3 Apr 2020

What your MPs are up to in Covid-19 lockdown

From Checkpoint, 5:38 pm on 3 April 2020

During the Covid-19 lockdown, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Finance Minister Grant Robertson are in the same bubble, and they're addressing the nation on a daily basis. 

But what has happened to the rest of New Zealand's 120 MPs since Parliament shut up shop?

They too are stuck in their bubbles. So what are they up to? 

Checkpoint called a few to find out.

When Greens co-leader James Shaw answered the phone, he was in a t-shirt and shorts. When National's deputy Paula Bennett picked up, she was in her bike shorts. 

But NZ First MP and Defence Minister Ron Mark was ready for action.

"If you video-called me you would find me in my suit, my tie, my service shoes, sitting at the dining table, which I've set up like a command post with my laptop and all my files all around me," he said. 

Checkpoint called at a time when MPs would normally be firing questions at each other in the House of Parliament. 

"My wife isn't used to having another person in her house… I'm normally not here with the schedule I've got," James Shaw said. 

So he has been given some chores to do. On the afternoon he spoke to Lisa Owen he was washing the windows. 

"I am going for a walk once a day, which I find helps tremendously… I'm largely spending my days on conference calls, so it's actually nice to just be able to get a bit of silence and just hear the birds in the trees."

Labour MP Tāmati Coffey has been trying to keep up a routine to stay healthy while he appreciates his family's cooking.

"I worked out that actually staying at home and not moving was frustrating and also not good on the figure, so I've implemented a morning walk that's an hour long. I walk around the neighbourhood, and then in the evening we do a big walk - kind of a stair climb.

"I live on a hill. We start at the front of the driveway and we walk to the top of the hill and back about 10 times with baby in the front pouch, to create a bit of extra weight on the trip as well and make it worthwhile."

Exercise and food are the recurring themes of MPs' lockdown rituals. 

When National's Judith Collins spoke to Checkpoint she had just finished a walk around the block "...with my bubble - my husband and I have walked around our neighbourhood and I'm just about to have some lunch and I'm still in my tracksuit."

She said she is not missing the workplace as she is constantly on the phone or emailing her National colleagues. 

"I grew up quite solitary. I'm possibly not as social a person as some." 

Parliament's work is continuing to be done. In the past week, Parliament TV has streamed the Epidemic Response Select Committee which has taken place with MPs and officials using the video-conferencing app Zoom. 

Ron Mark is trying to help out at home, but is being kept busy with government work, his partner Christine said. 

"He is carrying his weight… He was going to make a casserole but got called off to do some work. But I'm anticipating in the next 24 hours there'll be a recipe pulled out and some meat defrosted." 

National's deputy leader Paula Bennett said lockdown was a surreal situation.

"You wake up in the morning and think 'I've got to do this conference call, check that email, follow up something with constituents' and you think 'I might just pop in to see mum' and then the reality hits." 

She is missing her grandchildren the most.

"It feels like they're so close and yet so far away. It's not quite the same, not getting the cuddles."