Members Spotlight | Reflections

We reflect on our achievements through our journey, ambitions and the people who helped us.

Sharing her story of reflections is member Hon Lianne Dalziel.

Immerse into her world and be inspired.

Hon Lianne Dalziel, CNZM, Former Mayer of Christchurch

Lianne Dalziel is very humble about her major accomplishments in Government and as the Mayor of Christchurch, a role she meteorically rose to following the Christchurch earthquakes because of the faith voters had in her capabilities to reshape and lead the city.  While on holiday in London, Lianne shared her story with us.

You were born and raised in Ōtautahi, graduated from the University of Canterbury with a Law degree and at the age of 30 entered Parliament as a Labour Party MP.  Who were the influencers, mentors or role models who set you on this journey?

“While I was studying law, I was working part time with the Hotel & Hospital Workers’ Union and, as a result of this, became involved with the Labour Party.  I had no real ambition to go into politics – I was more interested in the industrial wing of the Labour movement, but I was nominated and elected in 1990.  Mike Moore had taken over as Prime Minister and Geoffrey Palmer had stepped down as the candidate for Christchurch Central. I was persuaded to run in his place. A very hotly contested selection meeting saw me announced as the candidate on 19 September 1990 (Women’s Suffrage Day!) On 27th October I was elected in the shortest campaign ever run!

An amazing woman, Hilary Brown, who had just retired from the union movement was extremely helpful to me and became one of my campaign managers.  I’d been brought up to not sing my praises, so Hilary had to write down positive things about why I should be elected.  I’ve suffered from “impostor syndrome” all my life, but she helped me to cast my candidacy in a positive way.

I remember hearing Ken Douglas speak when he was the Secretary of the Federation of Labour. He talked about the importance of seeing the road ahead, while keeping your eyes on the rear vision mirror. This was great advice for life. Things that have happened in the past will come back to haunt you if you don’t reflect on them. This strongly influenced me.

I also grew up in a generation where not every woman was encouraged to get an education, but my parents expected all of their kids to go to university.  I remain eternally grateful to them. I was the first to study law, which has been a great qualification to support my parliamentary and council roles.”

Your prestigious Parliamentary career continued with many appointments and portfolios.  Please tell us about your triumphs and roadblocks and provide any advice for women seeking political or “corner office” careers.

“I felt that with all of my portfolios my favorite combination was when I was Minister of Commerce, Small Business and Women’s Affairs at the same time.  It was such a brilliant combination that opened up so many opportunities to meet with women’s organisations locally and internationally.

We had a very strong Prime Minister in Helen Clark which meant that when I was going to see her about a policy matter, I needed to know everything about the topic. Helen was incredibly open to having those conversations if you’d done your homework.  We were lucky to have her as our leader.”

Was it your appointment as spokesperson for the Christchurch Earthquake Recovery that sparked your aspiration to run for the mayoralty?

“Back in 2010, Jim Anderton was running for Mayor and was well ahead in the polls, then the earthquakes hit, and the incumbent was re-elected. So, when it came to the 2013 Council elections, I was the one who was approached and asked to run. I took a lot of persuading, but in the end, I was quite excited by the possibilities that building the newest city offered.

I was the MP for an electorate – Christchurch East – that was really hard hit by the earthquakes.  I didn’t know a lot about earthquakes or recovery, so when they occurred that started me on wanting to understand everything that I could about the science, what had happened to the land, and the process of recovery. I read every article and book I could, met with practitioners and researchers, and I went to conferences.  If an interesting speaker was coming to New Zealand, I would contact the organisers to see if I could come and listen. While in Brisbane, I met with members of the Queensland Reconstruction Authority, set up after the floods in 2011. I learnt a lot about the importance of depoliticizing the environment, engaging the community and sharing decision-making for recovery to take place. I called this my journey of discovery, and it really helped me understand what needed to be done.”

You became the 46th Mayor of Christchurch in 2013 an office you held until 2022.  What were your major learning curves during this period?

“People think you have more power as Mayor than you have, but you get only one vote. I ran independently because I felt it was more important to stand up as Mayor and speak on behalf of the city.  Christchurch was different from other councils because a cost sharing agreement signed with the government before I was elected had committed the city to vast sums of expenditure for rebuilding new facilities.  The insurance claims hadn’t been settled and the budget had hidden a $400 million hole. It was debilitating to come in with a sense of enthusiasm to make a difference, to find there were all these pitfalls.

