What does vocation mean to you?

I think of vocation as a path you set out for yourself that you want to travel on, whether that’s a path of continued learning, work, or looking after your children and the wellbeing of your home and your family.

What do you think is the role of parents in communicating purpose and vocation in their children’s lives?

It’s not until you’re an adult that you see the sacrifices that your parents made. The other day I went to a cross-party group on child poverty reduction, and [Children’s Commissioner] Judge Becroft brought out a sheet of indicators around material deprivation in the country. It described how when you don’t have certain material things growing up, then that is a sign of poverty. I accept that to a point, all those material indicators on that sheet described the way my family lived when I was growing up. But I had a wonderful childhood, and I wouldn’t have known that I was in poverty. I’ve lived that life, and I’ve gotten to where I am now because of the values and strength of family that over time I know can actually override the absence of material things.

To me, what made the difference is the values that we saw lived out in our home. It was our relationships, our faith, our education,
it was about the strength of family, working hard, being grateful for what you had on the table that night. Poverty is more than the absence of material things. It’s the absence of the kind of aspiration, the hope, and love that we were fortunate enough to experience in our home.

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How does your role as an MP fit into your own sense of vocation?

Politics was never really on my radar at school or university. But I was always ambitious, and that comes from my dad, who’s always said to us “You girls can be whatever you want to be, there is nothing stopping you.”

A few years ago I was invited into a meeting focused on strength- ening the Pacific voice in the National Party, even though I definitely didn’t see myself as political at the time. But over time I saw that my upbringing, my heritage, and my values can really add value and a different perspective to the Party. To me this is all about service; I really align with the aspirational values of the National Party and I saw an opportunity to amplify that sense of aspiration for the Pacific communities in this country. I thought well if no one else is going to do it, then I need to put my hand up.

Outside of your work, what gives you a sense of purpose?

My children give me purpose and meaning. It’s hard to explain, but whether you have one or five like I do, you have this absolute responsibility—you’re forced to do hard things that you would never find yourself doing otherwise. Children are very hard work but that sacrifice and challenge to teach, serve, and invest values in our children provides such great purpose and meaning. People can chase happiness, I say I’m only as happy as my unhappiest child.

There’s a well-known saying, that says if you do something you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. Does that resonate with you?

To me, it’s actually the hardest things I’ve done in my life, the times I’ve really had to work hard and face up to challenges that have been the most rewarding, and taught me the most. We shouldn’t be afraid of hard and trying times, because they will build resilience, they’ll build a strength in you. I think we learn more from those times than when everything is plain sailing.



What does vocation mean to you?

For me, I think of purpose and passion—having a passion for what you spend your time doing. It is an incredible privilege for one’s vocation to line up with their paid work—it’s great to have your source of income be aligned with what you want to spend your time doing.

I actually think what we’ve lost sight of a little bit in the last half century, is the idea that we need all kinds of activity, work, if you want to call it that, in order for society to flourish. In our current economic structure some of that’s paid and some of that’s unpaid, and we actually need all of it.

If we just focus on the commercial transactions, we miss out on the really important activities. Caring activities, raising children, looking after elders, they are things that make us human, and are fundamental to our lives. The commercial focus creates more of a disconnect between how we spend our time and what we think of as our vocation.

How can we do a better job of valuing those non- commercial, but deeply meaningful roles that people take on in life?

I do believe the Wellbeing Budget is taking steps in that direction, and I’ve asked the Ministry for Women to do some work on the value of unpaid work—raising awareness of the value of it. I think that when you raise these issues, people intuitively understand it, and they may not realise that it’s currently being left out of the way we think about economic success.

Julie Anne 2
Julie Anne 1

For example, we can’t just say, “well if you put your kids in child care and you have a minimum wage job, we’re all better off.” Is that necessarily the case just because there are now two commercial transactions happening? We now know there is a real value to the children having that bonding time with their parents and being raised by their parents. How do we account for that?

How does your role as an MP fit into your own sense of vocation and purpose?

To me, being a politician isn’t a vocation, but what I do with that role is. I can see right across all the different politicians in Parliament, a lot of them have a reason, and the ones that I think have been the most successful, have a reason beyond just “representing.” They’re here to bring something, to get something done, to contribute to a particular kaupapa.

How do we go about shifting our cultural norms, so that the work of raising children is something we value at the same level as paid work, for both men and women?

We need to start with really supportive, family friendly policies. Generous paid parental leave that enables and encourages both parents to be home at times during the first year, really generous early child- hood education, so that everyone has quality childhood care from a year if they want it, and flexible work arrangements.

I am also really thankful for my partner, because he has been amazing and I would 100% say I couldn’t be doing my job right now if he wasn’t the primary caregiver. What’s interesting to me is that while I and the Prime Minister have been able to bring our babies into Parliament, the kind of thing that will probably make a bigger difference to those gender norms is my partner taking our baby to a conference where he was presenting. I was at Parliament working, and he was speaking to an engineering conference with a baby in the front pack.

I think that sets a fantastic, tangible example, and at the moment it’s one we don’t see very often. We need men to show practical leadership in recognising the value of work that’s traditionally been done by women and a commitment to share that unpaid work more equally.

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Peeni 6



What does vocation mean to you?

Personally, I see vocation as a legacy left to me by my forefathers who are represented in the art on the walls around this office. I was told from very young age that I would go to represent my community and whānau as an MP, following in the footsteps of many others who have served in the same vocation of public service.

How does being an MP, and a Minister of the Crown fit with your own sense of vocation?

