NZ First's parliamentary rookie has been described as a 'survivor'. She talks to political reporter Nicholas Jones.

As a girl, Ria Bond's dread would increase with each tick of the school clock towards 3pm.

The future New Zealand First MP was 3 years old when social workers first removed her from her parents' care. She was in a foster home for five periods over her childhood.

"You never knew if you were actually going to go home after school, or if that [social worker's] car was waiting for you. And you would have nothing but the school bag you've got and the clothes on your back," she says.

"You'd always worry. You were constantly on the edge of your seat. 'Cos it's like, 'What's mum and dad done now'."

Advertisement

Bond is the Invercargill hairdresser who "won" the Northland byelection - coming into Parliament as New Zealand First's 12th MP after the party's leader Winston Peters captured Northland, taking a seat from National in the process.

But a month shy of a year in Parliament, she remains possibly the lowest-profile MP. Other new arrivals like the Green Party's Marama Davidson have leapt into the rough and tumble of question time, but Bond's has been a lower-key approach.

"My first day my ears were ringing. It flabbergasted me," she recalls of her first question time, when opposition MPs try and score hits on ministers. "I was cautioned that the noise in there won't be what you're used to, because you don't hear it on TV. And the abuse that is flung round, I thought to myself, 'Good God, you think that behaviour is acceptable?'"

Bond's diminutive size, fondness for dark clothing and youthful looks - she won't give her age, saying only that she is in her 40s, and there is pride when she recalls being asked for ID when buying her son a beer on his 18th birthday - means she can go unnoticed, and has been mistaken for a visitor by Parliamentary staff.

As a girl, Ria Bond's dread would increase with each tick of the school clock towards 3pm. Photo / Mark Mitchell
As a girl, Ria Bond's dread would increase with each tick of the school clock towards 3pm. Photo / Mark Mitchell

She is often happy to sit and watch during select committee meetings, and her two questions in the House to Communications Minister Amy Adams have not led to any verbal jousts. Ron Mark, New Zealand First's combative deputy leader and someone Bond nominates as a mentor, was a foster child himself, and says he has empathy for his colleague, who is "a survivor".

"She is naturally - which is not untypical of people who have been raised in foster care - very cautious. She is guarded, she doesn't trust, she is wary, and so she will not push herself out into an area until she is firm in what she sees and understands the situation to be."

Born in Palmerston North to a Maori father - from a farming family but who worked as a builder - and mother with Scottish heritage, Bond was the second-youngest of five. There were stints in foster homes between Palmerston North and Christchurch. She says her father hit her and the other children. "With dad, and I understand it now, and I have looked back on how stressed out he must have been. My father can't read or write, he finds it very hard to speak English, we grew up with him speaking Maori to us all the time.

"The pressures of having to be that sole breadwinnerhe did good at that, but it came to a stage when things fell apart, and that's when we would get hit. Never punched. It was like hit with a jug chord, hit with a strap, hit with a jandal."

Not all the foster placements were bad. Bond will never forget one family in Selwyn, Christchurch who treated her with kindness. But others saw her and other kids as "cash dollars for their own family".

Most terrifying was when she was placed in a home on her own. The fear of being taken was a constant, even when they were back together as a family under one roof.

"That is the trauma side, when you are not told what's going on. You are told to sit in the car and be quiet, be good when you go to the first home, or else they'll send you back and you don't want that."

The constant moving meant Bond missed a core part of her schooling, but the education system was her saviour. Praise from teachers was "so important, so crucial", and she would pick certain teachers and ask for extra help.

Hairdressing itself was also ideal preparation. 'You get all sorts of people coming and needing your help.'

SHARE THIS QUOTE:

Southland Girls' High School was singled out for praise in her maiden speech to Parliament. While in the fifth form, Bond started attending hairdressing college one day a week, and worked in a salon for free every Thursday night.

That was kept from her father, who wanted her to join the Navy. Another secret was the fact Bond's boyfriend -- later, her fiance - played soccer, a sport deemed unacceptably soft.

