Marama Fox

MARAMA FOX

MĀORI PARTY CO-LEADER

What does it mean for you to represent people as a Member of Parliament?

Most politicians will tell you “it’s an honour, and it’s rah rah  rah,” but it’s hard work and it is sometimes really unrewarding.  To represent people well, you have to be prepared to make  the hard calls that other people don’t want to make, so it’s a  great responsibility. I’m their servant. I think it’s wrong to call us leaders or hold us in some hierarchy of position because we’re MPs. I don’t agree with that. When you greet someone in a pōwhiri, you share breath through the nose and you share thoughts through the rae (the forehead) and you become one. Once you do that you treat each other as equals.

What does the idea of community mean to you?

Hāpuri, community; everybody. There’s no beginning or end to community. We’re neighbours, we are whānau itself and no limit to our relationship with each other that connects us. In Wairarapa, the Ruamahanga River starts in the Tararua Ranges and it flows through the entire valley and all other rivers flow into it. The river flows to all parts and everybody is affected by what happens along that river.

Everybody is affected by everything we do in a community—just like the river.

What does it take to create a sense of belonging?

It looks like caring; it looks like atawhai and it looks like manaaki. Manaakitanga is a beautiful word. Akiaki means “to uplift.” So, anything you do that lifts someone else’s mana is what manaakitanga is. And so atawhai describes a caring nature; a heart for something. So, if you put those two things together, manaakitanga and atawhai, those two things together that’s love, that’s arohā. Arohā; it’s “hā” – the breath, and “aro” – to cling to; so: clinging to breath. To love is to bring life.

That can be quite confronting for people, but that’s why I hug people. When I first came into Parliament I realised after about a year of being here how very freaking lonely it was, and how nobody touched you. People expect that as an MP, you’re supposed be a ‘hands-off’ person and so I get offered these handshakes. So to counter that I just go in for a hug with everybody, even though they might think I’m a bit weird.

What have you put in your office that reminds you of why you’re here?

I made this office feel like home because I knew I was going to spend so much time here. I used to try and get home during the day on Saturday and be there through Sunday. Now, if I can get home for six hours on a Sunday I’m winning. I have my rocking chair, the quilt on my couch. That ukulele, this wooden bowl. My pāua and kina shells that I’ve got from home. And my patu, this patu pounamu that I got recently when my mother went to the Māori Women’s Welfare League and said, “I’ll have that, here’s my daughter’s number, she’ll pay for it.”

Because I had given hers away. She had given me a patu pounamu which I held during my maiden speech, and I gave it away to John Key when he left. I gave it to him because I wanted him to realise that his biggest legacy was not the flag or whatever, it was bringing the Māori Party to the table of his Government. We’ve been able to change the way this Government works and we’ve changed the way the country looks at itself and we’ve got real gains for Māori. That was his true legacy, but nobody talked about it.

Carmel Sepuloni

CARMEL SEPULONI

LABOUR PARTY, MP FOR KELSTON

What does it mean for you to represent people as a  Member of Parliament?

I think you can’t really comprehend what it would be like to actually be a representative in a place like this, until you get here. Initially, when I first arrived it was very overwhelming. It had happened for me quite quickly and so I had very little time to reflect on what that meant; and in fact, being out of Parliament for the three years from 2011 to 2014 gave me a little bit of breathing space and time to think about what it truly means to be a representative. One of the things that I have achieved in my local electorate was working with the local boards and schools to get new footpaths for the area, after many years of them being told that it couldn’t be done. Seems like such a small thing but politics is local—people really appreciate that you care about the small things.

What does it take to really be part of a community?

People want to see that you genuinely care and that you show up; that there’s sustained and ongoing demonstrations of commitment to them. And it’s really through your actions that people will then accept you as part of that community, because you need to demonstrate that you really do have a genuine sense of care about the people and about the issues that matter. Having a four-year-old now who goes to a local ECE centre, meeting other parents that are there and actually just being part of the fabric of the community. As a politician you walk into a room and it can be like: “There’s that special person; you know, the politician.” I’d rather just walk into the room and be recognised as one of the local parents.

What does community do for you personally?

I guess it holds me accountable; whether that be my community of Kelston or my Pacific community. It provides me with that support and that push to go out there and do the work that matters. Yeah, it provides me with a space that feels like home I guess. It’s a comfortable space, but that doesn’t mean that it’s an easy space, because as I said, the people within your community will hold  you accountable.

What have you done to try to make Parliament feel like a place where you belong?

I will often call little get-togethers or be the person that goes to events and try to broaden the circle quite a lot because otherwise you can end up hanging out with the same people all the time. It’s really important to get across caucus and build relationships—both for me personally but in my role as well. In this place it’s so important that you are supportive of the efforts of others and not just concentrating on your own accomplishments or your own personal ambition. I guess that’s how you build relationships. Seeing the best in people and letting them know when they’ve done a good job.

If you could go back to just before you first came to Parliament and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

“Just sit back Carmel, and watch and listen for a bit,” because it’s really important that you respect the people that have been here for a while. Take note of the personalities that are around you and get to know the place. It’s really important that you take the time to do that and I don’t know if I did that as well the first time I came in.

James Shaw

JAMES SHAW

Green Party Co-Leader

What does it mean for you to represent people as a  Member of Parliament?

