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Wednesday 08 October 2008

Rainbow Labour MP Louisa Wall

Posted in: Hall of Fame
By - 22nd March 2008

Louisa Wall MP
New Zealand's newest Member of Parliament is a former Silver Fern netballer... and also happens to be a lesbian. She took a little time out of her busy schedule to chat with Congratulations and good luck in Parliament! How have your first few days been? Any surprises?

Louisa Wall: The first few days have been a huge learning curve. Firstly, about the protocols of the House, and the practices associated with the work of members of parliament on select committees for example and secondly, internally within the Labour Party as we have committees representing sectors of interest. For me these are Maori, women, rainbow and we have backbench caucus on Thursday mornings at 7.30am. The surprise has been the very long days...and the fact that I have to physically stay either in the House or within parliaments premises until the bell rings at 10pm, which is home time.

What attracts you to politics?

Politics for me is about being in a position of power to make informed and principled decisions of benefit to society, and which protect the rights of society's most vulnerable members. So, the service of people attracts me; that is what led me to my under-graduate degree in Social Policy and Social Work at Massey University, Albany and to my membership of the Labour Party in 1999.

Why the Labour Party in particular?

Labour is the party for all New Zealanders. We are inclusive and we represent the interests of all. And, this coupled with whanau involvement; my Uncle Nick was the Chair of the Waitahanui Branch in Taupo. So, I grew up in an environment that encouraged my questioning of 'the status quo' - and having an enquiring mind and being driven to speak out when things are not right, is a must in politics.

What do you hope to achieve during your time in Parliament?

I listened to Di Yates give her valedictory speech last night after nearly 15 years of service and she listed all her achievements especially for women and children. I am passionate about Maori development and human rights, especially for vulnerable and marginalised populations. The parliamentary process needs to ensure all peoples participate in political processes. Also we need to ensure the balance between our collective rights and responsibilities, and have open processes which enable New Zealanders to speak their truths.

It is now my right and responsibility as an MP to listen to those who have truths to contribute, to identify those absent voices, and the barriers to their participation, and to help them to have a voice, as we make laws and rules for the governance of our society.

We've seen newspaper references to you being 'the first lesbian Maori MP'. So have you had any negativity/homophobia in media or elsewhere since stepping up into Parliament?

It is amusing to see that description of me but I am used to labels.

When I was 17 and made the Silver Ferns I was always "Silver Fern Louisa Wall". Then I made the Black Ferns and became "Black Fern Louisa Wall".

I am obviously a novelty (in spite of Marilyn Waring, strange really) and to some therefore the "Maori and lesbian" label is what fits for them now... hei aha, it doesn't worry me. And negativity, homophobia; yes, but that is part of the role I now have as a public figure.

When did you 'come out of the closet' publically, and was that a difficult decision to make?

I came out in my profile (I was the first women to be profiled) in NZ Rugby magazine prior to the 1998 Women's Rugby World Cup in Holland.

Under partner I listed my then partner Michelle and then had an interview in express and on TV with Murray Deaker. Not so difficult when you answer a question honestly. I've never hidden my sexuality or partners.

Some polls suggest National are strong this year. Are you confident Labour will win the upcoming election?

Absolutely I am confident we have the team to win the election. And I believe New Zealanders couldn't ask for better leaders than Prime Minister Helen Clark and her deputy, Michael Cullen. Without question Iraq would have been a war entered into if it had not been for the Labour-led government. New Zealanders will remember this and our principled position in asserting this internationally. Kiwis want strong leadership and Labour has this in abundance.

If you could have one wish granted, what would it be?

I wish my Dad could have been in the House when I gave the oath and delivered my Maiden speech. He was there in spirit, from the heavens, and I know that he is very, very proud of me, as is my mother and my whanau. - 22nd March 2008