Let’s talk about tax.
Or more particularly let’s talk about one of our own. Deborah Russell – tax academic – who has recently put herself forward to become the Labour MP for New Lynn following David Cunliffe’s resignation from Parliament.
I first met Deborah in early 2005 when she joined Inland Revenue policy. Before she started there was discussion of her two unusual features. She had a PhD and – at that time – didn’t know anything about tax.
A month or two later I was at meeting which Deborah and her manager attended. I can’t remember the point of that meeting but in it Deborah had to give a short outline of what she was working on – an FBT issue I think. In her two minutes she suscinctly and crisply nailed the point of the FBT rules, the current problem that needed fixing and the technical solution. Now tax peeps we all know how hard it is strip away the detail and simply convey the key messages and Deborah – ‘who didn’t know anything about tax’ – was doing that from almost the first day she started working in tax.
I also particularly remember the blissed out look on her manager’s face while she was talking. He couldn’t believe his luck. He had won the pools with her.
She became a well regarded member of the division as much for her intelligence and work rate as her good humour and willingness to help her colleagues – professionally as well as personally. All while she was the mother of quite young children herself. She had a number of unglamorous projects including creating a tax expenditure for bloodstock which would stick in the craw of any tax person – but she got on with it and made sure it was done properly.
In 2014 following a stint in Adelaide and having moved to Massey where she teaches incipient CAs tax (bless you) she stood for Labour in the safe National seat of Rangitikei. Again an unglamorous job but a necessary one for the Labour Party.
In the last year or two she has become the media’s go to person when they want sensible comment on tax. Impressively even though she is a Labour Party activist she has always been able to explain the issues in clear politically neutral way. Just like she did in that first meeting in 2005.
I know Deborah also and think she would be an excellent MP, even if I disagree on some policies with her. If Labour wants a candidate who would be a good MP and even better Minister, they should select Deborah. They need candidates with credibility on economic and business policy issues such as tax.