Grant Murray Robertson (born 30 October 1971) is a New Zealand politician and Member of Parliament. He has represented the Labour Party in the seat of Wellington Central since the 2008 general election.
Robertson was elected Labour's deputy leader in 2011, under leader David Shearer. He contested the leadership of the party in a 2013 leadership election that was won by David Cunliffe, and was replaced as deputy leader by David Parker.
He is currently Labour's finance spokesperson.
Robertson was born in Palmerston North, the youngest of three boys. His Presbyterian family also lived in Hastings before settling in South Dunedin. His father was an accountant, and his mother initially stayed at home, later becoming a teacher. In 1991, his father was imprisoned after stealing around $120,000 from the law firm where he worked. His grandfather Bob Wilkie ran unsuccessfully for Labour in the Wairarapa electorate in 1954 and 1957.
Robertson attended King's High School in Dunedin, where he was head boy. He later studied political studies at the University of Otago, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts with honours in 1995. His honours dissertation studied the restructuring of the New Zealand University Students' Association in the 1980s. Robertson served as President of the Otago University Students' Association in 1993 and as Co-President of the New Zealand University Students' Association in 1996.
Robertson joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in 1997 after leaving university. His overseas postings included the United Nations in New York. Robertson also managed the NZ Overseas Aid Programme to Samoa – a $7.7 million fund with projects in diverse areas such as basic education, healthcare, public sector capacity building, small business development and the empowerment of women. He left MFAT in 2001.
Robertson returned to New Zealand during the first term of the Fifth Labour Government to work as a Ministerial advisor to Minister for the Environment Marian Hobbs and later Prime Minister Helen Clark. During his time in Clark's office, Robertson was rumoured to have the nickname "H3" during the 2005 general election (H1 being Clark, and H2 being Clark's Chief of Staff Heather Simpson).
After the 2005 election, Robertson left the Prime Minister's office to work as the Senior Research Marketing Manager for the University of Otago based at the Wellington School of Medicine.
Member of Parliament
Campaign for Wellington Central: 2008
|Parliament of New Zealand|
In late 2006, sitting MP for Wellington Central, Marian Hobbs announced that she would be retiring at the 2008 general election. Robertson was considered to be a front runner and was subsequently selected unopposed. Robertson ran a well-staffed campaign, based on local issues like the closure of the Crossways Community Centre and threats to the Public Service. He was also involved in the formation of a Wellington inner-city residents' association.
On 1 September 2008, the Labour Party published its list for the 2008 general election and ranked Robertson at number 46.
In the Wellington Central electorate, Robertson defeated National candidate, Stephen Franks by 1,904 votes. Robertson's plurality, although far less than the 6,180 vote difference held by his predecessor from the previous election, was a reflection of a large swing in party votes to the National Party from Labour in the electorate, and Robertson's status as a non-incumbent candidate.
First term in Parliament: 2008–2011
Robertson was appointed Labour's spokesperson for State Services, and associate spokesperson for Arts, Culture and Heritage and Foreign Affairs by Labour leader Phil Goff.
In May 2010 Robertson's Ethical Investment (Crown Financial Institutions) Bill was drawn from the member's ballot. According to Robertson, the Bill "sought to have clear and consistent criteria for ethical investment in the legislation that govern our major investment funds such as the Super Fund and ACC". Although the Bill gained support from MPs in the Green and Maori parties, the Bill was defeated at its first reading.
On 15 June 2010, Opposition Leader Phil Goff appointed Robertson to be Portfolio Spokesperson for Tertiary Education, in addition to taking the parliamentary second row and being promoted to number 20 in the line-up, the highest of the 2008 intake of Labour MPs to be promoted at that point. This was the first shadow cabinet reshuffle since Labour had lost the 2008 general election to National, as a result of the Ministerial Credit Card scandal involving three Labour MPs. In the election year reshuffle, on 2 February 2011, Robertson was further promoted to the front bench to take the Health portfolio. Commenting on the promotion, Phil Goff said that Robertson has "made a very strong impact in a very short time" and that he "has a promising future ahead of him".
At the 2011 general election, Robertson re-contested Wellington Central against eleven other candidates. He subsequently was re-elected with 49.2 percent of the electorate vote, increasing his majority to 6,376 over National Party candidate Paul Foster-Bell.
Second term: 2011–2014
Following the election and Annette King's resignation as party deputy leader, Robertson was elected by the Labour caucus as the new deputy leader under David Shearer. In Shearer's shadow Cabinet, Robertson also served as Spokesperson for Employment, Skills and Training, and Arts, Culture and Heritage. Following Shearer's resignation from the leadership in 2013, Robertson contested the party-wide leadership election. Although Robertson achieved the plurality support from his colleagues in Caucus, David Cunliffe garnered more support from party members and affiliates to win the overall vote.
Throughout 2014, Robertson was critical of National Party minister Judith Collins, after she was accused of having a conflict of interest in regards to her visiting the dairy products company Oravida in China. He repeatedly called for her to resign during the Oravida saga, and when Collins later released information to the media about One News journalist Katie Bradford, he reiterated his call for her to resign, claiming she had "lost all perspective".
Third term: 2014–
Robertson was re-elected in the Wellington Central electorate in the September 2014 general election. Immediately following the election Labour leader David Cunliffe came under pressure to resign following the party's poor performance in the election. He was seen by some in the party as taking insufficient blame for the defeat. The leading challengers for the leadership are Robertson and David Shearer. Media reports suggest that some of the Labour caucus were trying to get Cunliffe to resign so Robertson and Jacinda Ardern could replace the current leadership unopposed. On 26 September, the voting record in the previous leadership race of unions affiliated to Labour was released, showing Cunliffe had won very strong union support in the previous race, and highlighting the challenge for Robertson's bid.
On 28 September, after Cunliffe had signalled his intention to resign, Robertson put his name forward to run for the Labour Party leadership. Robertson pointed to Labour's poor performance in the election as leading him to run: "I couldn't stand by and see the party poll at 24 per cent and not do something now that David's triggered the contest. That's why I've put my name forward". He also argued that the Labour Party need unity, and he would be a unifying figure, with the support of most of the Labour caucus. Because there were four candidates for the leadership, the Labour Party held a leadership election.
Robertson lost the leadership election to Andrew Little by a small margin, Little receiving 50.52 per cent of the vote to Robertson's 49.48 per cent (after the votes from the other unsuccessful candidates had been reallocated) despite Robertson once again winning the support of most of the caucus, as well as a majority of the membership. After the results were announced, Robertson said he would not seek the Labour Party leadership again in the future.
In Andrew Little's shadow cabinet reshuffle of November 2014, Robertson received the Finance portfolio, and was ranked number 3 on the Labour list.
As part of his Finance portfolio, he is engaged in researching international economic policy, and is also responsible for the Labour Party's "Future of Work Commission". His aims for the portfolio are to cut down on the number of policies, and "humanise" the policy.
Robertson lives in Northland, Wellington, with his partner Alf, whom he met through playing rugby together for the Wellington-based Krazy Knights, New Zealand's first gay rugby team. After 10 years in a relationship, they held a civil union ceremony in January 2009.
In his maiden statement (given on 9 December 2008), Robertson alluded to his sexuality as a part, but not the whole, of his identity:
In a 2012 interview with Guyon Espiner, he hit out at the suggestion that being gay could prevent him from understanding the concerns of ordinary New Zealanders: