Sue Moroney is passionate about making sure everyone has equal access to justice so it's fitting the former Labour MP's new role is heading up the national organisation for Community Law Centres.
Moroney, who did not seek re-election to Parliament last year, starts as chief executive of Community Law Centres o Aotearoa [CLCA] today, replacing inaugural CEO Liz Tennet.
The 54-year-old, who started her career as a journalist and spent 12 years as an MP serving Hamilton and the Waikato, said she was excited to continue her work as a social advocate for justice in an organisation dedicated to improving people's lives.
"It's got a really proud history of ensuring that people who need legal help and support can get it irrespective of their income. So those people in dire need of legal support can get it free."
There are 24 Community Law Centres across New Zealand and Moroney will be based in Wellington and Hamilton.
"We take care of 50,000 clients every year which makes us the largest law firm in the country and I think the most important law firm in the country because of the nature of work that we do, which is for the less well off and often for the most marginalised and vulnerable people in our society."
Community Law employed 170 staff but its services, including work on family law, employment issues, housing problems, consumer advice and criminal law, were boosted by more than 1200 volunteer lawyers who run clinics and deliver free advice and assistance.
Moroney said over the years Community Law Centres had been at the forefront of progressive law reform.
This included discrimination against Maori in the criminal justice system while it also provided education on legal issues, giving advice on people's rights in seminars to take a "preventative approach" to law.
"I'm particularly impressed with that element of Community Law because it differentiates it from any other organisation offering legal services."
Moroney's role is to support the 24 services, spread across 140 locations, and ensure they have enough resources to do the job well.
There had been a funding freeze on the partially government-funded organisation over the past 10 years, Moroney said.
In the May budget, Community Law received its first funding increase in a decade, a one-off "top up" of $2.18 million.
"What that means is Community Law is now able to compensate for all those years where really the professional, dedicated and passionate staff have kept the thing going.
"Community Law has had to borrow heavily off the integrity and passion off the people it employs to keep it going so that people at the hard edge of our community didn't suffer by having no access to justice over that time."
Moroney is joining the sector at a time when New Zealand's legal profession has admitted it is in cultural crisis after a national survey found almost a third of women lawyers had been sexually harassed in their working life and more than half of all lawyers had been bullied.
She called the movement for change among lawyers "heartening".
"The legal profession is having to look deeply into itself and discover there are things that need resolving. And I would much rather that be the case than turn a blind eye and look the other way."
Tennet said she and the CLCA board were thrilled with Moroney's appointment.
"Sue brings the right passion and skills to lead the organisation. Her advocacy skills are highly valued and her commitment to ensuring New Zealanders who cannot afford a private lawyer have access to justice is so important", Tennet said.
Moroney's notable successes in Parliament were:
• Achieving regular extensions to paid parental leave for families;
• Exposing fraud at the Ministry of Transport that involved getting compensation for disadvantaged public servants while holding the former Auditor-General to account for his inaction when he was still the MoT chief executive;
• And pursuing justice for taxpayers over unauthorised spending at Waikato DHB.
She also led campaigns for Pay Equity and against Early Childhood Education funding cuts, and has been heavily involved in work to secure a commuter train between Hamilton and Auckland.
Who is Sue Moroney
When Sue Moroney went to some of her first Labour Party meetings in the mid-1980s the party was divided over Auckland Central candidate Richard Prebble.
"There were punch-ups and I was being spat at and called a whore and a lesbian in the same sentence. It was all on. And for some reason as a young woman I thought 'Oh this is the party for me'."
Moroney hails from the tiny township of Walton, near Matamata in rural Waikato and attended the same small primary school as Judith Collins and Sir Dryden Spring, among others.
She was born into an Irish Catholic family of horse lovers - her father Denny "Horace" Moroney was a dairy farmer who worked part-time as a horse trainer - and her mother's family were racehorse breeders.
Two of her brothers have won a Melbourne Cup and her father is a widely regarded mentor by many in the industry.
Number four of five children, Moroney left Matamata College in 1981 and worked as a stable hand. After six months she began working at the Matamata Chronicle before training as a journalist at ATI, now AUT.
She moved to Warkworth to the then Rodney and Waitemata Times and won Young Journalist of the Year before embarking on an OE to Ireland and London.
Back in New Zealand after stints at the Hauraki Herald and Huntly Press Moroney took up an editorship of the Hibiscus Coaster in Orewa at just 21.
Two years later she "changed course quite dramatically" when she became the Hotel Hospital Restaurant Workers Union publicity officer.
The union was affiliated with the Labour Party and Moroney began attending meetings.
"The rest is history."
Moroney started a union before she became an MP, creating the short-lived Equine Workers Association which was "wiped off the face of the earth" when National came to power in 1990.
She also worked for the New Zealand Nurses Organisation fostering her grounding in the unions movement and managed a Labour candidate's campaign, before standing herself.
In Parliament Moroney was a government MP in her first term between 2005 and 2008.
She was elected junior government whip and held portfolios including education, social development, ACC, transport, women's affairs and was chief opposition whip.
"The things I feel most proud about is actually not the titles, status or salary, but the things I was able to achieve even though we were in opposition."
She counts ongoing increases to paid parental leave, exposing the Ministry of Transport fraud, upholding the rights of public servants and making sure taxpayer funding was used appropriately when she helped unravel excessive spending at Waikato District Health Board, as some of her most important work.