Twelve Questions
Jennifer Dann poses 12 questions to well-known faces

Twelve Questions with Marama Davidson

By Jennifer Dann

Marama Davidson says Parliament needs more mums as they're leaders and  grass-roots connected. Photo / Dean Purcell
Marama Davidson says Parliament needs more mums as they're leaders and grass-roots connected. Photo / Dean Purcell

Green MP Marama Davidson heads the cross-party Inquiry into Homelessness. The South Auckland mother-of-six and daughter of actor Rawiri Paratene says homelessness has affected her own friends and family members.

1 You've lived in South Auckland all your adult life. Have you seen homelessness first hand?

Off the top of my head I can think of five of my own friends who've been homeless in the past year. These are Maori women with children not able to afford the private rents being asked but not deemed urgent enough to qualify for state housing. I was considering sleeping them in my lounge. Eventually they found temporary arrangements bunking up with other friends. Another friend pitched a tent in a community garden with his grandson because they felt too intrusive sleeping on other people's couches. I found out one of my cousins was interviewed by John Campbell about using a motel for emergency housing. But you shouldn't have to be related to someone to know that this is not good enough.

2 Why are Labour, the Maori Party and the Greens holding a Cross-Party Inquiry into Homelessness?

Because the Government refused to hold a select committee inquiry. They claim they've got a plan to deal with homelessness but it's just an ad hoc response. They haven't even been able to call this a crisis. The reason they don't want to hear from people face-to-face is because that would make them truly accountable. Our hearings panel has received over 450 submissions and we're travelling the country to hear people's stories so we can put together a whole-of-system approach to tackling it head-on.

3 What do you think needs to be done?

We're going to need a strong state housing programme for quite some time to mop up this mess. We need a capital gains tax on houses that are not family homes. One of my favourite Green Party policies is our Home For Life scheme which gets low-income families into affordable homes without needing a deposit and allows them to pay it off weekly.

4 You entered Parliament on the Green Party list last year after Russel Norman's resignation. Why were you kicked out just five days later?

John Key had accused the Opposition of "backing the rapists" over the treatment of New Zealanders being deported from Australia. So a group of Labour and Green MPs agreed to stand up in turn and tell the Speaker that as victims of sexual assault we took offence at the Prime Minister's comments. As the Speaker overruled each one, another would stand up. We had a chain of about 10 of us and I just happened to be the first one that got removed.

5 When you agreed to stand up, did you expect to have to tell your whole sexual abuse story?

No. I did think, "What have I done?" when the media seemed to seize on my story in particular but then you just had to ride it. We were getting messages from around the country saying, "You made me feel less alone" which helped us get over our discomfort about putting something so deeply awkward and personal out into the world. I have a very supportive family but I didn't tell anybody about the abuse as a child. It happened at home - it was a distant cousin who has passed on. It was only as an adult that I was able to tell my family. This is what happens with sexual violence. It's going to take more and more people speaking out to take away that shameful stigma.

6 Has identifying yourself as an abuse victim impacted on your effectiveness as an MP?

No. I'd already staked my reputation on speaking out about domestic and sexual violence as the lead panellist on the Owen Glenn Inquiry. If anything it gave me a bit more authenticity in that work. The sad reality is that if I was a stripper who'd gone through that experience rather than an MP I wouldn't have been taken as seriously.

7 You've called for decriminalisation of abortion laws, yet you made the choice to be a teenage mum. Why are you outspoken on this issue?

The current law is a sham. Abortions are approved on the grounds there would be serious physical or mental harm to the woman. Women should be able to tell the truth and make a choice without being criminals. I got pregnant when I was 19 and about to start university. I didn't consider changing my plans at all. It was my father who said, "Let's think this through." But I did it. I just took my daughter to university with me. She'd sleep in her pram while I studied. There were only a handful of mums with new babies there at the time.

8 You have six children. Did you plan a large family from the outset?

No, only the last two were planned. My eldest three are now aged 22, 20 and 19. Then there's a big gap before our next three aged 10, 8 and 7. I found it was very different the second time round, being more mature, and I fell in love all over again. My 22-year-old has been my full-time paid caregiver. She's responsible for keeping the household running because my husband and I both work long hours. He works for a housing provider, Tamaki Redevelopment, and helps run a community kickboxing gym.

9 Your parents were young political activists who met on the steps of Parliament. What did they teach you?

A passion for justice; for peace, for the environment, for families and children. Dad was involved in Nga Tama Toa and mum was part of the Black Women's Movement. She's very fair but the point was they were claiming back an identity ripped away through the colonisation process. They've always supported us kids in whatever we've chosen to do and given us a deep sense of trust that even if we make mistakes they'll be there for us.

10 Your father Rawini Paratene is a famous actor who starred in films like Whale Rider. Did any of his children consider becoming actors?

It's funny because growing up I was the quiet one. They're all lively and full of personality and humour. We are all political and you could say we're all performers.

11 What's your most embarrassing moment in politics?

Getting Maori words wrong. I'm still learning te reo. My parents were of that generation that had the language taken from them. The reporters at Maori TV are very kind to us learners because they appreciate the effort. I've made a commitment to ask all my questions to the House in te reo Maori which takes me three times as long. I'm hoping I'll get better, but oh it's hard. The Green Party has so much alignment with Maori political aspirations we need to be heard in that world.

12 What changes would you like to see in Parliament?

Parliament needs more mums. Mums are connected to their communities at the grass roots, they know how policies affect people's everyday lives because they bear the brunt of it. They're politically insightful and leaders in their own right but not enough are privileged with the confidence and support I've had. We need to change things so we can get more in there to tell us what the bloody hell to do. The cross-party hearings panel of Marama Davidson, Phil Twyford and Marama Fox is in Kaitaia on August 31 and Wellington on September 5.

- NZ Herald

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