Audrey on Maggie

Audrey Young interviews North Shore MP Maggie Barry. Some extracts:

What’s been the most rewarding part of the past year?

My big highlight was Taharoto, the mental health facility. From probably about my first month in the job I got complaints from my constituents about this dreadful acute psychiatric facility in the North Shore Hospital grounds. It’s a converted maternity hospital and is absolutely vile, deeply awful and I went and had a look and I was shocked by what I saw. I’ve been lobbying and talking to (Health Minister) Tony Ryall and Lester Levy at Waitemata DHB and when Tony was out of the country he let me announce that we are putting in $25 million and we are completely rebuilding the facility.

Most electorate MPs will cite something they have done for their electorate as the best part of the job.

What’s the most frustrating thing about working in Parliament?

I guess some of the posturing. The obfuscation that goes on, the crap that gets talked in the House, the faux outrage has been so extreme it’s almost amusing, and the fake gravitas as well is one of my other favourites.

Both Labour and the Greens had talked to me at different times about joining their ranks over the 30 years I had been (in the media). There was a certain amount of “you’re toast, we’re going to get you” in the corridor. I sustained quite a few insults in the first couple of months – “get back to the garden where you belong”. A couple of grumpy old trouts came out with that stuff.

My son is 14 and he said to me a while ago, “What do you do about bullying?” I said, “You’ve got to face them down”. And that’s what I’ve decided to do with bullies in Parliament, the bully boys in the Opposition and the more passive aggressives in the Greens and New Zealand First.

When it comes to the dark arts of politics, one piece of advice I received and that I took was that if someone hits you, you hit them back twice as hard. I’ve done that in my first year. I think people have got the message that I’m not going to be bullied and pushed around so hopefully (in 2013) I can relax a bit from that stance.

You’re very combative.

I think if you don’t do it you’re dog tucker, frankly. I’ve looked at others who are heckled, nasty things – “bottle-blonde”, “big slob”, “fat girl” – really low-grade, low-rent. Never going to make it into Hansard, not going to be heard from the gallery but it’s there and undermines people’s confidence. It was a bold call to answer them back.

Maggie has indeed shown she is no victim.

Are you talking about Jacinda Ardern (whom Barry pointed out, in the Paid Parental Leave Bill debate, didn’t have children)?

Oh, “precious petal” is a bit different. (When Labour MPs called her comments outrageous, Barry told Ardern; “Don’t be precious, Petal”.) Frankly, I was sick of people shouting across the House at me, “You’ve dumped your son at boarding school”, “All Nats are bad mothers” and Jacinda did her “National Party women love coal more than they love kids”. I thought: “Actually, how many kids do you have? What do you understand about the reality of juggling it all while you are in the House?” So then Trevor (Mallard) does his mad tweet (demanding an apology) with the faux outrage and gravitas, which is all nonsense. If I thought Jacinda had been in the foetal position, weeping, I would have acknowledged that. But when she says it’s no big deal and Trevor wants me to apologise, guess what the outcome is likely to be?

Not hard to guess.

Name one of your heroes outside politics.

Ed Hillary. I did the last interview of him for the Listener. He was somebody I had always admired as a kid. To do the final interview with him was an honour. I did six hours with him over two days for oral archives for Radio New Zealand and it ultimately ended up a 14-pager for the Listener, published posthumously. As it turned out, his health was such that even Mark Sainsbury couldn’t get an interview with him after that because of the nature of his decline. He’d been on the Garden Show many times talking about meconopsis, the blue poppies. Bless him, he hardly knew a rhododendron from a poppy but he knew what he liked.

He was the quintessential Kiwi – very self-effacing, which is why I did the thing for the oral archives because there was very little (on record) about his trip up the Ganges. (And) there was very little on record about that final ascent. “What happened Ed, when you got to that point (now) known as the Hillary Step and Sherpa Tensing turned back as he had done four times before? What made you go on?” He spelt it all out and he spelt out why he didn’t come out with it at the time. It’s that old-fashioned sense of honour and we will not see his like again.

Very true. He was exceptional.

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