Gareth Hughes: From boy-racer to MP

Gareth Hughes
Gareth Hughes
Instead of getting down about the problems facing the country, former Gisborne man Gareth Hughes would rather do something about it. The Green MP talks to Christine Boyce of the Gisborne Herald about how growing up in Gisborne helped shape his foray into environmental work and politics.


Gareth Hughes
Gareth Hughes
Many of Gareth Hughes friends from his teenage years in Gisborne would say they saw his political career coming - a couple even predicted he might end up as prime minister.

But for Hughes, a self-confessed former boy-racer, the idea took a bit of getting used to.

"I would rather have been an All Black or a rock star, so it was quite a big bridge to cross to say that I wanted to be a Member of Parliament,'' he laughs.

"I guess I always had a sneaking suspicion in the back of my mind I might be interested.''

After missing out on being a prefect at Gisborne Boys' High School, Hughes was even more motivated to act on his early political leanings. He ran for the school's board of trustees and was elected chairman of the Gisborne Youth Council.

On the day of our interview - also his 30th birthday - he was going back to speak to current students at Gisborne Boys' High about the value of pursuing your goals, just as he did.

After finishing school, Hughes moved to Wellington to study religion and history at Victoria University, followed by a post graduate diploma in politics.

It was during that time he delved into environmental politics for the first time.

"There were some huge issues facing the country at the time but instead of getting depressed or angry about them, I got active with Greenpeace. I worked on a number of successful campaigns, including stopping McDonald's use of GE ingredients and halting bottom sea trawling on the high seas.

"A real highlight in 2009 was working with Lucy Lawless, Rhys Darby and a whole lot of other well-known New Zealanders on a campaign for climate action. We had 216,000 people join the campaign in six months.''

After a few years with Greenpeace, Hughes started working for the Green Party. Working closely with the MPs made him realise it was something he wanted to take further.

He became a list MP in February last year, and says although Parliament has been a steep learning curve he has relished every moment of it.

"I love being an MP - it's my dream job and I'm thankful when I get to go to work. Obviously being in the public eye takes some getting used to - everything you say or do can end up on the front page of the paper but fortunately I haven't made any mistakes yet and I've kept my nose clean,'' he says.

"You've got to be on call 24 hours of the day because at any moment, a journalist could call you and ask for comment on something you're not an expert on . . . but I relish that fast-moving environment. It's really stimulating intellectually.''

Hughes was thrown in the deep end in recent weeks as he spearheaded the Green Party response to the Rena stranding in the Bay of Plenty.

It has raised issues Hughes feels strongly about.

"People are seeing oil washing up on the beaches for the first time and while it's a catastrophe, it's relatively small compared to what an oil well blow-out would be. Given the Government's slow response to Rena, a lot of people are really questioning deep-sea oil drilling.

"One of the best parts of growing up in Gisborne for me was being able to go down to the beach with a board or put the crayfish pots out. And for a lot of people on the Coast, the sea is like their supermarket. It would be a tragedy to lose that. It's a huge risk and essentially only the large oil companies will benefit.''

Outside Parliament, Hughes says spending time with his family keeps him sane.

He and wife Meghan have two young children, Arlo, 4, and Zoe, 1, and he tries to dedicate what free time he has to them.

"The hours of the job are long, and I don't get to spend as much time with my family as I would like.

"But I make sure I'm home every night to read them a story and put them to bed. It helps take my mind of the job.''

Despite the demands, Hughes would like to retain his place in Parliament and give it another couple of terms - although he says he's not a "career politician''.

His advice to young people in Gisborne who also share his enthusiasm for the environment and politics, is to follow his own personal mantra: "connect, construct and contribute.''

"Gisborne is one of the most isolated cities in the world but new technology means you can change the world, even from Gisborne. "We can build a better world - get busy constructing and dreaming and of course contribute.

"Our country was built by people coming together to do things for the better. Don't just sit at home and play on the play station - get out there and contribute.''

- Gisborne Herald

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