Life spiced with va­ri­ety con­tin­ues

Rus­sell Mar­shall has a CV longer than most. The Pare­mata res­i­dent spoke to KRIS DANDO about pol­i­tics, ed­u­ca­tion and his crack at the Porirua may­oralty.

Kapi-Mana News - - NEWS -

You were go­ing to be a teacher be­fore pol­i­tics came along?

I fin­ished school in 1952 and it was a case of ‘what do I do now?’ There wasn’t much in the way of se­condary school­ing back then. I had an in­ter­est in ed­u­ca­tion so I went to teach­ers’ col­lege in Christchurch and turned up to my first school in [my home­town of] Nel­son when I was just 19. My dad was not im­pressed but I en­joyed the train­ing and made friends for life.

Your fa­ther was heav­ily in­volved in the Nel­son arm of the Coun­cil of Trade Unions and the Labour Party – was it in­evitable that you would get into pol­i­tics?

It wasn’t in­evitable but I guess pol­i­tics was in the genes. I was a Methodist Min­is­ter in Christchurch [1960-67] and Master­ton [1967-71] and I met Nor­man Kirk and one or two oth­ers in the con­gre­ga­tion who talked to me about life in pol­i­tics. When Labour lost Wan­ganui in 1969 I was asked if I would put my hand up in 1972. I thought if I don’t now, I never will.

You held the Wan­ganui seat from 1972 to 1990 and were se­nior whip and held min­is­te­rial posts in­clud­ing for­eign af­fairs, en­vi­ron­ment, con­ser­va­tion and ed­u­ca­tion in suc­ces­sive Labour gov­ern­ments. What were some of the is­sues you were in­volved in?

Protest­ing against what was go­ing on in South Africa and Viet­nam were im­por­tant to me and I’d like to think I was proac­tive with Maori around that time too. I was in Op­po­si­tion with the ed­u­ca­tion port­fo­lio but when we were in govern­ment this was some­thing I was hugely pas­sion- ate about. To­mor­row’s Schools were put into ac­tion un­der Labour and I think you’re still see­ing the ram­i­fi­ca­tions to­day.

David Lange fa­mously re­lieved you as Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion, tak­ing the role for him­self. That must’ve been dif­fi­cult to take?

My re­la­tion­ship with David was an in­ter­est­ing one. I have mem­oirs com­ing out one day and I’m go­ing to talk about that in more depth then.

What state is ed­u­ca­tion in to­day, in your opinion?

I don’t think teach­ers are well­re­spected enough and a lot of peo­ple who run ed­u­ca­tion don’t have the ex­pe­ri­ence. There needs to be more ac­count­abil­ity to­wards low decile com­mu­ni­ties and how they can cope — this is some­thing that has been oc­cu­py­ing my mind for some time. I think it’s great that spe­cial needs chil­dren have more op­por­tu­ni­ties but I would like to see up­dated poli­cies for dis­abled peo­ple at all lev­els of ed­u­ca­tion.

Along with help­ing to mon­i­tor elec­tions in Africa in the 1990s, you were chan­cel­lor of Vic­to­ria Univer­sity (2000-02), High Com­mis­sioner to the UK (2002-05) and chair­man of the Ter­tiary Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sion (2005-07). Busy, busy.

It has been a busy time and I’ve held a num­ber of ful­fill­ing jobs in my life. The most I’ve had is five at one time but you just get on and do it. I think I was even act­ing man­ager of Page 90 [the fore­run­ner to Pataka Mu­seum] once. The most riv­et­ing three days of my life was mon­i­tor­ing elec­tions in Jo­han­nes­burg in the mid-1990s but help­ing to get Whi­tireia Polytech­nic off the ground was also one of the most re­ward­ing.

The High Com­mis­sioner gig must have been a plum one.

I was talk­ing to He­len Clark at a book launch a few years be­fore I got the role and the sub­ject came up. I told her I was busy and I was 66 years old, af­ter all. But Phil Goff called me and it went from there. I loved it, es­pe­cially when you get to do things such as meet the 1971 Bri­tish Lions play­ers in Cardiff, go to a test match at Lords – I got up into the commentary box with Henry Blofeld – and Wim­ble­don. It was an in­ter­est­ing time to have the job with things go­ing on in the world like the buildup to the war in Iraq. It was all about meet­ing peo­ple and New Zealand is well-re­garded over­seas.

You gunned for the Porirua may­oralty in 2010 – why?

I was pressed to have a go and it seemed like a good idea at the time. I have been in Porirua more than 20 years and, by the end of the elec­tion, I had learned more about this city than I had be­fore. More than 1000 peo­ple [ 1356 votes to Nick Leggett’s win­ning tally of 6336] were silly enough to for vote me. You can’t take any­thing away from Nick, he is do­ing a great job.

How are the mem­oirs go­ing and what else are you up to?

The mem­oirs are hap­pen­ing in fits and starts but I need to get more fo­cused. I’m 78 and want it out by the time I’m 80 in Fe­bru­ary, 2016. There’s a fam­ily re­union in Jan­uary that is go­ing to be quite a big deal. I set up the Porirua branch of the New Zealand So­ci­ety of Ge­neal­o­gists in 1993. I went to my first meet­ing this cen­tury with the so­ci­ety re­cently, so am keep­ing up ap­pear­ances.

Photo: KRIS DANDO

Qui­eter: Pare­mata res­i­dent and for­mer Labour Party min­is­ter Rus­sell Mar­shall.

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