswomen. Women nurture and raise whanau – and that is a major contribution to our society. So yes, being a woman has definitely influenced the priorities I pursue, the passions I take up.

What’s your proudest achievement in parliament?
I am proud that the whole parliament supported various aspects of the tobacco reform strategy I have actively pursued over the last six years.  I am very proud of Whanau Ora and also of Enabling Good Lives which operates in the disability sector. Both these approaches are about providing the optimum conditions for transformation, for families to be supported to achieve the plans they set for themselves and to do whatever it takes to make their lives the best they can. It is about recognizing the potential for every family to create their own success rather than being dependent on others to provide.

What’s your message to young women at Vic?
The best advice I was given is to be true to yourself and the people you serve. It is something my aunts and whanau who raised me told me and it has been a guiding principle for most of my life. I grew up knowing that the most important thing was to do what was right, not what was popular.

Metiria Turei

What does feminism mean for you?
I don’t know all the technical language around, you know, first wave, second wave, all that. What I do know is women are entitled to have absolute control over their own lives, and whatever that means for any particular person or group, that’s for them to decide. I’ve been involved in a lot of the debate around women speaking on the marae, so I’ve spoken both at Ratana and Waitangi in the last 18 months, and I’ve commented on some of the complaints by women MPs around not being able to speak, their position not being respected at powhiri at Parliament. My point of view, although that looks like a statement of women’s rights, it arguably is that, but also at the same time an attack on the right of Maori women to decide how our own culture can and should be reflective of women’s rights. For me, it’s about women’s rights to have control over their own lives, and the collective concept of that for women of colour in particular means that women of colour have the right to decide for themselves how their culture should be reflected in their feminism, and it’s the responsibility of women, particularly Pakeha women, to respond to that, rather than dictate it.

So do you think that women should speak on marae?
I think it’s good if you can. I think there’s iwi for whom speaking on marae is perfectly normal, and that’s often not acknowledged. For many Maori women, they believe that the karanga, which always starts the powhiri process, is the means by which they get to speak on the marae. If you want to, but you’re not sure of the rules or how the cultural practices are carried out, then you just ask. In my experience, you just ask people, and you find out how to make it all work. So for example at Ratana, one of the reasons they let me speak there is I have whakapapa there. One of the other things that they did is they changed the way the powhiri operated so from their perspective they were making it safe for me to do so. So when I speak there, I don’t speak from the manuhiri side. The kuia crosses the whaiwhai (CHECK THIS OMG I AM BAD), they come and get me and they take me to stand at the home side and I speak from there so that there is a very clear tent of protection and consideration. I think that’s really cool, the culture is ever evolving, and the way that women respond to what is going on in their culture or the cultures around them is really interesting. There’s no firm rules, and people are just respectful of each other and ask questions.

In a wider sense, what do you think is the biggest political issue facing women? 
Inequity. It’s not new, we’ve had pay inequity for a very long time, we’ve had gender inequity for a very, very long time. It plays out differently in different circumstances. The pay gap and pay equity issues are still being played out, politically and on the ground for women who are underpaid. The increasing gap between rich and poor, income inequality is an increasing burden on women, particularly women with children. There’s at least now a public discussion about it, which there wasn’t for a very long time. Inequity is one of the drivers of family violence, which disproportionately affects women, and of sexual violence and sexual abuse, which disproportionately affects women. These are all personal and social and political issues.

Do you think being a woman has influenced the way your career has gone and is going?
Yes. Politically, one of the reasons why I joined the Green Party was their gender equity in positions of authority, not because I was personally interested in them at the time but because they had that rule that meant that women would always be structurally involved in decision making. I come from a political culture, before the Greens but also including the Greens, where you challenge power all the time. That includes the patriarchy, but it also includes challenging the power of privileged women who are using that power either for their own personal advantage, and/or are hurting others. I’ve found that in politics there are a group of women who hold political power because they agree with the patriarchal progress by which power is acquired, and those women need to be challenged on that as vociferously as possible. I think it’s best in these circumstances for women to challenge other women on that.

