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One who did not let any time go to waste upon her return was Invercargill National MP Penny Simmonds, who reeled off several speeches and issued a prominent press release in just a couple of days.
That said, the party was not going to put just anybody up to fill in a few minutes, and Ms Simmonds’ five speeches on Tuesday and Wednesday increased her contributions to the House this Parliament by 21% and demonstrated rising faith in National’s upper echelon that the novice Invercargill MP is starting to find her feet in this new role.
There was little doubt about Ms Simmonds’ likely aptitude for Parliament, given her previous high-profile and highly-regarded role as chief executive of the Southern Institute of Technology.
That said, being an MP is a job like few others and more than a few high-flyers have had their wings clipped in the unique workplace which is the House of Representatives.
Ms Simmonds did have a couple of very minor speed wobbles this week, such as being pulled up for using the word ‘‘you’’ too often — in parliamentary debates that word is taken to be a reference to the Speaker — and being cut short by Waitaki MP and assistant Speaker Jacqui Dean when in full-flow speaking on the Human Rights (Disability Assist Dogs Non-Discrimination) Amendment Bill’s first reading, having mistakenly believed she had a 10-minute call rather than the allotted 5 minutes.
That did mean some germane material was left on the cutting room floor, but Ms Simmonds will no doubt get to recycle it as the Bill winds its way through the process, as she is a passionate and committed spokeswoman on disability issues.
Notable in all her contributions this week was a level of forethought and preparation.
When speaking on the Water Services Bill, she referenced a fact-finding tour of water schemes in Central Otago, and she also localised the issue when speaking on Land Transport (Clean Vehicles) Amendment Bill.
‘‘The geography of Southland is the same size as the country of Switzerland. You cannot get around Southland easily in an EV.’’
Ms Simmonds was back again on Thursday morning advocating for the South — this time the entire island, not just her own Switzerland-sized piece of it.
All National’s nine South Island MPs signed a letter addressed to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern which asked why the South, which has been Covid-19 free for almost a year, could not revert to Alert Level 1.
The letter was not likely to get the desired response — on Monday the prime minister deferred reassessment of the alert levels for a fortnight, barring another outbreak somewhere.
What it was intended to do, though, was to highlight the issues faced by southern businesses due to Covid-19 lockdowns — there have been 15,000 wage subsidy claims in Southland and several business closures — and position National as having those people’s backs.
Labour, of course, would argue that the wage subsidy demonstrates exactly the same thing, but National hardly cares about that.
‘‘People want to know why the South Island continues to be restrained in this way, and that’s why my colleagues and I have asked the Prime Minister to release the rationale behind her decision,’’ Ms Simmonds said.
Lest we forget
Last Sunday was Suffrage Day, a time for reflection on the passage of the Electoral Act of 1893, which gave New Zealand women the right to vote.
For Invercargill Labour list MP Dr Liz Craig the day is personal; her great grandmother, Rachael Marsden, signed the original suffrage petition in Dunedin.
Gone but not forgotten, 1
No sooner announced than axed, the Dorothy Fraser lecture highlighted last week became a Covid-19 casualty this week.
Taieri Labour MP Ingrid Leary promises it will be rescheduled.
Gone but not forgotten, 2
A fixture of the Order Paper for most of this year has been a motion, usually moved by National’s Chris Bishop but occasionally by his colleague Dunedin list MP Michael Woodhouse, that the House has no confidence in Speaker Trevor Mallard.
In recent weeks the no confidence motion has quietly been dropped, but National insists its issues with Mr Mallard have not gone away so, it would not be a surprise if something similar reappeared in the coming weeks.
Luck of the draw
It has been a sparse time of it in the member’s Bill lottery for southern MPs, but Southland MP Joseph Mooney turned that all around on Thursday when his Te Ture Whenua Maori Bill, all 396 pages of it, was drawn from Parliament’s famous biscuit tin.