Carrie Stoddart-Smith, Ellipsister, Whanau Ora, New Zealand

Q&A | Carrie Stoddart-Smith on going pro with her politics

Carrie Stoddart-Smith is a policy advisor, Māori development specialist and prominent writer on Māori politics, economics and the legal system based in Auckland, New Zealand. Now, she’s doing what few bonafide political nerds get the chance to do: run as an election candidate – both on the party list and for her home electorate of Pakuranga, for the Māori Party in the country’s upcoming general election.

Talking with Oliver, Carrie discusses how her upbringing influenced her outlook, the eye-opening transition from political observer to candidate, and what she believes the Māori Party offers Pakuranga.

Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I was born and raised in Tīmaru – where my Dad’s family is from. When I was 18, I came to Auckland for a Big Day Out [music festival] and never left. I found a job at a hair salon, and stayed in the industry for about five years. I fell pregnant at 21 and had to make some pretty big decisions. When my son was about 18 months, I decided to undertake a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Auckland. However, in my third year, I became pregnant with my twins, so took a bit of break from study.

Carrie’s twins doing the rounds!

I returned to University in about 2009 when the twins were 2 and decided to finish off my BA and complete a Law degree as a conjoint. During that time, I also worked as an Advisor in the After Hours Duty Coroner’s Office, which meant I was able to study during the day, and work in the evenings and weekends to cover the costs of childcare. I’ve worked in a range of public sector roles, and developed a pretty good sense of how the machinery of government operates.

In 2013, we decided to move to Christchurch as there was an opportunity for my husband as part of the rebuild work. I decided to use that time to complete my LLM in International Law and Politics at the University of Canterbury. We stayed there for about 18 months before moving back to Auckland. Since that time, I have worked in Māori development in both advisory and policy roles, and more recently in an operational role.

As a candidate, you’ve spoken about the challenges of growing up in a mixed-Māori-Pākehā background. How have you reconciled these dual identities in your life?
I am comfortable with having dual identities. On reflection, the greatest challenge has been getting other people to accept that I can be both Māori and Pākehā and that these identities do not warp my sense of self or the credibility or authenticity of my voice. Over my lifetime, I have become accustomed to people demanding that I evidence my “genetic connection” to being Māori and insist that I provide my blood quantum. These days, as I’ve grown more confident in my cultural identity, I simply refer to my whakapapa to relay my connection to my ancestors and to this land.

You’ve also discussed your family experiences with hardship and your own teenage experiences as NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training). How has this shaped your political outlook?
These experiences hugely shaped my political outlook. I remember what it was like to have the power cut off during winter. To have the debt collectors knocking on the door, and pretending to not be home. I remember what it was like having no food in the house and desperately digging down the back of the couch for any spare coins to get a scoop of hot chips. There were six of us in our family, and Mum moved between factory work and the benefit.

“It was the disconnection from my culture, and the impact that had on me… that puts kaupapa Māori at the centre of my politics.”

Times were tough, and we often went without lunches at schools – became caregivers of our younger siblings at a very young age. I remember walking with friends, and walking past our house because I didn’t want them to know I lived in a state house. Being poor and brown and disconnected from your culture in a white provincial town meant you were always seeing the stereotypes claimed about you, reflected back at you.

It is precisely these experiences that inform my approach to policymaking – putting the human story back in the picture. It was the disconnection from my culture, and the impact that had on me in understanding and accepting myself, that puts kaupapa Māori at the centre of my politics. It is the life that I am now living – the opportunities available to me, my children and that we will hand down to future generations – that make me committed to advancing a society that values achieving prosperity with equity.

Given your own background, what do you think Metiria Turei’s resignation says about public and media attitudes towards Māori, and hardship in New Zealand?
The response was unsurprising sadly, but Metiria Turei has shown such a strength of character throughout this ordeal. No-one should ever be compelled to make unfair choices. The situation that she highlighted was that our welfare system is flawed, and this point unfortunately got lost in the media noise.

