One of Parliament's new parents, Kiri Allen, has argued for a cap on taxpayer-funded travel for MPs' partners to be lifted for those with young babies.

While MPs' partners used to be allowed unlimited travel to be with the MP, the so-called "perk" was cut back in 2014 after excessive use by some.

The cap does not apply to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's partner Clarke Gayford, who will be primary caregiver for baby Neve, because the Prime Minister's partner gets unlimited travel.

However, the partners of ordinary MPs get 20 trips a year maximum while ministers' partners get 30 trips a year. The caps are set by the Remuneration Authority and can only be used to accompany MPs on work-related travel.


Allan, mother to a 10-month-old, raised the issue when speaking as a new mother and MP at a conference of Speakers and Clerks from Australia and the Pacific Islands.

Allen said the cap was difficult when her baby was less than six months old as it restricted her partner and baby to visiting Wellington only once every six weeks at a time the family wanted to spend as much time together as possible.

Speaking to the Herald afterwards, she said she knew calls to widen the entitlements could be "politically unpalatable".

"But that would be an amendment I would advocate for if we were striving to make Parliament more family-friendly. I would advocate for an amendment for people for those first six months of a baby's life."

She said the entitlement should also be extended to caregivers rather than just partners.

There are seven MPs with babies under one year: Labour's Ardern, Allen, Willow-Jean Prime, and Kris Faafoi and the National Party leader Simon Bridges and MPs Tim van der Molen and Chris Penk. Two more are expecting new babies soon – Labour's Chris Hipkins and Green MP Julie-Anne Genter.

Meanwhile, the National Party has put the kibosh on another plan to allowed MPs from far-flung regions to leave Parliament early to catch the last flight home on Thursday nights.

At the same conference, Speaker Trevor Mallard revealed he had considered that as part of his efforts to make Parliament more family-friendly but it was blocked.


He made a reference to Air New Zealand and the recent publicity around its decision to cut or axe some regional flights, saying he did not want to get into the politics of that, but it had made it tricky for some MPs to get home.

Parties can already have up to 25 per cent of MPs away from Parliament without losing their votes and Mallard had proposed allowing up to a further 10 per cent of MPs on either side to get leave to go early if the last flight left soon before or after Parliament ended at 6pm on a Thursday.

Although many of the MPs who would benefit are National MPs in Northland, Southland and the Bay of Plenty, National blocked it saying there was already enough flexibility for MPs to be given leave.

National's shadow leader of the House Gerry Brownlee said National's caucus had discussed it and rejected it as unnecessary, despite having the most affected MPs.

"Parliament sits for 30 weeks a year between Tuesday and Thursday. When you are elected, people expect you to be there as a legislator. We decided we didn't need that particular provision.

Our caucus discussed it extensively and we are the caucus most affected by being far-flung."


Mallard had mentioned the case of Invercargill MP Sarah Dowie, who has young children and often has to fly to Dunedin and then drive or cab from there to Invercargill to get home at about midnight on a Thursday.

Measures taken to make Parliament more child-friendly include opening the pool to "baby caucus" when mums take their babies to the pool on the premises, allowing babies into the debating chamber and providing better access for caregivers.


Efforts to make Parliament a better place for those with young children have made it a very different place from the Parliament former Prime Minister Helen Clark remembered when she arrived in 1981.

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Former Prime Minister Helen Clark. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Speaking about women's participation in Parliament at the conference of Speakers and Clerks from Australia and the Pacific, Clark remembered being one of eight women when she first got into Parliament – 10 per cent of Parliament.

She said it was a "boys' club" and the men had three primary forms of recreation – billiards, the bar and cards.


She recalled an area being set aside for women – a curtained-off corner of the billiards hall with some armchairs in it.

"Believe me, if you sat in there and listened to the conversations at the billiards table you learned quite a lot."

Since then the proportion of women had increased to 39 per cent.

"Fifty per cent is within grasp. It needs another heave or two probably, but if the political parties paid attention and start looking at the construction of their lists it can be done."

She said MMP had been critical in that and having women made a big difference in the issues that were deemed important. That included support for single parents, domestic violence, paid parental leave and early childhood education support.