Brigitte Morten got bored three weeks into her LLM studies so went to work for the Israelis and spent the next 10 years in politics, coming home with a postgraduate diploma in counter-terrorism.
“I went to Australia to do my Masters, which I thought would take 10 to 12 months,” says Brigitte, who recently joined Wellington firm Franks Ogilvie as a senior consultant.
“I got bored within the first three weeks of studying, got a job with the Israeli Embassy in Canberra and ended up staying in Australia for eight years.
- Brigitte Morten
- Entry to law
- Graduated BA, LLB from Victoria University in 2006 and LLM from Australian National University in 2009. Admitted in 2019.
- Senior consultant at Franks Ogilvie, Wellington.
- Speciality area
- Public law and political advocacy.
“I am not Jewish and I had no connection to Israel. There was a job ad in the paper, basically saying ‘do you want to work in an embassy, work with other cultures, and with car parking’.
“I went through a strenuous application and security clearance and was lucky to work with the new ambassador, Yuval Rotem, who is now head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Israel.
“I worked for a couple of years for them and learnt a lot about influencing, soft campaigning and issue management from him. It is always interesting working for the Israeli government — there are a lot of attacks on Israel.”
Brigitte spent three months in Israel where she had a scholarship and did a postgraduate diploma in counter terrorism, which she describes as “an unusual part of my CV”.
“Terrorism and defence is a daily part of Israeli life. Everything you are doing is part of that. I had just completed my masters in international law, so the experience was thinking practically about how international law affects things on the ground and what sort of things are taken into account.
“I was never in any danger in Israel. They have a heightened sense of danger that we do not understand in New Zealand, and which I never understood until I went there.
“You can stand on the Golan Heights and see straight ahead of you Lebanon and Syria, and both of them want to destroy the country you are standing in. Completely different to being overseas and saying you are a New Zealander and everyone loves you.”
Politics in Australia
Brigitte moved on to work for the Australian Liberal Party, with a strong focus on campaigning.
“One of the benefits of being in Australia is they have an election every two minutes, which gives you considerably more experience than here.
“I was working for Liberal Party politicians and the Liberal Party itself so they were very supportive of me gaining as much campaign experience as possible.
“I spent a lot of time around Australia in various states and at by-elections and before I came back to New Zealand I was one of the state directors for the Liberal Party in the 2013 election.”
Returning to New Zealand she worked for the then National Minister of Education, Hekia Parata, and her successor Nikki Kaye. As Ms Parata’s senior ministerial adviser she spent some time in Israel when National was developing the digital technology curriculum.
“On the morning we were about to leave Tel Aviv, Shimon Peres, the former Israeli Prime Minister, died. New Zealand could not get a representative to the funeral quick enough so we stayed on for that funeral, along with Presidents Obama and Clinton and other leaders.
“I had spent a lot of time speaking about and promoting Israel in my role with the embassy eight years earlier, so what was interesting was to actually be on the ground and realise how much Israel is the centre of so much international conflict and diplomacy, as a tiny country, and how a lot of the world’s axis swings around it.”
Brigitte’s parents Lorraine and Peter live in Athenree, in Coromandel, the “home of avocados”.
“I always have lots of avocados, it’s good way to win friends in Wellington, bring boxes of avocados down.”
Her elder brother Blair is a boat designer in Auckland, working on super launches where he specialises in the interiors of galleys and bathrooms.
“Politics takes up most of my time and I also do commentaries for media such as the National Business Review, The Nation and Radio New Zealand’s Panel.
“I spend some time doing community work and most of my adult life I have been involved with Camp Quality, for children with cancer. I spend a week every summer in the Waikato/Bay of Plenty making sure the kids at camp have a fun week.
“I also spend quite a bit of time outside that week helping with planning, particularly the kitchen. A weird skill I have now is I can cater for large groups of people. It comes in handy when you can cater for 120 people.”
Brigitte is also a mentor for the First Foundation, which is focused on providing scholarships to enable people to get into the tertiary education system.
“I have been mentoring a Pasifika girl who was at Porirua College, providing support that I took for granted having two parents who were heavily involved and spoke fluent English.”