Is there anyone in particular who you think does this?
Jacket-gate was a perfect example. I declared it both a classist and a sexist and a racist act on their part. Most people understood that it could be a sexist act, because it was an attack based on the way that you look, which is a very traditional way of attacking women. People found it harder to accept that it was classist, it was an act of privilege, not wanting a person who was not of that class, was not in that club of the elite to have access to the same sources that the privileged do. Anne Tolley and I have the same jacket, she has it in green, I have it in purple, I’m not allowed access to those kinds of things. And it was racist for a similar reason, that these women have a definition of Maori women.People like Hekia can be members of the club as long as they adhere to the rules of the club, and Hekia does, but I don’t. So I’m required to occupy a very traditional place in the gender hierarchy.

So do you think the Green Party is good at encouraging people who don’t have privilege to advance into politics?
Yes, and that’s why I got involved. Nandor Tanczos was a very old friend of mine at the time that he became a member of Parliament, and that’s one of the reasons why I looked at the Greens as a political force that I could commit some time to, because they clearly didn’t put status or privilege as one of their concerns, they were committed to ideas and integrity of people, not their privilege. There was that example, my involvement in the Greens has proven that as well, as has Mojo Mathers. The Greens come from a tradition of challenging traditional power, so it’s natural to have people with that same approach.

What are you most proud of doing while in Parliament?
So far, the successful transition of co-leadership. We had a particular challenge, firstly when Russell took over from Rod who died, which was a great shock, but also when I took over from Jeanette. Other MMP parties have not survived that leadership transition, and the reason why we did is we remained completely committed to the organisation, and not the personality. Our party is not based on who our leadership are, but on our collective kaupapa. One of the challenges of leadership transition from Rod and Jeanette to Russell and I is maintaining that very strong culture while also moving the party ahead, and we’ve managed to do that. Last election was our first election as a co leadership team, and between the two of us we increased our support significantly and maintained a strong leadership and helped build a stronger party. Although that’s not the same thing as, say, getting through a piece of legislation, if we’re going to effect change, we have to be a growing political force.

The Greens are doing very well in the polls at the moment, do you think that people are moving towards your views or are you just communicating them better?
We are communicating our messages, we are disciplined, we are professional, and we have absolute commitment to the Green kaupapa. At the same time, issues around sustainability and climate change and inequality are what New Zealanders are increasingly concerned about, so the country itself is moving towards what we’ve been talking about for a long time. One of our challenges is to remain always slightly ahead of the game, and see where the next major concerns are coming from. We’re the third largest political party in the country and we’re also one of the younger ones, fifteen years old compared to National and Labour who are much older. We are clearly a growing political force and the other two are not. Election by election, whether one is in government and the other’s in opposition, their support is effectively static. Ours is growing, and I don’t see any end to that growth, and it’s because we’re an extremely modern political party.

Marama Fox, Maori Party Candiate

What does feminism mean for you?
I was born into an era of Women’s Liberation.  My mother became a solo mother when I was five years old.  As she was already fully employed she continued to do so and managed me and my older four siblings as a matter of course. In actuality the mere fact she had a full time job that paid more than my father very likely contributed to his departure.

So it was that I was raised in a family of women, with one older brother away at boarding school, to a mother who believed that we could do anything.  She taught us to always do better than your best, as being a woman was already seen as a disadvantage but being a Maori women meant we would need to do more than our best, we needed to do better in all we strived for.  It was inherent in our learning and our expectation.  She taught us never to allow ourselves to be treated less than we deserved and to always treat others with the utmost respect. In intermediate I joined junior mechanics so I could learn how to fix the lawn mower and understand how the car engine worked.  I watched my mum under the hood of our car, cleaning the filters and changing spark-plugs and I wanted to be just like her.  I attended a girls’ school where the motto was “girls can do anything”.  I constantly told my uncles in the shearing sheds that I was a liberated women of the 80’s and so demanded to be taught how to press wool, normally the domain of the guys.  I always believed I was a feminist, I could have it all, work, family, and a husband who respected my right to do so.

However, as I have aged and have grown in my own knowledge of things Maori, I have come to agree with Tariana when she quotes the late Merata Mita once said, “the principle of mana wahine, a Maori concept which exceeds the boundaries of feminism and incorporates a dimension of spirituality emanating from the primary element of Hine-ahu-one. I am Maori. I am woman, I am family, I am tribe and only one of the facets of who I am fits comfortably under the label of feminism.

