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This rising star is well grounded

Sat 19 Jun 2010 In: People View at Wayback View at NDHA

A major promotion this week has seen him described as a 'rising star' and a 'breath of fresh air' for the Labour Party. Snappy headlines aside, Grant Robertson is a hard-working, passionate, level-headed and personable MP, who relishes being able to have time off to spend with his partner, cook dinner or browse an art gallery. The convenor of the Rainbow Caucus was handed Labour's Tertiary Education gig, when senior roles became vacant due to the demotions of his colleagues Chris Carter, Shane Jones and Mita Ririnui for their varied spending habits. It's been a quick rise in the ranks for Robertson, considering he was elected to Parliament as Wellington Central MP in just November 2008. Previously he has worked as a diplomat at the UN in New York, managed the NZ Overseas Aid Programme to Samoa, been an advisor to then Prime Minister Helen Clark and Minister Marion Hobbs and worked for the University of Otago. He was a New Zealand Aids Foundation trustee from 2005 to 2008 and spent time as president of both the New Zealand University Students Association and Otago University Students Association. Chris Carter confronted by media A week of upheaval Given his background in student politics, it's no surprise Robertson is pleased about being given the Tertiary Education portfolio. "I'm obviously not pleased about the circumstances in which these increased responsibilities have come to me. It's never nice in this place when it's another colleague's misfortune that causes that, but I'm going to have to get on and do the job now," he says. Robertson makes it very clear that he believes the behaviour of some of his Labour colleagues wasn't acceptable, saying elected members need to be accountable to the public for every dollar of public money they spend. "But the danger is that it diverts people from the important issues that are around at the moment, in the Budget, where the Government's going and what we're planning. While I appreciate the importance of public money being well looked after, I don't think that should take us away from the other issues we have to deal with." Robertson's Rainbow Labour colleague Chris Carter is now on stress leave, after he was demoted for his spending and ultimately sent home for the way he dealt with it. Maryan Street and Charles Chauvel "We all really feel for Chris," Robertson says. "Obviously I've known Chris for a long time and have a great deal of respect for the work that he's done in a number of areas." "But he has acknowledged there was a need for him to be stood down. He obviously, as he himself said in his statement, has been under intense pressure – and I think everyone's now seen the visual reminders of the intensity of that pressure – and that's a very hard situation for Chris." Robertson is wishing Carter well in considering his future. He says whatever decision the longtime MP makes, the glbt voice within Labour will remain strong, through himself, Maryan Street and Charles Chauvel. The trio have all been promoted within the Labour ranks this week, with Street picking up Carter's Foreign Affairs portfolio and Chauvel handed Education. Glbt issues On the question of what he believes are the key political battles ahead for glbt New Zealanders, Robertson points out much has already been achieved legislatively. "One outstanding one is obviously around adoption. And that was taken out from our earlier consideration of civil unions and the consequent legislative changes, because it's a very outdated act – the 1955 piece of legislation. And the whole nature of what is adoption, how it happens and society's view of adoption has changed dramatically in that 50-odd year period." Robertson says it's something which had to be reviewed thoroughly, but there are encouraging signs. "John Key's on the record as saying that he thinks that same-sex couples should be able to adopt. So I think hopefully we can make some progress on that issue." Robertson notes safety in schools for glbt youth is another important matter; something he points out Chris Carter made progress on by ensuring the Education Review Office would consider issues relating to the safety of queer students. The MP says the HIV Services Review, which is due to be released at any time now, and ongoing funding in the health sector are other areas he and his colleagues will keep an eye on. Political goals Robertson says it is early days in his political career, but first and foremost his goal is to be a good MP for Wellington Central. "I love being an electorate MP. For me it's a huge part of what it means for me to be an MP, is to advocate for my constituents here. Wellington Central, like many other electorates in New Zealand is very diverse electorate. It's relatively speaking quite affluent, but it has pockets of quite a lot of deprivation." Robertson says on a broader level, he is pleased to be taking on Tertiary Education as he believes along with housing and health, learning and education are the most critical issues. "And we have to invest in that and make sure our system's modern and able to put people in the best position to achieve their potential." Robertson says he has lots of other issues he wants to pursue. "I think that every person that comes into Parliament wants to become a Minister, because that's how you make change ... so that remains an ambition for me and then we'll see what happens after that." Outside politics So what does Robertson do on his days off? "I can't remember," he laughs. "No look, a day off for me involves spending time with my partner. Because time is really precious in this job - you know, ridiculously long hours and a lot of pressure." "I'm also, it has been noted in the media in recent days, a huge sports fan, so the chance to go to a rugby, cricket or football game would be great on a day off." Robertson savoured the All Whites' historic draw with Slovakia at the FIFA World Cup this week, watching the late-night match in bed. He admits he was just about to turn the TV off when Winston Reid nabbed the almost miraculous extra-time goal which drew the game – and was delighted he stuck it out. Being a sports fan, he is of course excited about the AsiaPacific Outgames coming to his city in March, for both the sporting and cultural aspects. "I want to get the word out that this should be for everyone in New Zealand. People should come here, even if they're not interested in playing sport, there's going to be plenty of other things going on around it. And Wellington's a great place to come to for that." Robertson also loves New Zealand music and the arts, "so to be able to get to a theatre show or wander around a gallery or something would also be pretty pleasurable." He loves to cook too and enjoys any chance he gets to make a meal. But, as much as he treasures moments to enjoy the finer things in life, when it comes down to it Robertson is a red-blooded party man. His final comments to have him back to focusing on what Labour's major concern is right now: "Where the Government's heading with the Budget – we're starting to see some quite big differences open up between the direction National's taking us now and perhaps what they promised before the election. And certainly Labour's from point of view, the differentiation between what the two parties are trying to achieve are becoming starker. So it's a very interesting period and we'll be working hard over the next year or so to make sure the public's aware of all that." So is Robertson a rising star? Seems like it. But more importantly, Glbt interests in Parliament appear to be in steady hands. Jacqui Stanford - 19th June 2010    

Credit: Jacqui Stanford

First published: Saturday, 19th June 2010 - 11:37am

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