Megan Woods has become one of PM Jacinda Ardern's most valuable players. She talked to Claire Trevett about her background, the years of Opposition, her work on KiwiBuild and as the Labour Party's 2020 campaign chair.
It is a sign of Megan Woods' self-control that she manages a laugh when she is compared to former Minister for Everything and villain to the left, former National MP Steven Joyce.
The comparison was made because Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's reshuffle saw Woods with the role of Housing Minister, complete with the vexed KiwiBuild programme.
Joyce earned the nickname Mr Fixit after he was landed with similar tricky situations, such as the teachers' payroll system, Novopay.
To add to the likeness, Woods has been anointed the Labour Party's campaign chair for the 2020 election – a similar role to that Joyce held in National from 2005 to 2017.
Woods is also a key player in Labour's climate change drive as Energy Minister, is contending with a petrol industry and electricity review, and is charged with rebuilding the city she grew up in as Minister responsible for Christchurch.
Woods got the Housing portfolio added to all of this for similar reasons Joyce got Novopay.
There was a mess with KiwiBuild and a clean-up was required.
Woods' job is to de-escalate the controversy, and try to salvage something from it without looking as if Labour has given up on it.
She was seen by Labour's leadership as someone who could challenge the officials when required, and "get things done".
In the next fortnight, Woods will unveil the now long-awaited "reset" of that policy.
Woods will not say much about that reset for now, beyond saying it has taken into account the realities of the housing market as it now stands – such as flattening prices in Auckland – and the ability to deliver on it in practical terms.
She is adamant the Government will not give up altogether.
"We don't pretend this is going to be easy but the promise we do make is that we are going to keep trying.
"I don't think any of us will stand there and say KiwiBuild has delivered in the way we want it to."
Woods is no stranger to the history of government attempts to intervene in the housing market.
Her doctorate was on the Māori trades training scheme, which was to provide the workforce for post-war housing development in the 1940s.
There are lessons of unsuccessful government housing schemes throughout history.
In the 1920s, the Massey Government sold off state-built houses and offered state-backed mortgages after earlier unsuccessful efforts to provide workers with housing.
One of them was bought by Woods' grandparents.
"If I think of my own family's history, on one side grandparents who got into their first house, a Massey bungalow, in the 1920s.
"My own parents bought their first house through a state advances corporation loan.
"There has been a case for state intervention that has meant we have had one of the highest rates of home ownership in the world.
"What that did was assist people that might not otherwise get into home ownership. So we are looking at all those factors as we got through the reset."
Woods is not one of the attention-grabbers of Cabinet. She has managed to largely stay under the radar of media attention.
But she is held in very high regard by Ardern and Grant Robertson.
Theirs was a relationship forged in the direst of times of Labour's nine years in Opposition from 2011 to 2014.
Robertson says Woods has an ability to think clearly.
"Megan is a person who gets things done."
He points to her work on the Christchurch rebuild and decision to halt future block offers for oil and gas mining and exploration.
"She's never afraid to talk on a difficult issue."
There is also a personal friendship.
"She is lots of fun, you're always guaranteed a lot of laughs and she has a good sense of the absurd. I laugh a lot with Megan, which is always a good tonic in this business."
Woods entered Parliament in the 2011 election, serving under David Shearer and then David Cunliffe for the year leading up to the 2014 election at which Labour slumped to a 27 per cent result.
"My first caucus meeting was Phil Goff stepping down from the leadership," Woods recalls.
"We obviously had a period of unsettled years and questions of leadership. That was a steep learning curve. But I think what we can now do is see the benefits of what strong and stable leadership looks like."
She was one of just four new Labour MPs in that year.
The others were Andrew Little, David Clark and Rino Tirikatene. Kris Faafoi – now a good friend of Woods –started just a bit earlier in 2010.
It was under the leadership of Little in 2017 that Woods was brought into the kitchen cabinet and onto the front bench.
That came after Jacinda Ardern was made deputy leader.
Woods now outranks Little, as Labour's fifth-ranked minister.
Little says now it was clear then that Woods was talented and "clearly on the up and up".
"She is incredibly capable and competent and articulate. She is totally up for the rough and tumble of Parliament, and unfazed by taking on difficult issues and the work that goes with it."
The rough and tumble of Parliament for Woods now includes facing National's Judith Collins, who was a formidable foe for Phil Twyford in Question Time.
Even Collins, who is missing the "banter" she had with Twyford, has high praise for Woods, saying she is "not at all incapable".
"She is capable. But she does look like she carries the weight of the world on her shoulders. She needs to lighten up a bit."
Collins says it was the right move to put Woods into housing, because she did not have the "baggage" and personal investment in the KiwiBuild policy that Twyford did. "So she's in a better position to dump it."
In return, Woods does not overly fret about Collins, saying Question Time is simply an hour of the day.
"There are a lot of other hours in the week where my focus is on getting on with making sure we are going to have a housing policy that is going to work for New Zealanders."
Woods' political activity began when she was studying at the University of Canterbury in the 1990s.
