Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

New Zealander of the Year: The Over-30s

This year, the Herald chose 10 outstanding people under the age of 30 as our finalists for New Zealander of the Year. But they weren't the only ones who made a difference — here's our pick of the five best over-30s as well

Louisa Wall aimed to create a respectful but robust discussion on same-sex marriage. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Louisa Wall aimed to create a respectful but robust discussion on same-sex marriage. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The reformer

Louisa Wall has her hands full with wedding invitations from strangers.

The backbench Labour MP was the architect of the law change that removed one of the last barriers to full equality for New Zealand's 150,000-strong gay and transgender community. Under her watch, New Zealand this year became the 13th country to legalise same-sex marriage.

Ms Wall is now hugged by people in public - on one occasion in the aisle of an aeroplane - and is receiving invitations to weddings from people she has never met but who feel indebted to her.

"People's lives have been changed," she says. "The choice about whether or not the celebration of marriage is incorporated into any relationship means I'm getting invited to weddings ... quite random ones."

Some predicted a backlash within her conservative Manurewa electorate, but the MP said that aside from a few angry emails "calm has prevailed".

"The impact's been nothing but positive. I feel I have made a difference. It's satisfying that people have the option and are utilising it."

As a gay, high-profile Maori sportswoman who belonged to the Ratana Church, Ms Wall felt she was a "credible" candidate to lead the social revolution.

Although she came out at the age of 21, her bill was not motivated by her own sexuality but by a determination to eliminate all unfairness in New Zealand society. "I hope what people see in terms of my work is that I'm committed to removing discrimination where I see it and fighting for equality."

Keen to avoid the rancour of the civil union debate, she set out to create a respectful but robust discussion on same-sex marriage, meeting with critics regularly and explicitly protecting the church's right to uphold their beliefs.

The law change in April also allowed both people in a same-sex couple to be recognised as the parent of an adopted child, though Ms Wall stressed that adoption reform was still needed for homosexual New Zealanders to have full equality. After the legalisation of gay and transgender marriage, the MP's next focus was addressing the bullying of homosexual teens, firstly by collecting data on the prevalence of abuse and suicide, and then extending sex education to include discussion of sexuality and gender difference.

The experience has changed her, too. At the time the bill was introduced she was not interested in marrying, but she is now considering taking her civil union with partner Prue Kapua a stage further.

"I'd like to call Prue my wife, in all honesty. Calling her my civil union partner doesn't quite work."


The town leader

Dale Williams has been a key figure in increasing employment. Photo / Christine Cornege
Dale Williams has been a key figure in increasing employment. Photo / Christine Cornege

When Dale Williams puts Otorohanga in his rear view mirror, he'll take in comfort in knowing his work there is done.

The tattoo-covered motorcycle mechanic this year finished a remarkable decade-long mayoral tenure, his home-grown visions shrinking young unemployment to zero, slashing youth crime by 80 per cent, and providing a living template for other New Zealand communities.

After a year-long trip overseas - he's taking off with his family on Monday - Mr Williams says his wife's career in education will likely lead them away from the King Country town, his home for nearly 30 years.

Soon after Mr Williams was elected a mayor in 2004, the former apprentice set about sorting out the town's employment issues.

Otorohanga businesses were badly in need of workers, yet local young people were leaving town to do apprenticeships and training.

He put together a small group, which approached the Waikato Institute of Technology to open a locally-driven trade training centre.

When efforts picked up, young apprentices were being drawn from around the wider area, and Otorohanga's apprentice completion rate shot up to 96 per cent, eclipsing the national rate of 35 per cent.

More schemes popped up, tagging stopped, shops noticed more young customers and there were enough local players to field an Under-19s rugby team.

Where youth were responsible for nearly half of all resolved crime in Otorohanga, the rate had slid to one in five crimes and, less than a decade since efforts began, there was not a single unemployed person under 25 in town.

Mr Williams has been a key figure in the national Mayors Taskforce for Jobs programme, recently handing over the chairmanship to Clutha's like-minded mayor, Bryan Cadogan. "The key principles that we've learned and experienced in the last 10 years, particularly from communities like Otorohanga, is that it all comes down to community ownership," Mr Williams said.

He said it would be hard to leave his town behind. "It's felt like home from the day I arrived and it's a very special place - but I'm fortunate that as I leave, I don't feel there's any unfinished business."


The visionary

Peter Cooper saw a "world-class historic icon" in Auckland's Britomart. Photo / Natalie Slade
Peter Cooper saw a "world-class historic icon" in Auckland's Britomart. Photo / Natalie Slade

Peter Cooper is a property investor whose vision, passion and eye for quality is blooming at Britomart, Auckland's biggest heritage and urban regeneration project.

Cooper, who grew up in Kaitaia, the son of a truck driver, is a lawyer-turned-property investor with global real estate interests including the exclusive Mountain Landing residential development in the Bay of Islands, Southlake Town Centre in Texas and Britomart.

