Ganglife, parenting a child with intellectually disabilities, and beating cancer are some of the formative experiences that have led Labour MP Greg O'Connor to believe in an active role for the state.

Hailing from a dairy farm in Buller, O'Connor, who won the seat of Ohariu and gave his maiden speech in Parliament yesterday, was one of nine children, leading his father to quip that his parents were more fertile than the farm.

As an undercover police officer, O'Connor witnessed a life he had never been exposed to before, "where might was right, where the protection of the state was negligible, and where the lives of most people I met were rendered powerless by dependence on violence, drugs, alcohol, and welfare".

"You can't get back on to the straight and narrow if you never knew what straight and narrow looked like in the first place," O'Connor said.

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He was given a window into a very different world when his disabled son Michael had to be cared for by residential care provider Hohepa.

"I discovered there are people in this country who, for very little financial reward, work tirelessly and with a humbling devotion to not only keeping our disabled dependants safe, but also giving families like ours our lives back."

In his late 40s, O'Connor found himself in hospital with advanced bowel cancer.

"Access to life-saving treatment at such times must remain a right and a commitment provided by a caring society. Cancer does not respect postcodes. Nor should those providing the treatment."

For these reasons, the former Police Association boss said there will always be people who need the assistance of Government, whether it be for "genetic limitations, medical and intellectual intervention, or what I colloquially refer to as unlucky sperm and ova".

He said part of the solution was empathy to help understand privilege and the plight of the poor.

Labour's Northland-based MP Willow-Jean Prime and Whakatane-based MP Kiri Allan both put children at the centre of their maiden speeches.

"Not one more child should live in poverty, not one more family without a home, and not one more young New Zealander without a dream," Prime said.

"Forty-nine per cent of our children in Northland live in poverty. Our youth unemployment rate is over 20 per cent. We have one of the lowest average incomes in the country. That is not right."

Allan said she has seen the darkness that lurks in the shadows of the East Coast.

"The working-aged man in Opotiki who'd waited four years for a heart operation. The nine Gisborne families who lost loved ones in a period of just a few weeks to suicide. The kids who are left parentless by their mums and their dads who are lost in the irrationality that is P."

Allan said she came to Parliament as a 17-year-old on her way south, and saw the "odd-shaped" Beehive.

"I said to myself that day ... I kinda want to work there."

She penned a spoken-word piece that day and closed her maiden speech with it:

"We are raising a nation, of beautiful babies
This is our generation, where we lift our heads high
Be gone the days of our forebears, where they were taught to be shy
Because this land, yes, Aotearoa, it is our promise
And that is for sure, being strong in our identities
Fostering visions of equality, strong people, and strong communities - yeah."