First term Green MP Dr Elizabeth Kerekere started the year leading a record-breaking petition to ban conversion therapy, sparking the Government into action. She tells her story to Herald political journalist Michael Neilson, including why she decided to shift from grassroots activism to Parliament, and the fire that has been there through her life.
• List MP, Green Party
• Aged 55, born and lives in Gisborne
• Member of health and te pae oranga legislation select committees
• Interesting fact: "Huge fan of sci-fi"
Q: How have you found your first year in Parliament?
A: It was full on. We turned up after a long campaign that was extended due to Covid-19. Then there has been a lot to learn.
A huge highlight was the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationship Registration Bill being passed unanimously. We had been advocating for that for so long. I joined the select committee, I attended all of the hearings and was involved in the report.
That puts on record this Parliament unanimously states the rights of trans, takatāpui, non binary people are not negotiable. And that is a big deal for people who still want to claim they don't exist.
Another was launching our conversion practices petition and getting nearly 160,000 signatures in one week, which pressured the Government to bring forward their plan. It got 103,000 submissions, and has taken all year to hear the rest of the hearings for it.
I also put forward a bill to which would make it easier for takatāpui and the Rainbow whānau to take cases to the Human Rights Commission, which is still in the ballot.
Q: Where did you grow up and what was it like?
A: I was born in Gisborne and lived there until I was 5. We were mainly brought up in Dunedin where my mum is from. My Pākehā grandparents were there, so we had lots of family.
There was violence and alcoholism in our house and that was the tough part. The other bright light was there was always art. My father was an artist and master carver so always had paints and paper and encouraged us to create art.
Q: What is your earliest memory?
A: A fire. It's a weird story. Sometimes my father would go to sleep smoking and one time, when I was a baby, he left me on the bed and it set on fire from the cigarette.
They saw smoke, came in and found me, surrounded by fire. I was fine, wasn't worried, just looking at the flames.
It's not really a conscious memory, but I've always painted fire. I didn't remember it until I mentioned as an adult visions of flames to my mother, and she told me the story. I say Mahuika (Māori fire deity) was protecting me.
Q: Can you tell me a bit about your whānau now?
A: I live with my wife Alofa in Gisborne. We have our 30th anniversary in February, and will celebrate 16 years of being married/civil union.
My sister and her son live with us. I love having family around. We have two dogs and two cats.
Q: What do you do to unwind from politics?
A: When I get home, sitting on the deck with our dogs, listening to good music with a book and trying to put the phone away. I found this new author Nalini Singh and am reading a whole series of hers – my second read through. I'm very into sci-fi.
Q: What is something you are proud of pre-politics?
A: I feel I have been political for a long time, in my art, academia and as an activist and advocate in different communities. As a young person, 26, I helped design Te Papa, the marae areas and the bicultural concept for the landscape.
Q: What was your first job?
A: Fruitpicking. Over summers while at high school my brother and I used to go up around Nelson in the holidays.
Q: How and why did you get into politics?
A: I was very happy being outside, but as I got older I realised there are some things that can only happen in Parliament. With takatāpui and Rainbow issues I thought I would be a good person to push for them here.
I never thought anyone else but the Greens, partly because my activist background, and the fact that our MPs can hold that activist stance, even in this place. I always say I'm still an activist.
Q: Is there someone you admire in another political party and why?
A: Nanaia Mahuta (Labour). She has a really staunch, quiet leadership. With Māori wards, rating Māori land, things that for years were a problem for us, she just quietly moved them along.
Q: What are the biggest issues for 2022?
A: We have a whole series of crises. We have the pandemic, housing is one of the biggest issues for many, and mental health - it is affecting so many parts of our communities and Covid has just made that worse. Climate change, of course, is the backdrop to everything.
Q: If you could take anyone to dinner – dead or alive – who would it be and why?
A: I would take my grandmother, Elizabeth Kerekere. We knew her as Nana Betty. She passed away when I was 10. I'd just like to know more about her life. She watches over me.
Q: Favourite place for a holiday in Aotearoa?
A: Just being in Gisborne. My father brought us up thinking it is the centre of the universe, and I have no reason to think that is not true. My favourite place there is Kaiti Beach.
And now some quickfire questions...
Q: Beach or mountain getaway?
Q: Favourite beach?
A: Onepoto (in Gisborne)
Q: Best road trip song/artist?
A: Take It To The Limit, by The Eagles
Q: Red or white wine?
A: I don't drink alcohol, so feijoa juice
Q: Tea or coffee?
A: Peppermint tea
Q: Dogs or cats?
Q: Favourite social media?
A: I only do Facebook, but want to do Tik Tok, because I can dance – I feel it is a wide open area for the Greens