It's been a big year for...

MIKE HOULAHAN IN DUNEDIN
Last updated 11:22 12/12/2012
David Clark
SUPPLIED
Dunedin North Labour MP David Clark.
Michael Woodhouse
Fairfax NZ
National Dunedin-based list MP Michael Woodhouse.

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David Clark has a meteoric start as a first year MP - at the first time of asking, he had a Private Members bill to ''Mondayise'' Waitangi and Anzac Days drawn from the ballot.

''On day one of business my bill was drawn and suddenly I had five cameras focused on me, 20 microphones shoved under my nose, and a great big huddle of reporters.'' he recalled.

''It was a new experience and one where it's imperative you learn quickly because there isn't much room for mistakes.''

His luck did not stop there - a second bill to raise the minimum wage was also drawn from the ballot (''Annette King said to me she hadn't had a bill drawn in more than 20 years; I think it was a complaint, not a  congratulation'').

Although the Minimum Wage bill failed at first reading, the ''Mondays'' bill went to select committee and may well become law.

''Standing up to speak in the House for the first few times is a sobering experience,'' Clark said.

''You have the sense that everything you say is being recorded for posterity, with a camera on you as well, and any mistakes you make could trip you up subsequently. A lot of it is about learning to think on your feet, but it is an environment which rewards quick learning and if you enjoy learning it is a stimulating place to be.''

Clark's learning curve remained steep as the year progressed. He made the most of the relatively obscure revenue spokesmanship and was selected as a Labour representative on the Finance and Expenditure select committee - regarded as the most coveted of the select committees. Throw in a leadership change and a leadership challenge, and there has been no chance for boredom.

''It was all on for young and old right from the start  and it has been a very exciting year,'' Clark said.

The demands of a young family - and the huge opportunity afforded by securing an Eisenhower fellowship to study in the United States - means 2013 could be an even bigger year for Clark than 2012.

''You work some long days, but you know that when you get into the job. It's also part of the joy of it, that you are part of something important that is going on in the community.''

Watching Clark's progress from the other side of the House is Michael Woodhouse - the man Clark beat in 2011 to retain the Dunedin North seat for Labour.

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A second term list MP, Woodhouse was not favoured with a Ministerial portfolio after last year's election but did get the next best job - Senior Whip. Long regarded as a proving ground for aspiring Ministers, the whip's responsibilities include ensuring the Government's majority in votes, maintaining caucus discipline, and offering pastoral assistance to MPs.

''This year I've honed a lot of skills I developed at Mercy Hospital (where he was CEO),'' he said.

''There are analogies between managing doctors who are not your employees but nevertheless have to comply with certain expectations for admitting rights to the hospital and who are Type A personalities, and managing 58 Parliamentary colleagues who are not my employees, who do not report to me, but who have to meet expectations.''

Being a ''safe pair of hands'' is key to being a whip. A tied vote early on in his tenure was a learning experience, but generally speaking National's caucus has behaved itself this year - Tau Henare's touting for the Speaker's role via social media and the resignation of Nick Smith from Cabinet being notable exceptions.

''Nick was a challenge because he and I are good friends and I see him as a mentor. Providing the practical support in terms of shifting offices and seating positions and those little things that do matter, I was involved there,'' Woodhouse said.

''But he is a very experienced MP and has a lot of friends who are senior members of the caucus...I have been very impressed by the way he has dusted himself off and got back in the game. He has worked hard in select committees, is vigorous in debates, and that shows me he is still keen.''

Woodhouse himself is expected to make it to Cabinet one day - almost every senior whip has - and last week respected political newsletter transTasman tipped him for promotion.

For now though, he's enjoying being the man seen over John Key's shoulder when the Prime Minister speaks in Parliament.

''I have greater access to the National leadership team. It's quite a privilege being up close to senior members about what is important to them, especially in the House.   It's a role where the mundanity can dominate but you have to keep an eye on the long game and that the plan for delivering the policies we camdhpaigned on is being carried out.''

- D Scene

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