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Icons of The West – Rt Hon Jonathan Hunt ONZ

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He was known as the Minister of Wine and Cheese and was the MP for New Lynn for 30 years. He was also known for a while as the Father of The House and was a Minister of numerous portfolios in different Labour Governments. But, what Rt Hon Jonathan Lucas Hunt ONZM deserves great recognition for, is being the man who made it possible for adopted children to find their birth parents and vice versa.

By the middle of last century, social pressure was building for a law change to make it possible for adult adoptees and birth parents to be allowed to find each other. In 1985 Jonathan Hunt helped to change the unintentionally cruel world in which some women felt that they had no choice but to give up their babies for adoption, and then were unable to see their child ever again.

It didn’t come without a struggle, a struggle that was led in Parliament by the MP for New Lynn, Jonathan Lucas Hunt, who first introduced the Adult Adoption Information Act as a private member’s bill in 1978.

“I had about eight or nine goes at it,” he said later. “Sometimes that is not a bad thing, because I finally got the bill right and very little amendment to the Act has been needed since that time. The then Prime Minister, Sir Robert Muldoon, said one night: “You’ll never get a vote while I’m Prime Minister.”

However, as soon as Muldoon was swept from power in late 1984, Jonathan Hunt leapt straight in yet again. “I had to get another member, Fran Wilde, to introduce it on my behalf, because by then I was a Minister,” Mr Hunt said noting that eventually, the new law passed easily.

It seems inconceivable now that such a world existed.

In the world of intersecting lives so typical of New Zealand he lived at Karekare on the west coast, not a stone’s throw from former Waitakere Mayor Sir Bob Harvey. Sir Bob, an adoptee, found his birth mother after the Act was passed and came to thank the MP. Mr Hunt told him: ‘I’ve done that for you, now you’ve got to stand for mayor of Waitakere’.”

It may have planted a seed because in 1992 Bob did exactly that and remained in office until Waitakere was amalgamated into the Supercity. Along the way Bob and his council were able to turn one of Jonathan Hunt’s biggest regrets into a triumph.

He told Parliament at his retirement: “I regret not being able to pass a bill to protect the Waitakere Range and foothills. I tried in 1973. I am unashamedly a “Westie” who lived out there for 30 years, and I think the Waitakere Ranges is amongst the finest of its type in the world.” He was also a patron of The Waitakere Ranges Protection Society.

Thirty five years after his failed attempt, and three years after he finally retired from Parliament, that regret turned to triumph when the proud Westies on the Waitakere City Council finally pushed for and won, the Waitakere Ranges Protection Act.

Having earned his BA in history at Auckland University, been a history teacher at Kelston Boys High School and a University Lecturer, Jonathan Hunt was first elected to Parliament in 1966, as MP for New Lynn. It was an electorate he was to represent for the next 30 years, until moving to the List in 1996. When he arrived in Parliament he was one of the youngest MPs, when he left he was the longest serving.

In 1989, then Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer had him made a Privy Councillor and 10 years later he became the Speaker of the House, serving in that role until his retirement six years later.

A lover of the arts and all things cultural, not least his wine, Jonathan Hunt knew that he was nicknamed the Minister of Wine and Cheese, typically turning it to his advantage by saying he was proud to be a champion of the wine industry, a very large part of which had its origins in West Auckland.

In 2005, he achieved the double accolade of being named as New Zealand’s High Commissioner to London, and receiving his country’s highest honour, the Order of New Zealand.