The changing face of Parliament

PHOTO: SUPPLIED
PHOTO: SUPPLIED
A picture can tell many words, and one glance at an image of the majority of Labour’s new members of Parliament, gathering excitedly like children on their first day at school, spoke volumes this week.

Long gone are the days of a group of Parliamentarians looking about as diverse as a loaf of plain white bread.

This was a photograph that symbolised the face of modern New Zealand.

There were lots of women, a healthy sprinkling of (relative) youth, and a broad mix of cultural backgrounds.

Indeed, even a cursory browse of the list of new MPs arriving in Wellington following the Labour landslide reveals much about how our politicians can be a mirror on society.

There is Vanushi Walters, a 39-year-old mother of three, a Sri Lankan New Zealander whose experience is as a human rights lawyer and board member of Amnesty International.

There is Naisi Chen, a 26-year-old who came to New Zealand from Beijing with her family when she was 5.

There is Ibrahim Omer, who left his home country of Eritrea in 2003, serving as an interpreter in UN-run refugee camps before working as a cleaner in New Zealand and dreaming of a better life. Six years later, he is New Zealand’s first African MP.

There is Dr Gaurav Sharma, a 33-year-old who moved to New Zealand from India with his family when he was a child, and yesterday featured in the Tribune (India) newspaper under the headline: "Hamirpur lad elected MP in New Zealand".

And there is Ricardo Menendez March. It can be said with some assurance he is New Zealand’s first gay Mexican Green MP.

Parliament’s overall diversity shift does not extend to the National Party — of its 35 MPs, just three are not Pakeha or European — but the net gain is noticeable and welcome.

As well as the cultural representation, there is a record high number of women — nearly 48%, up from 38% in 2017. Seven of the Green Party’s 10 seats, and more than half of Labour’s 64, will be filled by women, and obviously three of the parties are led or co-led by women.

Finally, there is the widely reported — if presumably unverified — claim that New Zealand now has the "most rainbow parliament in the world".

The New Zealand Herald reports there will be 12 LGBTQ members of Parliament — exactly 10%, and up from seven three years ago.

Boosting diversity is not about earning global acclaim, nor about some intangible feelgood factor.

It is about better reflecting the society something represents, and increasing the likelihood of inclusive policies being fast-tracked, and fresh ideas, and the impetus for real action on banning things such as conversion therapy.

New Zealand is no stranger to leading the way when it comes to things such as women’s suffrage, climbing tall mountains, and dealing with Covid-19. There can be justifiable pride that, while some countries remain tethered to stale stereotypes of representation, we have moved with the times.

AND ANOTHER THING

The prodigal son returns. The Highlanders, as they tend to do these days, chose their own social media channels rather than this newspaper to make a big announcement yesterday, but it was so welcome that even we must not grumble about that.

Tony Brown is a revered figure in the South, both for the success he has had as coach of its leading rugby teams and for the style of rugby adopted by those teams. His ascension to Highlanders coach was predictable but still thrilling.

Aaron Mauger and Mark Hammett performed solidly. However, they could never quite shuck the image of the "Canterbury influence". Brown is one of ours, to the core, and we look forward to the "Highlanders way" shining in 2021.

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