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Who is Barbara Edmonds, Labour’s hope for future finance minister?

Derek Cheng,
Publish Date
Tue, 20 Feb 2024, 4:24PM

Who is Barbara Edmonds, Labour’s hope for future finance minister?

Derek Cheng,
Publish Date
Tue, 20 Feb 2024, 4:24PM

The MP stepping into Grant Robertson’s finance shoes was born in Auckland to Samoan immigrants, has eight kids and is a strong advocate for affordable housing, better workers’ conditions, and access to healthcare and education.

Barbara Edmonds is also known as a problem-solver, working on the small business and tax relief packages during the Covid pandemic while an adviser in then Cabinet Minister Stuart Nash’s office.

She was also part of the small team who had two days in 2019 to review and recommend changes to firearms laws following then-Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s promise to change them after the Christchurch terror attack. This eventually resulted in a ban on military-style semi-automatic guns and the establishment of a firearms registry, among other things.

She had previously been a tax lawyer before working as an adviser to Revenue Ministers Michael Woodhouse and Judith Collins under the National-led Government in 2016 and 2017.

She then moved from an apolitical role to a political one, moving to Nash’s office and negotiating with NZ First and the Greens so Nash’s policy papers arrived smoothly to the Cabinet table.

Born as Rachael Fati Poe, Edmonds took her mother’s first name, Palepa (Barbara), on her fifth birthday, which was the day her mother was buried after dying of cancer when she was just 35 years old.

Her father stressed the importance of education, and she attended Carmel College on the North Shore before studying law. She already had four of her and husband Chris Edmonds’ eight children when they moved from Auckland to Porirua so she could take up a job offer at the Inland Revenue Department.

She entered Parliament in 2020 after winning 62 per cent of the vote in the seat of Mana, which is 21.1 per cent Pacific, 20 per cent Māori and 25 per cent overseas-born.

She was immediately touted for a big career in politics, and became chairwoman of the finance and expenditure committee before being promoted to Cabinet in January 2023, with the Internal Affairs, Pacific Peoples, Associate Health (Pacific Peoples) and Associate Housing portfolios. Associate Cyclone Recovery was added a month later.

Economic Development was then added after Nash was sacked, Revenue after David Parker quit the portfolio, and Associate Finance after Kiri Allan resigned.

Edmonds retained the seat of Mana last year, winning 49 per cent of the candidate vote, and is now Labour’s hope for a future Finance Minister.

Robertson, in announcing his retirement from politics, spoke highly of Edmonds.

“Barb can add up. She knows numbers. She’s a tax lawyer. She used to work for Inland Revenue,” he said.

“Secondly, she is deeply rooted in her communities. Her upbringing and the Mana electorate that she represents are the very people who governments need to look out for.

“And thirdly, Barb has got a real ability to look through the crap. I think she is somebody who’s going to be able to really take it to the Government.”

Derek Cheng is a senior journalist who started at the Herald in 2004. He has worked several stints in the press gallery and is a former deputy political editor.

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