MPs should bring chaos to order, poll says
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New Zealanders want MPs who have experience bringing order to chaos – people such as medical doctors, teachers, and police officers.
At least, that’s what the latest Stuff-Ipsos poll tells us.
As for wanting more teachers as MPs; experience dealing with unruly teenagers is useful when it comes to coping with fellow politicians in Parliament.
Labour MP Trevor Mallard held teaching jobs in Wellington and the King Country before entering Parliament in 1984.
Dealing with a wide range of people from different social classes in schools was similar to working an electorate, where he met a lot of people he wouldn’t normally have come across, he said.
But the mediation and discipline skills learned were perhaps the most important thing he had brought into Parliament from his teaching days.
‘‘You learn to observe interesting behaviours, and develop techniques for trying to handle them,’’ Mallard said.
‘‘I think politicians have a range of behaviours that go from kindergarten students through primary, secondary, tertiary, and some of them even act quite maturely.’’
Down the bottom end of the scale on the poll were lawyers – people want to see fewer solicitors representing them in Parliament.
The last Parliament had at least 12 lawyers, out of 120 politicians.
National MP and former lawyer Chester Borrows said he considered himself ‘‘far more of an ex-cop than an ex-lawyer’’, but had used his law degree every day in Parliament.
Police officers were also highly regarded, with two-thirds of those polled wanting to see more of them become MPs.
Police officers had strength and world experience at a grassroots level, Borrows said.
‘‘It’s seen as people who are approachable and aware of community issues and safety and things at the lowest level.’’
People wanted to be represented by someone who could knock on their door and talk about important issues, but be equally at ease in a social setting, he said.
‘‘They want someone who can come up and knock at their door, but at the same time bowl into the public bar of a hotel, order a jug of beer, and talk to the guy next to them on the stuff they’re interested in, rather than some boring ex-accountant who can’t hold a conversation.’’
Borrows campaigned for Parliament when he was a police officer, and went to study law when he was unsuccessful.
It was after he returned to the same community as a lawyer and campaigned for politics again that people decided ‘‘being a lawyer I could speak out both sides of my mouth so I could go to Parliament and be the politician’’, he said.
‘‘People used to tell me I was far too nice to be a politician, but they don’t say that so much now,’’ he said, laughing.
‘‘The law degree gives you a special knowledge on how the law is made, how it works, and even some of the terminology and those sorts of things.’’
But lawyers were perceived as difficult to trust, because they were ‘‘seen as people who can talk out of both sides of their mouths, because they’re on both sides of every argument’’, he said.
At speaking engagements, Borrows said he had to quickly get up and tell a lawyer joke because whoever introduced him would inevitably try to get there first.
National MP Dr Jonathan Coleman was surprised people wanted fewer lawyers in Parliament, but said it might reflect there having always been a lot of MPs who were lawyers, so people probably thought they didn’t need more.
He wasn’t surprised to find medical professionals came out on top of the poll.
Coleman said he could understand people wanting more medical professionals in Parliament. Doctors had seen the full range of human nature, could relate to people and were trusted by the public.
When he first became an MP, Coleman said there had been only 13 doctors in Parliament.
Since then he had been joined by doctors Jackie Blue, Cam Calder, and Paul Hutchison in the National caucus.
But the benefits of having a doctor in the House were not just for their expertise in health policy, which was one of the biggest areas of expenditure across government.
Coleman’s medical training had also been called on by his colleagues at times, although he is yet to perform the Heimlich manoeuvre or do CPR on a fellow MP.
‘‘I’ve never had to save a life, but I’ve been routinely called on to consult on various colleagues’ health,’’ he said.
‘‘There’s been a lot of cases of man flu I’ve had to deal with, put it that way.’’