Whanganui MP Steph Lewis has delivered her maiden speech to Parliament, offering an insight into her upbringing and doubling down on her commitment to the people of her electorate.
In Tuesday night's speech, Lewis spoke of her earliest memories as the daughter of a prison officer, and of her family's struggles as they pursued a new life on a 1200ha farm in Waverley.
"Sadly my experience was not unique," Lewis said.
"I was a child of the '90s who bore the brunt of the austerity of the time. While things were tough at times for us, for many others, their situations were far worse."
Lewis said she wasn't sharing her story to "seek pity" but to let people know that she understood what it meant to "have to choose between paying for power, or food, or petrol to get to work".
"It's exhausting fighting every day to survive. Mr Speaker, my hope is that it doesn't always have to be a fight in this House, that we can work together here and put the people first."
Her father and many of his workmates had died before they were old enough to retire, Lewis said.
"Dad was 54 when he died, having served for 32 years. That's why it's important that we provide universal super at 65."
Lewis said government decisions "do make a difference" and initiatives such as Working for Families (2004) had made life better for families such as hers.
"In my final year of high school we had what felt like the first proper Christmas in several years with a roast meal and presents for everyone; a welcome change from a Christmas where I cooked my family fish cakes for dinner."
Lewis said while she was excited to have won the Whanganui seat with the largest majority in its history, she also felt the responsibility of that which involved advocating for everyone in her electorate "to help them achieve their potential".
"I've come here to fight for people like the 3-year-old boy I saw at a kindy in Whanganui, whose teacher told me he had been sleeping in the car with his mum and dad at the local cemetery.
"I am here for the Year 9s I met in a maths class one day sitting slumped in their chairs with their heads bowed or in their hands. They looked like they believed they were already failures at 13 years old because they'd heard again and again that they hadn't achieved, or hadn't met the standard.
"I am here for the solo mum I door knocked this campaign, who had been struggling for years to make ends meet and, thanks to a Labour Government, has started studying so she can build a better future for her kids."
Lewis said she wasn't there to make bold promises, but rather to "work every day to help get the basics right, so families don't fall through the cracks".
"That means investing in our regions to create jobs; that no matter where you live, you can access quality health services; that our tamariki and rangatahi get a world class education; that all our people have affordable, healthy homes to live in."
More affordable housing, attracting and retaining health professionals, and ensuring regions were connected through broadband, cell reception and transport networks, were issues Lewis said she would continue to champion.
"Places like Pātea on State Highway 3 should at the very least have cell phone reception.
"We also need to support our rural communities to diversify and become more resilient."
Lewis acknowledged the current Government's investments in the Whanganui port, Hāwera's civic hub, Stratford's community pool, and a green hydrogen plant in Kapuni, and said that while Covid-19 had been "devastating", she would work with the communities in her electorate to "ensure they thrive as we recover and rebuild".
She finished by thanking those who had helped her along the way.
"I'd love to know what a National voting farmer would make of his daughter being elected as a Labour MP."
Speaking to the Chronicle shortly after her speech, Lewis said she'd been told "time and time again" during her induction into Parliament that people would "always come back to your maiden speech".
"That's part of the reason why I told my story in a little bit more detail today," Lewis said.
"I want people to know that I am approachable and that I'm happy to listen to them and hear their stories as well.
"I grew up listening to people talk about politics, and talk about struggling, and when I spoke about being a child of the '90s, that, on some level, helped me to form views of my own."
Those views were further shaped by the impact the fifth Labour Government (1999-2008) had made on the lives of many people she knew, Lewis said.
"Things did get better for a lot of people, and I guess that helped me to understand the different approaches to politics."
During her election campaign she had tried to be as inclusive as possible, Lewis said, and her speech was a chance to "start building on that".
"There are probably a few little places that I didn't quite get in there, but on the whole I think I got all the key ones.
"I'm really privileged to be a part of a really diverse and progressive Labour Government, it's an honour."