By GUY WILLIAMS
Joseph Mooney usually addresses juries for a living, but the National Party candidate for Southland will be addressing much bigger audiences over the next six weeks.
He’ll be speaking at a series of meet-the-candidates meetings across the vast electorate, whose audiences will be his judge and jury.
The 41-year-old trial lawyer, who’s lived in Queenstown with wife Silvia and their three kids for the past four years, was selected by the party last month as its last-minute replacement for disgraced MP Hamish Walker.
Billed by deputy leader Gerry Brownlee as an everyman from ‘‘struggle street’’, Mooney has a compelling story to tell about his ‘‘zero-privilege’’ childhood, leaving school without UE and working all kinds of jobs before heading to university in his late 20s.
But he also knows he’ll probably be fielding questions from people who can be forgiven for viewing political aspirants through jaundiced eyes right now, about the political pickles his party’s previous candidates in the seat got themselves into during their first terms.
‘‘Frankly, I can’t speak for anyone else,’’ Mooney says.
‘‘I can only say where I’m coming from, and it’ll be up to whoever’s listening to make of me what they will.’’
He’s in it for the right reasons, and he’ll be bringing a solid moral compass.
‘‘Anyone who knows how I operate in court would attest to that — I’m very principled.’’
Some might think a man from struggle street would gravitate towards the left of politics, but Mooney says he’s supported the Nats ever since casting his first vote at the age of 18.
He believes the party’s basic values — limited government, equality of opportunity and self-responsibility — mesh with his own life experience.
He remembers ‘‘hard times’’ growing up in the Hawke’s Bay in the 1980s.
‘‘I vividly remember not having food on the table at times.
‘‘Sometimes we had to pick blackberries — that was the only thing we could get.
‘‘My grandfathers on both sides were businessmen, and did well in their lives, but it didn’t translate through to the next generation.
‘‘No blame on anyone, that’s just the way life goes, sometimes.’’
A family tragedy, which he doesn’t want to go into, meant he left school without gaining UE.
He then spent most of his 20s working various jobs on both sides of the Tasman — from builder’s labourer to trainee rafting guide — before deciding to give university a crack.
Fast-forward to a few weeks ago, and a conversation Mooney had with his wife.
‘‘We were wondering what we could do to help, because it looks like there’s some really challenging times coming.’’
Should he win the safe National seat, he vows to do ‘‘everything I can’’ to make sure kids in the region don’t experience what he did as a child.
‘‘I love being a trial lawyer … but I figure I can help more folks being an advocate for the region than being an advocate in court.’’
That’s Mooney’s case closed — it’ll be up to the jury of Southland to determine his fate for the next three years.