Welcome to My Net Worth, our regular column on the lives and motivations of our country’s top business, legal and political people in their own words.
Kiritapu Lyndsay Allan (Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāti Tūwharetoa) is the Minister of Conservation and Emergency Management and Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage and the Environment. She was born in Te Karaka, inland from Gisborne, into a family of 10 children but was raised in the Bay of Plenty. Having left school at 16, she later went to Victoria University of Wellington and graduated with a law degree. During her tertiary studies, she interned in the Beehive for then prime minister Helen Clark. Before entering Parliament in 2017 as a Labour list MP, she managed a large agriculture and horticulture portfolio on the East Coast, and also practised commercial and public law. In 2020, after capturing the East Coast seat from the National Party with a majority of 6331 votes, she was elevated to the cabinet. In April, she announced she had stage-three cervical cancer and would be taking medical leave from Parliament. She is now back at work.
I grew up in a little place called Paengaroa, which is on the west of the East Coast and Bay of Plenty boundary. I went to a school that had about 36 people in it. I was a country kid. Dairy was a big part of my upbringing; I milked the cows and did all the fun stuff.
Dad was the first general manager of the Comvita factory. Mum worked at a rest home as a cook and cleaner. When I was about 15, Mum went off to university and got a degree in counselling.
I got my IRD number when I was about five and my first job was stuffing lozenge boxes. When I left school at 16, one of my first jobs was driving around the country in our station wagons scraping propolis from beehives. I hitchhiked a lot and got a really good feel for what the values of New Zealanders were over that period. That couple of years was more influential than the five years I spent at university.
My parents were big on hard work and on service to your community. I had to quantify my income into three portions – spending, saving and tithing – and you could work out what you wanted to give service to in terms of your time.
I was 18 when I went to Victoria University to study law and politics. I joined the Labour Party and ended up interning on the eighth floor of the Beehive by the end of my first year. That gave me a little bit of an insight into how the Executive makes decisions – how you can be striving towards principles but the politics of the day get in the way.
I really admired Michael Cullen, particularly when it came to the politics of politics. Long-term systemic reform is fundamental but can be really challenging for many politicians, but he was a real mastermind.
The East Coast needed a candidate. We were polling pretty low in the polls and I thought, ‘as long as I don’t get in this term’, because my then wife and I were having a baby. And then all of a sudden Jacinda became the party leader and I was sitting at number 21 on the Labour list.
I don’t know if I’ll be in this role long term. You do what you can while you are here, and when I am no longer effective, there will be someone who is better who can take the role. The best thing would be to see a new wave of people have fire in their belly, so let them take over the reins.
I love work and I love my home life. I have one child with my ex-wife, who’s my best friend. My partner has got one child, so we have a mixed-up family of our two. We plan a lot. Everyone who loves me knows that this is what I do and has accommodated for it. We make sure that when we have family time, it’s really quality time.
My cancer diagnosis taught me that every day you are alive, it’s a bloody blessing. Be proud of the things that you do while you are here. While you have the ball, run, and run hard. My treatment and recovery have gone well. But now I get tested ever six months. It’s just a state of monitoring but I am not going to sit around and wait to die.
I think it was really important for me to be public about my diagnosis as I’m very much the quintessential type who falls through the cracks because we don’t prioritise our health for a whole myriad of reasons.
One of the most valuable things I own is a beautiful taonga that I got when I was going through cancer. That and a couple of pieces of artwork that I love, they ground me.
My splurges are mostly all on my daughter. I took her away for a couple of days over the parliamentary recess and just spent a lot of time in various pools. My own splurges are usually on suits.
My best advice is to follow your instincts. Keep your feet on the ground. Have a really good, clear sense of principle. Things will fly at you left, right and centre but know yourself and stay the path.
As told to Rebecca Howard.
This interview has been edited for clarity.