New Zealand Labour Party

Megan Woods - adapting to a new environment

Megan Woods

Thirteen might be unlucky for some but not for Megan Woods, who has moved up the party rankings to the thirteenth slot in the recent shadow portfolio allocations.

Having previously been Labour spokesperson for Tertiary Education and associate spokesperson for Science and Innovation, the Wigram MP is now Labour’s spokesperson for the Environment and Climate Change.

“It’s a huge new responsibility but I’m really looking forward to it,” she says, sitting in her office in Parliament.

“Climate change and its impact on the environment is the biggest issue of our times. We have to get it right and we need to establish a clear Labour approach to getting it right.

“Moana Mackey and David Parker have already provided a lot of leadership in this area but there are massive challenges and we need to be constantly thinking about how we can respond.

“These are a natural flow-on from my previous portfolios – but my summer break is going to consist of a lot of reading of scientific papers and reports. The immediate big challenge on the horizon will be major changes planned for the Resource Management Act.”

Megan is the first to agree that her path into the Labour Party has been a little ‘different’.

Christchurch born and bred, she grew up in Wigram and studied at the University of Canterbury, gaining a PhD in history before working as a business manager for Crop & Food Research and its successor Plant and Food Research. 

“I first became politically active as a student in the 1990s,” she says. “A lot of it was around issues such as the introduction of student fees and loans and Ruth Richardson’s ‘Mother of all budgets’. 

“You could say I was politicised by some of the worst excesses of the 90s but, before that, I had seen the Addington Workshops close and some of my friends’ parents lose their jobs and, in some cases, their homes and their dignity.

“Ultimately all this led me to join a political party, and I joined the party of my local MP Jim Anderton, which at that time was the Alliance.”

She served as a community board member and moved with Jim Anderton to the Progressive Party before joining the Labour Party in 2007. She says she recognised “there was more that united Labour and the Progressives than divided them and I felt it was the right thing for me to do”.

When Jim Anderton retired she was selected to fight the Wigram seat, winning it in 2011 and again, with an increased majority, in 2014. She puts much of her success down to an “amazing campaign team” affectionately known as the “Wonder women of Wigram” – led by Jeanette Lawrence, who was also Jim Anderton’s campaign manager for 27 years. 

“I’m very lucky to have had such a great team – to name but one, Jennifer O’Leary, who was principal of Branston Intermediate School in Christchurch, one of the schools closed by Hekia. 

“Finding herself ‘retired’ a few years before she had intended, Jennifer decided the best use of her many skills was to become a volunteer working towards getting a Labour Government elected.”

As a second-term MP, who “at least knows where the bathrooms in Parliament are now”, she says it has been much easier to hit the ground running.

“There is a tremendous feeling of energy within the Party. I know that in my electorate people are really keen to move on and make plans for the next three years.   

“What’s more, there’s a real buzz within caucus. Everyone is absolutely determined that we are going to stick it to this third-term National government that is running a style of politics that is as far away from what we believe in as is possible to be.

“We all know that the fight to change that in three years starts now.”