Holly Walker and parents in Parliament

Holly Walker has announced she is withdrawing from the Green Party list citing family reasons, although still plans on standing for the Hutt South electorate to campaign for the party vote.

This means she is withdrawing as an MP unless the unlikely happens and she beats Trevor Mallard and Chris Bishop against her wishes.

Green Party MP Holly Walker to step down from party list

Green Party MP Holly Walker has decided to withdraw from the party’s list in the upcoming election and will not seek a second term in Parliament. Ms Walker was number 12 on the Green Party list.

“Unfortunately, a recent unexpected change in my family life has made it very difficult for me to continue as a Green MP. Under these circumstances, I have chosen to put my family first and withdraw myself from the Green Party list,” said Ms Walker,

“It has been extremely rewarding to combine parenting and politics, and a challenge I have enjoyed. Unfortunately, a recent unexpected change in my family life has made it very difficult for me to continue.

“Even with great support from the Green Party and colleagues, changes in my family life meant I would not have been able to do justice to my role as an MP. Under these circumstances, I have chosen to put my family first.”

Walker makes it clear several times she is putting her family first. She had a baby last October.

Regardless of her specific family circumstances – I don’t know if there is any more to this than just the conflict in priorities – this isn’t surprising. When it became known yesterday that a Green MP was withdrawing she was the first one who came to mind.

When Walker became an MP she showed signs of struggling with the aggressive nature of Parliamentary politics. It will have been a major culture shock. Within the Green Party it is a very supportive team environment with a lot of mutual back patting and praise of their people and policies.

To then be exposed to combative politics where extreme criticism and personal attacks are not uncommon it would take some adjusting to. Some new MPs never do settle in and choose not to stay.

Add parenthood to that and any mother or father would question their priorities.

While praise has been heaped on Walker’s efforts as an MP it’s worth noting that she got into Parliament at 12 on the Green list – which was  a doubtful position, they only had nine MPs in the prior term – she was placed in the same position in this year’s list.

I got involved in some discussion yesterday on Twitter about the lack of support for working parents in Parliament. This was obviously seen as a factor in Walker’s decision.

The job of an MP is very demanding, as is that of a parent. I think most people considering a possible Parliamentary career will weigh up the likely impact on their family. And many will keep assessing whether Parliament is a place the want to be.

David Garrett , Act MP in the 2008-11 term, cites the exposure of his family to extreme media pressure as a reason for giving up his seat.

Labour activist Stephanie Rodgers raised the issue of lack of assistance for parents in Parliament.


What does @hollyrwalker’s resignation tell us about how accessible/accommodating working in Parliament is for parents of young children?

Shorter sitting hours. Greater flexibility for parents to not be in the House at all hours. A 24/7 creche

I suggested that there were no easy solutions. Rodgers accused:

I have the sense Pete has a fundamental opposition to change. Any change.

That’s wrong. If things can reasonably be made easier for MP parents I’d support that, but to what extent should MPs get special treatment? And would it make enough difference?

Many occupations are difficult to balance with parenting, especially where babies are involved. I doubt there are many workplaces that provide 24/7 creches. Airline pilots and stewards have no choice.

Shorter work hours can be  arranged in some occupations, but with many it’s difficult, for example doctors, nurses, police, fire, teachers.

Some can have job share arrangements but positions of elected representatives poses unique problems. There is no provision for being a part time MP.

And it’s not just facilities at Parliament that are a problem. MPs do a lot of their work outside Parliament. Travel around the country is often required.

There may be some things that can be changed to help Parliamentary parents but the options are limited.

When people put themselves forward to be elected they should know the demands of the job. If people plan to have a family while working they must know there may be compromises necessary. And sometimes, probably quite often, choices have to be made as to whether the work is compatible with parenting.

Walker has chosen to give priority to her family situation, as many parents do.

There may have been nothing that could have been provided to help her enough in Parliament to have changed this decision.

Greens would normally campaign for something if they thought it would make a difference. I don’t know if they have tried to make things easier for Walker’s dual responsibilities, or if they have simply accepted her decision.

Sometimes – often – parents simply put their family first when there are no easy alternatives.

From Facebook:

Donnelle Belanger-Taylor I’ve followed her posts about combining parenting a young child and the huge work demands. Good thoughts to her.

Tara Moala Gutted, but completely understand and appreciate putting Whanau first.

It was Walker’s choice to stand for Parliament, and her choice to stand down. Most will understand her likely reasons.


Holly Walker wrong to emphasise Government fixes

Green MP Holly Walker has blogged We shouldn’t need to sponsor kids in NZ…

The Dominion Post reports this morning about children’s charity Variety’s new Kiwi Kid sponsorship initiative. For around $35 a month, donors can “sponsor” a New Zealand child living below the poverty line. The donations go towards things like school trips, doctor’s visits, books, and prescriptions.

What does it say about our values as a country that we have allowed things to get this bad? Why should charities and even big corporates have to step in to provide the most basic necessities for our children?

I would much prefer to live in a New Zealand where there was a social and political consensus that the state guarantees that every child has the essentials for a good start in life. When we can do that, we guarantee them the opportunity to grow up to make a great contribution, even from the most challenging circumstances.

So yes, it’s good that Variety, KidsCan, and others have stepped in to fill the yawning chasm of child poverty that too many of our kids are falling into. But let’s take this as a challenge and demand governments that will eradicate the need for such schemes by guaranteeing the essentials for all our kids – not just those lucky enough to get a sponsor.

I disagree. We should encourage more voluntary charity, and the more local the better so you can contribute to your own community.

And we should encourage mor epersonal and family based solutions.

Sitting back expect Government to fix everything is one of our biggest problems. As is politicians who think they can fix everything by compulsion.

