Just over a year ago, Angie Warren-Clark wasn’t even a member of the New Zealand Labour Party.
Now the former manager of Tauranga Women’s Refuge is in parliament as one of five MPs from three parties based in Tauranga.
She says when she ran in the strongly-National seat of Bay of Plenty she didn’t expect to get into parliament.
“My plan was to run just to get known by the party, in preparation for 2020,” she says.
“So becoming an MP was a surprise – although when the list was finalised, I thought there could be a possibility.”
Although she only joined the party formally in November 2016, Angie says the Labour Party has always resonated with her.
“Refuge hadn’t had a pay increase for nine years, despite a massive increase in clientele,” she says, outlining one of the reasons she decided to run.
“I was also forced to evict families from the safe house who had nowhere to stay due our housing crisis.”
She initially ran against Merivale School principal Jan Tinetti for the Tauranga candidacy, which went to the former educator.
“It was pretty intense, but I didn’t feel like I’d lost. Jan was the right person for that role,” says Angie, who is now good friends with her other Tauranga-based caucus colleague.
Campaigning was difficult to begin with as Angie had to juggle her full-time job as manager of the refuge with electioneering. She took annual leave in the final weeks of the campaign so she could focus solely on politics.
“It was great to get out in the community. We did a lot of door-knocking, and it helped to work so closely with Jan and Tamati Coffey [Labour candidate for Waiariki].”
Her biggest success has been increasing the party vote for Labour in the Bay of Plenty electorate, up from 13 per cent in 2014 to 25 per cent in 2017 – more than 10,000 votes.
Now, as an MP, she’s sharing an office with Jan and Tamati, has a new executive assistant, and is looking to run mobile clinics around the Bay of Plenty electorate to meet with constituents.
“It’s been a steep learning curve, but thankfully I’ve worked in government before, so I know the bureaucracy and structures to some extent,” she says.
“I have pretty diverse interests. I’m on the health and environment select committees at the moment, and as a feminist woman I’m interested in how health affects women and children. Living in Papamoa, I’m also strongly interested in the environmental status of the sea.”
Prior to becoming an MP, Angie worked for around 15 years in the field of domestic violence, first as an advisor for the Ministry of Justice, and then at Women’s Refuge. Before that, she worked voluntarily in the sector.
She explains her interest as stemming from a childhood growing up with violence in her own family.
“There’s an alternative though,” she says. “I believe families can transform and change, and everyone can raise children without violence.”
At the moment she lives in Papamoa with her husband Blair, only a couple hundred metres from the beach. Their adult children live overseas in Australia, so this summer will be all about getting away.
“We’re planning on taking the boat down to the East Cape, out of cellphone coverage,” says Angie.
“We’ll do some camping, fishing, and diving – just a nice, relaxing time."