DEVELOPING “a very strong and comprehensive” Women’s Affairs policy going into the 2014 election is one of the achievements Carol Beaumont is most proud of. And being unable to implement it one of her regrets.
Beaumont, who entered Parliament as a list MP in 2008 and again in 2013, halfway through the term after Charles Chauvel’s resignation, says she loved the Women’s Affairs portfolio. It allowed her to build on the strong feminist beliefs which were fundamental to her Labour allegiance, developing strong relationships with a range of women’s organisations and capturing their views and aspirations in an election policy which included eliminating violence towards women and children.
Now she’s coming to terms with a Parliament which includes fewer women overall, and thinking about what comes next.
Unsurprisingly it’s Labour’s women who she credits with being her political inspiration. Top of the list is former PM Helen Clark, who she admires enormously as a trailblazer for many New Zealand women. “She’s someone I respect very greatly.”
She also namechecks Carol Gosche as an inspiration in her early political days. “Her energy and passion for Labour were infectious – and we also had a lot of fun. She is amazing,” Beaumont says.
Beaumont cut her political teeth on Mark Gosche’s campaign in Maungakiekie in the 1990s. It was a logical place to find herself, after involvement since college days in student politics and a strong belief in social justice, workers’ rights and women’s issues. She’d been involved in the union movement since the early eighties, first stood as a list candidate in 2002, and was secretary of the NZ Council of Trade Unions in 2003.
Hers, she says, was a working class background with a dad who was a mechanic and a mother who, prior to having children, was a teacher. “It seems to me that questions of fairness and equity were things I was conscious of and believed in from a relatively early age.
“I was a union member by the time I was 16, and working as a cleaner so I could help meet some of my college expenses and save to go to University.”
Reflecting on her time as an MP she’s also proud of her role in picking up Chauvel’s private member’s bill curtailing the predatory behavior of loan sharks, and the persistence in highlighting the issue which eventually saw a Government bill. She notes, however, that it doesn’t include any interest rate cap, and “this is the element which does the most harm, taking money away from families who really need it.” Nor does it come into effect immediately.
She says there are issues she still wanted to work on, and also has a sense of being an MP as a job that you grow into. She feels she had “learned her way around the place” and was becoming more effective. Of course she’ll miss it, she says. “Being a Labour MP was a huge privilege and the access to information and to people is amazing.
“I have really enjoyed working with and for people and groups and building respectful relationships, especially in Maungakiekie. I campaigned with a hard-working, dedicated team there who I respect enormously.”
But for now there are cartons to pack, staff and volunteers to thank, debriefs to be conducted, and goodbyes to be said.
What comes next isn’t clear yet – it could be more study, or work in the areas which she has long felt passionate about – social justice, sustainable economic development, women’s rights, workers’ rights. But whatever her future direction, she’ll continue to be a political animal. “I’ll always be actively working for a fairer and more successful NZ.