Jeremy Elwood & Michele A'Court: Tidying up our House of Representatives
OPINION: Husband-and-wife comedians and commentators Michele A'Court and Jeremy Elwood give their views on what's wrong with Parliament.
A light went on in my head when I saw that photo of Australian Greens MP, Larissa Waters, breastfeeding her three-and- a-half- month-old baby while simultaneously making a speech in parliament.
This is precisely what we need to elevate political discourse from the current dissembling and bullying nonsense that passes for debate here and elsewhere.
Why don't we make our representatives work in an environment that is genuinely representative of the world the rest of us live in?
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What makes for a good discussion? Manners. What makes for good manners? Witnesses. When do you behave best?
When the kids and aunties are around. We tidy up our language and hold back a little on the chardonnay when nana is making a mouth like a cat's bum and the teenagers are threatening to Instagram us being eggs.
A little parliamentary restructuring, then, to make it a nicer place so nicer people want to go there.
I would totally tune in to Question Time if the Speaker was, rather than an old-boy from within the ranks, a whaea who would brook no quarter. I suggest one of the Vuvalini, those older-lady bikers in "Mad Max: Fury Road". Who, by the way, did their own stunts. That'd make you think twice about your points of order or refusing to sit down when told.
Shared lunches once a week. It's hard to be disrespectful to someone who makes a really good sponge. And mingling. Whole days when you have to go sit on the other side of the house and get to know people from outside your clique as fellow-humans.
You'll be less likely to snarl at them the following Tuesday. Cross-party parties to make the default mood less cross.
Breaks for entertainment – choirs from low decile schools, storytelling from solo mothers living in cars, short films from millennials about the housing market – partly
for the change of pace, but also so you actually meet the people you represent, and hold them in your mind later when you vote.
More MPs who have just produced new humans. They tend to have finely honed instincts for matters of life and death. Plus it's hard to feel anger and hate whe there's a soft, warm baby suckling right in front of you.
Sure, there are morons who take offence when a baby is having breakfast-boob while they're hoeing into their café brunch, but we wouldn't vote them into parliament.
Being nice to babies in public is entry-level electioneering.
Please note: it's not like baby-brain is going to make MPs any less intellectually rigorous than, say, Bill English. I recall once not being able to think of the word for
"cupboard" but I still knew what it was for, and what was inside it. (Hint: there were tapes in it, Bill. Todd put them there.)
It takes a certain type of character to want to go into politics. Well, several types actually. There are those, I'd like to believe the majority, who honestly care about their communities and the country in general. There are some, I am sure, who are driven by a lust for power, although I suspect most of them finds the reality much less empowering than the idea.
I doubt, however, that there are many who think it's going to be much fun.
From the long, drawn out debates on subjects as dry as dust, to the constant scrutiny from the media and the public, to the frustrations that are inherent in a democracy; these things and more should make any sensible person think twice about running for office.
And yet, they do. So perhaps we should rethink how we run parliament, so that our current MP's can get some better work stories, and more young people might think about getting involved in the future.
Let's start with where it is.
Wellington is a nice city and all, but let's be honest, the weather is terrible. I often suspect that some of our more tedious laws have been passed because no one wants to leave the Beehive in a southerly gale.
So let's move it north. Not to Auckland, we've got enough trouble with traffic and housing already.
Let's put it in the far north. As well as boosting employment in the region, maybe if our MP's knew that a good beach was just down the road, they might speed up some of the paperwork for a chance to catch some rays.
It would cut down on Winston Peter's commute, and Nicky Wagner might be able to get out on the water more often, as she so clearly wants to do.
Or we could take it south. I bet if Parliament had been in Christchurch seven years ago, we'd have seen a lot more rebuilding, a lot more quickly.
Given that dismantling the Beehive and relocating it probably isn't a good thing to announce in an election year, we could start smaller. Michele's outlined some great ideas for cheering up the people inside, so may I suggest we improve things for those on the outside? More windows, please.
Wireless speakers outside the building so passers-by can see and hear what their representatives are discussing.
Perhaps a real time message board in the house, where concerned citizens can text suggestions. A bar in the public gallery.
The point here is to encourage participation, both from politicians and the public.
If we can make the running of the country fun, there might be more people willing to lend a hand in doing it.