On November 23, 2005, Jacqui Dean gave her maiden speech to Parliament.
Having just won the Otago seat back for the National Party, beating Labour MP David Parker by 1725 votes, she promised to be a “warrior” for the electorate.
Fourteen years, five parliamentary terms and a boundary change later, Mrs Dean says her desire to serve the communities that make up the Waitaki electorate and see the region thrive is as strong as ever.
She has been confirmed as National’s candidate to stand for the Waitaki electorate again in 2020.
While holding ministerial portfolios for commerce, consumer affairs and small business had been highlights of her political career, the 62-year-old said her passion for politics came from her one-on-one work for Waitaki constituents.
“You don’t just put your hand up to stand for Parliament, even if you’ve been around for a while.
“It’s something you’ve got to think about really carefully and there’s a really strong driving will inside of me to serve this community.
“It’s a real privilege to be able to help. You can’t always – there’s lots of times where I can’t solve something – but there are lots of times when I can either move things along a little bit for them, or find some resolution.”
Mrs Dean is married to Oamaru lawyer Bill Dean and the couple have three adult children. Before entering Parliament in 2005, she served as a Waitaki district councillor, then a term as deputy mayor.
She has also worked in hospitality, performed on television’s Play School and worked as an actor with Dunedin’s Fortune Theatre.
In opposition, Mrs Dean is one of National’s 55 MPs, the largest opposition in New Zealand’s history, and the party’s spokeswoman for local government and small business.
Opposition was “substantially different” to government, she said, but the past two years had allowed her to spend more time in the Waitaki electorate – and she was enjoying it.
Mrs Dean earned her stripes in opposition. When she entered Parliament in 2005, Helen Clark was prime minister and the Labour Party had a minority government coalition with the Progressive Party, with confidence and supply support from New Zealand First and United Future.
Mrs Dean was ambitious and eager to prove herself.
“When I first came into Parliament in opposition, it was a really great opportunity to learn the craft,” she said.
“I don’t think you become a really good politician for a few years.
“First of all, you’ve got to understand the craft and then you’ve really got to develop your humanity because it’s a job and a role where you engage with everyone in society, on a number of different levels, for a number of different reasons.”
Public service has become a lifestyle and sometimes a seven-day-a-week commitment for Mrs Dean.
“You can’t ever get away from work; it follows you everywhere, but if you want to be in politics, if you want to be an MP, you accept that.”
It was not unusual for her to wake up in Oamaru, drive to Wanaka, Fairlie or Roxburgh for a single event and then drive home – or be away from home for days at a time, either at Parliament in Wellington or somewhere else in the Waitaki electorate, which was the size of Denmark.
“I’ve also had the opportunity to travel around New Zealand and all of that experience in talking to people is going towards developing policy for the next election.”
Mrs Dean is not a fan of the Labour/Greens/New Zealand First government, especially because of the impact, she says, policies are having on rural communities.
“I’m really concerned around the mental health of some of our farming community, who seem to have become a target – and I do blame the Government for making the urban-rural divide much, much wider,” she said.
“The policies this government has brought in, around water quality in particular, but also the Zero Carbon Bill, I think has made a lot of New Zealand point the finger at agriculture as if it was the cause of all our water-quality woes and climate-change emissions.”
A more realistic attitude, she said, would be: “we’re all in this together”.
“But we’re not seeing this, and what I am seeing is farmers feeling as if they’re being unfairly judged.
“They feel as if they are under attack – and it’s not just coming from the Government, also within our communities.”
A lot of that came from social media, she said.
“It’s the wild, Wild West – it’s unaccountable; people use pseudonyms and they target people and groups.
“I think that if we’re to be mindful of mental health, not just of the farming community, I’d like us to do better.”
She is optimistic about her party’s chances at the 2020 election.
“Everyone is working at full speed .. we are a very tight, focused caucus,” she said.
Will this be Mrs Dean’s last election campaign?
She does not answer that one, instead saying she is “only thinking three years ahead”.