27 Dec 2015

Meet the Newsmaker: Tim Groser

6:26 am on 27 December 2015

In our Newsmaker series, we talk to the people who are dominating the headlines. This week: New Zealand's new ambassador to the United States, Tim Groser.

Mr Groser, who is the former Trade Minister and Climate Change Minister, will replace Mike Moore.

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Photo: AFP

Mr Groser recently represented New Zealand in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations and climate change talks in Paris.

RNZ political reporter Amelia Langford spoke to Mr Groser about his career, plans for the future and whether he has any regrets.

Let's have a look over your career as a politician. What were the things that you felt most proud of?

I want to repeat what I always say on the issue of 'what are you proud of?' and I know it sounds very political to say it, but the the truth of the matter is that you can't achieve in life anything without support around you, from both above and below.

I don't think you can say in politics 'these are personal achievements'. I don't think there is such a thing as a personal achievement - all you can say is 'I've been part of something that I think is worthwhile'.

Now, on the trade side, obviously the main deal here is TPP. I think TPP will turn out to be transformational for New Zealand. I've got no doubt about that.

I just think that frankly this country would be bankrupt if we had not pursued opportunities for New Zealand. We would have been discriminated against, we would have lost our way, it would have been hopeless. So, TPP is a major achievement.

How difficult was it to get the TPP over the line?

Unbelievably difficult, as all trade negotiations are. I mean, that's why it took 17 years for heaven's sake. It's just that everybody has got different priorities, everybody's got their different sensitivities and there's always a good reason to say 'yes, but not yet'.

Getting people to say 'yes and now' is the art of the deal and that was enormously difficult to achieve.

You mentioned earlier that anybody that doesn't have regrets is an idiot. I'd agree with you there. So what regrets do you have from your time in Parliament?

I've got regrets mainly because there's a part of me that would have said 'I'd love to have carried on being Trade Minister and Climate Change Minister'. It was a great job, I reckon one of the best jobs in the country. So, that's the obvious regret. I mean there's nothing more precise than that. There are certain things of political life that I absolutely will not regret including, most important of all - the complete lack of privacy.

There's that phrase 'well, if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen' - well, maybe I, deliberately, after 10 years in the kitchen, thought 'well, I think that's enough heat, I'm getting out of the kitchen'.

What are you hoping to achieve while you are in the US?

Well, the first little while, I won't put a date on it, paradoxically is going to be dominated by the climate change agreement of Paris and TPP.

I mean, this is actually a fantastic opportunity for me because I don't believe there will be a single other ambassador in Washington who has been a real player in both of those negotiations.

Both Todd Stern, the special envoy for climate change for the US, the equivalent of the minister, and Mike Froman, the US special trade representative, again the equivalent of a trade minister in their system, have both said to me that they are going to use me intensively in the political selling of both of these two landmark agreements, TPP and climate change.

What do you think people would find most surprising about you - what don't we know about Tim Groser?

Oh, unquestionably the thing that people do not - is that actually I'm really a private person and that might sound ridiculous given my background... I was a professional actor at the age of eight and carried on right throughout into my early 20s - mainly radio professional acting because my parents were both actors but also I was on Close to Home briefly - I acted with Sam Neil and Paul Holmes in Downstage and then I was leader of the New Zealand universities' debating team, and then I've been a politician.

Public speaking is not about privacy, it's another persona, so it might sound very strange for somebody - and I've been a rock musician in my early youth - so it's professional performing, both entertainment and in politics, policy, but actually the thing that people wouldn't understand is that I'm a very private person.

One of the great things about getting out of the 'kitchen', to use that analogy again, is that I recover my privacy to a very substantial degree, and that probably would surprise some people.

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