‘‘I’m not so much going away from politics, rather, I’m going towards my family.’’
After nearly a quarter of a century in local body and then national politics, Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean announced last week she will not be seeking re› election in 2023.
Mrs Dean, who has just turned 65, said there were several reasons behind her decision to step down, but family was at the top of her list.
‘‘It doesn’t matter what the role is, when you have to spend a long time away from family . . . family draws you back in,’’ she said.
‘‘We now have several mokopuna, who are delightful, and who I want to spend time with, and actually, who demand my attention, to be fair.’’
The National Party was in a ‘‘fantastic position’’ and it felt like the right time to step aside, she said.
‘‘I think that’s really important, in any political movement, to know when you’ve had your time, step aside and let somebody come in.’’
After becoming well known as a presenter of the children’s programme Play School, Mrs Dean moved into politics as a Waitaki district councillor, and also served as deputy mayor.
She first entered parliament in 2005, when she won the former seat of Otago. She has held the Waitaki seat since 2008, and also served as the minister for commerce and consumer affairs under Sir Bill English’s National government. In opposition, she has been National’s spokeswoman for conservation — one of her ‘‘most interesting roles’’ — and is also assistant speaker.
Waitaki was one of the largest electorates in New Zealand and Mrs Dean had loved representing ‘‘every inch of it’’.
When asked about career highlights, she said the most satisfying part of the job was being able to move things along for people who needed help.
‘‘Because that’s essentially why I went into politics, just to do my bit to move things along,’’ she said.
‘‘To get a note from someone who’s been able to get the hip operation or the eye surgery or the knee replacement when they felt they were stuck in the waiting line. We can’t work miracles, it’s not what our role is, but what we can do is make sure that the person who needs a double hip operation because they’re in agony . . . make sure that the authorities haven’t lost sight of them.
‘‘And if we can do that, then that makes a material difference to people’s lives and, in a way, that’s the most satisfying.’’
She was proud of working with former immigration minister Michael Woodhouse to get immigration settings changed for Pasifika families in the electorate, who lacked a pathway to residency, in 2015.
‘‘They’ve made their lives here, they’ve had their children here, their children are going to school, doing well, sometimes they want to go on to tertiary study but can’t get funded for that because they’re not residents — so it gave those families and communities a lot more stability and security.
‘‘That was something that I am pleased that I was able to have a hand in.’’
Another ‘‘really important victory’’ was retaining court hearings in Oamaru.
Mrs Dean said she would continue to work hard for the Waitaki electorate and in her conservation portfolio until the election. She was keeping quiet on her future plans, other than to say while she was stepping down as MP, she was not retiring.
‘‘I’m not finishing working — I’m only stopping from Parliament,’’ she said.
She would walk away from the role with no regrets.
‘‘I won’t look back with regret, but I will look back and sort of go, ‘Phew, that was a big job’,’’ she said.
‘‘I don’t think I’ll miss anything. I really don’t. Having made the decision that I’m going to go, and I’ve done that before in a previous career when I was a performer, and I don’t miss anything about performing, because I’ve decided to do something else. And that’s what I will do now, I will do something else.’’
Mrs Dean was happy to talk to anyone considering putting their hand up to be National’s Waitaki candidate at the next election, and said she would love a woman to succeed her.