Twelve Questions: David Shearer

With a long career in international aid and war zones behind him, former New Zealander of the Year David Shearer lasted just 20 months as Leader of the Opposition. Yesterday his successor made him shadow minister of foreign affairs.

David Shearer says he should have listened to his own instincts more. Photo / Paul Estcourt
David Shearer says he should have listened to his own instincts more. Photo / Paul Estcourt

1. What's the song you've played most on your guitar since standing down as Labour leader?

Steve Earle's Goodbye. It's a great song and I play it a lot anyway but it seemed appropriate. It's a love song, actually.

2. What's your best advice for David Cunliffe?

I wouldn't advise him. Every leader should follow their own path.

3. What did you learn most about yourself over the past 20 months?

That my own instincts were more reliable than any advice I received and I should have listened to them more. When you're in that role there are a lot of voices talking to you. I have a good feel for what most people in New Zealand think and a lot of the time I listened to other people rather than myself. You respect your colleagues, but I should have respected myself more.

4. How does Leader of the Opposition rank in the list of odious jobs?

Well, I've never had a kid come up to me and say "Hey, I want to be leader of the opposition when I grow up!" Its reputation as the worst job in politics is richly deserved.

5. What was your wife's reaction when you phoned to say you were stepping down?

I didn't phone. I flew home to tell her. She was relieved but she was also pretty angry. She's fiercely loyal and values that in others. I was a bit worried about my kids. My daughter said "oh good". She'd read something on the web that day and said "I know you're a politician but you're also a person with feelings". It was quite perceptive actually.

6. Afghanistan or Wellington?

Wellington, although it's probably safer in Afghanistan: you generally know which direction the bullets are coming from.

7. What's the most important lesson learned from your parents?

Honesty, integrity, compassion. The strength of the family I grew up in was the foundation for everything I've done since. I just wish everybody could have such a good start in life. I've always felt very secure in my own skin, probably because of that upbringing. Of course I look at situations and think I could have done that better or wish I hadn't done something, but it doesn't ever shake my core beliefs.

8. Do you pray?

I used to. I grew up going to church all my early life but when I was working overseas I got out of the habit.

When you're in situations in the Third World it does make you think about the bigger meaning of life, but on the other hand I have seen every major religion do some of the most horrific things.

My faith in religions was shaken. I haven't prayed in a while. Maybe I should start again!

9. You'd only been in Parliament for two years when you became Opposition Leader. Was that too early?

It wasn't a mistake but it certainly made it difficult not having the same experience behind you. My philosophy has always been you regret what you don't do, not what you do do. Most people were surprised when I put my hand up for the job.

When I got it, it was more difficult not having the connections or networks. Coming in now I would have been in a much better position.

10. Won't you be bored now, being shadow minister for foreign affairs and trade?

Foreign Affairs is an area that's been a big part of my life and I still want to make a difference. You have to readjust yourself, rethink where you are and look for the opportunities. When I lost out on the Whangarei nomination in 2002, I joined the UN and had a fantastic career with it. My dad always said that things turn out in the end and I think he was right.

11. What, in your opinion, is wrong with John Key?

I've got nothing personal against John Key, I just think he's out of touch with most New Zealanders.

12. What is it that the public still doesn't know about you?

That I'd have made a better Prime Minister than I was Leader of the Opposition.

- NZ Herald

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