Twelve Questions: Katherine Rich

Former National Party MP Katherine Rich quit politics five years ago to spend more time with her children. Now head of the Food and Grocery Council, she says she was once a Labour voter.

Katherine Rich still sees some politician friends but doesn't miss Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Katherine Rich still sees some politician friends but doesn't miss Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell

1. It's been five years since you were last in Parliament, what and who do you miss about it?
It was an honour to serve those nine years, but I don't miss it. I've enjoyed getting back to the sort of work I did before Parliament. I keep in touch with a number of former MPs I'd call friends. Too many to list, but I'd catch up with Simon Power the most. I enjoy my catch-ups with Sue Kedgley and Deborah Coddington too. Which reminds me - I haven't seen Clem Simich in a long time. Clem, expect a call.

2. Do you think you entered too early?
No, it was about the right time in my career, but I think you can enter too early. Better to come in with some life experience. I was in my 30s. I'd had a mortgage and paid bills. Some people enter in their early 20s having come up through the youth division of their parties. That wasn't for me.

3. Was there, and is there still, sexism in the House?
Yes, but you'd strike that anywhere. Just think about the way politics is reported. I've never seen a "Battle of the Babes" sort of headline for any electoral battle between male candidates or seen them described with words like feisty, perky or shrill.

Many of the bigger companies I now work with impress me. They work hard to encourage equal opportunities and equal pay.

4. How did you cope with that?
I can't think of any recent example, but years ago I'd deal with issues with either a sense of humour or by choosing battles. Sometimes I'd be less patient or polite. Although I would, of course, never resort to violence, I did tell one colleague who patted my pregnant tummy too many times that if he did it again I would punch him on the nose. I said it with a smile, but with sufficient firmness that he didn't do it again.

5. What did you miss with the children during those years?
Small being-there experiences but any angst has been erased by five years of great experiences with them. I've found great joy from little things like hearing my son practising Green Day on his ukulele or watching my daughter play netball. They think I have a fun job because it involves lollies and ice-cream. When I was in politics I travelled so much my 3-year-old asked me if I worked at the airport.

6. Is it harder for the kids or the mum in those circumstances, do you think?
In the earlier years I think they didn't mind at all. My husband did a great job with them, but from ages 4 and up they really found it harder having me away, hence my decision to change roles.

7. Is it tough on a marriage?
No more than any other environment for two working parents trying to juggle everything. But two working parents, alternate shifts on the minimum wage - now that would be tough.

8. Your role at the Food and Grocery Council can be a controversial one, especially when you are opposing food campaigners on issues such as food labelling and salt. Are you doing God's work?
I don't see it as controversial. I see it more as providing the other side to a lot of grocery industry discussions. You'd be surprised but many shock/horror stories about the food and grocery industry aren't true. I don't doubt the sincerity of those who call for fat taxes, bans, salt regulation or all sorts of different warning labels, but many ideas are completely unworkable. A fat tax in New Zealand would raise the price of cheese and butter, so support for these ideas falls away when Kiwis understand the implications. There's only so much salt, fat and sugar that can be removed from a product before [it] tastes like cardboard. Eating a healthy diet and moderation in all things is something I talk about a lot.

9. Are you essentially a lobbyist?
Some people have called me that, but as chief executive of an industry association it's much more than just trying to lobby for law changes. I'm involved in all sorts of things from industry training, food standards, export projects to working with the retailers on behalf of our member companies.

10. Do lobbyists get a bad name?
They shouldn't. New Zealand has a wonderfully open democracy, everyone can have their say. There's no secret about the sort of issues industry associations work on. If it's a consumer goods or food issue, I'll be working on it.

11. How hard is it for women in business?
Sheryl Sandberg got it right when she said women need to lean into opportunities, not lean away, whether it be a board position, the next step up, further education ... I met a young woman last week who's assistant manager of a supermarket and her goal is to be manager. Companies I work with and the supermarkets are working hard to encourage women to get to the next level.

12. Will you always be a Tory?
I'm a centre-right thinker and I did vote Labour in '87 - my first vote - when they were the more centre-right party. That said, my MP was my uncle Clive Matthewson. I can't see it happening again in the near future.

- NZ Herald

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