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A word with Louisa Wall

Tue 14 Dec 2010 In: Features View at Wayback View at NDHA

Louisa Wall It's a pretty awesome week to be Louisa Wall. Not only has she won the closely-fought nomination battle to represent Labour in the safe seat of Manurewa at the next election – she and her partner are also celebrating their civil union this weekend. It took more than eight hours of debate and deliberation in the blinding Auckland summer heat for the 38-year-old to get confirmation that she will represent her party in the South Auckland electorate next year. "It was full on. It was a long day," she laughs. Most of the debate was created by a battle between two unions and their preferred candidates; the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, (which is headed by Labour president Andrew Little) wanted union organiser Jerome Mika in the seat, and the Service and Food Workers Union, which was backing Wall. The man who currently sits in Manurewa and whose impending retirement has created the vacancy is George Hawkins, who was so adamant Wall should replace him he stood firm against the rather powerful EPMU and declared that if she was not chosen he would call a by-election. Wall says it was nice to have Hawkins go into bat for her so strongly. Despite his seemingly tough exterior, she says the former Police Minister is an interesting character: "He voted for civil unions. He voted for Prostitution Law Reform. He actually voted for the euthanasia bill when it was last before the House. George actually is quite liberal. He is all for people having opportunities and everyone being treated the same." Wall has Ngāti Tūwharetoa and Waikato ancestry and made headlines during her brief Parliamentary stint in 2008 as the "first Maori lesbian MP". She says it wasn't lost on Hawkins that Labour has never really had Maori representatives in general seats, particularly in safe general seats. "The sexuality thing for him is a non-issue," she says. The former Silver Fern and Black Fern replaced retiring list MP Ann Hartley in March 2008, but at 43 her list placement was not high enough for her to gain a spot after the election later that year, where National ended Labour's nine years of domination. While Manurewa is a safe seat and Wall is all but guaranteed a place in Parliament next year, but she says it's an electorate where Labour works to harvest party votes. "The more people we can get to vote, the more party vote we can get. And at the last election 26 percent of our people didn't vote." She cites the Auckland Super City race and Len Brown's ability to engage with a community which has traditionally been disenfranchised as inspiration. "It's really about having relationships and being credible and actually motivating people to vote because they believe in you and they believe in what you're trying to achieve. So that's my challenge. "Because there are pockets of communities that are disenfranchised within Manurewa. It's a young electorate. It's not a wealthy electorate. Of the 29 schools, 25 are Decile 1-3. That's approximately 15,000 kids who are living in quite high deprivation." Wall was an over-achiever as a teenager, landing a spot in the Silver Ferns at the age of just 17. Perhaps driven by her own early success, she is passionate about young people and working with children and youth in her electorate will be one of her priorities. She says to help the kids their parents need help too. She says literacy is a big issue, with children whose parents can't read struggling to learn words for themselves. "This means that there are a whole load of social determinants, particularly for the teachers in Manurewa - which mean things like National Standards actually won't work. They're a travesty. To put that sort of mechanism in place, that really is a tool to audit how well the teachers are doing and how well the schools are doing, without addressing the fundamental issues – which are poverty and the lack of provision of the basic right to early childhood education. "They're really what I'll be fighting for. I'll be fighting for more GPs, I'll be fighting for more social services, I'll be fight for more houses. But more than that, I'll be fighting for programmes that are actually going to proactively engage with people – and really are more about intervention before there has to be a family violence incident. Before C YFs have to intervene. You know, it's just ridiculous that we wait for something to happen." Wall says there are GLBT people living in Manurewa who for the most part are just getting on with their lives, citing a gay couple she is friends with – one of whom is the chair of a local school board. "There are support networks, but there's really no need to be anything other than who they are. They're men who love each other and themselves, they've had a civil union, they have whangai'd children, they have children in their lives and they just get on with it." It's a way of life Wall also operates under -she just gets on with it. However she is very aware that it's a way of living that secure GLBT adults can choose if they wish, whereas there are many young people who are struggling with their identity, which can be harder in a place like Manurewa where there are high levels of bullying at some schools. She wonders how much of the bullying is about sexuality issues. "I actually think it should be a key performance indicator for principals, that they should at least advertise the fact that there is support available. You shouldn't need a gay staff member in the school to push the issue. Because I do think there is a correlation between our high rates of youth suicide and just not having formal structures where young people can just talk about how they're feeling. "It should just be a standard thing, where we want all our kids to be who they are and encourage them to be themselves. Because if they're not themselves and are somebody else, it doesn't bode well for their future, because unless they can be secure in their own identities they're not going to be successful at school, they're not going to get the qualifications they need to build a business and employ people. It's cyclical." Wall says that's where Manurewa sits at the moment and there is an opportunity to look at the whole purpose of education, and engage with local businesses and trades. She shares the story of her brother, who didn't like learning unless it had a real and immediate purpose. He became a Maori trade trainee and studied to be a chef, allowing him travel and work all over the world. Wall "came out" publicly in 1998 when she was profiled in NZ Rugby magazine before the 1998 Women's Rugby World Cup and listed her then-partner's name. She says it's something that isn't difficult when you answer a question honestly and has never hidden her sexuality or her partners. This Saturday she and her partner are having their civil union. "I've been rather busy," she says. "It's very exciting, I've got quite a few things that I've got to do this week!" After the honeymoon there will be plenty of work to do in Manurewa, which she says is getting the crumbs instead of the cake. She is heading into the challenge with the same type of 'bring it on' attitude she took to the netball court and rugby field. "It's a huge responsibility. The role is demanding. But for me it's all about the next generation. I had a really good upbringing. I had two parents and I was wanted and loved. I guess I have a preoccupation with children who aren't as fortunate, through no fault of their own. But born into situations where they may only have one parent. And sometimes our children are having children. There are a lot of young people who through risky behaviour end up in circumstances that aren't that ideal and rather than be punitive I just want to focus on how we can help them." Wall says the Rainbow Labour caucus is strong and she will be adding more balance as a tangata whenua representative. "I'm pretty chuffed. I think that we've got a really solid rainbow caucus within Labour and it's just so exciting and I really appreciate the opportunity to get back in there." She says gay adoption laws are one of the legislative priorities for Rainbow Labour. "It is an outdated piece of legislation. It does have to actually catch up with modern technology. Because there are many ways of being able to conceive children and lots of legal implications then about who is responsible, but also who has rights to that child and to be involved in their lives. In some ways I think it provides a really good opportunity to look at the evidence about how well-adjusted and how successful the children of gay parents are. We do make really good role models and we do make really good parents, because most of us having a child together – we're bonded for life." Jacqui Stanford - 14th December 2010    

Credit: Jacqui Stanford

First published: Tuesday, 14th December 2010 - 1:49pm

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