Deborah Coddington

Deborah Coddington is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Deborah Coddington: Same old story as strong women MPs get the shove

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Act MP Heather Roy. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Act MP Heather Roy. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Another strong woman MP bites the dust. Act's Heather Roy is leaving Parliament while she still has a life. Her triumph is the party's loss.

An even greater loss, though, is the urban liberal gap that won't be filled on the right of the House. The seat she vacates, and others around her's, are increasingly being sought by deeply conservative, hand-wringing, recycled men.

I give you Don Brash, John Banks, Winston Peters.

Now Heather is dispensed with, I expect Rodney Hide and David Garrett will tango back to Act's list. But Act doesn't hold a monopoly on shabby treatment of women MPs.

If stories filtering back to media are anything to go by, National should hang its head in shame. In the past few months, female candidates have been dismissed in a cavalier and sexist manner by National's selection process.

Why is it acceptable, in the 21st century, to ask women with children what childcare arrangements they have should they be chosen to represent their electorates?

And ask childless women if they will be "doing a Ruth Richardson or a Katherine Rich" and having babies while in the House?

I wonder if Aaron Bhatnagar and Paul Goldsmith will be asked these questions when National chooses the candidate for Epsom.

In August, National plans to hold its 75th-anniversary annual conference. A pamphlet has fallen into my hands for an invitation-only soiree celebrating women in the party. Special guest ministers will be Judith Collins and Hekia Parata (good choices), and special guest is party president Peter Goodfellow.

But someone seems to have overlooked the most courageous trailblazer of National women, because this event is "members only".

Marilyn Waring was the only woman in Muldoon's Cabinet, who threatened to vote for the anti-nuclear legislation, thus triggering a snap election - shouldn't she be the special guest?

I doubt she's losing sleep over her lost invitation, especially since the theme of this jolly little "friendly, fun and warm event" is "SERVICE BEFORE SELF" (in block capital letters, as if to scare away any Ayn Rand-ites lurking behind trestles, purveying copies of Atlas Shrugged).

You'd think they would at least proof-read these things before they circulate them.

The National Party, we're told, was formed in the "aftermath of a failed coalition government which had faced management of the Great Depression - an awesome task. Numerous politically active women from the-then defunct Reform and Unitied Parties applied their skills to the new party."

Would that be untied or tied up? Pretty awesome, either way.

I'm not saying National doesn't have good women politicians. It does. Judging MPs when they're in government is tricky - do you rate according to the publicity they generate or look at how hard they work behind the scenes?

I'll make a judgment which reflects many people, particularly women, I talk to in my Wairarapa electorate. Excluding those in Cabinet, there are several female National MPs we'd swap gladly for our invisible local representative John Hayes: the bright and energetic Amy Adams, Louise Upston or Nikki Kaye, for starters.

But it seems even National's president isn't proud enough of the party's women to share the celebration. Why are the media excluded from this event?

One of the former Act Party's best policies was media access to everything. Sadly that free spirit of a party - where bright women MPs were promoted - is history and Roy's departure is another nail in Act's coffin.

Leader Don Brash insists Maori special treatment is racist but, at a Masterton meeting this week, said: "I'm confident of getting at least one Maori candidate high up on the Act Party list." Tokenism?

Yes, I've been hard on Roy but I'm hard on everyone. But Heather, unlike other sooks, could take it. We've sat down together, reminisced over a few wines, hugged and laughed.

New Zealand needs MPs who've lived life's hard knocks, aren't precious and can weather criticisms. But it's always their own parties which shaft them.

According to Margaret Thatcher, Tory John Boyd-Carpenter famously corrected the new MP excited about confronting the enemy across the British Parliament: "No, those are the Opposition. The enemy is behind you."

- Herald on Sunday

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