Half-marathons and Aussie rules football
“In my early 20s I did quite a few half-marathons, but have not run for a long time.” [At the time of the interview Brigitte was focused on training for the Queenstown half-marathon.]
“In Australia I played AFL for five years, and played netball off and on.”
The first lawyer in her family, she was admitted in Wellington this week.
“I did law in my first year at university because I thought it would be a good grounding for politics, which is my main interest. Then I realised I enjoyed the challenges of problem-solving and working different pathways to finding people solutions.
“I was attracted to the law/politics interface because it’s another tool in the toolbox. I’ve never been attracted to the academic side of law. I really enjoy the pragmatic — how can we help, how can we advocate — side of things.
“This year part of my journey coming late to the law is I have to sit the New Zealand Law and Practice Examination, in order to be admitted, so there has been quite a lot of study this year. I also did an executive ready women and leadership course at Melbourne University this year.
“For me coming to law I would like to have my own practice one day with a business focus.
“One of my main goals working in politics is always to try to go away every year to somewhere that has dodgy mobile phone coverage. I’ve been to India, Myanmar, Everest base camp, a lot of Asia, and a bit of time in the United States and Europe.
“I grew up playing the piano and viola but pretty much dropped both of them when I went to university. I listen to popular music but have no particular favourite singers or bands.
“I read political books and a lot of fiction and belong to a book club where we read a lot of women authors.
“One of my favourite books is Americanah, a 2013 novel by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I like Lionel Shriver (We Need to Talk About Kevin) and Wally Lamb (She’s Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True).
“I’m not a huge movie goer, do not have TV reception anymore but I’m a slave to Netflix. I watch a lot of documentaries and I like a bit of utopian sci-fi. I like Game Changer about how we have been misled about the role of proteins.”
She has no pets and recently bought a Toyota Blade - a premium version of a Corolla.
“Growing up in Tauranga and Mt Maunganui beach I always like a beach. And I spend a bit of time tramping and walking.
“Last new year I went kayaking round Abel Tasman National Park with a group of friends. Stephen Franks (Principal at Franks Ogilvie) has a place at Abel Tasman. I like the isolated bush.
“Being back in New Zealand for four years I enjoy getting out and road-tripping. My parents bought a really great campervan, which I steal, but have never used the Sky or DVD player.”
A Kardashian for dinner
“One of the things that led me to politics was when I was about 12 the French were testing nuclear weapons at Mururoa, and David Lange has always been someone who piqued my interest, being an interesting character advocating on the international stage.
“Lange would be interesting to meet as a dinner guest and I think someone who is quite polarising is Kris Kardashian (now Jenner).
“I think the role of the Kardashians in popular society is quite amazing and she is personally behind that. It would be interesting to learn how she’s built this empire on this family who don’t have any talents but she has incredible business nouse.
“Having her as a dinner guest or shadowing her for a day or two would be very interesting. A Kardashian could be president. They are setting themselves up as an American family that could be around for generations.
“I enjoy cooking and when I travel I enjoy trying new foods. I like Middle Eastern food and Thai and Vietnamese. But I am not into small dainty meals. I like big family-style meals. It’s part of making people feel at home.
“I like a good dark beer like Guinness - I have been to Dublin but not visited the home of Guinness - and Tuatara Black, which they don’t have anymore. I like dark beers and tasting craft beers.
“When I was with Hekia Parata we took some education union delegates to a conference in Edinburgh and I tried a few beers there, got into whisky and am now a bit of a whisky drinker.
“I haven’t given much thought to an alternative career, other than being an official beer taster, which is still a possibility – I’m not ruling it out.
“I never planned to be a ‘lawyer’ lawyer, so this is kind of a career change for me already, although adjacent to what I was doing.
“My aim is to be a specialist in the area I am now in. A number of people who have been in the law go into politics. So it is reasonably unique to have the level of political advocacy and campaign experience I have and then come into the law.
“It gives me a unique perspective as to how we can influence politicians. How you need to have other options and how can you influence and advocate without going to court.”
Over a long career in journalism Jock Anderson has spent many hours in courtrooms and talking to members of the legal profession. He can be contacted at email@example.com