From parliamentary staff to Parliament

December 12th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Adam Bennett at NZ Herald reports:

Should recently selected party insider Chris McKenzie retain co-leader Tariana Turia’s Te Tai Hauauru seat for the Maori Party next year, he will become the latest in an increasingly long line of those who have made the leap from political employee to MP.

Phil Goff, former employer of a handful of present MPs, says a stint working in is the perfect training ground for those with ambitions of changing society for the better through politics. But former Act MP Stephen Franks says the increasingly well worn path from the Beehive’s back offices to a seat in the House is symptomatic of the worrying rise of a self-interested political class.

They are both right.

Goff is correct that being a staffer in Parliament is good training for being an MP. You can come into the job knowing how Government works, how oral and written questions work, using the OIA, standing orders, parliamentary debates and the like.

But Franks is also right that there is a growing trend of a political elite – in Australia also, where a growing proportion of MPs come through the party machine, and have not done much in their lives except work in politics.

So my advice is that it is great to have some parliamentary experience if you are a prospective MP, but before you stand make sure you go out and do some other stuff. Work in the private sector. Set up a business. Become a teacher. Raise a family.

If you are a New Zealand MP, there’s a one in 10 chance you worked for your party in Parliament before getting elected. And if you are one of those 12 current MPs who has worked in Parliament before, there’s a better than one in three chance you worked for Phil Goff.

The crop of Goff office graduates in Parliament comprises Labour’s David Shearer, Kris Faafoi, Jacinda Ardern, Moana Mackey and National list MP Paul Goldsmith. “Five disciples and a renegade”, jokes Mr Goff. “Maybe they thought if this guy can do it, anybody can do it.”

Goff has been there so long, I’m surprised more haven’t worked for him :-)

But Mr Franks said the number of MPs who’ve come from the ranks of party employees parallels the emergence of a “political class”, a group of people “who’ve never done anything else with their lives”.

He is worried such people have achieved little “other than worming their way around political process and therefore will be judged on politics as if it’s a game”.

“It’s an insider class. They tend to be a bit contemptuous of outsiders, they tend to share more with their opponents who have a similar background than those they purport to represent. There’s an absence of deep conviction and there’s no external track record on which to judge them. All we know is whether they’re good at the game which is basically the game of greasing.”

As I said, it is when they have not done anything else with their lives that I worry.

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23 Responses to “From parliamentary staff to Parliament”

  1. Linda Reid (385 comments) says:

    This has concerned me for a long time. We can’t implement a ‘professional politician ban’ but it would be great if the parties decided that all their candidates must have at least 10 years real life experience before being selected.

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  2. david (2,482 comments) says:

    Largely it is a function of MMP and the List system. Previously everyone had to campaign and win a seat. There was a sense of pride and responsibility in people who had looked people in the eye an been willing to honestly argue their philosophy. Now we get anonymous clones from the back office who have only had to convince a like-minded selection panel to put them high enough on the List. It is not surprising that I am still encountering MPs whose names have been hitherto unknown to me.

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  3. Manolo (12,624 comments) says:

    But Franks is also right that there is a growing trend of a political elite – in Australia also, where a growing proportion of MPs come through the party machine, and have not done much in their lives except work in politics.

    Closer to home: the example of odious comrade Helen Clark, who never earnt a day’s wage outside politics.

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  4. alwyn (359 comments) says:

    It isn’t just something caused by MMP
    Exactly the same thing is happening in Britain where there are an increasing number of politicians, including the leaders of the Conservative and Labour parties who have never had a job outside politics.
    They go from working for an MP to working for a Minister, or the party, to getting a nomination and then becoming an MP. They have never had a real job in their lives.
    I think it is disastrous.

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  5. peterwn (2,935 comments) says:

    In the old days mayors would aspire to being MP’s, and they found Keith Holyoake’s ‘breathe through your nose for the first three years’ hard to take. Now it seems to be the other way round.

    MP’s previously working for parties sounds rather like jails and lunatic asylums appointing staff from the inmates.

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  6. Hoolian (220 comments) says:

    Was that the advice you gave to Jami-Lee Ross, DPF? No Parliamentary background per se, but only local govt exp – no business or private sector employment all.

    [DPF: My comments are about the general trend, not about individuals. One can still be a very good MP, even if you have not done much outside politics. But if too large a proportion of Parliament is like that, then I think that is bad]

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  7. OTGO (457 comments) says:

    And because they have never had a job outside politics they will do what it takes to remain inside the comforting bosom of the political scene because they don’t have the skills to earn a living outside it.

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  8. Neil (526 comments) says:

    I find this situation very concerning. It doesn’t just happen in NZ,UK or Australia but increasingly in the US congress. I have just read thru biographies in the 2014 Almanac of US Politics by Barone and noticed how many ex-congressman declare their resignations at an appropriate time for their staffers to run.Their former bosses pull all the strings for their staffers. Of course these staffers have easy access to finance from lobbyists in Washington
    What is wrong with this is that many of these people as staffers have done little in the way to work for the local district or really have a feeling for the electorate. The Green Party has a high number of political “bum sitters” who have been educated in academia then hit “the real world in parliamentary offices” and finally representing people they have little in common with.
    Far too many MP’s have never been in real life with business ventures,family experience or local government experience. People like Nick Smith have never really had a true job.
    The average age of politicians today is probably much lower than 50 years ago. Many use the MP stage as a means to set up their career in their latter days with jobs earning high salaries.
    I would think that the likes of Simon Power will be earning far higher salaries than as an MP’s.
    Far too many MP’s enter politics when they are immature and use parliament as a means of preparation for their major life ossupation.

