Listener profile of Tim Groser

Guyon Espiner did a profile of Tim Groser in February 2014 for The Listener. Is rather topical, and an interesting read.

would make an abominable electorate MP. He’s pedantic and a little pompous. He’s impatient and a little patronising. He’s a great talker, but not a great listener. There’s no way in hell you’d ask him for help in a fight with your neighbour over a cross-lease or a tax dispute with Inland Revenue.

But Groser is very good at being Trade Minister and that is one of the very good things about MMP. Having spent much of his life in foreign affairs and trade, he was perfect for the job. Thanks to MMP, National parachuted him in on the list, so he sits in Cabinet, a politician who doesn’t like to play politics, an MP who wouldn’t dream of taking on the wearisome burden of trying to win an electorate.

Tim is not alone there.

And now he is quitting politics, or at least planning his exit. “I definitely won’t stand in the 2017 election – I mean definitely.” Why not? “Because I want to learn the piano,” he says. He’s not joking. Groser comes from a family of actors and musicians. He inherited a grand piano on the death of his grandmother, a concert pianist. “I was a reasonably serious guitarist – not really good, but not bad,” he says reflecting on his time touring with forgotten pub bands. “I have one unfulfilled ambition in life: to become a competent jazz pianist and I cannot leave it too long.”

From minister to musician – I like it. I suspect Ambassador in between.

After three years as a negotiator on the CER agreement, he was appointed foreign affairs adviser to Rob Muldoon, in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. “The idea of being foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Muldoon was a joke – especially if you were 32. But I ended up writing his key speeches.”

He describes Muldoon as “the most terrifying man I have ever met”, and says later in his career, he’d travel the world telling people he wasn’t frightened of anyone. “People would say, that’s just bluffing. I’d say, ‘No, no, no, it’s not bluffing, mate. I have worked with a man who is much scarier.”

So say us all.

The Labour Government of the day wasn’t impressed that such a senior and respected official was jumping ship for Don Brash’s National Party. Helen Clark made no secret of her displeasure. “She still knew my past, she thought I was one of theirs,” Groser says. “I had started off on the left, inspired by the 1960s politics: Vietnam and the anti-apartheid movement and Hart and all that stuff. If you weren’t responsive to that as an 18-year-old in New Zealand – sorry, you were a very different person to me.”

He moved to the right – or towards the centre, as he prefers it. It wasn’t a gradual shift but a rapid one based on two things: “One was studying economics and the other, paradoxically, was visiting China in 1972 and the combination of the two, in about a year, made me rethink entirely my then strong commitment to far-left-wing solutions.”

A number of politicians on the right started off on the hard left. They saw the light!


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