I believe now that I am an equal to my husband but that we perform different roles, that I am an equal to my elders and my male cousins on the marae but again, that we perform different roles.  I am content to sit behind the paepae and to perform karanga.  I have spoken on my marae at powhiri when I was needed to do so and only once in my life have I ever felt begrudgingly about not speaking on the area.

I believe as my tupuna Niniwa-i-te-rangi did that my time to speak on the atea will come when I am well versed enough and linguistically competent enough to do so.

I believe that there are innate differences between the male and the female psyche – I didn’t used to believe this, I leaned more toward nurture than nature but now having been the mother of first five boys and then four girls I have witnessed for myself qualities inherently different between the two groups of children that outweighs the way we have brought them up.

So my understanding of feminism has changed for me.  I now believe that women have the right to be whatever they want to be, whether that is a mother or a corporate executive that is up to them.  If a woman is content to cook and clean for her husband or significant other then that is fabulous as long as she does so of her own volition and is not forced into compliance.  I reiterate, I am woman, I am mother, I am cook, cleaner, and lover, I am powerful, I am born of divine nature and worth, I am a woman of faith, virtue, vision and charity, I find nobility in motherhood and joy in womanhood, I dedicate myself to strengthening my marriage, my family, and my home, I delight in service and good works, I love life and learning, I stand for truth and righteousness, I sustain the priesthood as the authority of God on earth, I rejoice in the blessings of my temple and I strive for the blessings of exaltation.

What is the biggest issue facing women in New Zealand today?
“I live by the value, ‘highlight my strengths and my weaknesses disappear’. I think we need to use our collective genius to ensure communities are empowered to develop local solutions to local problems. In essence that is the core to Whanau Ora – that whanau are empowered to know that they hold the solutions to any challenges that face them” – Tariana Turia…. I agree

Do you think being a woman has influenced your career?
Absolutely… being a woman has influenced everything I do (obviously).  I am a teacher, I am a teacher of predominantly Maori students, being a women has ensured I have empathy for my students, but being a women has also meant that in different realms standing up to male dominated world views is necessary.  I have witnessed women dominating the teaching space but men dominating the management space.  Career paths are often hindered by having and mothering children.  I have had nine children, hence I am grateful I have been able to work in an environment that has allowed me to bring my nursing child with me.  That has been made possible by working not only in education but Maori education.  I have not been able to study as much as I have wanted so I read…. everything…. my brother always said a degree was a flash library card….. Because I have chosen to have nine children I have had to work and this has also impacted on my ability to study.  I would not have it any other way…. my children are my greatest achievement.  I fully believe that most important work I will ever do will be within the walls of my own home.  Notwithstanding, I pursue a career of service and advancement for our people.

What’s your proudest achievement in parliament?
I will tell you when I get there.

What’s your message to young women at Vic?
As my mother taught me:  Strive to be better than the best, never let yourself be treated less than you deserve and always give respect to others, understand that it is within your capacity to be all that you can be and fulfill the measure of your potential.  Understand that motherhood is a noble pursuit one worthy of all that is good in human nature and in no way diminishes your greatness as a woman of the world no matter your career, no matter your pursuit of wealth or justice or power, no worldly success will compensate for failure in the home.  No one on their death bed ever wished they had more time to be at work, but with family.

Judith Collins

I’ve read that you don’t define yourself as being a feminist so much as being pro women.
Well no I think feminism is pro women. I’ve never been frightened of that but I try not to do the label thing because the problem is there’s a whole chunk of the population which thinks that to call yourself a feminist means that you hate men, and I don’t hate men, I don’t hate people based on their gender, people’s gender is their gender and that’s it. But I am very pro-women, and you may have noticed, in this office, it’s pretty much –

Yeah, your whole team out the front [of 13 staff members in Collins’ office, 12 are women]

 Well, we have one male in the office, and that’s okay, we could have more but it’s just that women want to come and work here, and they stay.