I remember a few years ago, my father told me that I would have to make the choice whether I was going to be a Māori leader in my community, amongst my people, or go down the path of leadership where I find myself today. There aren’t many Māori politicians who have been able to do both—there’s an internal, and sometimes external conflict that takes place when you go back to your marae. I am now a representative of the Crown, and all of my ancestors signed the Treaty of Waitangi, so to some people I am both the enemy and a friend and kinsman.

But I am fortunate because I was raised in the history and the whakapapa of my people. The fact that te reo Māori is my first language makes me pretty rare in modern politics—the first kohanga reo baby to get into Parliament and become a minister. Those dual roles mean that I can find myself taking a leadership role on issues that are relevant to Māori and not just from a political perspective, but from a community and Māori speaking perspective.

Outside of your work, what gives you a sense of purpose?

I feel the burden of being here for other people, for Māori people, and for Māori kaupapa. Going on a marae and doing dishes and discussing things with our people—with my political hat on or off—gives me a sense of purpose and grounding that sits outside of my job. Those times allow me to refresh, keep me motivated and humble, and they give my work focus. In a forum like that our people are clear what’s important to them and not shy in expressing that to you in colourful language!

As Minister for Community and Volunteers, do you think our society properly recognises the value of unpaid work that people do?

Meeting volunteers across this country makes me feel inadequate, makes me want to drive to do more, achieve more, for these people because I constantly meet people doing amazing things in communities; giving selflessly, even when they have nothing.

We just don’t do enough to recognise the value of what people do outside of paid work. Honestly, I’ve seen reports that say there’s a billion dollars in “sweat equity” [unrecorded labour] that contributes to our GDP and hours and hours given towards kaupapa volunteering. Even though good work is done by the voluntary sector to capture a lot of that, I still believe most of it goes unrecognised.

How did it feel to have such a specific expectation of what you would do with your life placed upon you?

I was ok with what was preordained for me by my family—my father was a long time public servant, my grandfather, and great grandfather were politicians. I wanted to be an All Black like every kid who plays rugby. But my father made it clear where I was expected to go, and now, I find myself in Parliament.

The biggest challenge for me was the weight of expectation; what if I didn’t get there? When I was sixteen I became a father, and I honestly thought I had let everyone down, that my journey was ruined. But with love and care, and support from my whānau I was still able to walk the journey that was laid before me.

I’ll never forget when we got sworn in as Ministers, Stuart Nash leaned over and said to me, “Did you know, brother, there are more All Blacks in history than there are government ministers, so that’s how privileged this position is and how much of an honour this is.” That’s not lost on me.



What does vocation mean to you?

I used to be a careers advisor, and I would say that more than just a job that you do, vocation is about a pathway of calling. It can be how you educate yourself, how you work, and how you make choices.

How does your role as an MP fit into your own sense of vocation?

Prior to Parliament my work has largely involved roles where I have been able to support people. I’ve been a teacher, a business mentor, and a head of faculty in a tertiary institution for business. I honestly think being a politician is a natural extension of those things. The fundamental question is how can you best help people? This job gives you an amazing opportunity to do that on a scale that’s bigger than a single classroom or business.

Outside of your work, what gives you a sense of purpose?

Family is the obvious one. I’ve been with my wife for 23 years and we’ve got two daughters. I don’t know if I’d call myself an old-fashioned male, but that’s a real part of how I define my purpose: how do I look after my family and how do I provide?

Does this job crowd out other aspects of vocation in your life?

Absolutely. Hugely. I do laugh about how busy we are, but the reality is that yesterday I started at 8am—which was a pretty cruisy start— and finished at 11pm. That will happen exactly again today. And then because of my undersecretary roles, I was away last week for seven days in the northern Pacific and then the regional Economic Development role means even though we’re heading into a recess, I’ll be travelling around the country. There’s not a lot of time for anything else, including my family.

Is there something about work itself that is good for people?

Fundamentally, I think it’s about knowing that you’re contributing to something, you are part of the human species. As much as I may want to think I’m a man alone, an island unto myself, actually, there is a huge sense of reward and satisfaction about being part of what’s going on in your community. Even when you’re just starting out in the “lowliest” job, there’s something inherently good about being part of productive activity, and being rewarded for that.

Does that have to be paid, or do you think you can get that same intangible good from volunteer or unpaid work?

Yeah, absolutely. Some of the greatest rewards you get are through volunteering your time. My volunteering is mainly with sports groups and things like that, but there is a sense of reward that comes from doing something not for financial gain, but because you believe in the cause or in the people who are part of it. We can’t underestimate the value of not just volunteers, but parents (typically mums) at home. There is amazing value in that, not just the love and community in a household, but imagine if you actually had to put an economic value on just the activities that go on, the cleaning, the cooking, what’s that worth? It’s a massive conversation.

How do we go about shifting our cultural norms, so that the work of raising children is something we value at the same level as paid work, for both men and women?

I think we should be willing to explore that cultural shift more. NZ First has proposed legislation which doesn’t just allow for maternity leave that the mother can choose to split with her partner, but we would like specific paternity leave. If you encourage and allow a man to take four weeks off to be part of those initial days looking after the baby, suddenly a lot of those conversations down the track may become more of a balanced, two-way conversation. What can we do proactively to make both genders think, hold on, let’s swap this around so we can appreciate what it is each of us do?


Jeremy Vargo

As part of his role as Communications Manager for Maxim Institute, Jeremy has had the privilege of editing Flint & Steel magazine for the last 4 years. He has previously worked some classically soul crushing roles in the retail, commodities trading, and manufacturing industries, but managed to emerge relatively unscathed. Outside of work, he has a number of interests, but the recent birth of baby Ivy has put all that on hold for a while, which is actually rather wonderful.