It was the era of the student loan, with interest charged from day one, and Woods ended up with one of more than $100,000 by the time Labour took interest off in the 2000s.
She got involved volunteering in the late Jim Anderton's campaigns.
Anderton was leader of the Alliance and then Progressive Party. Anderton had been Woods' local MP since 1984.
In 2011, she was hand-picked by Anderton to stand in his Wigram electorate for Labour.
She said the seeds for her politics were sown in the 1980s when the Rogernomics reforms hit the Sydenham community she grew up in.
"I had a happy childhood, I grew up in the suburbs of south Christchurch. But seeing friends whose parents lost their jobs at the railways, at the post office, as those reforms went through, that did have a really big impact on me."
Raised in a middle class, Catholic family in Christchurch, Woods went to a Catholic school but is "not a practising Catholic".
She supports abortion reforms, and voted in support of euthanasia.
She is also something of a non-practising republican. She would like to see New Zealand become a republic in her lifetime, but will not exactly be pushing in Cabinet for it any time soon.
"I do believe passionately that in my lifetime I want to see a head of state that lives in New Zealand. I think it is inevitable. I think one of the moments it will be considered is when there is a change in monarch."
She is single – before she entered Parliament, Woods was in a long-term relationship "but it was another example of politics and relationships not really being the ideal things to co-exist".
Asked how she cuts loose, Woods says: "Living the dream is a Friday night I can have my jamies (pyjamas) on and a cup of tea by 7.30, waiting for my weekend bag [of Cabinet papers] to arrive."
She does enjoy travelling, and went to Buenos Aires over summer last year. She danced to a 1980s cover band.
Woods' time in government has not been free of controversy, nor is KiwiBuild the first mess she had to clear up.
In 2018, Woods took over the Government Digital Services portfolio after Clare Curran resigned.
One of her first moves was to scrap the decision to appoint a chief technology officer, and publicly apologise to tech entrepeneur Derek Handley for a botched recruitment process which saw him offered the job and then rejected.
Her most controversial move came within a few months of becoming a minister in April 2018, when Woods announced there would be no further block offers for offshore mining and exploration.
That effectively gave the industry a 20- to 30-year lifespan before the existing permits run out and Woods was criticised for a lack of consultation and forewarning.
It prompted legal challenges and calls for compensation.
Woods stands by both that decision and the way it was made, saying it was the responsibility of a government to make decisions such as that.
"We got in really quickly and started working with the local people around planning for that future, what are the things we need to be doing to make sure we are not leaving a community to fall off a cliff in 20 or 30 years' time when those industries do wind up."
She said the 1980s had taught her the perils of fast radical change. "I don't ever want to see that again."
Woods was in New Plymouth with the Prime Minister launching part of that transition plan on March 15 when the Christchurch mosque attacks happened.
The Al Noor mosque is in the Wigram electorate and Woods had often visited for Eid and other occasions.
Woods flew back to Christchurch as soon as she could:
"One of the hardest things I've ever had to do was turn my phone off for that flight. I had a number of friends that I knew would be at Friday prayer and I hadn't managed to make contact with them."
Woods' friends were not hurt, but the toll it took on the community – and New Zealand – continues.
Several of the families who lost someone in that attack live in Woods' electorate and she often meets with those affected.
"The graphic descriptions of the sights, the sounds, the smells of what happened on that day is something I don't think I will ever lose.
"It has had a huge impact. It has been a hard time."
Her other new role is that of campaign chair.
Woods' apprenticeship at the knee of the late Jim Anderton was a factor in her favour when it came to giving out the role.
Woods too credits Anderton, saying he had an "incredibly methodical, workmanlike way of approaching very big problems, breaking it into component parts so it did not seem unsolvable.
"He did not think anything was unsolvable."
Woods also inherited Anderton's fondness for traditional face-to-face campaign tools such as soap box meetings on street corners. She says she loves campaigning.
Like most MPs, she has her fair share of campaign tales. Woods recalls one incident involving a disgruntled voter and a nail file.
"One very rainy Saturday afternoon I think I interrupted somebody's TV viewing with my loudspeaker outside their house. They took a bit of umbrage, came out and waved their nail file in my direction.
"I just assured them I would be finished very soon and they would be able to get back to whatever was on TV."
She then asked them to vote for her. No opportunity wasted.
• Minister of Housing, Energy and Resources, Greater Christchurch Regeneration, and Research, Science and Innovation.
• 45 years old, MP for Wigram since 2011.
• First moves:
Christchurch Rebuild: set up mediation process for unresolved insurance claims and reformed EQC. Dealt with fallout of government-owned insurer Southern Response use of private investigator's firm on claimants, action she described as disappointing and unacceptable.
Energy: Pulled the pin on future offshore oil and gas exploration, saying there would be no future block offers. Set up investigation into petrol pricing, and a review of electricity prices.
Housing: Kiwibuild 'reset' plans due by end of August.
• Guilty pleasures: a quiet Friday night in. Travel. Last trip was Buenos Aires over summer where she danced to a 1980s covers band.