Holly Walker

Holly Walker

Green star on the horizon

Holly Walker, the second-youngest MP in Parliament, is widely regarded as one of the Green Party’s future stars. Political Reporter Callum Fredric met up with her for an organic lemonade and a chat about her experiences as Critic Editor, Rhodes Scholar, and first-term MP.

Your early life story gives John Key a run for his money…
Yeah I guess it’s relevant to why I’ve ended up in politics. My mum found herself on her own with me when I was a baby, and she had the support of the welfare state in the proud NZ tradition. So I feel very strongly about maintaining those things for children growing up now.

So you grew up in Lower Hutt before moving down to Dunedin…
Yeah, I was here for five years, four as a student and one as Critic Editor. I did combined Honours [English and Politics] and eventually went on to study Development Studies at a Masters level when I went to Oxford.
I went to Carrington in my first year which was fantastic. The best flat I lived in was on Cargill Street, it was a great all-girl, vegetarian, feminist collective.

Back in 2005 when you were Editor of Critic, you published a satirical how-to guide to drug rape. The article caused a lot of controversy and that week’s Critic was eventually banned. Thoughts on this, and the role of student media in 2012?
I kind of agreed with the reasoning about why it was a problematic article, but I think it probably shouldn’t have been banned. It is better to err on the side of freedom but with a really strong understanding of the responsibility that comes along with that. I’ve since come to think that if I had been the survivor of rape and I had read that article, I would have been extremely re-traumatised...
I’ve said that I think it was a mistake to publish that particular article the way that we did, but that doesn’t mean student media shouldn’t be in the business of pushing boundaries and breaking taboos. I just think it’s really important to have a defensible purpose.

North Dunedin street drinking ban – support or oppose?
To a certain extent I endorse the University’s approach towards alcohol because there is a huge binge drinking culture here and throughout NZ which is pretty harmful. Having said that, I’m not sure I endorse the punitive approach that has been taken, and it is a significant curtailing of students’ freedoms and lifestyle …
It might be that we don’t need the liquor ban, but that there are other things we can do that involve wider societal changes, like restricting alcohol advertising, raising the price, looking at opening hours, things that restrict availability, rather than slapping a ban in one place. The Green Party’s consistent that we shouldn’t be raising the drinking age to 20 – those binge-drinking harms are not just a student problem, they’re actually all ages, but probably more visible in a student centre because students do drink outdoors, and the harms manifest themselves in fires and riots. So we don’t support scapegoating young people for a problem that’s actually endemic to the whole population.

Hyde Street keg party – yay or nay?
Even as a student I tended to steer clear of those types of events. They can actually make it quite an unsafe, offputting and dangerous environment for a large numbers of other students. We need to make sure the campus is safe for all students, not just those who are drunk, rowdy and confident enough to take over the streets.

What’s your personal position on liberalising drugs?
The Green Party have always been in favour of decriminalisation of marijuana, and our whole approach to alcohol and drugs is about harm minimisation, actually looking at evidence about the harms and how we can use government regulation to minimise them.

Knox College is considering banning some of its oldest traditions…
I actually quite support some of the moves away from elitism. There’s been a significant minority of students who really enjoyed what Knox offered in terms of its traditional initiations and things like that, but quite a significant minority have found it incredibly affronting, unwelcoming and unsafe.

Hypothetical question: Which society would you prefer, one where everyone earns $50,000 per year, or one where half the people earn $70,000 and the other half earn $300,000?
I’d prefer the society where everybody earned $50,000, because all the research I’ve seen about income inequality suggests that the smaller those gaps are, the better we all do. Equality of income for me absolutely trumps [higher incomes but more inequality].

What about $50,000 for everyone versus $200,000 for half and $500,000 for the other half?
It’s about relativity. When we talk about poverty in NZ we’re talking about relative poverty, because even children who live in the poorest homes in NZ would not be necessarily in abject poverty if they were living in developing countries. It’s all relative. But that doesn’t mean the harms associated with it for those children are any less. So I think it doesn’t really matter how many zeros are on the end of the numbers, it’s about how we can close the gaps across the board.
This article first appeared in Issue 3, 2012.
Posted 6:37pm Sunday 11th March 2012 by Callum Fredric.