Arena Williams and Labours candidate for Rotorua Tamati Coffey at the Rotorua local electorate committee AGM. [image sourced from Arena’s public Candidate Facebook page – see link at end of post]
Age: 24 Ethnicity: Māori Religion: Haahi Ringatu Highest Education: Bcom/LLB
Arena Williams is standing for the first time as the newly elected Hunua candidate for the Labour Party. Her interests include Youth Education, Training, and Work. Arena’s official Labour Party page is available here. On her page, you will see that she proposes to stand for “jobs, homes and opportunity” and considers that “change starts with talking to people”.
Arena grew up in a politically active household. She describes her parents as “Labour people who live their Labour values by serving their communities”, her mother as a GP in Papakura and her father a teacher before becoming a journalist and as such considers that community ethic to be in her blood.
Arena joined the Labour Party in 2005 after the “foreshore and seabed raruraru“. She explains that:
“I saw leaders who I respected turning their back on a group of their loyal supporters, and I felt ashamed of that – but I wouldn’t be a Labour person if I thought the way to deal with that was to throw stones from the outside. I started by volunteering for Māori MPs who worked hard and stood up. I then got involved with Young Labour and with Policy Council, and put in the work so that we don’t go doing something like that again”
Arena describes her personal political ideology as adherent to the values of freedom and choice. In particular:
“the kind of freedom that comes with the security of a good education, a roof over your head and the ability to get decent work”.
She admires thinkers like John Rawls and David Harvey, but does not subscribe to their ideals as a complete prescription for her views. Arena extols her family as the most influential people on her political thinking, explaining that:
“My father is a deeply spiritual and peaceful person, and it is his influence that makes me think before I react to political ideas. My mother has been a fiery activist in her time, for Women’s Lib and Māori rights, and I’ve learnt a lot from her”
On Women’s Issues
Arena also subscribes to feminism, insisting that:
“Everyone who wants a system that doesn’t disadvantage people just because they don’t identify as men should own the word feminist”
On reproductive rights of women
Arena is pro-choice and considers that abortion:
“should be a personal decision for women to make for their physical and mental health, supported by their doctor”
She remarks that most people would be surprised to learn that abortion is a criminal offence in New Zealand.
Arena would like to see more effort in “listening to young women who have been through abortions about the kind of support they receive” because she recognises and empathises that abortion is “a hard thing, but when it’s a criminal offence, there’s so much hurt and stigma that helps no one”.
Arena is involved in ongoing discussions within the women’s sector of the Labour movement, including Young Labour, about the kind of reform those women would want their party to champion. She expresses her commitment to doing everything she can to continue that conversation and to work toward developing a solution that works for young women.
On Womens Economic Contributions
Arena claims that:
“women’s participation at all levels of decision making isn’t a fluffy add on – business has been realising the commercial benefit of diversity yet we lag behind for women’s representation in governance and in Parliament”
In respect of unpaid work, she considers that “entitlements to paid parental leave at the current level” do not “reflect the societal benefit of parents, mostly mothers, spending time with their young children and preparing them for ECE then school”.
Arena thinks that “extending paid parental leave will go a long way to addressing the deficit”.
On Wage Disparity
Arena considers there to be “deep structural inequalities that stand in the way of success for working women”. She explains by example that in the industry she works in, “women are paid around $18 less per hour” than her male colleagues on average and thinks its “simply unacceptable”.
To address the wage disparity issue, Arena would like to see more support for flexible working arrangements in the professional sector. She thinks that industry should lead on that, and if they don’t then central government has a responsibility to step in. She maintains that:
“government has a role in promoting women’s involvement on corporate boards, as a way of changing organisational culture which tacitly accepts this kind of discrimination”
On Support Services for Women
Arena considers that support services for women are under a “constant squeeze” because of the “competitive funding environment”. In her experience with Student Unions, first as Auckland President and later the national Women’s Rights Officer, she explains that she was “constantly grateful for the NGOs and community groups who could be called on to support women students in need” despite the obstacles to accessing funding.
Arena is particularly interested in supporting women in education. In her view, it is “a fundamental part of freedom for women”. Arena would like to see the student loan repayment scheme remodelled because she thinks that currently it unfairly disadvantages women who earn less on average and subsequently take longer to repay their loans. She believes that cuts to the tertiary training allowance have been instrumental in limiting the ability of many mothers to access tertiary education to build on their life experience and feels strongly that access to tertiary education is essential to empowering women of all ages.
General Q & A
What is the one skill you wish you had (that you don’t already)?
“I wish I could think in te reo Māori. I think I have a reasonable vocabulary and can follow Māori TV, but when it comes to forming an answer to a question, I have to switch to English”
In everyday life, what is your pet peeve?
“Wasting food. Wasting anything!”
What do think is the biggest problem facing the world right now?
What is the best gift you’ve ever given?
“Two pieces of pounamu to my friends who got married this year and moved to Melbourne. The pieces will always be an anchor for them, to keep a little bit of them in New Zealand. They’ll have to come back!”
What is the best gift you’ve ever received?
“My grandmother left me her tea cup collection when she passed away. It’s a jumbled set of bits and bobs she cobbled together during her travels. I can’t bring myself to use them, but every time I see them I’m reminded of this fierce wahine toa who was so ahead of her time and the adventures she had.”
Describe a time when you wanted to quit, but you didn’t.
“During my time as president at the Auckland students’ association there were plenty of times I wanted to quit. The hardest battles are the ones fought behind your own lines. I finished my term with a result I’m proud of, but I’m most proud of the people I worked with then who’ve stepped up since and become wonderful leaders for an organisation I care deeply about.”
If you could have a special power/magic what would it be and why?
“I’d like to be able to stop time. I’d get 8 hours sleep and be able to say ‘yes’ to requests from the people I care about!”
You can see more of Arena on:
YouTube: Arena Williams for Hunua
Please check the About page if you are interested in the question selections.