One chapter ends, several begin

There are many milestone moments as a political career comes to a close when you look at something or someone and realise "it really is over".

One of those came in South Dunedin a few weeks back when the beaming visage of Clare Curran, which has gazed over the Hillside Rd/King Edward St intersection from her electorate office for several years, was taken down.

Whatever your opinion of Ms Curran’s politics, one fact is incontrovertible: she put her heart and soul into being the Dunedin South electorate MP.

Ingrid Leary has considerable shoes to fill in that respect, but she intends to set about the job in the newly named Taieri electorate in her own fashion.

The electorate office is a good place to start, as very soon it will be adorned by the fizzogs of not one but three Labour MPs.

One will be Ms Leary’s fellow Dunedin-based MP Rachel Brooking, who is expected to divide her working time when in the city between Labour offices.

Ingrid Leary delivers her maiden speech in Parliament earlier this week. PHOTOS: PARLIAMENT TV
Ingrid Leary delivers her maiden speech in Parliament earlier this week. PHOTOS: PARLIAMENT TV
The other will be Rino Tirikatene, in long overdue recognition that Otepoti is part of the Te Tai Tonga electorate.

Although Mr Tirikatene is not expected to be a regular visitor, the intention is that in the shape of Ms Leary’s office any of his local constituents will have somewhere to go if they have issues which require the intervention of their local MP.

Do not expect that to be the end of Ms Leary’s profile-raising efforts in Taieri.

She has already held a series of street corner meetings in her electorate’s rural townships and intends establishing a more permanent presence in places like Milton and Balclutha in the future.

Officially, Ms Leary’s political career began on Tuesday with her maiden speech to Parliament.

Previous speeches having run well over time, Ms Leary got to her feet just before the dinner break to announce her arrival from Taieri, "an electorate way down south".

With Ms Curran as an unexpected but much welcome supporter, Ms Leary started with an outline of her ancestry and its links to Otago - while intended to emphasise her working class roots, it also served as a rejoinder to those who raised allegations of carpetbagging due to her not living in Taieri when she sought the nomination.

Ms Leary’s working career began in journalism, and two stories highlighted likely concerns for her as an MP: justice, having made a documentary on the sad case of George Gwaze, and Pacific Island affairs, having started an indigenous language show on Fijian television.

An Otago law graduate who set up Russell McVeagh’s pro bono section, Ms Leary was also the director of the British Council in New Zealand and the Pacific - insights from those experiences will no doubt be handy on the Foreign Affairs select committee.

Maiden speeches usually set out a new MP’s political philosophy and priorities, and Ms Leary’s are wide-ranging: pay equity, poverty reduction, employment, climate change, rural affairs, care for the elderly, supporting social enterprise and combating climate change.

It is an ambitious list, and one which shows few signs of Ms Leary following the famous advice for backbenchers to do nothing but breathe through their nose during their first term.

With Parliament now adjourned until February 9, Ms Brooking and her fellow southern 2020 newbies, National MPs Penny Simmonds and Joseph Mooney, have their summer holidays to mull over what to say in their maiden speeches.

On a personal note

Michael Woodhouse gets into the festive mood.
Michael Woodhouse gets into the festive mood.

Dunedin-based National Party list MP Michael Woodhouse is a robust individual and, apart from during awareness week campaigns, seldom discusses his own considerable health challenge with conditions such as psoriatic arthritis.

He made an exception last week, when he accepted a petition which called on Pharmac to fund ustekinumab, a medication to help treat those suffering from Crohn’s and colitis.

"MPs aren’t immune to the things that affect Kiwis," an emotional Mr Woodhouse, who has Crohn’s, said.

"I hope those calls will be heeded."

Robertson v Woodhouse, round one

Having deferred to his finance portfolio partner Andrew Bayley thus far, Mr Woodhouse finally got a crack at his opposite number in Wednesday’s final Question Time of the year.

Perhaps stunned by the exuberance of the festive tie around Mr Woodhouse’s neck, Mr Robertson opted for variations of "premature to speculate" as answers to his questions on any possible resolution of the Ihumatao land dispute.

mike.houlahan@odt.co.nz

Comments

It was Sir Keith Holyoake that advised 'breathe through your nose'. Mind you, he also said Tiwai Point was 'a happening'.

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