‘We need to start being honest’. An interview with AJP Aotearoa NZ General Secretary, Danette Wereta
Posted on January 19, 2024
In this series of articles May Safely Graze editor Sandra Kyle interviews the leadership team of the newly-registered Animal Justice Party of Aotearoa New Zealand. Next is General Secretary, Danette Wereta.
1 Tell us a bit about yourself and your background, Danette.
I was born in New Zealand and lived in Melbourne, Australia for 10 years in my 20’s. My son was born in Australia and we moved back when he was little. My work background is in leadership, strategy, culture, change management, and customer engagement, with over 18 years experience working in numerous industries in New Zealand and Australia, including financial services, government, energy, sales, and distribution.
I have an MBA from Canterbury University. I have been in Senior Leadership for over six years, and am the Board Chair for Ao Tawhiti and the Climate Action Campus.
2 How has your background helped you to do your job in the AJP?
My studies and career path have all been helpful and pertinent. In particular, in 2022 I worked in a start-up, which was completely different from my previous roles (in which I led large operational teams of 100+ people). I learned a lot piloting a new business, and found that a new Party has many similarities. You need to get the basics right, be clear on your purpose and position, have goals and planned pathways to achieve them, and set up repeatable processes to ensure they’re scalable. The “so what” becomes very important.
It also has the same energy and feels like, as the old saying goes, you are “building the plane while flying it”.
My governance experience from being on Boards also helps, and of course, years of leadership means different tools in the belt can be applied in different situations.
3 Do you have a personal philosophy? What drives you?
My philosophy is that we aren’t here to get big mortgages, fancy cars, or race to the bottom – consuming unnecessarily, causing irreparable harm and damage. We have a lot to learn from the animals who exist alongside us, who are also themselves, who are also connected. It makes you question – what in fact is success? What brings joy and happiness? How do we find balance – giving and taking the way our mother earth intended it.
4 What do you consider your main strengths are?
I am an extremely curious person who is both strong and compassionate. My childhood was difficult, and that has given me much empathy. Growing up, my companion animals never let me down, and I’ve always had a strong connection to all animals.
5 Why did you became a part of the AJP?
The animal rights movement is huge, and we are all doing critical work. I have always admired and supported different NGOs, advocacy groups, and communities.
I saw AJP step into a vital swim lane that was empty in NZ, and it was the opportunity to use the skills acquired in my career in a super meaningful way. It feels corny saying this, but it really felt completely aligned. For the first time, I could really make a difference by taking everything I know and applying those skills to create value in a space I care most about.
We need people to shine a light on what is wrong, to bring awareness, and also solutions. We need people championing change, and we need AJP working in Parliament to ensure that our laws provide the proper protection and support animals deserve. We need to ensure that laws are in place to help the incredible people in the field do their job when things go wrong, and we also need to be upstream to mitigate things going wrong.
What is right and wrong is often compared to what is legal and illegal, so it’s easy to think that how we treat animals is ok. We need an independent Commissioner for Animals to give animals a voice against abuse, exploitation for entertainment, and harm to their natural environment. We need systemic change to re-evaluate our understanding of animals, and to treat them as individuals.
6 What does your position in the AJP entail?
General Secretary. I was lucky to be voted into this position. I have big shoes to fill, and I am trying my best. There is lots to learn! Luckily, I am surrounded by a helpful and experienced team.
In a nutshell, a political party’s general secretary is a key administrative role, responsible for overseeing day-to-day operations, implementing strategic goals, fostering communication, and ensuring compliance with political regulations. It’s a varied and extensive position, entailing working closely with the other party leaders and officers.
7 Are there any AHA moments you had on your path towards veganism?
I grew deeply frustrated with speciesism; to me it is stating the obvious that it is wrong to treat one type of animal one way, and another so very differently. We all feel fear, pain, and joy.
I am certain that if most people bore witness to what actually happens in slaughterhouses, and imagined their dog in that position, they would want them all shut down. Language has been used to disconnect from the truth of how we treat animals, and we need to start being honest.
Animals’ lives are theirs, not ours. Humans are the biggest pests on the planet and when we look at history, you can see how the way we live directly impacts animals. We must take responsibility and stop the industrialization of animal farming. We are in a crisis that continues to grow more serious with each passing year. We have to make better choices.
I have always felt intuitively connected to animals and felt like we understood each other. Over the years, I have relied on a sixth sense and often end up where an animal needs help. Unfortunately, a lot of that is providing love and light as they cross over the rainbow bridge. It’s been very heavy and extremely difficult. However, I spoke with someone who explained that it’s a gift, and I need to lean in. I should see it as an honor and embrace the role. So, I spend a lot of time helping animals! And, thankfully, it doesn’t always end sadly.
8 Do you think a single-issue party like AJP has any chance of being a part of the government?
It will be very hard. However, I have hope! Hope is important. Hope is powerful. And the wave of change happens so fast these days. While it is easy to get bogged down in the horrific cruelty that we inflict upon animals, there are many beacons of light.
9 Do you think AJP can make a difference for animals, even if it remains small?
Yes. Everyone can’t do everything, but if we join up and work together, we can make a difference. AJP is needed on the scene to drive much-needed political action for the animals.
10 Is there anything else you’d like to say?
I feel extremely privileged to work alongside my colleagues at AJP, and to be learning from everyone. We’re all here to make change for animals. We have grit and determination and nothing is impossible.
John Feldmann said: “I believe animals should be respected as citizens of this earth. They should have the right to their freedom, their own families and their own life”.
This is what I believe too.