Up the ranks: Out, damned spot of Shakespeare bother

By Ruth Berry

Chris Finlayson made a splash when he called the Prime Minister Lady Macbeth. He tells Ruth Berry he's learned to be a bit more careful.

Chris Finlayson
Age: 50.
Wellington list MP
Lawyer; entered Parliament at number 18 for National and rose to 14 in John Key's reshuffle.
Won Treaty negotiations and arts, culture and heritage shadow portfolios. Retained Attorney-General.


You've just finished your first year in Parliament. What has surprised you?

The truly adversarial nature of it in the House. And bear in mind [as a former lawyer] I'm used to adversarial stuff.

What's been your most embarrassing moment as a fledgling MP?

Probably the speech I gave to the Shakespeare Society where I called the Prime Minister Lady Macbeth. I had a quote from Macbeth which the Sunday Star-Times caned me for, but they hadn't obviously read it. But it just goes to prove that you've got to be very careful what you put in writing because people will misconstrue it. It was supposed to be a funny speech.

How does being an MP compare to your previous job?

You begin to realise that MPs do actually work long hours and do, by and large, work hard. I always had sort of a faint contempt for MPs, but I'm beginning to learn that most of them, regardless of party, are actually damned hardworking.

What are you passionate about achieving in Parliament?

Doing a good job in the three areas I've been given. I don't think I personally could have asked for more. I want to champion law reform as an Attorney-General, I really want to play my part to justly finish the historical Treaty settlements and I think there's a lot of work to be done in the arts. I think the present Government is suffering from third-termitis.

What portfolio issue are you currently most interested in and why?

Treaty negotiations, because I think there's a chance to refine that process and really get it going so that historical side can be concluded to everyone's advantage, particularly iwi and Maori. The first thing I'd change is ... more high-powered negotiators to negotiate with iwi. I think the Office of Treaty Settlements has some very good people, but I think they should provide the administrative support.

What stands out about National's new leadership team?

I see them as the early 21st version of the Holyoake-Marshall team. Both John Key and Bill English are highly intelligent, utterly dedicated, both like one another. You've got a seasoned [political] operator and someone who is seasoned in business. One will have particular appeal in the Auckland area which is all-important. Bill will have particular appeal in the South Island so I think it's a great mix.

Does the party need to be more centrist and, if so, why?

I always talk about liberal conservatism and the party's always best when it has both those traditions alive and well. Coming back to the first question, the other big thing that's dawned on me is that regardless of what people might think of the big two parties being Tweedledum and Tweedledee, there are profound differences and I see those differences.

Which MPs outside of National have you made friends with and/or have respect for?

I've really enjoyed working with Russell Fairbrother and Nandor Tanczos on the justice and law reform select committee. I really like Nandor Tanczos. We had a little (committee) group looking at the Evidence Bill and I'll never forget what Robert Fisher, QC, said to Nandor. He said, "If ever you want to practise law you'll have no trouble at all." He was just discussing legal concepts extremely well.

What's the best book you've read this year?

I'm proud to say that I've finally got around to reading it thanks to a few long flights, it's Roy Jenkins' book on Gladstone. It's taken a while, it was a bit of a leviathan.

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf04 at 28 Dec 2014 01:40:56 Processing Time: 1442ms