Broadcaster Rachel Smalley is best known for her time in front of the camera and microphone in her TV and radio gigs - but it was her time spent working in the public service that gave her the best insight in what really goes on at a government level.
Speaking to Paula Bennett on her NZ Herald podcast, Ask Me Anything, Smalley said that a “mid-life crisis” prompted her to take a break from the media and have some time to herself.
That eventually led to her working with the Ministry for Housing and for KiwiBuild, the Government’s flagship housing policy at the start of the last term.
“I remember when KiwiBuild was first announced and I thought, ‘Yep, that makes sense’. And maybe it didn’t make sense, but I loved the idea of it. The whole concept was, I thought, really clever, but ultimately the policy was sunk because they had these grand aspirations of very quickly building homes and could never meet those targets.”
She said she wouldn’t take that year back as she learned so much about how things operate within government, particularly with the pressure on ministers and political communications staff.
“I used to say, ‘tell the Minister anything. Tell [Phil] Twyford anything. He’ll be able to deal with it. Any minister can deal with it, just give them notice. Don’t keep telling him you’re going to build a thousand homes in the next six months. [And] they kept telling him they were going to build a thousand homes in the next six months, so he kept going out and I’d watch him on the telly going, ‘We’re never going to make those homes’.”
Smalley said it highlighted the wastage in government and how much money is rolling around in there - with Bennett agreeing, saying she hears more stories about that now that she has left politics.
In among that push for a better focus on government funds, Smalley has also launched an initiative, The Medicine Gap, which she describes as a “story-telling platform” where she spotlights New Zealanders who can’t get access to modern medicines. She part-funded the initiative as it is her passion project, and is targeting New Zealanders who aren’t fighting these battles to get them to understand.
“The trigger [for this] is someone called Fiona Tolich who approached me. She was trying to get more stories published, around spinal muscular atrophy and the need to fund a medicine to treat children with this. And she spoke to me about it and it seemed, it was baffling. How could we not do this? You know, the things that we spend money on this country, why are we not looking after this little rare disorder?”
Listen to the full podcast for more on Smalley’s experiences reporting on some major tragedies and events, what she has learned about Pharmac and our relationship with drugs, and for Paula’s thoughts on individuality in modern politics.
• Ask Me Anything is a NZ Herald podcast, hosted by Paula Bennett. New episodes are out every Sunday.