I know you make a point of encouraging women coming through and you have a Cabinet Club?
I still do. What we do is in Cabinet, we started the Chick’s Cabinet Club which is for women Cabinet ministers and also those who are ministers outside Cabinet. We do that to be a support group and we meet about once a month each sitting term, and whoever hosts it shifts depending on who’s available, and we’ve got our last one for this Parliamentary term tonight, which I’m hosting. So I started it off and Anne Tolley and I worked on this together and we’ve got through a whole – well actually six years, and that’s pretty good.

So it has been helpful?
It is very helpful, particularly for newer ministers, just to be able to talk about things in a very supportive environment.

Do you think the National Party encourages women enough outside of this, or was this a thing you really needed to have?
 I think it was very important to have it. Parliament is a lonely place, unless you have a lot of people around you who are supportive of what you’re doing. Basically everyone’s a competitor, everyone’s wanting to get ahead. But also, none of us can do the best job we can unless we have the support of other colleagues, so it’s a strange paradigm. It’s closer to a commercial law firm than anything else you can think of, and, having worked in commercial law firms, it’s probably why I understand how it works.

That you need that –
You need support, but you also need to be able to get done what you need to get done to achieve what you need to for the people who are, by the way, paying the bills, that’s the taxpayers of New Zealand. You can’t just come into Cabinet and be everyone’s best chum, you need to get stuff done at the same time and fight your corner, for funding and various things you need to get done. You also need support at caucus and around that Cabinet table to be able to get what it is that you want to get through. So it’s an interesting workplace.

Do you feel that you have good relationships with the other women in the National Party caucus?
 I think I have very good relationships with the other women, and I think the relationships generally are reasonably respectful. There is the odd person on whose toes I shall step but then they’ll do the same to me, and that’s because we’re arguing over resources or something, and that’s natural, you can’t take it personally and you’ve just got to get on with the job.

Recently, you’ve been pushing for a number of domestic violence reforms. Do you think that this government is doing enough to combat domestic violence?
 I don’t think any government can actually do enough. Ultimately, governments cannot have – and we do not want to have – CCTV cameras in people’s homes and domestic violence, by its very nature, happens in the home. It’s about bringing about a cultural change, and the cultural change is not just us saying ‘it’s not okay to do that’ – that’s a good thing to say, but that’s not the end of it. It also has to have a justice response, which is where my area comes in, and it has to have a police response, which is where Anne Tolley comes in, and MSD’s response with trying to change the culture, it needs a big response across the sphere.

When I was growing up, domestic violence was never talked about. It never happened, so it was never talked about. This was completely wrong of course, it was happening all the time, it just wasn’t being talked about. If anything was raised, it was that that was something that happened in the home, and you kept your nose out of other people’s homes. So we have come a long way in recognising it as the problem it is.

I think it is really unhelpful to have people like David Cunliffe and his whole “I’m sorry to be a man” thing, because what that did is it dismissed the issue for a whole lot of men by saying you’re all guilty, and that’s not the way they see it. Most men do not commit domestic violence, just like most mothers do not beat their children. What it did was belittle it. I think most men were deeply offended by that, and I think it’s a really good thing if men do feel offended, or called out on it, because most men do not beat their partners.

When we talk about what can governments do, we can do certain things. We can deal with issues around alcohol, drugs, everything else. But if you look at where this happens, it’s in the home, and there are some homes where you wouldn’t leave your dog because they’re so violent, so vicious, they may be gang homes, all those things, and there’s only so much governments can do. That doesn’t mean to say we shouldn’t keep on doing it, and keep trying to do better all the time, and we shouldn’t be afraid to say something’s not working, and stop it, and trial things, and think outside the square. I reckon we’re doing a lot more than we ever used to do, and that doesn’t mean to say we won’t do more.

If we want to talk about cultural change, are the cuts in funding to rape crisis indicative that we are doing enough to support victims?
For a start, rape crisis is hard for me to talk about because it’s not in my area, the funding comes out of Ministry of Social Development and so it’s a bit difficult for me to criticise really. Let’s talk generally about rape for a moment. I think there have been a lot of comments recently about a so-called rape culture in New Zealand. Again, completely overblown, actually. I’ve been in places like Afghanistan, you know, all these sorts of places around the world, and in a lot of cultures rape isn’t talked about. It happens all the time, people put their hands up and say I’ve been a victim of rape and they get punished. So how can we possibly say that. What we do have is we have a culture around secrecy, and secrecy makes it easier for perpetrators to continue their behaviour. We have a culture around not respecting other people’s right to say no. Just because a girl’s in a short skirt doesn’t mean, by the way, that she’s asking anybody to make sexual advances towards her, and certainly if she says no that means no. So there’s some stuff around that where I think we’ve often made excuses around behaviours which are very violent. Rape is a violent crime, in my opinion, and I think it should be treated as such. It’s not about sexual attraction, it’s about domination and control and violence. There’s been mixed messaging around it.