At Bond's engagement party, which doubled as her fiance's 21st, there were two cakes - one with icing in the shape of a soccer ball, the other with a pair of scissors: "my dad walked out. He was stunned."

Bond's first child arrived before she could complete her qualification (her son is now 20, her daughter 14. She separated from her husband in 2014).

Door-knocking and the Job Plus subsidy secured her first job, in an era when staff were "in a row rolling up perms, like a production line".

She opened her own salon in 2001, and was eventually appointed president of the NZ Association of Registered Hairdressers, which represents 8000 owners and operators. That role gave her a feel for politics, dealing with the multibillion-dollar cosmetic industry, boosting sponsorship, keeping abreast of regulations, lobbying for changes to legislation, and fielding calls from media.

Hairdressing itself was also ideal preparation. "You get all sorts of people coming and needing your help, and you've got to sit there with a good ear to listen to them, and I think being a hairdresser for over 25, 26 years has taught me to have the patience of a saint."

Bond became a director on New Zealand First's board in 2012, and attended the party's candidate college.

After standing for NZ First in Invercargill in 2014, she moved to Wellington to work as an assistant to NZ First MPs Richard Prosser and Mahesh Bindra.

A desire to improve the way vulnerable children are protected by the system was a motivating factor in her entering politics. Her member's bill, currently in the ballot, would require mandatory registration of social workers working with children for children's services, DHBs, prescribed State services and school boards.

She says a comment made to her by a social worker when she was a child has stuck with her: "the lady actually said that it would have been better if my mother had aborted us".

When Bond was sworn-in last year she became her wider family's seventh MP. Bond is Sir James Henare's great-grandniece. Other relatives include Labour MP Peeni Henare, former National MP Tau Henare, and NZ First MP Pita Paraone.

After standing for NZ First in Invercargill in 2014, Ria Bond moved to Wellington to work as an assistant to NZ First MPs Richard Prosser and Mahesh Bindra. Photo / Mark Mitchell
After standing for NZ First in Invercargill in 2014, Ria Bond moved to Wellington to work as an assistant to NZ First MPs Richard Prosser and Mahesh Bindra. Photo / Mark Mitchell

She is related to Willow-Jean Prime, Labour's candidate in last year's Northland by-election, and Mana's by-election candidate Rueben Taipari Porter. Bond said she was heckled by her aunties during the campaign.

"In the end, I said to them, aunties and uncles, I need your help. I have moved my whole life through to this moment, we are at the finish line - can you please, please vote New Zealand First ... and although they were out in red colours, I'm pretty proud that they supported me."

Peters captured Northland, and Bond moved back, joining MP for Invercargill and National's Sarah Dowie in the city, prompting mayor Tim Shadbolt to write, "who would have thought that Invercargill would increase its resident MPs by 100 per cent because Winston Peters won a by-election in Northland?"

The south is also served by Clutha-Southland MP Todd Barclay, keeping his head down after an employment dispute that made headlines.

Bond's parents, who "sorted themselves out" in her teenage years and with whom she is now on good terms, were in the public gallery for her emotional maiden speech, in which she spoke of her upbringing.

Also watching was Ron Mark, the cowboy hat-wearing, tough-talking former Army officer who recently got into hot water after he was caught swearing on a live microphone in Parliament's debating chamber.

"I've never really spoken much about what happened, that's something I kept to myself," Bond says of her welcome to Parliament.

"And Ron, I reduced to tears. Because it resonated with him right then and there, the battle that I've had to get here."

Ria Bond

• Spent five periods of childhood in a foster home.

• New Zealand First's 12th MP, entering Parliament last year after Winston Peters' Northland by-election win.

• Of Ngati Hine and Ngapuhi descent on her father's side, with links to the Bay of Islands settlement of Motatau.

• Is her wider family's seventh MP, and the great grand niece of Sir James Henare.

• Owned a hairdressing salon in Invercargill, and former president of the NZ Association of Registered Hairdressers.