I first met Erica Stanford (then Poppelbaum) when she was an export product marketing specialist with industrial firm Autex. My memories of her back then was a very well organised dynamo who knew exactly what she wanted and made sure we delivered it for her. Fast forward a few years and Erica popped up as Murray McCully’s organiser in his home patch. Given what my first impressions of her were she was always going to be good at that role. Erica went on to spend four years with Murray and during that time was also a hard working chair of the Browns Bay Business Association. A mover and a shaker who got things done. Along the way she found time to get married to Kane (her high school sweetheart) and have two children, Holly (10) and Alex (now five). When Murray McCully announced he was quitting politics, Erica was well placed to step in to his shoes. Probably not a good term, as she will definitely have her own shoes will Erica! Life for the Stanford's is clearly hectic these days with Kane now leading the parent duties in Auckland while Erica spends time between her Bays base and Parliament in the capital. I put some questions to Erica during February, at her Beachfront Lane, Browns Bay office that looks out over the beach reserve, to see what life is like five months into her political career.
AIDAN BENNETT: Looking back 12 months you probably wouldn’t have believed you would be the MP for East Coast Bays and in opposition? What has the first few months been like?
ERICA STANFORD: A steep learning curve, but hugely exciting. I’m part of an Opposition focused on proposing real solutions and not just opposing for the sake of it. I’ve settled in and I’ve been adjusting to some of the quirky protocols around Parliament – things like having bells ring to tell us when we need to be in the House, like I’m back at school.
AB: Why do you think you are well suited to politics?
ES: I genuinely, really like helping people. I’m not particularly interested in ideology. I’m interested in what works. I would describe myself as focused on solutions. I really want to help the people I’ve been elected to represent, and I’m happy and comfortable working across party lines to do that. I’m here for people, not for philosophy.
AB: Enjoying Wellington?
ES: I love the collegiality of Parliament. I’ve started building great friendships and working relationships not just with my colleagues in the National Party, but with other MPs across the House. I share an office with Denise Lee, MP for Maungakiekie and we work closely together on education policy.
AB: What are the priorities for Erica Stanford in her first term in parliament?
ES: A key focus for me is ensuring we have a well-resourced local police station in Browns Bay. I was concerned to hear of plans to re-deploy some of our police officers, potentially leaving only one Community Constable. I’ll be fighting hard against these plans if they materialise. We need a good, strong local police presence for crime prevention and community engagement.
Transport is one of my big priorities – improving local roading projects, many of which have been neglected under Auckland Council, like Glenvar Road. I’m pushing Auckland Transport to prioritise and invest in our area.
I’m continuing to support our local schools to ensure these are well-resourced, and standing up for Vanguard, a partnership school facing closure at the end of the year despite its phenomenal success and NCEA achievement rates.
AB: There are a few conscience vote issues coming up for you as well. How do you intend to handle these as a fresh new MP?
ES: It’s unusual that in my first term as an MP I can expect at least three big conscience issues over the next two years. We are currently debating assisted dying legislation as well as the medicinal use of marijuana. It is likely that abortion law reform will also come up this term. My absolute focus will be engaging with the community. I will be holding public meetings and online polls, engaging on Facebook and encouraging people to write to me to share their comments and views. Garnering public feedback is hugely important to me because I’ll be casting my vote on behalf of the people of the East Coast Bays. I would encourage people to ‘like’ my Facebook page because I’ll be sharing a lot of information over the coming months about how they can make their views heard.
AB: You have a pretty strong stance on partnership schools and the fact that our own Vanguard School is under threat, can anything be done about this?
ES: Under the Government legislation introduced this year, Vanguard Military School in Albany is facing closure by the end of the year. There is still time to prevent that, but it will take monumental community pressure. I have been putting the heat on the Education Minister through speeches in the House, and National have been pressuring the Government with oral and written questions. David Seymour’s protest drew a big crowd including students who turned up in their uniforms, in the rain, on a Sunday to protest the closure of the school they loved. As a community we need to put pressure on the Minister and people can sign the petition at www.savecharters.kiwi or make a submission to the select committee on the Education Amendment Bill.
AB: Having spent 30 years on the Shore and now living at Okura, I know you are passionate about the preservation of the area. How is this progressing?
ES: Ever since I was young, I’ve been passionate about protecting and preserving Okura. My parents were heavily involved in protecting the area from a proposed rubbish dump. Okura faces multiple threats including substandard walking tracks, predators, weeds and pressure on both sides from housing developments. While it’s important that we provide more homes to ease housing pressure, we need to balance this with protecting our green spaces for future generations. I look forward to the Environment Court decision on the development of land on the southern side of the Okura estuary, due this month.
AB: Where did you get you community service desires from?
ES: Without a doubt, my parents. They were involved in PTAs, building a local kindy, and fighting to protect Okura as part of the Stop the Tip campaign in the 1980s. So my passion for community service definitely started with how I was brought up, tagging along with them to working bees and garage sales. Local community groups with people volunteering their time are the heart and soul of the community. I am committed to promoting and supporting their work, as well as mucking in with them where I can.
AB: What does family life look like now for the Stanfords? Are things a juggling act or do you and Kane have it pretty sorted?
ES: It’s always been a juggling act. I was a working mum before I was a Member of Parliament, and Kane and I have both been working parents with two young children. But this is a bit of a step up. We’ve had to enlist some help for the mornings, and we’re really fortunate that Kane can work flexibly and be available for the important after-school activities like drumming lessons for my daughter Holly and ninja school for Alex. And the kids have both adjusted really well to the new lifestyle – of course they miss me when I’m away but we always try to spend quality family time together on weekends.
AB: Why is the Shore and the Bays the best place in the world to live?
ES: I am always blown away by the generous offers of help on community Facebook pages, how neighbours keep an eye out for each other and how locals volunteer their time to progress local projects. I’m so proud to represent this community.
AB: Complete the following…
ES: At the end of my first term in parliament I hope that… I can look back on my maiden speech and feel proud that I lived up to my commitments and principles. I want to be proud of a record of doing what is right and for being focused on representing the people in my electorate.