Last month I interviewed Helen White, the recently chosen Labour Party candidate for Auckland Central.
Although Helen White is a first-time candidate for parliament she has a mature presence about her, a firm grip on the policy issues she cares most about, and told me she felt that “the time feels right.”
White has an engaging personality and was entirely comfortable with a wide-ranging discussion about politics, family, education, often with reference to the inner city of Auckland which she knows so well.
It doesn’t take long to get behind the infectious laugh and smiling persona to discuss serious political issues.
Over the years, she told me, Helen has met hundreds of people who she said “go to meetings and run around achieving absolutely nothing. This was a lesson for me. I want to do something real.
“Justice is about economic reality,” she says, “and whether people can access it.”
White is concerned that we haven’t learned from the leaky building crisis. "It’s not over yet," she warns.
As a young lawyer, White worked for a time in the EPMU Union with Andrew Little. She rated him then and she rates him now. One of Andrew’s achievements, which Helen speaks highly of, was his stopping of Air New Zealand from contracting maintenance work out to Asia.
White told me people no longer know what a union is and what its point or value is. Power is now “out of whack,” she contends, and there is huge disengagement, increasing alienation. People’s issues are not being addressed.
Housing is a huge issue, acknowledges White, particularly rentals. The Government has denied there is a crisis.
“Nothing has been done to address the disparities in the economy,” she bemoans. “The inequality gap continues to widen. The Government’s books may say surplus, but there are too many New Zealanders, especially the young, who are underemployed, if employed at all. Why hasn’t the Government worked that out?”
The Labour candidate is highly critical of the breakdown of ‘community’, resulting in suicides, drug abuse, isolation and anomie.
She discussed the recent book The Spirit Level, which outlines social problems that accompany inequality. “The working poor still can’t feed their kids.”
White is also critical of a government which gives "little honours" to little people who ‘slave their guts out in their communities, for the underprivileged’, and gives "big honours" for business success.
Of course Helen White will face Nikki Kaye in the battle for Auckland Central. Kaye has been an impressive local MP, and by the time this Ponsonby News goes to print she may be the new Minister of Education. Kaye will take some rolling, but White is not fazed. She will challenge the issues head-on.
“I find a lot of people talking about the issues, including a lot of younger ones. I’m in the middle,” she laughs.
She doesn’t believe the polls. There is a vitality about Labour which augurs well for September, White reckons. People are concerned at precarious work, including zero hours', contracts.
“Gone is the negativity and division that infected Labour for too long. It is now all about positivity and solutions."
White believes her genuine localness, born and brought up in Auckland Central, and now with her law practice in the city, gives her an understanding of the hot political issues and she will fight hard to dislodge Nikki Kaye.
I wouldn’t put money on it, but assure readers that Helen White is a highly intelligent woman with a sparkling personality, who will give it her best shot. (JOHN ELLIOTT)