Youth MP inspired by Bennett

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Advance Ashburton Community Foundation executive officer Sandi Wood, Property Brokers Ashburton realtor Kirsty Clay, Rangitata MP Andrew Falloon, National Party deputy leader Paula Bennett and Rangitata Youth MP Phoebe Scarsbrook at a Women in Business breakfast event at the Hotel Ashburton.

By Toni Williams

Rangitata Youth MP Phoebe Scarsbrook has been inspired to continue in politics after meeting National Party deputy leader Paula Bennett.

Ms Bennett was guest speaker at a Women in Business breakfast event, hosted by Rangitata MP Andrew Falloon, at the Hotel Ashburton.

It was part of her whirlwind 24-hour visit to Ashburton where she visited staff at Ministry of Social Development (formerly Work and Income New Zealand), Ashburton Community Alcohol and Drug Service (ACADS) and Community House Mid Canterbury.

The breakfast was attended by around 56 women from a variety of businesses around the district.

It was the first time Phoebe, a Roncalli College Year 12 student, had met and heard the opposition deputy leader speak in person since being appointed to the Rangitata Youth MP role.

Ms Bennett, who holds the National Party spokesperson roles for women, social investment and social services and drug reform, talked about her life, her struggles, empowerment and finding love.

From the choices she made as a teenage single mother working two jobs to make ends meet, through to a change in circumstances – and personal thinking – that led her to move ;from Taupo to Auckland at age 22 to start afresh, then ultimately to university at 25, before dipping her toes into politics more than 14 years ago.

In a candid answer to the question, did she want to be party leader, she said she was unlikely to step into the top job in the National Party.

“I no longer have the burning desire (to be leader). I genuinely looked at it and thought ‘what’s best for me and my family?’ ”

She said the level of security and pressure was better in her role.

Now, at 50 – and noticeably 50kg lighter (which she also mentioned) thanks to highly publicised gastric lap-band operation – and having married the love of her life (Alan Philips) eight years ago, the ;grandmother of five said life was about “taking chances and always having a plan B”.

As a youth she was always “on the edge of serious trouble”, she said.

There were “certainly dark times for me, and certainly some struggles, inching in and out.”

“I always knew that only I could change my life.

“And I do think if there was perhaps a moment…it was the day I finally decided to forgive myself and decided I couldn’t actually change what I had done, all I could actually change was what I do.”

It freed her and allowed her to change past patterns.

It was a major step to take risks, the first was getting off the single parent benefit, but after that the steps ;kept going, she said.

Politics was another foray she only took up because she had a plan B – a house in Mt Eden.

She had a job she loved in recruitment and human resources in Auckland, but was asked to stand for Parliament – she got in.

“I wouldn’t have done that, if I didn’t own that place at Mt Eden.

“It doesn’t have to be property,” she said, “but we, as women, do have a role to look after ourselves.

“Be brave, take risks and really go for it. I’ve always gone ‘where I fall is not the worst place, so why not leap’. And I reckon it makes you brave and I reckon it makes you sort of step out there.”

They were uplifting words for many, including 16 year old Phoebe, inspired to continue in politics and set up a Rangitata Youth Council.