I think also, we’ve got people saying if you’re accused of rape and you’re defending yourself you have to prove you didn’t do it, that’s what the Labour Party came up with. Complete nonsense actually, you’d end up with people having to prove – you just can’t. Once the sexual nature of the act has been establish, you’d end up with people being wrongly convicted, all sorts of things going on.

Rape is really hard to deal with because so much of it occurs between people who know each other, who know each other very well and in some cases are sexual partners. That doesn’t mean to say that because someone’s a sexual partner that they get to have sex any time they want it, and that women don’t have a right to say no. I’ve been a lawyer for twenty years before I came to Parliament, and I’ve dealt with a lot of different people in a lot of situations. I know that there are a lot of people who are victims of rape who want it acknowledged. They don’t necessarily always want the person prosecuted. They know that it’s an offence which is treated very seriously in the courts, the maximum penalty is twenty years jail, and the starting rate is around eight years jail, and many of them don’t want that, particularly if it’s someone who they know, someone they thought was a friend. They want someone to say sorry, they want a restorative justice process, they want to be acknowledged for the pain and humiliation they’ve felt, and they want that person to not do it again. That’s my experience of what a lot of victims want.

Other victims, though, may well want that person prosecuted, and they may well want that person sent to jail so they can’t do it again. It depends what victims want, and I think one of the reasons why people find it very hard to make complaints. I think it is natural for the rape victim – it is unfair, but it is natural – for victims to look back and say did I do something wrong. And it is natural for victims, particularly of rape, to try to make excuses for the behaviour of the offender, because they feel so humiliated, and for various reasons – I don’t even know what all the reasons are – people react differently. It is really beholden on us to try to find better ways of doing things, but not end up creating further victims within the justice system.

I also do not want to take away from the victim the right to choose how matters can be dealt with. It’s their pain, it’s the damage to them that’s important, and it’s not for me as the Minister for Justice to tell them what they should be doing. I’m also the Minister for ACC and I’m very pleased with the way ACC has come to the party on this. I don’t know if you’re aware of the ‘Mates and Dates’ program that we’ve started up in nine schools, one of them Papakura School in my electorate so I’m really thrilled about that, they are basically trying to say this is the difference between being a mate and on a date, and trying to encourage respectful behaviour. And just because your friend, or your date, is drunk or drugged, that doesn’t mean it’s ok.

You brought up Labour’s proposed reversing of the burden of proof, the inquisitorial system. One of the key elements of that is that victims aren’t cross examined in courts, they talk to the judge and that’s how it’s decided. Do you think cross examining rape victims in court is a thing which stops people from coming forward?
I think it is very difficult. When I was a student I watched rape cases, and I think it’s really hard. I think it’s also really hard if you’re accused and you have to be cross examined too. The issue with rape – this is why the cross examination occurs – is consent, and whether or not someone consented. Around the inquisitorial method, in some jurisdictions they do have this but cross examination is often undertaken by the judges. Our judges in New Zealand are not trained in this sort of judging. I think one of the issues we can deal with is if we look at the defendant in these sorts of cases, if they’re choosing not to give evidence they’re also choosing not to be cross-examined, so how about a jury or a judge can draw a negative inference from the fact that they’re not choosing to give evidence. That would be a radical departure, but I think it’s something that we can do, the UK has done this for some time and I’ve talked to them about it and judges there say you probably get a fairer trial, it’s not just the alleged victim who is having their evidence tested, it’s also the defendant. I think that would make it easier for victims, if they know it’s not just them.

