After nearly 20 years of calling Warkworth home, Tracey Martin and Ben Dugdale will return to Martinborough next month. The couple has been involved in a myriad of activities during their time in Mahurangi – from championing the Warkworth Town Hall restoration to school boards and politics. Jannette Thompson caught up with Tracey during one of her busy clinics in Warkworth …
Tracey is reading some papers when I arrive and she apologises for keeping me waiting. “I’m just reading through a speech that Jacinda has to give this weekend,” she says, pen in hand, as she makes a few “edits” here and there.
Tracey has come a long way from her days on the Warkworth Primary School Board of Trustees, where she advocated on behalf of parents opposed to the introduction of a school uniform. In the current Parliament, she is the Minister for Children, Minister for Seniors, Minister for Internal Affairs, and Associate Minister for Education. Plus, the NZ list MP is her party’s spokesperson for community and volunteer, disability issues, ethnic affairs, family issues and women’s affairs. No wonder she wants to move closer to Wellington!
“Yes, it will be more convenient to commute to Wellington, but the real reason we’re moving is to allow Ben to get back to winemaking. He’s been running the home since I was elected in 2011, but Rose, our youngest, is off to Victoria University to study English literature and politics next year. Ben’s leased a vineyard on the outskirts of Martinborough, where he’ll grow Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris grapes, and sell the wine under his own label, ‘B’. He was the winemaker at Dry River when we lived in Martinborough previously and has won gold medals for his Pinot Noir – it’s his speciality.”
By coincidence, the 1910 villa the couple owned in 1996 was on the market when they went looking for a house this time around, so they bought it, complete with the memories of having their first two children there.
“What a fluke!” she says.
Tracey says the shift will mark the next stage in their lives.
“We’re looking forward to walking down the road and getting a cup of coffee without worrying about running children to their activities or leaving them at home alone. But we will, of course, be sad to leave behind the friends and relationships we have here.”
Tracey, now 54, first took a step into the political arena when she stood unsuccessfully for NZ First in 2008. At the time, her Warkworth home was the party’s headquarters.
When Auckland Council formed, she stood for the inaugural Rodney Local Board to practice campaigning, never expecting to be elected.
She served one three-year term and describes the experience as “good grounding for Parliament”.
“I discovered my skill was asking really blunt questions and filtering between the official bullshit to get to the truth. And that stood me in very good stead when I sat on Select Committees.
“There is still an enormous lack of understanding among most politicians in Wellington about the structure of Auckland so my experience was valuable. Personally, I think if we could empower the local boards more, Auckland would work better.”
For the past year in government, Tracey has been working hard behind the scenes. She has been involved in designing a new model for how NZ cares for its children, collaborating with the Prime Minister on a Child & Youth Wellbeing Strategy, which will be released at the end of this year, and working with Education Minister Chris Hipkins on a 30-year strategic vision.
“It’s changed the whole way we talk about education. We’ve shifted from a risk analysis, national standards and NCEA level 2 approach to recognising that actually, a successful student is one who can go out into the world with confidence.
“The goal is that every student, whether they are academic or not, will feel valued and will know that we see them as a success. This will mean less young people coming into oranga tamariki, less going into youth justice and less youth suicide.”
Tracey says although she understands that under the ‘first past the post’ electoral system, she would never have been elected to represent Rodney, she still feels disappointed that she didn’t get the chance.
“No reflection on Mark (Mitchell), but I reckon I would have done a good job.”
Her parting words to Warkworth were to be vigilant during the current Warkworth Structure Plan process.
“Council is far away and, quite frankly, I haven’t seen anything to suggest that they care at all about how Warkworth and the surrounding area develops, apart from the fact that they want it to develop.
“So the community has to participate in the planning process, get behind the Spatial Plan working group and keep their voices out there so that Council knows what Warkworth wants for this area.
“We are getting the city challenges – poverty and the drugs – without the services because Warkworth is still seen as wealthy and white.”
Tracey and Ben leave on December 8, but she will maintain her Warkworth office over the next two years, visiting once a month to catch up with Rodney issues and advocate for the people in this area.