For those who choose to go into politics, saying life is busy would be a massive understatement. Daisy Hudson caught up with MP Hamish Walker at the Beehive to learn more about the job
When you hear the word ‘recess’, a break or holiday may spring to mind.
For Members of Parliament, however, their recesses from Wellington tend to mean the opposite.
“It’s pretty hectic,” Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker says, scrolling through his schedule for the week.
During the two-week break from Parliament, he’ll travel around the country, canvassing electorate matters and attending meetings with farmers in the North Island.
It’s one of the many surprising aspects revealed during an eye-opening trip to Parliament recently.
When you live in the regions, it’s sometimes hard to gauge what your MP actually gets up to in the Beehive.
During a sitting week, government ministers are required to be in Wellington on Mondays for their Cabinet meeting, while other MPs have to be there Tuesday through to Thursday.
Walker and his wife have recently moved to Lake Hayes Estate, which, given the proximity of the airport, means he gets an extra half-day at home each week.
On a Tuesday morning MPs have caucus meetings, which is where you’ll see media pouncing on them as they walk to and from the meeting rooms.
From there it’s meetings until 2pm.
Then it’s Question Time, where Opposition MPs try to expose the parties in power while government MPs ask patsy questions to show off their achievements.
Despite the bickering back and forth of Question Time, there is a surprising amount of collegiality between MPs behind the scenes.
“The cross-party relationships you build are bloody fantastic, and if they help the people in Queenstown, I’m all for it,” Walker says.
After Question Time, MPs are either in the House debating bills or in meetings, often until at least 10pm.
“From 10pm to about 11pm I’ll catch up on a bit of paperwork, catch up on what’s happened during the day, catch up on what’s happening the next day.”
Thursdays they’ll have select committee meetings in the mornings – Walker sits on the Primary Production Committee.
“At the moment there’s quite a lot on, with the water bill the government’s announced, the Carbon Zero Bill, I’ve got quite a lot to do with different enquiries.”
While backbench MPs tend to take, well, a back seat to their more senior colleagues, they can get cut-through with Member’s Bills.
Those are bills put forward by individual MPs, which go into a literal biscuit tin to be randomly drawn out.
Some MPs can go years without having a bill drawn, so Walker’s particularly lucky to have had two already.
The first, which recently passed, allows a foster parent to open a KiwiSaver account for a foster child in their care.
His second, which is up for debate in the House, would introduce tougher penalties for people who misuse laser pointers.
Fridays are generally quieter, with MPs back in their electorates.
When MPs aren’t in Wellington, they’re often travelling around the country.
“I probably spend about eight nights at home a month, on average,” Walker says.
On top of the work at Parliament, there’s a huge amount to do in the electorate.
“I probably get 40-50 constituent enquiries a day,” he says.
In fact, he was running late for our catch-up on Wednesday night, two weeks ago, because he was busy trying to organise measles vaccines for the staff of a Southland farmer whose daughter has a medical condition meaning she herself can’t be vaccinated.
“Another one might be a farmer who has Mycoplasma Bovis who hasn’t been paid for six months and he can’t do anything with his stock, he’s having problems with MPI.”
In Queenstown, about 70 per cent of enquiries are around immigration.
“One of the frustrating things is when you can’t help people, that’s the most disappointing thing about this job.”
* Daisy Hudson’s trip to Wellington was supported by the Templeton Scholarship