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Herald on Sunday editorial: Maggie strikes a blow for male chauvinists

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Maggie Barry. Photo / Greg Bowker
Maggie Barry. Photo / Greg Bowker

North Shore MP Maggie Barry was probably chuffed to find that she was the most trustworthy MP in the last annual Reader's Digest poll, but she should probably not let it go to her head (which is, we note, a fetching, if politically inconvenient, shade of red).

Her ranking is less likely to be attributable to her powerful aura of moral authority than to her record as a television garden-show host, which gave her the unfair advantage that she was the only MP all the respondents had heard of.

But if "most trusted MP" means the one who talks the least rubbish, Barry didn't do much for her image this week.

As Labour MP Jacinda Ardern spoke to a private member's bill proposing to extend paid parental leave from the present 14 weeks to 26, Barry heckled her by asking: "How many kids do you have?"

As parliamentary interjections go, it did not ooze Churchillian wit. But in deriding the right of childless women to speak on behalf of mothers it was positively prehistoric.

This anti-feminist tactic became out of date around the time that it became unacceptable to declare Maori rugby players honorary whites so they could tour South Africa. If childlessness disqualifies a woman from advocating for mothers, the news never reached Germaine Greer and Gloria Steinem, to name just two who should have been told.

But Barry's considered and intelligent contribution to debate (it included the advice to "[not] be so precious, petal") raises wider questions about the competence of our MPs - trusted and otherwise - to create policy and laws.

Barry presumably wants only mothers to vote on the parental leave bill. But has she told the PM and the other blokes in caucus? Does this mean that only the House's ex-doctors and nurses should discuss health bills? That ex-cops alone must rule on law and order? And what about liquor legislation? Alcoholics only? Teetotallers only?

If Barry wants to continue to be trusted at all she needs to stop saying silly things. In the meantime, best she stick to bills about orchids and rose pruning. Oh, and motherhood, of course.

- Herald on Sunday

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