This year, Ginny Andersen has emerged from the shadows of Labour’s backbenches after the misfortune of her colleagues. Georgina Campbell spent a Saturday morning with her and her family.
Justice and Police Minister Ginny Andersen’s two children come to Parliament to have dinner with her once a week when the House is sitting.
Recently Finance Minister Grant Robertson stopped by and had a chat with them. After he left, 9-year-old Eliza, having recognised Robertson from television, asked her mum: “Was that the weatherman?”.
These dinners at Parliament’s Copperfield’s Cafe mean Andersen gets some more time with her children after what’s been a sharp political rise under Prime Minister Chris Hipkins.
The Hutt South MP has taken over high-profile portfolios after the failings of her peers.
She was made Police Minister in March after Stuart Nash resigned for criticising a judge’s decision and then calling the Police Commissioner to discuss appealing it.
Last month she took on justice too, after former minister Kiri Allan’s crashed her car in Wellington and was charged with careless use of a motor vehicle and refusing to accompany a police officer.
Much of Andersen’s work in the police portfolio has focused on prevention, expanding programmes that engaged young offenders soon after they committed crimes to get them back on the straight and narrow.
The Government waited until recently to action a new ram raid offence. Andersen has said it took her a few months travelling around police districts to ascertain what the real problem was - children under 14 who weren’t answerable to the Youth Court and were able to regularly offend.
These ministerial portfolios have been a long time coming for Andersen, who has watched other MPs who came into Parliament with her in 2017 be made ministers, while the most notable role she was given until February this year was chairing the justice select committee.
In 2017 she was ranked 28 on Labour’s list and dropped to 45 in 2020.
Andersen can’t say exactly why this is. She points to needing to do her time and says the tough fight to win back Hutt South in 2020 after losing it to National’s Chris Bishop has given her a “far better base to be a good minister”.
Asked whether she has a better relationship with Hipkins than his predecessor, Jacinda Ardern, Andersen says she knows him more personally having worked with him previously.
She helped with Hipkins’ successful 2008 campaign when he first became the MP for Remutaka and was his campaign manager for the seat in 2011. Before that, they had both worked as political advisers.
With the 2023 election on the horizon, it’s once again campaign time and Andersen really wants to keep the Hutt South.
“It means a lot to me, I’ve worked really hard. I was pretty gutted when we lost the seat in 2017, it’s always been a Labour seat and it feels like a Labour seat ... we are out doorknocking this afternoon on top of all the extra work I do - we still take it incredibly seriously to take the seat and keep it Labour.
“That’s just as important to me as anything else in some ways.”
Lower Hutt’s Saturday morning Riverbank Market is a politician’s dream. It’s heaving with local constituents doing the weekly fruit and vegetable shop, enjoying a coffee, or grabbing a bite to eat.
Andersen is there at her Labour stall with her husband Geoff and their children.
Bishop’s National stall is within view and as Andersen talks to a man and his daughter about putting an election hoarding on his property, a bike with “party vote Green” glides past.
Andersen has always wanted to be an MP.
She was born in Napier and moved around a lot with her parents, who worked as school teachers. The family also lived on Great Barrier Island, and Wairarapa, before eventually settling in the Christchurch suburb of Linwood.
Andersen says it was a rough area with gangs and kids exposed to high levels of violence and drug use. One of her primary school classmates was killed in a retribution-style shooting in his twenties.
As a teenager, she just wanted to get through.
“So you knew education was the tool for you to do better and that’s probably been quite formative in terms of being attracted to justice and police because you can see how much harm still goes on in New Zealand in terms of family violence, drugs, alcohol, and poverty.”
Andersen worked while she was at school including at a supermarket and as a waitress. She attended Canterbury University, where she completed a MA in political science, and managed to save $17,000 for a deposit to buy her first home on the same street as her parents at age 19.
She took three years off to travel the world and says working as a bartender in Dublin gave her the best skills she could hope for before getting into politics.
Back in New Zealand, Andersen worked as a political adviser for Labour and as a policy manager in the public service for police under a National-led Government.
She worked on the boy-racer legislation that earned then Police Minister Judith Collins the nickname “Crusher”.
“It was highly politicised,” Andersen said.
“It was a largely useless piece of legislation but thoroughly fascinating to work on.”
Andersen also met her husband Geoff when she was working at police national headquarters in Wellington. Geoff spent 25 years as a sworn police officer before retiring in 2010 and moving on to a new career.
He later told Andersen he would come to work early and read the answers to a daily online quiz to court her.
“Then [he would] kind of nonchalantly turn up at quiz time and then know the hardest answers to impress me,” she said.
Andersen moved in with him and his two children from a previous relationship (now young adults who have moved out of home) before Jack, 11, and Eliza, 9, came along.
The family now live in Belmont on the hills overlooking Lower Hutt. Their home is down a long driveway tucked away in the bush and makes for the perfect retreat after the cut and thrust of Parliament’s bear pit.
Back at the market, Andersen picks out some fresh vegetables for the week to make a curry to take to work.
Eating healthy and keeping fit is important for her wellbeing and she wouldn’t be able to tackle her busy workload without a visit to Parliament’s gym most days.
The gym also has a pool which her kids love to take a dip in before their dinners just a few steps away from the halls of power.
Andersen also takes her children to events with her so they get more time together - like Chinese New Year celebrations.
“Eliza loves coming out to that with me. She gets her costume on, she’s got her own little sari outfit and she’ll dress for the occasion and come out with me.
“And I feel that while it’s hard on kids, particularly in the campaign time, my kids have been exposed to a whole range of richness of different cultures and different parts of the Hutt that we wouldn’t have otherwise seen.”
Andersen was told growing up that she didn’t need to be the smartest or the fastest, but that she could get where she wanted by working hard.
“That’s always served me really well.”
Georgina Campbell is a Wellington-based reporter who has a particular interest in local government, transport, and seismic issues. She joined the Herald in 2019 after working as a broadcast journalist.