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  9. Pete George (21,806 comments) says:

    It’s not just an MMP/list problem. Of David Shearer, Kris Faafoi, Jacinda Ardern, Moana Mackey and Paul Goldsmith three are electorate MPs, and there are a number of others. The insiders seem more likely to wangle a comfortable electorate seat.

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  10. Huevon (101 comments) says:

    One way to mitigate this could be open primaries and less list seats….

    But is it such a big deal? The real power in politics is held by a select few (no more than 10, across parties?). The rest of the MPs are there for numbers and as a place to groom future leaders.

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  11. Pete George (21,806 comments) says:

    “But is it such a big deal? ”

    Good point.

    How many career MPs have risen to a position of significant influence? David Shearer had some insider experience but also had a lot of external experience. Not that it worked out very well. Grant Robertson was also an ex-stafer who became a failed leadership experiment.

    How many in the current cabinet who are career politicians?

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  12. rouppe (852 comments) says:

    It can hardly be called the House of Representatives then can it, if they aren’t representative of those in their electorate

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  13. PaulL (5,775 comments) says:

    I always find electorate MPs a bigger problem than list. A local MP who is useless is about impossible to get rid of if it’s a safe seat.

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  14. In Vino Veritas (136 comments) says:

    Hmm. You don’t have to work for an MP to become an MP. But you damn well should have some life experience before you get to be one. Going straight from being a student to working for a politician, or in a political environment (Ardern, Robertson) gives no depth to the person, and is no basis to become a politician. I guess this is why the politicians that have followed this path are shallow and speak in slogans.

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  15. PaulL (5,775 comments) says:

    See, I reckon Rodney Hide is the guy who had the career I’d want to see my politicians have. A guy who’d been to university but also worked as a labourer, on oil rigs. And his university study was in useful stuff, like economics, not random history or other “I’m an important politician” kind of stuff.

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  16. georgebolwing (493 comments) says:

    I want my doctor to be well trained, experienced in doctoring and a professional. I want my lawyer to be well trained, experienced in lawyering and a professional. Why shouldn’t I want my politicians to be well trained, expertienced in politicing and professional?

    Put another way, why is it a good thing to give the enormous powers of the state to a bunch of average people. Shouldn’t we be looking for extrodinary people to have such power?

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  17. thedavincimode (6,119 comments) says:

    David Shearer, Kris Faafoi, Jacinda Ardern, Moana Mackey … ‘Five disciples and a renegade’, jokes Mr Goff. ‘Maybe they thought if this guy can do it, anybody can do it.’

    In a damning indictment of the NZ voter, they did think that and they were right.

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  18. Yoza (1,348 comments) says:

    There seem little point crying about a professional political elite when the system is set up to accommodate such a group. The National and Labour party machines seem to have more in common with one another and the upper echelons of big business and the public service than they do with those they pretend to represent.

    For this reason politicians, public servants and business people can move seamlessly between these institutions.

    Little interchangeable emperors given licence to reign over interdependent empires, an established elite allied against the aspirations and dignity of the general public.

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  19. Harriet (4,010 comments) says:

    LOL: Talk about fucken tokenism!!!

    The current paid public service has far more input into the National/Labour Monolith than a handful of aspiring MP’s!!!!!

    Anyway, at the very least all candidates must be ‘tax neutral’ for the previous 3yrs before standing for parliment.

    They must not then be living off the taxpayer by either receiving a full welfare payment like the DPB, or part payment like WFF within those 3 yrs. Or have worked or been contracted to the government in those three years.

    What this does is create an enviroment in society based upon the performance of the current government – more liberty and freedom for NZer’s by having less government – means a bigger and better pool of ‘life experianced’ candidates to select MP’s from.

    Currently NZ has been run by the National/Labour Monolith with far too much input from it’s employees – the public service – and that’s soley how it has become a monolith. It’s totalatarinism. Statism. Lousy. But fucken expensive. :cool:

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  20. Harriet (4,010 comments) says:

    Very well said Yoza. I fully agree with you for once. :cool:

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  21. Reid (15,531 comments) says:

    All we know is whether they’re good at the game which is basically the game of greasing.

    Which says a lot about a lot: e.g.
    why all politicians chose appearance over substance – e.g. look at how much they all spend on their wardrobes
    why the country gets such lousy results – sycophants are low performers because they spend so much time on the superficial
    why almost all politicians are completely up themselves – sycophants are almost always narcisstic
    why almost all politicians are complete a-holes – sycophants are almost always uninterested in others except insofar as those others can help THEM
    etc.
    etc.
    etc.

    We’re screwed. You know that?

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  22. Viking2 (10,715 comments) says:

    PaulL (5,574 comments) says:
    December 12th, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    See, I reckon Rodney Hide is the guy who had the career I’d want to see my politicians have. A guy who’d been to university but also worked as a labourer, on oil rigs. And his university study was in useful stuff, like economics, not random history or other “I’m an important politician” kind of stuff.
    =================================
    You could add David Garret to your list. similar background.
    Muriel Newman, Stephen Franks and probably quiet a few more like Bob Clarkson.
    The problem becomes that they know how to do and why but that doesn’t sit well with the command and control systems of Parliament and the National Party.

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  23. OneTrack (1,963 comments) says:

    “but it would be great if the parties decided that all their candidates must have at least 10 years real life experience before being selected.”

    But that would decimate the Labour and Green parties.

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