Whangārei MP shares passion for helping her community and region

Disclaimer: This article is sponsored by Emily Henderson MP, funded by Parliamentary Service.

MP for Whangārei, Labour’s Dr Emily Henderson has a burning ambition – to improve the lives of people in her community, especially the most deprived and vulnerable.

Henderson, 50, grew up in the northern city in the early 80s, having arrived from Wellington at the age of seven. “It’s a city that still feels it’s a small town and I love that about it,” she says. “The difference between when I grew up here and now is that over the intervening years Whangārei has not had the support it needed. There are huge issues with poverty and health problems and a heartbreaking loss of potential for young people.”

Becoming a lawyer was always going to be a likely career path. “My dad is a criminal lawyer and Family Court lawyer; my mum is a family therapist. Throughout my childhood, it’s always been about helping people and looking after the most vulnerable people.”

After completing her Masters at Auckland University, Henderson worked as a Family Court lawyer in Whangārei then did a PhD at Cambridge University, examining how criminal courts treat vulnerable people, especially child witnesses.

Back in New Zealand, she fulfilled a long-held ambition, becoming a crown prosecutor. Then in 2012, Henderson won the top award for legal academics, the International Research Fellowship from the New Zealand Law Foundation, the first practitioner and the first woman to do so.

The Fellowship sent Henderson, husband Thomas and their four young children back to Cambridge University in 2013 to work on another big research project. On her return, she worked with another Whangārei local, Judge Duncan Harvey, to develop special measures for child witnesses in criminal trials, which became the model for the Sexual Violence Court they then helped establish.

In 2020, back working on Family Court issues, Henderson was shoulder-tapped by the Labour Party to stand for Whangārei.

“I was watching young people struggle and the struggles of the families I was working with. It was just depressing, absolutely maddening, infuriating and incredibly sad.

“It often isn’t recognised but this town is actually one of the poorest in New Zealand. We have had years and years of neglect. At the time we had the oldest, dingiest, most broken hospital in the country. We have poor housing – we have had 30 to 40 years of quietly disintegrating. In that context, it seems really strange that we had to wait 45 years for a Labour MP to be elected here.”

Emily Henderson, left, with Labour MP Kelvin Davis, right, outside Whangārei Hospital.


Emily Henderson, left, with Labour MP Kelvin Davis, right, outside Whangārei Hospital.

“I used to say what Whangārei needs is a damn-good lawyer. I just made it my job to go out and be the lawyer for Whangārei. I won’t back down, and I advocate for the whole town.”

Henderson counts her first major achievement as helping get funding for the hospital. “That’s the thing I am currently proudest of. It’s also going to be a huge economic kickstart for Whangārei. It’s one of the biggest piece of infrastructure funding that we have had for generations.”

She’s enthusiastic about the potential to make Tai Tokerau a centre for renewable energy. “I’m excited about that. We may have lost the Refinery but there’s huge potential in Marsden, we have a great transmission line through to Auckland, wonderful solar potential, wind potential even before more high-tech stuff like hydrogen and the biofuels.”

An independent report into the social and economic potential of plans for growth at Northport says about 1,500 new jobs could be created in and around Marsden Point, in Whangārei and around the wider Northland region by expanding the container port.

“The flow-on effects are massive. It’s a high-value industry, historically we’ve been a centre for shipbuilding, and this is an opportunity to kickstart it again.” A proposed shipyard and floating drydock on the port’s western boundary could be the catalyst for another 1,135 new jobs in the area.

Funding better roads, rail, and coastal shipping are other priorities. “Again, we had so many years of neglect. The previous government flatlined road maintenance spending, so since coming into government, we have boosted it by nearly 50% to help bring our roads back up to scratch.”

“With climate change, we have a huge coastline to protect. I am really focused on not putting all our eggs in one basket. We have put $207 million into retooling our rail lines, so they can take containers, and we are funding rail to our port.

“Whangārei is an amazing place,” says Henderson. “My job is to highlight the opportunities, so we can unlock the potential, so our people can thrive.”

To contact Emily Henderson, call (09) 430 7922, message her on Facebook, attend a community meeting, or visit her electorate office at 66a Bank St, Whangārei.

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