One of the bonuses of a landslide election result is that it produces an influx of brand new MPs, some of whom will not be destined for greatness but can be guaranteed to provide some entertainment as they adjust to their sometimes unexpected, and unwarranted, elevation to the House of Representatives.
Green list MP Ricardo Menéndez March promises a great deal in that regard, and he hasn't wasted any time getting started.
Last week he let it be known that he wasn't relishing the prospect of swearing allegiance to the Queen of New Zealand, her heirs and successors, when he formally takes his seat (although he must have done so when he became a New Zealand citizen). He didn't say he would refuse to do it, as some have in the past, but it wasn't something he was anticipating with unbridled joy. Why that might be wasn't exactly clear; his is a somewhat garbled philosophy, but apparently the ceremony is tainted with elements of xenophobia and racism.
Anyone who can't quite decipher that won't be alone, but it is probably safe to say that the man is a republican. Fair enough. It's a free country, for the time being at least. But those who wish to divest this country of its European history have yet to explain precisely how becoming a republic would benefit any of us, or just how our continued loyalty to the British Crown affects us negatively.
It isn't always clear whether republicans also want us to leave The Commonwealth, formerly the British Empire, then the British Commonwealth. Presumably they do, our membership of that conglomeration of 54 countries, which collectively represent a third of the world's population, and 21 per cent of the planet's land mass, representing a strong and clear link with our colonial past.
Continued membership also presumably requires our recognition of the head of The Commonwealth, Prince Charles, who succeeded his mother in that role a year or two ago.
It is unlikely that many of us spend much time pondering the benefits of Commonwealth membership, but there must be some, given that countries are lining up to join it faster than they are seeking to leave. Mozambique, once a Portuguese colony, is one current member with no links whatsoever to the former British Empire, and there are factions in South Sudan, Israel and Palestine who would like to join.
It seemed likely last week that Menéndez March would swallow his pride sufficiently to take the oath (or affirmation) of allegiance, but perhaps he should have campaigned on his republican views rather than the more familiar issues of access for the poor to housing, healthcare, education and higher incomes, and a "liveable planet," all of which he has been fighting for on behalf of Auckland Action Against Poverty for the last three years.
Mind you, when it comes to seeking change that wasn't mentioned prior to the election the Tijuana-born former film projectionist, hospitality worker and migrant advocate can't hold a candle to fellow new Green list MP Elizabeth KereKere, whose first public pronouncement was to declare that our House of Representatives still has "a long way" to go when it comes to creating the sort of diversity that she would like. Her problem is that Parliament is still fully cisgender. If you're not familiar with that term, it means that every MP identifies with the gender of their birth.
"We still have to go a long way towards representation for our trans, intersex and non-binary whānau," she said last week.
We are making progress though. KereKere was pleased to see that our Parliament is now the "queerest" in the world, five more who identify as members of the LGBTQI+ community, including herself and Menéndez March, having joined the eight who were already there.
That's almost 11 per cent, and even if there is an appalling reluctance on the part of our parliamentarians to come out of the closet in terms of not identifying with the gender of their birth, giving that particular community some seven or eight times the number they might expect if they were looking for true proportional representation can hardly be sniffed at.
It certainly seems a little churlish to suggest that Parliament is not yet "queer" enough for some tastes. MMP was supposed to give us a Parliament that fairly reflects society, but those who are other than heterosexual have exceeded that many, many times over. Now, to complain that the House is still fully cisgender is ridiculous.
If we have unwittingly elected someone in that surely tiniest of demographic categories, they should feel free to reveal themselves. If there are none, are we any the poorer?
Quite frankly, the writer doesn't give a toss about a candidate's sexuality. Or race, for that matter. Surely the great majority of us vote for the candidate and the party who they believe best represent their views and will pursue policies they believe will benefit them, their families, their communities and their country. We shouldn't care, and given this election's results we obviously don't care, about their sexuality or their ethnicity. But it is difficult to see how specifically electing someone who was born one gender but identifies with the other could possibly benefit Parliament or the rest of us.
It certainly should not be something that occupies the mind of any MP, who was elected to do a much bigger job than complain about a perceived lack of diversity to a degree that most of us had never heard of. If this is a genuine issue, then we should know how many left-handed MPs we have, how many are colour blind, how many snore, how many have their own teeth, how many have a pet guinea pig and how many enjoy surfcasting. All demographic categories with as much relevance as whatever the opposite of cisgender is.
There might well be minorities, like Catholics, and white middle class males, who are statistically under-represented, although it is unlikely that Elizabeth KereKere is worried about any of them.
Incidentally, 25 per cent of this crop of parliamentarians reportedly have Māori ancestry. That too equates to over-representation, far in excess of the Māori population, but is no bad thing. It does, however, beg the question as to why we still need Māori seats. It seems, as we have long known, that there is no impediment to Māori candidates being elected, but the Māori Council doesn't see it that way. It has described a "landslide not only for Labour but for Māori" as justifying a push for 10 Māori seats in 2023. The logic of that might not be immediately apparent either, in a country that is clearly less hung up on ethnicity than some give it credit for, or that the Māori Council can profess.
The future, surely, must be constructed around unity (as opposed to homogeneity) and the common good rather than division on the basis of ethnicity (or sexuality). We must focus on what brings us together rather than what divides us, if we allow it do so.
Earlier this month the 2020 crop of Pukawakawa medical students and trainee interns were farewelled after spending much of this year working in Northland. One of them, who had been working in Kaitaia, quoted one of his supervisors, a South African, as telling him that one did not need to be Māori to be culturally competent. Hear hear. Send that man to Parliament.