Grant Robertson discusses the huge contribution made by Labour Party volunteers, their crucial role in the election campaign …. and the dangers of taking a pen to your first Labour meeting.
From the get go, we are an organisation built on volunteers. The Labour Party would not be here today if it were not for the work of volunteers.
We have a limited number of paid staff but volunteers are the core and backbone of our party. I also believe we are getting better at using volunteers, particularly in taking people’s ideas on board.
The work people do is as wide as they want it to be – from delivering pamphlets and door-knocking to making lunches at conferences and co-ordinating other volunteers. But it’s not just about making phone calls and putting up hoardings – far from it. Crucially, volunteers make policy too - they are the people that inform the policy that we put to the electorate.
As a candidate it is really important to value your volunteers. Look after them and appreciate them. It’s something we feel very strongly about in Wellington Central. Whenever a new volunteer gets involved, our volunteer co-ordinator Kurt Sharpe calls them personally to discuss what work needs to be done and what they would like to do. We have drinks with volunteers every second Friday and we have also had two get-togethers for new volunteers so far in this campaign, so people can get to know others and ask us any questions.
During this campaign I have been seeing the most amazing and the most energised group of volunteers I have seen during my time in the party. On the ground it looks to me like one of the best-organised campaigns we have had. I know that in Wellington Central people have really loved being part of a campaign where they can see the plan. Our people understand why we are calling the people we are calling and why we are door-knocking the people we are door-knocking.
There is a huge amount of energy in our hub and I’m seeing that energy repeated among volunteers all around the country. That is going to absolutely vital throughout the next seven weeks as our volunteers concentrate on the election campaign.
My own introduction to volunteering for the Labour Party was in the 1996 election campaign in Wellington. I was the President of the New Zealand University Students’ Association at the time and wasn’t a party member. But Richard Prebble was running for Act against Alick Shaw for Labour, I knew some people in Alick Shaw’s campaign and, close to the election, they were looking for people to do leaflet deliveries and make phone calls. I felt it was very important to get the seat back for Labour, and Prebble represented everything I disliked about politics.
The following year I joined the party – I’ve often told the story of how I went to my first ever party meeting in Thorndon and ended up being elected secretary because they needed someone to take the minutes and I was the only person who had a pen. That was the beginning of many different roles locally and nationally.
As MPs we appreciate so much the effort that is put in by volunteers. We know that people have other jobs; they have family lives, community interests, sports and many other demands on their time. So the commitment we see from people is humbling and greatly appreciated. It inspires me and my fellow MPs constantly - to work ever harder knowing that you people are out there.
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