Fran Wilde: Queen of Welling­ton

Joseph Romanos talks to Welling­ton Re­gional Coun­cil chair­woman Fran Wilde about her days as a jour­nal­ist, the Ho­mo­sex­ual Law Re­form Bill and how Welling­ton has changed

Kapi-Mana News - - NEWS -

What do you re­call about your first elec­tion cam­paign?

It was 1981. I was run­ning for Labour against Ken Comber, who held the seat for Na­tional. It was the year of the Spring­bok tour and the protests. That helped Na­tional in the ru­ral ar­eas, but was use­ful for me in Welling­ton Cen­tral, and we had the biggest swing to Labour in the coun­try. I was young and re­flected the de­mo­graphic of the elec­torate – peo­ple were hang­ing out for change. We ran a huge cam­paign and knocked on ev­ery door in the elec­torate. I had three young kids and was very grate­ful for the women who ral­lied round and looked af­ter them and helped main­tain my house­hold while I cam­paigned. I had one suit, which I wore ev­ery day!

You were part of the Labour Govern­ment that brought in sweep­ing changes. Do you wince when you think about that now?

It’s easy to over­look how bad things had got un­der Mul­doon. The coun­try was a mess and Roger Dou­glas made some bold de­ci­sions. Where Labour went wrong was in not ac­knowl­edg­ing af­ter a while how much peo­ple were hurt­ing, not slow­ing down the change. Things like sell­ing the rail­ways and Tele­com re­ally hurt New Zealan­ders.

You be­came fa­mous for in­tro­duc­ing the Ho­mo­sex­ual Law Re­form Act. You must be proud of that.

I am. It was truly re­viled by some peo­ple. I re­ceived death threats and in­cred­i­ble abuse. I was very wor­ried for my chil­dren. I had no idea how nasty it would get. It was a tough bat­tle get­ting it through, and the num­bers were not that clearcut. We had to stay on top of the is­sue for 18 months.

You have three adopted chil­dren, so your adop­tion re­form cam­paign, en­abling adopted peo­ple and their birth par­ents to con­tact each other, was very im­por­tant to you. In hind­sight, has that been a good idea?

Yes. There is the odd story of heart­break and angst, but over­all it has been a good thing. There are hardly any adop­tions these days. Those there are are open.

Why did you quit Par­lia­ment to be­come Welling­ton mayor?

As the mem­ber for Welling­ton Cen­tral, I was try­ing to find a good may­oral can­di­date. Af­ter a while it dawned on me I should have a go. Labour had lost power and looked like they’d be in op­po­si­tion for some time. So I went for the may­oralty.

It was a time of change for Welling­ton.

Yes, the Ab­so­lutely Pos­i­tively Welling­ton slo­gan came in. It was a bril­liant slo­gan, con­ceived by Saatchi and Saatchi, and en­cour­aged Welling­to­ni­ans to feel good about their city. It’s still just as rel­e­vant to­day. Welling­ton is now the biggest do­mes­tic tourism des­ti­na­tion. That would have been un­think­able 20 years ago.

The by­pass came in on your watch. Any thoughts on that?

It should have been trenched. Op­po­nents of the by­pass thought we would never build it if it wasn’t trenched, but we had to have it. It’s ugly though, a big hole in the mid­dle of the city. Of course, the project wasn’t sup­posed to stop there. It was meant to push through to­wards the air­port.

What did you think of Kerry Pren­der­gast as a mayor.

Bril­liant. She did an enor­mous amount for Welling­ton.

What about Celia WadeBrown?

A very as­tute woman. But she’s in her early days as mayor and is still get­ting to grips with key ar­eas. Her chal­lenge will be bal­anc­ing the ex­pec­ta­tions of her sup­port­ers with the prac­ti­cal­i­ties of the job. Why did you push so hard for the Welling­ton sta­dium?

It was an eco­nomic, rather than a sports, ne­ces­sity. We didn’t want Welling­ton missing out on ma­jor events. We needed that fa­cil­ity. It has far ex­ceeded the ini­tial busi­ness plan. But what a bat­tle it was. We re­ally had to bat­tle to get it through. There was some emo­tional op­po­si­tion, peo­ple with fond mem­o­ries of Ath­letic Park.

Be­fore you be­came a politician you were a jour­nal­ist, weren’t you?

I worked for The Evening Post, as a gen­eral re­porter. I loved it. Be­ing in a news­room was very ex­cit­ing. My fa­ther and brother were jour­nal­ists. Where did you train? I’d been to uni­ver­sity and was in the first in­take of the Welling­ton Poly­tech jour­nal­ism course [ now the Massey Uni­ver­sity course]. We were brought to­gether one day by the head tu­tor and told if we didn’t take the course more se­ri­ously, it could be can­celled for­ever. Af­ter that we did try harder.

Now you chair the Welling­ton Re­gional Coun­cil. How im­por­tant is the re­gional coun­cil?

It’s vi­tal, but we don’t have a lot of fights, so we don’t get the sort of pub­lic­ity the city coun­cil gets. The re­gional coun­cil is pop­u­lated by prac­ti­cal do­ers.

Should Welling­ton go the su­per-city way?

One voice, in Auck­land, cur­rently speaks for one-third of New Zealand’s pop­u­la­tion. The other two-thirds are rep­re­sented by 78 or­gan­i­sa­tions. The dan­ger is that Auck­land will have such a strong voice other ar­eas will be swamped. Welling­ton doesn’t need an Auck­land su­per-city model, but there has to be some ra­tio­nal­i­sa­tion of re­sources. We need to get our act to­gether.

Photo: DO­MIN­ION POST

Fran Wilde: ‘‘The Welling­ton sta­dium has far ex­ceeded the ini­tial busi­ness plan.’’

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