Annette King: Three decades in Parliament

The year 1984 was a different time. For starters, there weren't as many women's toilets in Parliament as they are now.

That's when it all began for Annette King.

"There was a push in '84 for women to stop making tea, make policy and get into Parliament," she remembers.

David Lange was voted in Prime Minister with Roger Douglas, his Finance Minister - the "Rogernomics" years.

New Zealand had just had Rob Muldoon at the wheel, the dollar taking a huge dive after he drunkenly called a snap election. Mr Douglas had a plan. A series of radical reforms like New Zealand had never seen. Essentially the introduction of a free market. Capitalism on steroids.

"I was a new rookie MP. I was one of those that Muldoon called 'wouldn't know a deficit if I fell over one'. So those six years were very turbulent years for us in the party," Ms King said.

She's said before that she comes from a Labour voting family, her father working in the Post Office. Her being part of the radical change that saw the fourth Labour Government sell off the Post Office - her father didn't much like that.

So what does she think of it all now?

"Some of the things we did we had to do," she said.

"Others I think I worried about. Worried about then and do now. The speed of some of the changes that we made, the impact on people."

But there were some very good things done under the fourth Labour Government that have made New Zealand a better place.

Fast-forward six years and King was booted out of Parliament. One day a Cabinet Minister, the next - gone.

She came back in 1993 and has been the MP for Rongotai ever since.

And that meant she was around for Helen Clark's first days in the hot seat.

In 1996 Ms King was part of a group, which also included now Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, that confronted Ms Clark over her dismal poll ratings since taking over from former leader Mike Moore.

Labour was on 15 percent in the polls, Ms Clark was polling at 2 percent.

"We went to her and said 'Look, we're not going to make it in this election'," Ms King said.

"She stared us down, she said 'I am, I'm going to win and she went on in 1999 to do just that. And she promoted the five of us to be probably some of her staunchest allies."

Ms King doesn't regret it.

"I think it was a turning point for Helen in some ways. She was not going to be told that she couldn't do it. The steel in her came out so I claim a little bit of credit for that."

Ms King was made Health Minister - and it's that portfolio that she holds dear.

"I am proud of the work that I did in health, particularly mental health," she said. "Some might say I'm a masochist but I have really enjoyed being the Minister of Health, it's a fantastic portfolio."

Her only regret? The long hours took a toll on her devotion to her family.

"The only regrets that I have really are ones around the neglect of my family because this job does require you to give up a lot of time."

So now it's time to spend time with family - she has grandchildren in Australia that she really wants to go and see.

"I've had 30 great years and I wouldn't exchange it for anything."

And her parting message for New Zealand is simple: vote.

"You look around the world and see the value of our very open democracy - I call it an intimate democracy, where your MPs will be in the local dairy buying their milk," she said. "We are so lucky to have an open democracy so don't waste it. Vote." 


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