Robertson: 'He was my father but I never really forgave him'

Grant Robertson has confirmed so far only one firm employing more than 500 people have applied...
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson. Photo: RNZ
"Money plays such a big role in the way we live our lives," Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson tells Liam Dann on the Money Talks podcast.

"In an instant you can be changed."

Talking about his personal relationship with money and economics, Robertson highlighted the shock he felt at his father's conviction for theft in 1991 and the impact it had on his family.

"As a family we were comfortable but not rich. I'd put that in a New Zealand context of being middle class. My father worked initially in banking and then as an accountant in a law firm.

"There was money to go out to restaurants for birthdays and holidays although not really overseas."

It was a middle-class upbringing in a working-class community, he says.

"I was conscious, in the community I grew up in, which was South Dunedin, that there were a lot of people who didn't have money.

"I got to go to university but a lot of people I knew didn't."

But the security of that middle-class upbringing vanished when his father was arrested.

"Obviously things went really astray for my family because my father ended up being arrested for theft as a servant. So that changed things a lot in terms of the wealth that we felt we had around us."

"It was a massive shock," Robertson says. "He was an accountant in a law firm. What eventually emerged over the course of a 10-year period he'd stolen about $120,000, but it had been in quite even dribs and drabs so we didn't notice it. There was nothing flashy about our life."

"But Dad tragically had got himself into a situation where this was how he thought he'd keep his family together."

Robertson says he did talk to his father - who passed away 12 years ago - about the reasons for his actions.

"It was tough," he says.

"I loved him, he was my father but I never really forgave him. It was such a stupid thing to do."

"The motivation was around his desire to keep his family together and in essence he was buying our love to a certain extent. That's a dreadful thing to even say. But his psychology at the time was that's what he needed to do and it's a real downward spiral."

The events had a very immediate consequence in terms of money. Robertson had just left home and was in his early years of university.

All of a sudden there was no family backstop at all.

"I have this very vivid memory of going into the university registry building to get a student allowance, which I hadn't been eligible before [because of his father's income]," he says.

"They asked me for proof and the only proof I could find was the newspaper clipping of him being sentenced.

"I went from having that backstop of a family to it being extremely tight."

Robertson says the events really brought home to him the risks of sudden financial shocks and how they can mean that money becomes quite consuming.

"The other thing I'd say about my relationship with money is that it has made me very aware of the fragility of the situation. In my case the shock came from Dad doing something terrible, for other people it might just be an illness.

"Money plays such a big role in the way we live our lives. In an instant, you can be changed."

In the podcast, Robertson also reflects on his student activism in the early 1990s and how the neo-liberal policies of both the Labour Government and National shaped his political thinking.

"I don't think we called it neo-liberalism at the time. But I was really aware of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Rogernomics and then that flowing through," he said.

"We did look to Keynes and others to see: what are the other ways things can happen."

The 80s and 90s were a time of economic turmoil that scarred many Kiwis, he says.

"I have a theory about New Zealand politics ... that everything eventually comes back to Rob Muldoon," he says.

"That's what happened in the 80s. When NZ got itself in a position as a country where we were basically flat broke, what that meant was that the incoming Labour Government in 1984 ... was faced with these extraordinary fiscal and economic problems.

"Many of the things they did they had to do ... then of course Roger had another plan which went much further, which David Lange responded to. And everything follows from there."



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