Rodney-based MP Tracey Martin picked up a swag of portfolios following the announcement of a Labour-New Zealand First coalition government, but one appointment stands out from the others.
Mrs Martin was personally contacted by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and asked if she would accept the role of Minister for Children.
Mrs Martin says the request was a bit of a shock because she imagined the portfolio would remain under the general umbrella of the Ministry of Social Development.
But Ms Ardern pressed Mrs Martin to take the role, citing Mrs Martin’s championing of the role of grandparents raising grandchildren in a previous Parliament and her interest in children’s education in general, particularly special education.
Once it was offered, Mrs Martin had no hesitation in accepting the job and says it is the one portfolio she is most passionate about.
She is also Minister for Internal Affairs, Minister for Seniors and Associate Minister of Education.
Mrs Martin says the break from Social Development provides a terrific opportunity to make the ministry more child-focused and give it “the voice of the child”.
One initiative already underway that Mrs Martin approves of is the formation of youth panels, comprising children formerly in state care, who now advise the ministry on policy.
Mrs Martin has some clear ideas about what success in the children’s portfolio will look like if she performs the job well.
“We will have less child abuse, less child poverty and more foster families ready to step up and look after children,” she says. “We will have greater resourcing around those families that need support earlier, so their children don’t become some of the 6000-odd each year that need to be taken care of by the state.”
Mrs Martin will be joined in government by Rodney-based list MPs Marja Lubeck (Labour) and Jenny Marcroft (NZ First), who entered Parliament for the first time at this year’s election.
Ms Lubeck says it’s been an exciting time and the government has already hit the ground running by banning overseas investors from purchasing existing housing stock, which has freed up more houses for Kiwis.
“We have 40,000 homeless as it is and that is ridiculous in a country like New Zealand,” she says.
She says the new policy will help struggling New Zealand families buy their first home and start creating really good home bases.
Ms Lubeck was born in the Netherlands and she was looking forward to swearing her oath of allegiance in both English and Dutch. It will be the first time a New Zealand MP has spoken in Dutch at a swearing in ceremony.
Fellow MP Jenny Marcroft also believes the government has made a good start and is especially happy with a coalition agreement to extend free mammograms for women until the age of 74.
“My mother died from breast cancer so I was very pleased to see that come through. Not a lot has been talked about it yet, but it will have a big impact on women,” she says.
Meanwhile, Rodney MP Mark Mitchell must content himself with a spell in opposition for the first time.
He says a big disappointment is losing his position as Minister of Defence saying our defence forces have found themselves with huge responsibilities in connection with the fight against ISIS, its earthquake responses and protecting New Zealand’s economic interests.
“We have never asked NZ defence forces to do so much since WWII,” he says.
Mr Mitchell worries that the new finance minister, Grant Robertson, has indicated defence is an area where cuts can be made.
Mr Mitchell adds that he does not feel his role as a Rodney MP has diminished in any way in opposition, saying many of the big infrastructure projects he championed – notably Hill Street and Penlink – have also earned the support of parties now in government, particularly NZ First.
“You could argue my role as MP for Rodney has been enhanced because I can hold the government to account for promises made during the election.”