Meet the Minister: Michael Wood – Transport and Workplace relations

Minister of Transport, Workplace Relations
MP for Mt Roskill, Labour
Aged 40, elected 2016
Referendums: Against End of Life Choice, For legalising recreational cannabis
Fascinating fact: Fantasy job is to be an international cricket commentator

Q: What is your work history?
A: A range of different jobs.After university I initially worked in retail at the late and very much lamented Hugh Wright’s men’s clothing stores. I was there for a couple of years. I spent some time in the union movement, worked for Finsec, the financial sector union for quite a few years [as an] organiser and also as a negotiator, spent some time working for Habitat for Humanity helping them with a range of issues including their health and safety system which is something that is relevant to my role now and I also had a few years where I was the main caregiver for my kids. I’ve got three boys and I was always hoping to have a career in politics and we knew that would mean some time away from home so we tried to get some of that time with the boys when they were pretty young. I also had six years when I was in local government on the local board in my community in Mt Roskill.

Q: Did you ever work as a student?
A:Oh yeah. I had all sorts of jobs. I worked in a roast dinner shop, I worked in a Hugh Wright’s, I knocked on doors and sold stuff, all sorts of very typical, not always particularly glamorous student jobs … Probably my most famous and most interesting job was as a Christmas tree salesman guy. Some friends and I set up a small business where we cornered the market in Howick and Pakuranga and we had the main Christmas tree selling operation. That funded our university fees one year.

Q: Tell me about your family now.
A: So I am married to Julie who is active in local government in my community and we have got three lovely boys, Jacob who is 12, Daniel who is 10 and Thomas who is 5. So home life is busy and messy and complicated and of course with the role that I’ve got and the role that Julie has got, we are constantly juggling our work with trying to keep the family situation going in the various other commitments that we have got.

Q: How did you get into politics?
A: I had always had an interest since I was really quite young. I was in my first year at university when a few things sort of came together. I started university in 1998 so it was sort of that end of the 90s. We had had a long spell of the Bolger-Shipley National Government … And then we had the power crisis in 1998 where the lights went off in Auckland. It just kind of for me was just kind of a sign that things weren’t working well in our society. It was around the time of the Hikoi for Hope as well … There was a real kind of movement for Helen Clark and Labour at that time and I became involved with a few friends at the famous Princes Street branch at university that year.

Q: No fisticuffs that year?
A: No it was fairly robust at that time but things have moved on a little bit since the Rogernomics era, thankfully.

Q: Is there someone you admire in another party and why?
A: Someone that I have come to admire strongly and work quite closely with in my current role is James Shaw as leader of the Green Party. He is someone who has a really strong set of convictions about what we need to change but he’s then got a really pragmatic, hard-headed way of thinking about ‘well, okay we’re here, we have these resources, we have these obstacles, how do we get to there?’ He tries to problem-solve his way through that, and that’s I think that’s a really important skill in politics.

Q: How will you measure success in your portfolios of Workplace Relations and Transport?
A: I’m really clear on this that we have just had an election and the Labour Party won a mandate to form government and we did that on the basis of a manifesto. Those were the things that we put to the electorate and said that we intend to deliver and so my core job is a minister to deliver on those manifesto commitments. If you look in both of those spaces they go to our core values, the things that we believe so in workplaces it’s about making sure we have got workplaces that are fair, that are safe and that are productive. And in the transport space it is about really accelerating that shift to make sure we give people real transport choices, that we free up our cities and that we decarbonise our transport system.

Q: So what is the most pressing issue in transport?
A: I think particularly as we move into 2021, the carbon budgets are going to hit and every sector across New Zealand is going to have to think about how we decarbonise the way that we do things. And transport is 47 per cent of our CO2 emissions so I think that is going to be an enormous priority.

Q: When you were sitting in the back bench, or in the whip’s seat, what do you think made a good minister?
A: I think people who are really focused. What I have observed but also learned really quickly in my first few weeks as a minister is that there are a thousand and one issues, a million and one briefings and every one has got an idea about what you should focus on. You do need to reflect and listen and take that information in but the most effective ministers that I have seen have been really clear about ‘well these are the three or four things that I am going to accomplish this year’. That is the kind of minister I hope to be.

Q: What is your favourite beach and why?
A: A very special beach to me is a beautiful little beach on the East Cape near a wonderful little town called Te Kaha. The beach is called Hariki Beach. My wife and I have been going down there for pretty much the whole 20 years that we have been together and I proposed on the beach down there to her [and they got married in the church at Te Kaha]. Somewhat surprisingly she said yes and we’ve been very happily together since. So some very happy memories of that one.

Q: If you could take an actor to dinner, who would it be and where would you take them?
A: Pretty easy. I think it would be Sam Neill. I think he is just the most brilliant actor, your classic down-to-earth Kiwi with an incredible sense of humour and compassionate, open-minded, humanistic perspective on the world and I think I’d just take him for fish and chips down to one of our little beaches in my electorate on what we call the Waikowhai coast which is the lovely little coast full of coves and beaches on the northern side of the Manukau Harbour.

Q: Some quick-fires…KFC or Macca’s?
A: Macca’s
Q: Sauvignon blanc or Chardonnay?
A: Sav.
Q: Long black or flat white?
A: Machiatto
Q: Tramping or skiing?
A: Tramping, love tramping.
Q: Dog or cat?
A: Cats all the way.
Q: Tennis or cricket?
A: I love cricket but I’m a better tennis player actually.

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