I wanted to talk also about the way the media treats you. Do you think that you’re treated differently as a female MP?What do you think? Because I’m sort of biased. [laughs]

Well, there’s the question of whether the criticism levied at you is gendered or not.
Harshly criticised, yes. As a woman, you get criticised on things like appearance, ‘hard faced’ is one of the little quotes they like to use about me. If I’m strong on something I’m angry or something or other. But it’s only some journalists who do it, and that’s just something we work with. It’s unfortunate, it’s unhelpful, but at least they’re talking about me. And if they want to spend all sorts of columns on me, go for it. The public are not stupid, they can see what goes on, they can see when something’s unfair. I think the media knows I’m more likely to say something controversial, and that’s because I say what I think, not what somebody thinks I should say. I think they find me mildly interesting.

And do you think that’s helped you get as far as you have?Yes, it’s pros and cons. I could sit there and moan all day about certain media, would do me no good and that’s just the way it is, I’m not going to bother because frankly, why? I have to work with the media.

You have a reputation as being more – progressive is maybe not the word, but doing things and saying things that other people are perhaps –
Thinking! They’re thinking it, but they’re too afraid to say it.

What’s the thing you’re most proud of having done?
 Oh an awful lot. And every time I think oh I’m really proud of that, something else comes along. If I was thinking about, say, certain portfolios – in Veteran’s Affairs, I’m really proud of the fact that in Opposition, as a first term MP, I made the Agent Orange inquiry come about, and I did the deals with all the other parties to make it come about and I got it through my caucus. That, to me, was a huge thing. I helped people who needed help, and had been dismissed.

In Corrections, I took them from a department where nobody wanted to be their minister to one where they’re all fighting to be their minister. I brought them back to being proud of themselves, and acknowledging the excellent work that they do. I brought in private prisons. I don’t know if you can remember that there was a huge kerfuffle, and actually now the private prison in Mt Eden is one of the highest performing in the network. I took risks, and I got it through. I brought in container cells, I double bunked the prisoners, I brought in no smoking. That was considered risky, that was considered brave, and to do that not long before an election could have been career limiting in a serious way. It went through, because the staff made it go through, and I oversaw that, and I’m very proud of it. I helped people be healthier, I doubled drug and alcohol treatment in our prisons and I really feel really good about that. In Police, well I gave them tasers, extra police, I gave them better access to firearms, but the best thing I ever did in Police was that I backed them, even when they made a mistake I still backed them for trying, and that was something they hadn’t had in a long time. If I look at what I’m doing in ACC, that’s now a standout portfolio, and it’s so operationally strong and financially improving, I’m really proud of those people. Ethnic Affairs, I’ve mainstreamed them, I’ve got them into business. I love the fact that I get to talk to lots of ethnic communities, and say we all come from different backgrounds and we all want to be Kiwis, so that’s great.

Then I come to Justice. Well, lots of things. The biggest change has come about because the Prime Minister gave me the leadership of the whole justice sector. So every month the Ministers of Police, Corrections, the Attorney General, courts and myself get together along with our chief executives and we work out how we are going to do things better, we’re always working together and that I think is the biggest influence. So I’ve done that, we’re still talking to each other, we had our final session yesterday, and we’ve already overachieved for two targets we’ve set for 2017, on crime rates. I just love every moment of it, even the bad days.

I notice you’ve got a photo of Margaret Thatcher behind your desk-
 I primarily have that there to upset the media, get them going, cos I like them to, you know, have a little go before you get –

Is that reflective of leadership ambitions you have?
She’s somebody I look up to, and I remember, I grew up a Labour Party supporter, I still remember from the seventies and eighties the changes she brought about in the UK, which changed the way a lot of people saw that country and how it saw itself. She was a tremendous leader, who was completely outside of her time when it came to things like the sexist males she had to put up with. She had some pretty useless sexist males too, and she wasn’t part of their boys club, so she is someone I completely admire. She was a person of her time, so she has different views to me on all sorts of things, but I admire the guts.

Have you ever felt like it is a boy’s club in parliament?
Yes. Of course it’s a boy’s club. I could say no, but you wouldn’t believe me, would you Sophie? I don’t reckon people realise how sexist things are until they come and work in environments where they’re not even seen because they’re not in a man’s suit. Often I think people like yourself, who are young and full of intelligence and drive and energy, you want to get ahead and you think the world’s your oyster. Well, it is, just don’t let someone say no. If they do, just move around them. That’s my advice, just take no notice of what other people think your limits are, just get on and do it. You’re going to hit those walls, you’re going to hit those ceilings, understand that but don’t accept them.

