Carpetbagger MPs say they do the work

By Kieran Nash

Labour Party leader Phil Goff is the MP for Mt Roskill but lives in Ardmore. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Labour Party leader Phil Goff is the MP for Mt Roskill but lives in Ardmore. Photo / Sarah Ivey

They're known as carpetbaggers - MPs who live outside their electorates.

In the lead-up to November's general election, plenty of politicians will be keen to tell voters how close they are to the people of their electorates. So the Herald on Sunday has decided to reveal that handful of MPs who aren't close to their constituencies at all - they have been elected yet choose to live elsewhere.

Many of Parliament's heavy-hitters are there. Prime Minister John Key represents the safe, semi-rural, blue-riband seat of Helensville, northwest of Auckland, but he lives in the city fringe suburb of Parnell.

Parliamentary Speaker Lockwood Smith lives outside his Rodney electorate, too.

Labour leader Phil Goff, the longstanding MP for the economically and culturally diverse Mt Roskill, lives on a farmlet south of Auckland.

Those of the carpetbaggers who are willing to publicly discuss their absenteeism insist they can serve their people well, even though some live kilometres from their electorate offices.

Goff runs a few sheep and cattle in Ardmore, about 20km from his Mt Roskill electorate.

"When I was out of Parliament, I moved out to a place to where my kids were going to school.

"As my kids were growing up we wanted them not to be in the full spotlight of publicity, going to a school where their dad was the local MP."

After a stint in the wild, voters returned Goff to Parliament - but he never moved back to the city.

"I serve my electorate as well as any MP," he said. "People don't give a damn where I live, they just want to know that they have a local MP who's there working for their interests."

Key lives in a large house on St Stephen's Ave in Parnell, but he did not respond to inquiries about why he hadn't moved to Helensville.

Rodney MP Lockwood Smith lives in the Northland township of Matakohe, on the inner shores of the Kaipara Harbour. He said the electorate boundaries had shifted since he became an electorate MP.

Could he serve his people if he didn't live in their electorate?

"Of course I do," he said. "Since 1996 I've lived outside it and my majority has gone up because I serve them well."

Labour's David Cunliffe lives in New Zealand's most expensive suburb, Herne Bay. It is 15 or 20 minutes' drive from his New Lynn electorate office, depending on traffic.

Cunliffe's wife worked on Queen St, he said, and had put the "hard word" on him to move closer to town when the couple were preparing to have children.

He worked "bloody hard" for his electorate and was there every chance he had.

His duties took him around the country, but he was in his electorate every Friday, most Mondays and "pretty much every weekend", he said.

"I would say that I'm a very committed local MP. I take it very seriously, I never take it for granted."

The New Lynn electorate is next door to Waitakere, an electorate identified with its resident MP, avowed Westie Paula Bennett.

Cunliffe doesn't live there, and doesn't wear leopard prints, so can he really claim to be a Westie?

"Mate, I've spent 12 years working my butt off in New Lynn so I feel like a Westie."

National MP Shane Ardern said he was "just over the boundary" from his Taranaki-King Country seat. He was another who said the electorate boundary had shifted.

His electorate was a large land area - four hours' drive from top to bottom - so he said living five minutes from the boundary was not significant.

Manurewa MP George Hawkins lives in Papakura. He said it was five minutes from Manurewa.

Labour's Ross Robertson represents Manukau East but doesn't live there.

"The quality of someone's work is not judged by where they live but by the service they provide," he said.

When asked to explain further, he refused to comment, would not say where he lived - and ended the phone call abruptly.

- Herald on Sunday

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