Local representation lack in Parliament concerning

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Parliament is not actually back at work yet, but its constituent parties have now at last worked out where their MPs will be sitting and what jobs they will be doing.

First out of the blocks was the governing coalition, and its lineup brought mixed news for our Southern MPs specifically, and the South Island in general.

For a start, it is simply extraordinary that the 1.2 million people in Te Waipounamu are represented in Cabinet by a single MP.

As pleasant a chap as Waimakariri MP Matt Doocey is, and as dedicated as he is likely to be in his main portfolio area of mental health, he is a junior, first-time minister and it is a lot to ask of him to be the South’s advocate at the big table.

Some have suggested that, given the Prime Minister was born in Christchurch and still retains immense love for the city, everything will be all right — but despite Christopher Luxon’s claims that he will govern for all New Zealanders, that is no substitute for having a geographically representative spread of ministers.

His Cabinet will be making decisions about things such as Lake Onslow and the Waiau River while consulting their atlases to work out where these places are.

National Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds will, rightly, be disappointed to miss out on reaching Cabinet — especially so given the geographic balance concern — but her strong claims stumbled at the coalition negotiations fence.

Joseph Mooney
Joseph Mooney
Three seats apiece for Act New Zealand and New Zealand First meant that the likes of well-performed MPs during the last Parliament, such as Ms Simmonds, Simon Watts and Nicola Grigg, are on the outside looking in.

That said, Ms Simmonds has been given a solid workload and will be pleased with her portfolio mix.

Disability issues is an area of professional and personal interest, tertiary education and skills will allow the former Southland Institute of Technology chief executive to take her promised hammer to Te Pūkenga and associate minister for Social Development and Employment is a natural complement to that.

Minister for the Environment was a surprise, but there will be a crossover between future requirements for climate change adaptation and mitigation and the current range of available tertiary training, so this could be a smart appointment.

Of National’s other southern MPs, Southland MP Joseph Mooney would have been well capable of a role outside of Cabinet but also had to bow to coalition necessities.

Rachel Brooking
Rachel Brooking
He was trained as a whip during the last term and it would be no surprise to see him take that role in the new Parliament.

In the alternative, he would also be well suited for a select committee chairmanship.

As a first-termer, Waitaki MP Miles Anderson will have to bide his time, but he too will be watching committee membership allocations with interest.

Elsewhere in the coalition, NZ First list MP and Lawrence farmer Mark Patterson thoroughly deserved to become a minister outside Cabinet, given he was a solid and well-liked back bencher his first time around in Parliament: rural communities and associate agriculture are a perfect fit for the former Federated Farmers representative.

Act NZ’s Queenstown list MP Todd Stephenson might have hoped for a more prominent role given his high list ranking, but being named chief whip will get the first term MP up to speed very quickly.

Party leader David Seymour generally rewarded his better-performing MPs during the last term, and also probably felt obliged to make Act NZ’s highest profile new candidate, former Federated Farmers president Andrew Hoggard, a minister.

Over on the other side of the aisle, Dunedin MP Rachel Brooking and Taieri MP Ingrid Leary both professed themselves delighted with their roles in opposition although, of course, they could hardly say otherwise.

Scott Willis
Scott Willis
Ms Brooking’s caucus ranking seems a little low given she did little wrong and quite a lot right during her short stint as a minister, but environment is an absolutely perfect fit given her legal career was largely spent in this area.

She also has the food safety role, which has crossovers into environment.

Space seems slightly odder, but makes more sense when you consider that much of the activity in this sector centres on what the corporate, national and individual legal rights in outer space actually are, and that kind of poser is right in Ms Brooking’s wheelhouse.

Ms Leary, too, might have expected a higher placement as a former chairwoman of the finance and expenditure select committee, and possibly also weightier responsibilities than seniors and mental health.

But having said that, the ageing population is a big issue now, it is only going to become a bigger one and successive governments have under-invested in this area, so it is a role in which she can make a splash.

Likewise mental health, an area which Mr Doocey — a former professional in the field — has long pledged to overhaul.

Ms Leary has a more than useful reference point for this area — it was former Dunedin MP David Clark who commissioned and released the previous government’s significant commitment to mental health.

Penny Simmonds
Penny Simmonds
Meanwhile, on the Green Party portfolio list, Taieri list MP Scott Willis has the "Dunedin Issues" portfolio, alongside designations he would have sought such as energy, regional development and rural communities.

There is a Cabinet Minister for Auckland (Simeon Brown) and the Greens have gone three better, allocating MPs responsible for Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin as well.

Some might argue that this is merely symbolism as MPs should be advocating for their areas as a natural part of the job, but for anywhere south of the Waitaki, who, as we have seen, are lacking a voice in Cabinet — and in the case of Dunedin do not even have a voice in any of the coalition caucus rooms — this matters.

Act NZ and NZ First expect Mr Stephenson and Mr Patterson respectively to cover Dunedin, and National will appoint "buddy MPs" for Dunedin once its whipping team is appointed.

All those people have other big jobs to do though, so there is a real advocacy opportunity here for Mr Willis in particular, and Labour’s two local MPs in general, on behalf of Dunedin.