We sign an oath of allegiance to the country when we’re sworn in. I mean we’re backed by our supporters and we have to answer to our supporters and we have to stay true to the philosophy that they stand for, but our first allegiance legally is to the country at large.

You get a piece of legislation and you don’t necessarily sit there and go “How’s this going to look to my constituents?” You think, what’s the effect of this going to be on the country or on the people that this is designed to affect?

What does the idea of community mean to you?

I think people join communities that they have an affinity for through at least one of the lenses for their own kind of sense of personal identity. And so, for some people that’s a function of their sexuality, for some people it’s function of their geography, especially Wellingtonians. I think the extent to which you take a dimension of your identity and centre around that probably predetermines which communities you end up belonging to.

But, for any community to function properly you need to be able to give up the more extreme aspects of your own individuality; so, you’ve got to be able to place the group ahead of the individual sometimes at least. And if you can’t, then I think by definition it probably falls to bits. Political parties are all like that.

What does it mean to be part of a community?

A critical ingredient in belonging to any group is for the people who are part of that community to acknowledge that you belong with them, acknowledging you for who you are, and what you think is important. It’s powerful to be validated by a group and have people who can imbue you with a sense of your own identity as a result of that.

I think that a function of being a public figure is that actually there’s quite a lot of people who know me—even if I don’t know them—and will identify with me and what I’m doing. It shows up in places like my Twitter feed in comments and feedback. Many of them are people in business who are really concerned about the state of the environment and really want their organisations to be restorative rather than exploitative; both environmentally and socially.

Parliament is full of people who are politically opposed to  each other, are there ways you can connect with MPs outside of your party?

I really value things like the press gallery Christmas party. The moments where we mix and mingle that are kind of off the clock. It’s funny, sharing a cab in from the airport, running into each other at the Koru Lounge; you get conversations that advance things that you don’t have when you’re in the building. I don’t think we do nearly enough of that kind of stuff.

On Budget night this year, a group of MPs and journalists ended up at 3.2 [the Parliament bar on the third floor of the Beehive] in the evening and it was one of those, “okay we’re all off the clock now” situations. People provided feedback for each other, across political boundaries. But there are not very many of those opportunities, because you’ve got to have people who are game for it. It’s funny, because of course there used to be the billiards room back when Parliament really was a boy’s club. Now that’s an historical relic, it’s hardly ever used for anything because we’re all back in our offices beavering away.

Melissa Lee

MELISSA LEE

National Party MP

What does it mean for you to represent people as a Member of Parliament?

Absolute privilege. It’s an honour. There’s only 120 Members of Parliament who get to come to Wellington and make legislation, change legislation, represent the people in their community;  whether that’s boundary related in terms of an electorate or whether it’s ethnic.

It doesn’t really matter whether people actually agree with me or not, whether their politics are the same as me or not, I am here as an MP and I will work just as hard for people who vote Labour as those who vote National.

You’re a List MP, but as a Korean New Zealander,  you are a member of a minority ethnic community.  What is it like to be a voice in Parliament for that kind  of non-geographic community?

It’s one thing I take very seriously. I’m a List MP based in Mt Albert, and I do work within the electorate as a List MP because I’m a representative of this Government. Having said that, because I’m an “ethnic” MP—someone who was born overseas, who speaks multiple languages, and who looks different to what most people see New Zealand as, I think people see me as a bit of a role model, particularly for their children.

So, I get requests to speak at schools to talk to children about what it’s like for them and for me. It inspires me when I see the look on children’s faces when they finally connect and say, “Actually I don’t need to have a chip on my shoulder, I’m not that different from that lady over there.” It is a real, real privilege that I can provide a conduit for them to see that New Zealand is not so alien after all. That whatever they’re facing is actually just a moment in time maybe; whether it’s racism, ageism, or sexism.

What have you put in your office that reminds you of  why you’re here?

Everything. Look at the two flags (New Zealand and South Korean flags), together a New Zealand and Korea passion. The photo of my boy—he’s half Korean, half Kiwi. I’ve got paintings by local Korean artists of the New Zealand bush and Mt Cook over there. I run an art competition once a year for local Korean amateur artists and I give them a theme. The first prize winner always comes to my office in Wellington and the second prize is hung in my Auckland office.

How do you balance the demands of life as an MP with staying connected to the people who rely on you?

I’ve always been a working mum. I was divorced when my son was three and I raised my son on my own. I’m absolutely blessed to have my Mum with me, otherwise I couldn’t have done what I’ve done—having family that is supportive is essential. The one time that I did really stress was when my son was tackled really badly during a rugby game and ended up with a concussion, and I couldn’t leave Wellington to get to Auckland to see him. That really broke  my heart.

It’s really important that MPs actually take time out from this place. I have some time at the end of each year when I try to be unreachable. Through the year I’m really not available for my family but at the end of the year I’m available for them 24/7. I do the normal things: do the laundry, do the lawns, do the gardens, get my hands dirty, go to the beach and sort of fall over. Those normal things that people do.

jeremy

Jeremy Vargo

As part of his role as Communications Manager for Maxim Institute, Jeremy has had the privilege of editing Flint & Steel magazine for the last 4 years. He has previously worked some classically soul crushing roles in the retail, commodities trading, and manufacturing industries, but managed to emerge relatively unscathed. Outside of work, he has a number of interests, but the recent birth of baby Ivy has put all that on hold for a while, which is actually rather wonderful.

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