Dr Marilyn Waring was New Zealand’s youngest MP and has gone on to change the world as an academic and feminist, including persuading the United Nations to redefine GDP. She is writing about her years in Sir Robert Muldoon’s Government.

1. What was the defining moment of your childhood?

It was my earliest memory and I remember everything about this day. I was 2 years and 8 months old and I had a new baby brother. My Poppa picked me up in Taupiri and drove me to Ngaruawahia. I can remember the old two-storey nursing home and going up the big staircase. I saw mum and there was a lot of talk all of a sudden that he had red hair. This was very exciting because post offices and fire engines were red. Poppa took me to the viewing window of the nursery and lifted me up and said "there he is" but I couldn't see a baby with red hair. He shifted me and said "look he's right in front of you" and I said no. Poppa was getting annoyed with holding me, and me not seeing, so I eventually just said yes. But I never saw him. I learned several things that day: that adults didn't tell you the truth; about being really embarrassed and making adults impatient; and I learned to lie to keep them satisfied.

2. Why did you feel called to politics so early?

I didn't. I was a musician and I was just engaged in a feminist activity. I was studying politics at Vic Uni and the day Norman Kirk said he would not support the homosexual law reform bill I got up, walked out of the library and walked down to National Party headquarters and joined.


3. Were you always just in the wrong party?

It was the only one that had a constitution that meant I could cross the floor. I knew I didn't want to be in the Labour Party because why would I put myself in a position where you were constitutionally overruled and not be able to vote how you wanted. I'm a free spirit and knew I wouldn't agree with everything.

4. Where does your vote lie now?

In the ballot box.

5. Sir Robert Muldoon's legacy has been tarnished in recent years: how do you remember him?

Not fondly. I've been doing research for my parliamentary autobiography and I'm face to face with him every day. All the material that crossed my desk in those eight years is in parliamentary archives. It's interesting that I have days when I have a physical reaction to what I'm reading that is exactly the reaction that I used to have when I was in there. Hair on end. Pit of your stomach feeling really nauseous. That whole flight or fight thing bolts back in. How do I feel about that Marilyn? She takes my breath away. She really does. Her bravery. I wouldn't put myself in that position these days, wouldn't allow those constant daily batterings.

6. Where did your political bravery come from?

It must come from the sense of injustice. It must be associated with my family and growing up in Taupiri and Ngaruawahia. But I've got no idea really because it wasn't like politics was discussed at the dinner table. My dad was a butcher and my mum did lots of different jobs. I remember being 5 or 7 and I used to get the Herald on the floor and try to pick out letters and words. I remember the headline for the Black Budget and asking my parents what it meant. There's nothing really to explain where it comes from.

7. Why are so many young women put off the word feminist, do you think?

I don't know any who are.

I know I live in an isolated environment and that's not the way everyone thinks but also in my work I choose to engage with feminists, both nationally and internationally. And it doesn't really bother me. You look at what people do more than what they call themselves.

8. Would you have made a good mother?

I do make a good mother. I have mothered and still do. That's all - the rest of it is none of your business.

9. When have you felt most depressed?

Well, that's obvious. That was in Parliament and it would have been unhealthy not to have been depressed. After Parliament I moved to the farm and I needed that. Unconditional love I suppose. Goats, cows. I needed to heal and to be healthy, be grounded. I wrote [the book] Counting for Nothing there and after that life expanded again.

10. Joy is your middle name. Has life provided joy?

My work gives me heaps of joy. Being here [chairwoman of Public Policy at AUT] is so special it's hard to describe. I supervise postgraduate research degrees, masters or Phds, with students from all ages, backgrounds, places around the world. My students come in every day and teach me new things and I get paid for it.

11. If you could change one thing about New Zealand today, what would it be?

I couldn't settle for one thing because everything's connected. One of the problems with governments and policies is this silo thinking. You can justify anything as long as it's not connected. You can justify building the Huntly Power Station, which happened under my watch, because you don't count the externalities - the pollutants, the burning of coal, the effect on the Waikato River. Of course it looks good, as long as you stay narrowly focused and see one thing in isolation. The power station was on the way when I became an MP and my family were living in Huntly which was a town down on its luck. It really needed a boost. It was '75, '76 and we didn't know as much then, though we did know about cadmium and lead and oxides. But I didn't know. I was 23 years old. I was totally focused on giving the town a break. In my lectures I often use the power station as an example because I was integrally involved in it. I wouldn't be able to do that now.

12. Economists have been given a hard time post the Global Financial Crisis. What's the future of economics?

I think mainstream economic theory will continue to be discredited and that people will remember that economics is a social science. It's not detached or empirical. It's full of theory. It's very much under attack from economic feminists, indigenous peoples, even from the inside. A good example is Sir Nicholas Stern, former chief economist of the World Bank who did Tony Blair's climate change report and talked about it being the biggest market failure the world has ever seen. He used economics to demonstrate that postponing climate change policy costs more than getting on top of it now. He thought economics could rescue economics.