Being an MP is not just a job - Jacqui Dean
Public service is not just an idea or concept for Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean, it is a lifestyle and sometimes a sevenday-a-week commitment.
‘‘To be a good person serving the public you have to commit everything to the task,’’ Dean explains.
The Minister for Commerce and Consumer Affairs and Minister for Small Business says she ‘‘literally’’ has no spare time.
As an MP for the past 12 years she has to be committed to being available seven days a week.
‘‘It’s nothing for me to get up on a Saturday morning and drive to Fairlie, Roxburgh or Kurow for one single event then drive home and that might have taken the whole day.
‘‘If you are not prepared for that you are not fit for the job.’’
It is a job of compromise, she explains, which requires unrequited support from family members. She credited her husband Bill Dean as being a key support for her and an excellent cook.
‘‘I’ve forgotten to cook now. I don’t have time, I am on the run.’’
But before Dean pursued politics she was a student of the stage, and for a time, the star of a television show in the 1980s.
‘‘I wanted to be an actress since I was three-years-old. Ever since I was doing ballet as a preschooler.’’
For three years Dean was on the silver screen as the host of childrens’ TV show Play School.
She was also an actor for the Fortune Theatre in Dunedin and played roles in several of playwright Roger Hall’s stage productions. She then worked for a time as a radio promoter for the ZB station in Oamaru.
But by her 40s Dean had ‘‘done all I wanted to do in radio and TV’’ and started to move towards public service and paving her own path rather than pretending to be someone else.
‘‘I shifted from interpreting other peoples work to community services, then to be a councillor, and now as a Member of Parliament.’’
After leaving acting she looked for something else to give her fulfilment.
The sixty-year-old said her path to becoming a Member of Parliament started in primary school classrooms as a ‘‘mother helper’’ following the conclusion of her acting career.
After seeing the Waitaki mayor present Dean’s sister with a certificate of service, Dean said she suddenly realised she wanted to run for councillor on the Waitaki District Council.
In 1996 she was made a councillor and was made deputy mayor.
‘‘What I learned from being councillor and deputy mayor is that you have to stand for something.
‘‘We went through a tough time through Project Aqua. It was a hugely controversial topic.’’
She recalled taking a stand with the mayor to involve Meridian Energy and negotiate the best bargain for members of the community during Project Aqua, a $1.2 billion hydroelectricity project for the lower Waitaki River that was eventually canned in 2004 after years of consultation.
Dean credits two of her most meaningful successes to what some may think as ‘‘unassuming’’. Both involve roading.
She worked with the local business owners in Oamaru’s north end and got NZTA to put traffic lights in.
‘‘It might sound like a small thing but the north end has been a dangerous place for years and years and shopkeepers raised the issue over a number of years.’’
The other success was getting two, two-lane bridges to replace two 133 year old single lane timber bridges in Kurow which had fallen into disrepair.
The $20.1 million project was no easy task but Dean said she was driven by the demands and passion of the Kurow community to make it happen.
They had been due to be upgraded but after Project Aqua fell short the bridges went on the back burner.
Dean explained that a lot of her work as a roving MP involved one on one interactions with her constituents.
Over the years she said she had spoken with, and helped a lot of people in her vast electorate.
But one instance had stuck with her.
‘‘There was a young man in the late stages of a serious and subsequently terminal illness and he needed to go to Dunedin Hospital for a scan and treatment.’’
Because of his condition he was beyond being able to travel with his parents in a private car and required transport by ambulance.
‘‘We found a way to make it achievable for that family. I remember talking to them and it meant a lot to the family that their son was comfortable.
‘‘It meant a lot to me also that in a very small way that we were able to help make a small contribution to their family.’’
‘‘It’s an example of those times, where as an MP you can open doors for people sometimes. You can listen, you can make sure you can get people what they are entitled to.
‘‘It’s truly about going to the public to make a difference.’’