Published in Stuff
Julie Hardaker’s just a Hamilton ratepayer now.
She decided not to stand again for mayor in the 2016 election and handed back the chains after two terms at the head of the Hamilton City Council table.
Now she’s preparing for her next career move: as a principal for public and employment law firm Chen Palmer Partners.
“I’m a hard worker and I love a challenge,” she said.
“I became the mayor having never been on council, never had a lot to do with local government. And that’s been a great opportunity. I was thoroughly lucky.”
But, after a while, it was time to move on. Not everyone’s clicked that she has, though, and she remains a well-known face around the city.
“I get a lot of people who stop and talk to me in the street. Some people do still think I’m the mayor,” she said. “I’m a Hamilton ratepayer now. I don’t have any inside information.”
Until now, her legal career has been fairly traditional, she said, but Chen Palmer is leading edge.
“I looked around at the opportunities across New Zealand to do the kind of law I’m skilled to do and that would be challenging and exciting,” she said.
“[Chen Palmer is] a fantastic law firm. It’s got great opportunities.”
She’ll work in Auckland during the week, specialising in employment and public law, and many of her former clients have been back in touch already.
Her work could include anything from helping public institutions and organisations through “the maze of regulations and rules” to dealing with employment disputes. And now if she’s working on policy, she has a few examples of how it can influence people’s lives for better or for worse.
One example is the legal-highs issue, when Councillor Angela O’Leary led much of the charge to get the law changed.
“People in Hamilton will remember what it was like when we were grappling with that issue,” Hardaker said.
“That was all about legislation that the Government was putting in place and the impact that was having on our community and how we could advocate and lobby for a change in that at a policy level.”
Hardaker scrutinised policy wording – “I was always thinking with my legal hat on.”
But she’s guarded about her long-term legal goals and if she could see herself as a judge. “I’m certainly very interested in taking my legal career to where it will go. And I think lawyers add huge value in a variety of ways to how New Zealand operates. We’ll see where it goes.”
Part of Hardaker’s new role will be working with Mai Chen’s Superdiversity Centre, which delves into how to maximise the benefits of a diverse workforce. That aligns well with Hardaker’s recent research paper on gender stereotypes, leadership and workplace conflict, which she did to complete her master’s in management at the University of Waikato.
Unconscious bias leads to assumptions made every day, she said. “They are based on traditional views and views from the past.”
In local government, she was often the only woman in the room. Women continue to be under-represented at the council table and in senior leadership teams, she said. “It does need to change. It needs to change wholesale.”
But back to those people who stop her in the streets of Hamilton.
They’re lovely, she said, and most often they want to talk about the River Plan, Hamilton Gardens, city playgrounds, or the CBD.
“I really hope that the River Plan is delivered because I know – both in my time as mayor and subsequent to that, with people who talk to me, people I don’t even know who come to me in the street – that people really want the River Plan delivered.”
“I really hope that over the next decade that is rolled out for Hamilton.”
“I really enjoyed my time as mayor but I’m really excited about going to work for Chen Palmer,” she said. “I’m open for business now.”