John and Tricia Andersen spent decades serving communities across New Zealand by choosing to teach in low decile schools, often in remote areas, including principal and deputy principal roles. Now they are working to improve opportunities for New Zealand’s children in another way – by providing practical support to daughter Virginia Andersen as her campaign to win the Ōhariu seat gathers pace.
We retired to Auckland in 2012 after 45 years of teaching. For John that began in Māori schools – until the late 1960s when they were abolished as a separate entity.
We have a liberal approach to life and have both tried to give to the community through teaching. We have mainly worked in low decile schools, often in remote communities.
We have taught the length and breadth of NZ from Northland to Invercargill and Great Barrier Island, but also a year in Perth WA with both our kids, on exchange. We were mostly in Hawke’s Bay and Christchurch while our children were growing up. Our last posts before retirement were in a two teacher school at the little settlement of Ngataki in the Far North.
We are both members of the Labour party - our families have always been labour supporters. John’s uncle on his father’s side was the legendary unionist Bill Andersen leader of the Northern Drivers’ Union and a constant thorn in Robert Muldoon’s side.
Virginia has always been a political being. She has been a member of the Labour party for many years and got steadily more involved. She speaks fluent Māori and after university she worked in the Office of Treaty Settlements. She then became Margaret Wilson’s private secretary and then an advisor, first to Mark Burton, then David Cunliffe and finally Trevor Mallard.
She then moved to police as a senior policy advisor for Māori and Pacific affairs.
Virginia gained experience as campaign manager for Chris Hipkins at the last election. When she told us she was planning on standing, despite having a new baby and a toddler, we said we would back her every inch of the way. We would not want her to look back and think ‘what if?’
She strongly believes she has a good chance of winning – and is getting very good support from the LEC committee and, increasingly, from the local community.
Virginia’s husband also has a demanding job so we do all we can to help with Jack, who is two, and Eliza three months. We have been taking it in turns to come down to help look after the children. We will both be there for the last two weeks of the campaign.
We are very happy to do it – not just to spend time with our grandchildren but because we believe Virginia would be an ideal MP. Parliament needs people with her ability and work ethic. She is a great speaker too – in seventh form she was the number one debater in New Zealand. She can get an audience in the palm of her hand.
Naturally, with our background, we are very interested in Labour’s education policies. Inevitably there is a bit of a lolly scramble around policies at election time. But we believe in Labour’s ethos the best for every child – and smaller class sizes (we believe).
At the moment not enough is being done for Maori, Pacific and less advantaged children. The current government is very out of favour across the board with issues such as national standards and the pressure that puts on schools.
There is the feeling among teachers that National has its own agenda and follows it no matter what.