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Getting personal with new councillor, Tony Robinson

'It's all about the people'

Tony Robinson is one of the five new Gisborne District councillors from the 2019 local body elections. Instead of talking politics, The Gisborne Herald’s Matai O’Connor wanted to get personal and learn more about Tony and his life . . .

Tony Robinson is an accused “social working” lawyer, a lover of scuba diving and once saved a life in the Cook Islands.

In 2005, Tony lived in the Cook Islands with his two son's Hugo and Max and their mother Belinda Watson, and while he was there administered an adrenaline shot to save his neighbour's life.

“Someone from New Zealand was visiting an elderly neighbour of mine and one night I could hear her yelling out to me. My neighbour had gone into anaphylactic shock, she had been stung or bitten by a centipede.

“She was dying in front of us.”

Tony carried adrenaline because he once had an anaphylactic reaction to a bee sting.

It was not your common epi pen, it was a syringe and ampoule.

“I was trying to remain calm while her visitor was yelling. I shoved the syringe with adrenaline into her leg.

“It was a real Pulp Fiction moment seeing her with a needle half sticking out.

“We took her to the hospital and when I was driving her car back home, I hit a pot hole and it caused a flat tyre.

“You know, she never thanked me for saving her life but had me on about the tyre,” he says with a laugh.

The Cook Islands was a transition from being an associate at a law firm in Hamilton and coming back to Gisborne.

“Living in the Cook Islands was great. One interesting thing was people didn't have the same social filters, they would tell you exactly what they thought.

“It was refreshing and there was interesting law work on the different islands. It was a great lifestyle for my family.”

He was on the governing board of the Cook Islands Red Cross and assisted people during the four cyclones that hit Rarotonga in February 2005.

Tony was born in Kaiti and went to Te Wharau School, Ilminster Intermediate and Gisborne Boys' High. He then completed a degree in Japanese and a law degree at Waikato University.

'Maoritanga is so strong here and I am really proud of it'

He returned to Gisborne in 2006 because it has “got everything, it's a magnificent place”.

“We all say that but it really is,” he says.

“We have the most amazing people in Tairawhiti — it might sound like a cliché, but we really do.

“Maoritanga is so strong here and I am really proud of it.”

When he came home to Gisborne, he worked as the in-house lawyer for Child, Youth and Family for seven years.

“I worked with my ‘social working lawyer hat' and worked intimately with some of the most challenged family and whanau.

“For me it wasn't anything I wasn't aware of as a barrister. As a court room lawyer I have dealt with people who have challenging circumstances, but it affirmed my love for the people of Gisborne and the region.

“In all my 22 years of practicing law, I would only come across a handful of people that, if you use the word evil, you might describe as evil.

“You find a majority of people are struggling with some sort of addiction, it's either process addiction or drug or alcohol addiction. You see it through their offending history.

“Most people I have ever dealt with genuinely want to be good, contributing members of society — they are just tripped up with, principally, addiction. It's as basic as that.

“Joe public doesn't know that. They don't realise that. People like to see criminals as just criminals.

“You don't realise how many people are living on the edge financially and emotionally, how absolutely fragile their lives are — and something like getting a flat tyre and the economic cost of that means they don't buy something, which means they don't get a warrant, which means they get a ticket and that puts them on a knife edge.

“You can't believe how many people survive on that knife edge, it's just a horrible, stressful place to be.

“So our region needs to do as much as we can to ensure that no one is in that position.”

Tony was a founding member of Tairawhiti Men Against Violence, something he is extremely proud of.

He says his work is all about the people.

“I never became a lawyer for the money or status. I have always been accused of being a social working lawyer. I was the lawyer who would pick up clients and take them to counselling or to court.

“One time when I picked up a client from Kaiti he looked at my car and said ‘bro, what's a lawyer like you driving a piece of s*** like this for?' I said it only cost me two grand and has a tow bar! Where's your waka bro?”

Tony says his sons Hugo and Max are doing what they want to do.

“Hugo has started his first job out of university and Max makes music and regularly performs at R&V.

“It's really great, you know. I'm really rapt that Belinda and I raised two smart, confident, funny, generous, kind boys who are lovely young men who get to do what they chose to do, not what us parents thought they should do.”

Tony loves art and drawing.

“I would like to find time to grow that passion.”

He also loves diving and has his advanced PADI diving certificate for scuba diving. He doesn't get to go diving as much as he likes because in Gisborne “great dive days are few and far between”.

Tony is turning 50 this year and has a “nice little plan with friends and family in Instanbul”.

After his unsuccessful mayoral campaign in 2016 he said he was going to go sailing around the world . . . he didn't go around the world, but he did sail around the Mediterranean.

“It was always a part of the plan that if I didn't get the mayoralty, let's go sailing.”

Tony stopped practicing law in May 2018. He says it was a bold move to make but he is glad he did, so he could find a different path in life.

He accepted a position at Rua Bioscience while in his last week sailing around Europe in 2018.

He works there in a part-time position and the rest of his time is spent on the council and the health board.

He says 2020 will be a very exciting year.

HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS: Tony Robinson is a proud ex-Kaiti kid who has transitioned from being a lawyer to a Gisborne District Councillor. He says he is excited to see what 2020 brings. Picture by Liam Clayton