However, there were highlights!  Before I became the Mayor, I knew that The Rockefeller Foundation was calling for expressions of interest for a 100 Resilient Cities network. I contacted the previous mayor, Bob Parker, to submit an Expression of Interest. The first thing I did as Mayor was to sign an application to become one of the first members of the network. Many cities applied, and we were the smallest, but we fitted the bill. So, we became a part of a collaborative that was designed to support cities around the world to focus on resilience broadly across silos. This put Christchurch as a small city on the world map that fell neatly into the space of future-thinking and the effects of climate change.

We began establishing new ways of doing things.  One of the challenges we had in front of us was our rental/social housing.  After the government, Christchurch is the second largest housing provider in New Zealand.  We should be really proud of what has been a decades-long commitment. But we needed to upgrade our social housing and build more. We couldn’t get access to the government’s income-related rental subsidy, so we decided to set up a housing trust which could access the subsidy for future tenants. It provided much more financial security, and things have been moving forward ever since the Ōtautahi Community Housing Trust was established.

Even though the motive might have been the rental subsidy, I would do the same again in a flash because now we have a dedicated trust, and the quality of housing continues to improve.

There was no mechanism for philanthropists and donors to give to the city as a location – there are plenty of philanthropic trusts, but not specifically for the city, so we established the Christchurch Foundation and funded it for the first six years, so all the money it raised could be passed through without an administrative cost.

On 15 March 2019 when the terror attacks on two city mosques occurred, I contacted the Christchurch Foundation and asked them to set up a fund; there were a lot of people around the world who want to donate. Within 36 hours we had a fund, Our People Our City, which the Prime Minister and I were both able to endorse.

After the earthquakes, there was no such organisation, so the government set up the Canterbury Earthquake Appeal Trust.  Once it had distributed all the funds, it was dis-established.  Now with the Foundation, we have an ongoing organisation supported by our generous donors. A range of Funds have been established that support, for example the Kate Sheppard Women’s Fund, supporting women who are contributing to the city in different ways, Women in Sport, Inclusivity in Sport, the Rainbow Fund, and the Tūī Corridor Project, which funds the planting of trees to encourage tuis back into city. It is very much donor-led.

We also approached resilience differently as a city.  The thing that pleased me the most was when the Council was not the one doing the work but were instead providing the funding or the support so that the community could do things for themselves. One great example is the Governor’s Bay jetty. Residents asked the Council to fix the jetty, so we sold the jetty to the community for $1.  The work is almost complete, and they will be in a position to formally open the jetty in 2023. It’s going to be stunning and has brought the whole community together through contributions powered by community-building.”

You were appointed a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2023. What does this recognition mean to you?

“One of the things that I have been acknowledged for is always being an advocate for the Aranui community. My husband, Rob Davidson, became the chair of the Aranui Trust when it was established 20+ years ago and was there till the day he died.  Rob was absolutely committed to it, so I feel that this recognition is for him too.  That makes the honour more meaningful for me.”

When and why did you join Global Women, and where do you consider our organization stands in regard to progressing women in Aotearoa New Zealand?

“I mentioned that I attended one of the inaugural meetings before Global Women was established, and I also attended the launch.  I spoke to one of the women there who asked if I was a member. I said no, and she said she wasn’t either, so we both decided we’d better find out if we could join!  I believed in it right from the start!  The time had come for us to have a uniquely New Zealand voice for women that would connect globally.  I am a great believer in global connections and networks.  I’m impressed with the work that the organisation has done, particularly with the Breakthrough Women Leaders programme.  I keep meeting incredible women who have graduated from it.   And, of course, I’m looking forward to the next Global Women’s Hui when the date is set for 2024.”

What does the future hold for you?

“I don’t actually know, but I may write a book.  Currently I am writing a fortnightly online column for Newsroom:

I write about a range of policy and topical issues as they arise. I actually love writing.

In closing, what I’ve really enjoyed about Global Women recently (and I’ve been to a number of the Hui and have found them exhilarating) is meeting amazing women who I wouldn’t have met if it wasn’t for GW.  Our paths may not have crossed. This highlights the value of networks.

I’m now a global director of the Resilience Cities Network board. If we don’t learn the lessons of our experience and don’t teach them to others, then we are condemned to repeat the mistakes that we’ve made and don’t get to gain the benefits of learning from the positive.  It comes back to the importance of keeping an eye on the rear vision mirror, a lesson I learnt all those years ago.

Author, Douglas Adams said: ‘Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so. This is why I think networks are so important – to teach others and learn from each other.  We can change the future and take on some of the incredible challenges we have yet to face.“

Thank you, Lianne Dalziel, for your dedicated service to Government and to the City of Christchurch!

All interviews and stories written by our Editor in Residence, Jenni Prisk (Global Women Member)