Politicians should try inspiring more people to help themselves, and more communities to work together to help and support each other more – it may mean less political power but it will potentially achieve far more.

Be leaders, not power grabbers.

Holly Walker on maximising MMP fairness

Holly Walker has posted on Frogblog: MMP changes belong to the people, not parties

Any electoral system should maximise fairness, and the one-seat rule has produced the unfair situation that voters in some electorates have a greater say over the make-up of Parliament than others.

Nevertheless, it’s important that removing the one-seat rule and lowering the party vote threshold are considered as a package. Although it was arbitrary and unfair, the one-seat rule did help to make Parliament more proportional, by allowing some smaller parties to be represented. Therefore, if we remove the one-seat rule, we need to lower the party vote threshold to ensure that smaller parties still have a realistic chance of gaining representation.

It is unclear but I presume Holly is supporting the Electoral Commission threshold recommendation of 4%.

There are four small parties currently in parliament who got less than 4% party vote, and the Conservative Party failed to make Parliament with less than 5% (and less than 4%).

A 4% threshold does not come close to maximising fairness. It does not ensure that smaller parties still have a realistic chance of gaining representation. It significantly favours larger parties, like the Green Party.

A threshold not only excludes parties who fail to reach the threshold from parliament, it reduces voting support for parties that don’t look like reaching the threshold. Some voters don’t want to waste their vote so may switch their vote to a party they think will get into Parliament.

I’ve asked Holly: “What threshold would maximise fairness to ensure voters of some parties don’t have a greater say in the makeup of Parliament than others?”

UPDATE: a response from Holly…

I support the Electoral Commission’s recommendation to lower the party vote threshold to 4 percent. I note that in its report, the Commission notes that a lower threshold of 3 percent might be even better, but that change in this area should be made incrementally, so the threshold should be lowered to 4 percent now and reviewed after three elections. I think that is a sensible course of action.

Sensible, from a large party point of view perhaps, but it doesn’t maximise fairness. It retains an electoral advantage for the Green Party.

Dunne blasts Labour on union lobby protection

Peter Dunne has been scathing of Labour wanting preferential treatment for their Union lobbiests.

Dunne: Principle-free Labour protects its union buddies

Labour’s call to have trade unions exempted from a potential lobbying register is shameless protection of its union backers, UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne said today.

“This is sleazy politics trying to find a principle to hide behind,” Mr Dunne said.

“For this lobbying regime to have any credibility it would have to apply equally to all, and that includes business groups and trade unions. They are two sides of the one coin.

Mr Dunne said Green MP Holly Walker acknowledged that her Lobbying Disclosure Bill needed to be fine-tuned and adjusted, but it was founded on having a transparent system, which the public would welcome.

“Unions try to shape and influence policy and legislation day in and day out, as do business groups and others. Let one rule of transparency apply to them all.

“Labour’s whole ‘business is bad and needs to be watched, but unions are forces for good’ approach is simply pathetic, and this is a shameless example of Labour looking after its buddies.

“This is just another demonstration of how Labour is in the pocket of sector interest groups, and why New Zealanders don’t see them as a viable alternative government.

“When will Labour get back to championing the causes and the issues of everyday New Zealanders?”

The Lobbying Disclosure Bill is a Green bill, exposing Labour’s ‘no rule for us, rules for the rest’ attitude.


Political lobbying

I just realised when putting this post together – I guess I’m a political lobbyist, so could be directly affected by this.

There is a Green bill (Holly Walker) in the system to try and make political lobying more transparent. An ODT editorial comments:

Lobbying for transparency

While much remains unclear and unresolved in the John Banks-Kim Dotcom donation saga, it has again focused attention on questions of political influence at both national and local levels. Who or what sways the efforts supposedly made on the taxpayer’s behalf by our politicians?

So many questions, so few answers.

It is drawing a long bow to equate political lobbying with proto-corruption. The lobbyist’s art is a time-honoured one. It is perfectly appropriate for lobby groups – be they community, environment or business-oriented – to draw matters that concern them to the attention of politicians.

This is democracy at work.

Yes, many people try to lobby our MPs. I’m an active lobbyist – I’ve had six email replies from MPs in the last week, and I’ve also had twitter replies.

But a private member’s Bill being put forward by the Green Party’s Holly Walker draws attention to the fact that little is known about lobbyists’ activities in New Zealand politics, and this does nothing to enhance transparent democracy nor confidence in its processes.

Ms Walker’s proposed Lobbying Disclosure Bill is modelled on Canadian legislation, which supports a lobbying commissioner, an online registry of lobbyists, a lobbyists’ code of conduct and a requirement for the regular collation and review of lobbying statistics. Australia and the United States have similar systems and Britain is thinking of introducing a public disclosure regime.

What’s the chances of an opposition party bill progressing? For this one the chances look promising:

…support for the Bill in one form or another comes from across the political spectrum. Prime Minister John Key has indicated National thought it was “worth looking at” because New Zealand was one of the few like-minded countries that did not have such a regime.

Good, I hope parliament has a decent look at this. There are some difficult aspects to the bill, it may be hard to find the right balance between insisting on transparency and being too difficult to administer and monitor.  But this should be able to be worked through.

Lobbying Disclosure Bill 2012 (Member’s Bill)

– New Zealand Parliament Bills Digest

I was going to reproduce the bill details here to save having to go to another link but it appears I’m not allowed to do that.

Except for educational purposes permitted under the Copyright Act 1994, no part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including information storage and retrieval systems, other than by Members of Parliament in the course of their official duties, without the consent of the Parliamentary Librarian, Parliament Buildings, Wellington, New Zealand.

There’s also extensive details on the Green Party website:

Lobbying Disclosure Bill