And that’s what you’ve done?
That’s what I continue to do. Until the day I can’t be bothered, in which case it will be someone else’s turn. I look at so many people with so many opportunities, so much talent, who think that they are defined by what other people want. One day you’re going to be on your deathbed, you don’t want to say, if only I’ve done X.

That’s great, thank you. Was there anything else you wanted to say?
Ah, no. See, I’m not so scary, am I?

Do you think people think you’re scary?
 Of course they do. And that can be good. When I went through the troubles earlier this year, the positive, and I am a bit Pollyanna-ish, always seeing the positive, is that a lot of people who thought that I was so scary saw that I was actually a vulnerable person when it came to my family. And they looked and they thought, actually, she’s like us. And it made me more approachable. Lots of people approach me now, really nice things they say. I think most people respect the work that I try and do. They don’t always like what I do, but they understand that I’m always trying my best.

 Jacinda Ardern

What does feminism mean to you? First off, would you consider yourself a feminist?
Yeah, I do, I absolutely do. It was interesting, not that long ago I was at a media interview with other women, I was the youngest one there and someone asked who amongst us considered ourselves feminists and the vast majority didn’t put their hand up. And I thought, at what point did feminism become a dirty word? I think that’s a real shame. In my mind, feminism represents equality. There is no basis on which you can argue, yet, that we have achieved that, and so long as we’re still striving for that, feminism and the feminist movement is a very real and necessary thing. Whether you want to look at it from issues around women in leadership or the gender pay gap or the difficulty women still face in balancing work and caregiver responsibilities and access to flexible working hours, these are all issues where we’ve got a long way to go and so yeah, I absolutely consider myself a feminist for that reason.

Do you feel that the Labour Party has supported you as a woman in your career?
Absolutely. I’ve always been very clear that I believe that I am here because someone asked me. All the way through my involvement in politics, right from even my first campaign I worked on someone asked me to get involved. I just don’t think I probably had the confidence, at times, to put myself forward for some of the positions, and certainly when I had the support and confidence of others that made a difference to me being willing to take the next step. So I feel that I’ve been very well supported, but I’m mindful of the fact that it has taken that to get me there, so I’m very conscious of making sure that I do the same in return when I see particularly young women who I think would be fantastic in roles, and it might simply be that they need that extra little bit of support to take those positions.

Do you think the Labour Party was more attractive to you because they were supportive of women?
I don’t think that was the initial driver for me, so much is wrapped up in the fact that I identify as Labour. I never remember sitting down and lining up all the policies and analysing them, I just always felt they were my team. I think that probably comes from my strong sense of social justice, my strong focus on people and improving people’s lives and it just always felt like Labour was the best match for that. They were also the best match for my views on improving the lot of women, and certainly if they didn’t take those views I would have had a clash in that respect.

What do you think is the biggest issue facing NZ women?
It’s hard to pick one thing because for individuals it will be whatever they’re facing in their lives at that time, and I wouldn’t want to trivialise those. I think if I were to narrow it down it would be – there are two things, but I could probably put it under the banner of one, and I would call it economic security. If we look at our child poverty statistics, so much of that is women who are sole parents who are trying to raise children. The wage gap, low pay jobs, service jobs, they are dominated by women. Family violence and domestic violence are very complex issues, but certainly wrapped up in there is sometimes the question of supporting yourself, whether or not someone is able to leave those situations amongst many other things. For me, giving women economic security and independence is really important, particularly when they have duties of care as well, and we haven’t got there yet, by any stretch.

Is that something that the Labour Party is particularly looking to do?
Yeah, we’ve sectioned it off in different ways. The Best Start package is harking back to the old universal family benefit which was a payment which went directly to the mother. When you look at the change in inflation, what we’ve brought back in now is similar in value to what we had then. It’s targeted at caregivers with young children in particular because we know when you look at those deprivation statistics it’s when children are in their youngest years, in particular if you’re a sole parent, then you have very little option other than to be the primary caregiver. We wanted to boost incomes for people in those situations, and if we are talking about sole parents then they are predominantly women. Our strategy on domestic violence is another incredibly important one. We want there to be leadership from our next Prime Minister on that issue under Labour. The wage gap is an ongoing battle for the Labour Party, as is pushing against a low wage economy because we know that’s something that affects women and we can change using levers like minimum wage.

