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"Mush stronger": Ousted Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker

By PHILIP CHANDLER

Local Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker, forced to resign last month after leaking Covid-19 patient details, says he’s come out of it ‘‘a much stronger person’’.

In his first print media interview, the Queenstowner, who leaves politics at October’s
general election after only one term, won’t discuss last month’s drama with Mountain Scene, but says he was right to ‘fess up about the leak to then-National Party leader Todd Muller.

‘‘Had I not done that I would have got away with it, but I think the right thing to do was to ‘fess up, own it, learn and move on.

‘‘End of the day, I got the wrong advice and I’m the one that has to be held accountable
for that.

‘‘We’re all human, we make mistakes along the way and I owned it — that’s the values I live by.’’

Walker told an inquiry he released the patients’ details to three media outlets to deny
allegations he was racist for putting out a press release revealing Covid-19 cases were
coming to the South from India, Pakistan and Korea.

‘‘Out of adversity,’’ he tells Scene, ‘‘comes opportunity to grow as a person, and I’m
certainly much stronger.’’

After taking leave and effectively going to ground for two weeks after his July 8 resignation, Walker says for the following fortnight he had to convince people he wasn’t
standing again.

He estimates he had 1000-plus messages of support — ‘‘I would have had probably only half-a-dozen hate messages’’.

‘‘I had probably 20 emails from people and the first line would be, ‘I’m a staunch Labour Party supporter’ or ‘I’m anything but a National Party supporter, but I really appreciate what you’ve done’.

‘‘It’s quite humbling, to be honest, ‘cos you do give it your all for three years — [I’m] definitely not your average politician.’’

Walker, who’s represented New Zealand’s largest general electorate, says he’s enjoying
more family time with his wife, Penny, and baby daughter, Victoria.

‘‘I was working 100 hours a week, working tooth-and-nail, some months I’d only be home
five nights.

‘‘Latterly I’ve only been doing sort of two nights a week [away from home].

‘‘The other night I sat down with my daughter for half an hour and fed her dinner — that was the first time I’d done that in five months.’’

He’s enjoying the prospect of working three or four more weeks in the electorate, now the
election’s been postponed a month.

Issues he’s leaving unresolved, he says, include reversing the Labour-led government’s foreign buyer ban, improving Queenstown’s mental health services and resolving more immigration cases, like that of local Scottish caregiver Lana McLuskey.

‘‘As of about a week ago, the Minister [of Immigration] packed up and said, ‘no more decisions till after the election’.’’

He remains frustrated Queenstown’s Lake Hayes Estate/Shotover Country still aren’t
eligible for the accommodation supplement.

He’d also like Queenstown to have a full-blown community trust-owned hospital, but says
‘‘we’re halfway there now’’ with a private hospital underway that’ll include publicly-funded operations.

And he’d like to see tourism move from a volume focus to ‘‘high-value’’.

‘‘One great aspect’’ of him leaving, he says, is he thinks his National Party successor, Joseph Mooney, will make a great MP.

As for his own future, he’s staying in Queenstown, which he moved to from South Otago last year, and says he’s been offered ‘‘a few opportunities’’.

‘‘I’m a people’s person so it’s going to be something to do with people.

‘‘I’m currently looking at some sort of business, something for myself — I’ll make a call over the next few weeks.’’

He’ll also join some community organisations, and has signed up for Paradise Trust’s
volunteer day next month.

He’s adamant Queenstown will emerge from the Covid-19 crisis an even more attractive place to move to.

‘‘I’m Queenstown’s biggest salesperson.

‘‘We have a unique and strategic advantage because we literally live in the most beautiful part of the world, with the most generous, kind, community-spirited people.’’

scoop@scene.co.nz