Image by Toby Morris for RNZ

What made you decide to run for the Māori Party in Pakuranga rather than seeking a list-only or Māori constituency candidacy?
When I told people that I was considering standing for the Māori Party in Pakuranga, I was greeted with looks of quiet amusement at this apparently impossible task in a notoriously blue electorate. But a little bit of rebellion still resides in me, and I saw it as both a challenge and an opportunity.

I live in the Pakuranga electorate and my husband and his family have lived in the Bucklands Beach and Howick area since the early 1980s. We are sharing his family’s legacy with our children, who attend the local schools here, and have built enduring friendships and lifelong connections to the area.

When Maurice Williamson announced that he would resign before this election, I thought – it’s now or never, if I wanted to stand in a seat in an electorate that I lived. I was also inspired by Dr Maria Bargh, who had advocated for more Māori to stand in general seats to grow our representation across Parliament.

You’ve been heavily involved in politics as a prominent political writer, blogger and commentator for some time. How does your understanding of politics compare with the realities of a first-time candidate? What are the most surprising things you’ve learnt so far that you didn’t previously know about campaigning?
Vulnerability. That has been my biggest learning so far. It is incredibly daunting to open yourself up to the public, not knowing how you will be received. With all the critique and analysis as a writer and blogger, I think it was far too easy to lose sight of the human being. To overlook – usually for convenience, the fact that all political candidates and representatives are members of a whānau who love them, worry about them, feel for them and fight back for them.

“It is incredibly daunting to open yourself up to the public, not knowing how you will be received.”

Surprising? The costs! Fliers, printing, banners and advertisements – I had not anticipated the expense of running a political campaign. These costs are prohibitive for most people and this itself is terrible for representative democracy.

Some commentators have questioned the role of the Treaty of Waitangi in a society increasingly composed of non-Pākehā first and second-generation immigrants. What does a Māori Party platform offer to an ethnically-diverse, migrant-heavy seat such as Pakuranga?
Our ancestors travelled through South East Asia and across the Pacific before discovering Aotearoa more than one thousand years ago. It was our ancestors who welcomed the first wave of immigrants to this country, and we continue to embrace our obligations of manaakitanga and kaitiakitānga to all people who call Aotearoa home.

Our party puts whānau at the centre – a value shared across all cultures. We have a range of policies that look at community and whānau safety, health and wellbeing, inclusive immigration policy and a desire to strengthen cultural exchange both at home and abroad. We plan to establish an ethnically diverse Whānau Ora unit to enable the diverse cultures of Aotearoa to access the full range of services available to them to support the wellbeing of their whānau.

If elected, I want to set up a Culture, Commerce and Community hub to grow the cultural wealth of our community through cultural exchange and multi-language learning; support local business to access all the services and products they need to grow their businesses; and design policy as an electorate collective with our community voice at the centre.

What does your candidacy offer on the particular issues facing Pakuranga, especially transport, housing and the environment, in terms of urban boundaries, the Tamaki River and beaches?
The Māori Party will always position itself to have an active role, no matter who is in government. Together with the Pakuranga community, we will have the opportunity and relevant experience to use our collective voice to influence greater investment in our electorate so that we can implement sustainable transport solutions that reduce the amount of time we spend in traffic – for those working in the Auckland CBD this can be up to two hours each way! – help connect us to other areas across Auckland, and help our country achieve our carbon neutrality goals.

“The Māori Party will always position itself to have an active role, no matter who is in government.”

We’ll develop community-led approaches to justice that will keep our children, our families, our homes, and our community safe and free from violence. We plan to explore therapeutic jurisprudence as an alternative approach to help address drug and alcohol-fuelled violence and crime. Restore and protect our beaches, coastlines, and waterways for future generations.

We will be able to champion a National Coastal Erosion Strategy to protect our environment, our people and our homes, and ensure the government is accountable and does not pass off the cost to the ratepayer. Our party already achieved funding under Te Mana o Te Wai, and we are committed to expanding this and setting a kaitiaki standard for our freshwater to “drinkable”.

Carrie Stoddart-Smith is an Auckland-based indigenous researcher, policymaker and writer. She is currently running as a 2017 general election candidate for the Māori Party. Read more by Carrie.

Oliver Chan is a London-based social and political researcher, writer and blogger. He is Politics Editor at Impolitikal. Read more by Oliver.