Do you think female MPs are represented differently because of their gender?
I think unfortunately the fact that there aren’t more women in politics, and particularly young women, it does mean that when you have two running against each other it becomes a novelty. You don’t get ‘Battle of the Balding White Men’, because that’s nothing new. It was disappointing to see headlines that trivialised what was a serious contest of ideas. Nikki and I, throughout that campaign, if anyone followed us around those debates, they were a serious contest of ideas where neither of us descended into the performance that people like to play up, this whole catfight mentality just wasn’t a reality. But when you see a headline like that, how do you respond? A big part of me wanted to push back on behalf of other young women who are out there in leadership roles and working extraordinarily hard to be recognised simply for what they do, not for their demographic or their gender. On the flipside of that, had I done that, would that have just fed the machine around me reacting too sensitively or what have you. So I made the call just not to respond to it. I didn’t want to feed a debate I don’t believe in, instead I just wanted to prove that it was a worthy contest and we deserved to be listened to in the same way as anyone else.

What would you say is the thing you are most proud of achieving?
Well, it’s quite hard to achieve anything when you’re in Opposition. Not imploding! Yet. [laughs]. Yeah, I’ve been asked this a few times, actually. The thing that I will be proudest of when I leave Parliament is if I feel like I’ve left with my integrity intact. I feel like that will mean I will have achieved things I’m proud of without engaging in things I wouldn’t be proud of. So if I have that feeling when I leave this place I’ll be happy. The things I specifically want to achieve, at least Opposition has allowed me to put the building blocks in place for those. Whether I have children or not I think is irrelevant to my passion around improving the wellbeing of children in New Zealand. I’ve always felt that way, that was in my maiden speech, it was one of the things that was a catalyst for me getting into politics. If you’re a believer in social justice, I think the epitome of injustice is a child who is faultless experiencing things that no child should experience, so that’s been a big driver for me. The Bill I have in my name, the Child Poverty Eradication and Reduction Bill, which, if we implemented in New Zealand would make us world leaders on child poverty issues. It will not only measure but will set targets, will set up a child poverty board which brings together health, housing, education, social development to reduce the impact of child poverty and the poor outcomes that it brings. I feel like that would leave a legacy which would be very hard for any other government to undo. And that I think is what’s so difficult in politics, it’s so cyclical, it’s so easy to put in place something that can just be undone. My goal is to set up something which supports and values the role of children that can’t be undone. I’d be happy if I left with that in place.

Just one last thing, I was looking at the latest polls this morning, they had you as the third most preferred Labour Prime Minister.

Wasn’t that like a whopping 1.4 per cent? I was like, that’s like, margin of error.

Is that a possibility?
It’s not an aspiration I have. Isn’t it interesting, I think politics is one of the few places where people just assume if you want to do it that of course you want the top job, and I’ve never had that aspiration. People just don’t believe me when I say it. I feel like I’ve worked closely enough to see that job, while working for Helen Clark, that I just know that I would find it hard to sacrifice as much as is required to do the job. I love my family, I love my friends, they sacrifice enough already, I feel like I ask as much of them as I would like to ask. And I feel like I get as much from this job and I will have the opportunity to achieve all I’d like to achieve without having to have that role. There’s plenty of people in the Labour Party I’ve enjoyed supporting, David Cunliffe is our leader and I support him to do that job, and I don’t envy him that job.

 

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Salient is a magazine. Salient is a website. Salient is an institution founded in 1938 to cater to the whim and fancy of students of Victoria University. We are partly funded by VUWSA and partly by gold bullion that was discovered under a pile of old Salients from the 40's. Salient welcomes your participation in debate on all the issues that we present to you, and if you're a student of Victoria University then you're more than welcome to drop in and have tea and scones with the contributors of this little rag in our little hideaway that overlooks Wellington.

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