Michele Hewitson interview: Louisa Wall

By Michele Hewitson

Louisa Wall, Labour party list MP. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Louisa Wall, Labour party list MP. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Now that Darren Hughes has resigned and the others ahead of her on the Labour Party list, including Judith Tizard, have announced they won't be going back to Wellington, Louisa Wall will be. But it's tricky, isn't it? Because, as delighted as she must be, she can hardly be seen to be whooping it up over her good luck, at the expense of another's ruined political career.

So, no she hasn't celebrated. She didn't "get really excited" until Wednesday afternoon when she got a call from the chief registrar of the Electoral Commission. She phoned Phil Goff's office on Tuesday and asked for, and got, his cellphone number. She seems a bit excited about that. Of course she would ring and ask for the leader's number instead of waiting to be given it - you don't get to be a sports star by sitting around meekly on the sidelines.

She told me she had been on a hospice charity walk on the morning Tizard was tipped to (and did) announce her decision on Q+A, and she's been spending a lot of time at the hospital visiting a sick friend. "So, no champagne."

Right, she's a good, caring Labour Party member and not out boozing it up and causing trouble. I get it. But having it so explicitly spelt out that she is a good, caring person and so on had the opposite of the intended effect, which was to make me feel charitably towards her. I just felt that she must think I'm thick.

She probably does because she had to try to explain to me that what she loves about rugby is "the intellectual part of the game. Rugby's quite intellectual. Did you know that?"

She did try, but it remains a mystery. Perhaps I'm not intellectual enough. I had read that when she played rugby as a kid she was known for never passing the ball, because her father paid her 50 cents a try.

"But I was at the end of the line. If I knew I could score the try, I'd score. If I needed to pass the ball I would."

That might be a reasonable philosophy for a politician: knowing when to pass the ball. "I think what I learned in sport is that whoever's got the ball at any point in time is actually the leader." I'm not entirely sure whether that will be what the leader of the Labour Party wants to hear. All I know is that I'd think very carefully before passing her the ball.

I asked her an absolute patsy question about Goff: Could he win the election for Labour? She said, "I think brand Labour can win."

Surely it's about brand Goff versus brand Key? I was being thick again. I got a lecture about how when "anything bad, like asset sales, John Key is nowhere to be seen".

Doesn't matter. People like him. The polls tell us that.

We argued around in circles for a bit about the importance of, to use her term, a brand leader versus a brand party, but the outcome was, as far as she was concerned, that she had won because "that's my point. Brand Labour can win this election because we connect with working class New Zealanders ..."

She is very proud of coming from working class stock and she adored her father who died almost five years ago - "to be honest, I'm a daddy's girl" - and who has PhD on his headstone. He was a post hole digger. Her name, by the way, is pronounced Louisa. She was named after her father's cousin, Louis, who died the day she was born. Her parents have always called her Louis.

I thought everyone knew she was gay, but apparently not. "They probably will now." I'd asked about some odd story I'd heard about a male sports star trying to pick her up and she said, "Yeah, but I mean, that has happened in my life, believe it or not. Ha, ha. He's obviously not my type. But, in all honesty, there have been people who have found me attractive."

I must have been looking incredulous, which had nothing to do with doubting her attractiveness. I was wondering how anyone would have had the nerve to make a pass.

She is in a civil union partnership with Prue Kapua, a lawyer specialising in resource management. They met through the Maori Women's Welfare League. "Isn't that cute." I bet it was at a committee meeting. "That's right. Seriously."

She would meet the great love of her life at a committee meeting. I asked, as a joke, whether their eyes met across the committee table and she said, "Actually, I think they probably did."

She has a masters degree in social policy and has worked for the Children's Commission, the Ministry of Women's Affairs, and in health research. So when people want to have a go, they call her a policy wonk.

She likes being called a policy wonk, so good luck trying to have a go. You will get one of her talks about how she is "very much into the public good", and a whole lot more earnestly delivered policy facts besides, on child health stats, say.

Besides being a wonk she is also, according to me, a serious over-achiever. She says she isn't. "I just believe in myself. I believe in what I want to achieve."

She was determined to be a Silver Fern, and at 17 she was. I asked whether she'd ever had a crisis of confidence. That was a really thick thing to ask. "Umm. Not really. I like to stand on really solid platforms. And I think if you get your values and your beliefs and your philosophy right ..." She thought about the question for a bit longer and then said, with utter incomprehension: "Why would you suffer anything like that?" I'd asked because she was once dropped from the Silver Ferns and says she was never told why, and she doesn't seem to have asked. She thinks it was to test her resolve, which I'd have said nobody could have thought needed testing.

Once she resolves to do something, she does it and she doesn't let anyone, least of all herself, get in the way. She once said she had repressed her sexuality when she was a teenager. But that doesn't mean what you'd assume: that she was gay, but not out. She means "it wasn't important. When I was 13, or 14, I wanted to be a Silver Fern and so my father said, 'You can do that. But no boys'. I don't think he meant it literally." She was too busy "striving for excellence" to allow girls, or boys, to get in the way of her sporting career. She says, and no kidding, that she is determined and focused.

She doesn't care what people think about her, or whether she's liked; a mark of her supreme self-confidence. She says she is a team player but, "I'll be honest, we had playbooks when I was on the Black Ferns ... and I used to get a bit frustrated at my teammates who didn't know the playbook. I'll admit that." She would let them know? "That's right."

This might have made her unpopular. "Possibly on the field, but I know that they always respected me. I didn't relax. I wasn't a player who was relaxed and if we scored a try I'd just run back to halfway." She means she never joined in the general hooraying. Well, why didn't she? "Well, who cares, actually? It wasn't as if we'd won the game. At the end of the actual season, if we're up on the podium and we could say, 'yes, we are the champions', then I'd say 'yip, we deserve to celebrate'. But celebrating tries? Celebrating winning games? Nah. Didn't cut the mustard with me."

She doesn't believe in the cult of the individual. She believes in "the whole notion of collectivism versus the individual". Just a guess then: She's on the left of the party. Really, again, don't ask. She is interested in "the origins and philosophy of the party, which is about a party of people representing those most vulnerable ..." and other stuff too boring to transcribe. Isn't Goff to the right of the party? "Apparently. Ha, ha. I don't know."

She was briefly an MP in 2008 (she came in on the list to replace a retiring MP) but failed to win the Tamaki Makaurau seat in the election of that year. But she did manage to get off-side with the selectors (she has a sporting metaphor for just about everything and it must be catching.) She got thoroughly ticked off for saying, while on the campaign trail, that she would campaign for the party vote rather than the electorate one. That was against Labour policy. She said then that she thought she had been "thinking too much".

She says she meant was that she was "thinking probably on another dimension - which is rational. You see, I'm a rational thinker. Things are meant to happen for a reason and I didn't get back in."

What could possibly be the reason? "Well, timing is everything. I think I'm ready for the position now ... I feel like I am. It's a very important job ..." I could feel one of her regurgitations of the Labour Party manual circa, oh I don't know, 1930-something, coming on, so I turned the bossy tables on her and interrupted. What I wanted to know was whether she was going to toe the line, because Phil Goff must be praying for a nice new(ish) MP, who won't cause any bother. She says she has made sure she knows what's in the playbook. She certainly won't be tearing up the town at night. She will, I imagine, stay home and read reports. She has her reading for the plane trip to Wellington sorted - a social policy report. So she won't be causing any trouble, or not in that way. Letting her anywhere near the ball? That might be a different story.

- NZ Herald

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