In 2004, he set out to create a "world-class historic icon" at Britomart. Nearly a decade later, he is playing a leading role in the revival of Auckland's waterfront edge.

Britomart has sprung to life since completion of the transport centre in 2003 and subsequent work by Cooper and Company on the 5.2ha site ringed by 17 historic buildings.

The project has weathered the global financial crisis and reached a critical mass in 2011 with the completion of the Ernst & Young and Westpac Building at the eastern end.

The precinct has gone from having a strong restaurant, bar and entertainment focus to attracting a strong line-up of local and international fashion stores.

In 2013, an urban garden - "smell the roses-type of thinking" - has sprung up in The Pavilions, featuring fashion boutiques and popular eateries, and the once dowdy 1970s Seafearers Building is now home to a harbour view restaurant.

Speaking from his American base at at Newport Beach, California, Cooper says Britomart is about two-thirds finished but will never be completed, as it will always be a work in progress. He credits his management team, many of whom have been on board since day one, and a selective choice of tenants, with a collective Britomart perspective, for the success of the precinct.

"We all think about it as live theatre. The performers on our stage are the tenants and our job is to try to find more ways to attract an audience for those performers. It's a shared passion. We will continue to finesse it, understand it better and find new opportunities, new niches and continue to attract tenants with new ideas."


The market hero

Rod Drury has his eyes firmly fixed on his vision. Photo / David White
Rod Drury has his eyes firmly fixed on his vision. Photo / David White

In early November, as Lorde's Royals sat at number one on the United States charts, another Kiwi success story was blowing up big in America. Investment firm Credit Suisse described Kiwi tech company Xero as "the Apple of accounting". With US investors clammering to get shares, the accounting software company that Rod Drury launched in 2006 soared to $5.3 billion in value, surpassing The Warehouse, Telecom and Auckland Airport on the New Zealand stock exchange.

Even for those who have followed Xero's progress closely, this was shocking. Those other companies generates hundreds of millions in revenue and return substantial profits. Xero isn't even trying to return a profit yet. But the global buzz around Drury's company is such that it became the hot tech stock of the year in 2013.

To describe the affable middle-aged tech geek as the Lorde of accounting software might be a stretch but, like Ella Yelich-O'Connor, Drury has broken new ground and achieved a locally unprecedented level of global recognition for his business.

Like the media, music and retail sectors, accounting is undergoing an online revolution and Drury has managed to get his company in pole position to cash in on the structural shift. When Xero needed more cash this year, it raised $180 million without even blinking, such was global demand to get in on the stock.

Drury, who was the Herald's Business Leader of the Year for 2012, has the potential to do much more than grab market attention and the challenges around converting great press to user numbers and profits are still there for him and his team.

He'll be unfazed. He has a vision and is highly focused on achieving it. If he succeeds, he will have created a new industry sector for this country - based firmly in this country. He is showing the way for other New Zealand tech companies and making it clear to the world that we have more to export than food and scenery.


The scientist

Dr David Wratt says having resources is vital. Photo / Dave Allen
Dr David Wratt says having resources is vital. Photo / Dave Allen

Dr David Wratt may be New Zealand's greatest contribution to international climate science, but he doesn't see himself as out to change the world.

Like all good scientists, Dr Wratt is simply keen to ensure policymakers have the information available to make best possible decisions.

Before the UN Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change's Fifth Assessment Report was released in September - the largest and most authoritative document on climate change to date - Dr Wratt had been toiling in the background for years, serving as vice-chairman of one of the IPCC's key working groups.

Alongside his heavy duties as Niwa's chief climate scientist - a role that has forced him to deal with challenges by sceptics - Dr Wratt has been heavily involved in the panel and its previous reports, assuming the job of co-ordinating lead author for Australia and New Zealand on the third assessment report.

This year's report, known as the AR5, was his last.

Dr Wratt plans to retire within the next few years, ending a distinguished professional career that might have begun by accident when the Motueka farmer's son went to university. "I suppose I thought I was going to become a school teacher when I first started, because that's what people who went to university seemed to do back then."

He instead became interested in physics, and applied for a job with the MetService.

"Climate change probably had no profile when I started back in 1976 - it was only just starting to become an issue that people were interested in and concerned about."

Much of his work involved carrying out air quality field studies for large-scale industrial projects that came with the Muldoon Government's Think Big strategy.

By 1992, he was in a management position and saw a chance to get back to being an active scientist when Niwa was formed.

Today, Dr Wratt - a Companion of the Royal Society of New Zealand and a past chair of the society's New Zealand Climate Expert Panel - is our eminent authority on climate change.

His top role with Niwa has seen him have to deal with challenges by climate sceptics, who recently dropped a long-running court battle over his institute's climate records.

"I guess I see my responsibility is not trying to change the world myself, but to make sure that there's good information for people to base decisions on," he said. "And obviously part of that is trying to ensure that the scientists I work with here at Niwa get the adequate resources to do the research and provide the information."

"As a world, if we want a good chance of keeping to no more than 2 degrees of warming, it's going to be a very big challenge."

- NZ Herald

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