23 Apr 2020

Fire and ice: which MP has the best Zoom location?

From The House , 8:00 am on 23 April 2020

We’ve hit week four of MPs cross-examining Ministers on their Covid-19 response but the real question is, who has the best video conference backdrop? Daniela Maoate-Cox answers the question you didn’t ask.

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Photo: Screenshot/New Zealand Parliament

Working from home has increased the number of cameos from children, pets and accidental nudity during video meetings.

It’s a rare insight into how other people live and MPs working remotely are giving us the same glimpse into their private lives.

Some of them have chosen bland backgrounds keeping their interior design tastes a mystery but others are brightening up the hours of committee hearings with their location choice.

With over 30 hours of Covid Committee viewing under my belt I present, in no particular order, the standout backgrounds:

National MP Todd McClay

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Photo: Screenshot/New Zealand Parliament

Did he paint his walls to resemble National Party blue or was it just good luck? Either way the bold block of colour is a nice change of pace to the usual office white walls that frames most of the committee participants.

And on the topic of frames, there are a nice variety of pictures on McClay’s walls which have convinced me to finally purchase the paint-by-numbers set that keeps popping up on my feed.

Against this colourful backdrop Todd McClay has been asking Ministers like Finance Minister Grant Robertson about direct support for businesses and landlords who have financial difficulties beyond paying wages like paying rent on a building that can’t be used because of Covid-19.

Robertson said there are some schemes available already that he encourages business to use but the Government is aware that these issues are pressing for some small businesses who won’t be able to trade over the next few weeks.

Minister for Trade and Export Growth David Parker

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Photo: Screenshot/New Zealand Parliament

Pure fire.

I love this backdrop of vibrant bright energy clashing with the calm mood of the cliffscape in the picture. It’s not quite Labour party red but it’s on its way.

Top marks for decorating Parker, now back to answering questions on securing health supply lines which could include international discussions on loosening intellectual property controls around some products like test kits. 

National MP Gerry Brownlee

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Photo: Screenshot/New Zealand Parliament

Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson said the audio issues Brownlee was having might be caused by the “gratuitous” Crusaders jersey in the background.


Brownlee was just pleased that Robertson noticed it.


Unfortunately, all of the memorabilia makes the left side of the screen pretty heavy. Hang a picture on the other side to balance it out thank you.


Where Brownlee does achieve balance is in evening out some of the scrappiness that occurs on these committees.


Brownlee asked Robertson whether a safe harbour for leasees who have a personal guarantee worked into their commercial lease agreement might be reasonable. These agreements put someone in place who will personally cover the rent or outgoings if a business falls over.


Proving sometimes opposites do agree, Robertson said it’s a good point and he’s happy to look at that idea. The safe habour provision around insolvency is one that he’s had some positive reaction to and he said there are some legislative things the Government will need to do.

ACT Party leader David Seymour

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Photo: Screenshot/New Zealand Parliament

There’s some amazing work from budding young artists on this wall which I've decided are depictions of what an MP does. This’ll be awkward if it’s David Seymour’s own artistic hand.

UPDATE: I have confirmation from Seymour that "the artworks are by the Year 1 Class at Victoria Ave School in Remuera under the supervision of their excellent teacher Shelly."

If it’s the former I’m putting out a plea to artists young and old to send Mr Seymour some more pictures so he can fill out the left side of the wall.

Despite the captivating wall art I couldn’t miss Seymour reveal that the Minister of Employment, Willie Jackson, is his favourite Minister and he asked him whether any prosecutions of business owners misusing the wage subsidy scheme are in the works.

Risking his spot as “David’s favourite” Jackson said he knows "David wants to prosecute everyone and runs his whole strategy in terms of a punitive [approach]” but these are “desperate times” and sometimes people will do the wrong thing. Not a lot of people have misused the system, said Jackson and the Government has operated from a “trust perspective” which 90 percent of New Zealanders have adhered to.

Never fear though, Seymour confirmed Jackson remains his favourite Minister.

Labour MP Ruth Dyson

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Photo: Screenshot/New Zealand Parliament

I have questions about the violin bow across two wall mounted lamps. Where is the instrument it’s used for? Does Dyson play? If so can she serenade us at the next committee? It looks kind of large, is it actually for a cello?

Dyson had questions too but they were more along the lines of asking the media for reassurance that when short/medium solutions for helping the industry are found, it won’t stop media organisations getting together and ensuring their industry will be sustainable.

Mediaworks CEO Michael Anderson said there are commercial issues which have been faced for years but that shouldn’t take away from the fact that these organisations are passionate about what they do and what they’re able to contribute to New Zealand. This is a crisis but it’s not just a cry for help, it’s the trigger to make sure what they achieve is long lasting, he said. 

Honourable mention:

David Skegg

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Photo: Screenshot/New Zealand Parliament

Epidemiologist from Otago University Dr David Skegg has appeared several times before the committee often with this marble looking bust peering over his shoulder.

Dr Skegg has repeatedly called for New Zealand to focus on elimination of Covid-19 and presented measures from other countries that Aotearoa should look at. He is an independent witness invited to speak by the Committee on a regular basis.

Mark Cairns

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Photo: Screenshot/New Zealand Parliament

Mark Cairns of the Port Company CEOs Group said if Dr Skegg can have a bust in the background then he can have a fish. Can’t argue with that logic. 

Cairns said one of the main issues is getting empty containers to exporters but the Group is working with the Government on the issue.

Charles Finny

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Photo: Screenshot/New Zealand Parliament

A former trade negotiator with more than 22 years experience in diplomatic roles Charles Finny wins an honourable mention for not only using the actual greenscreen-type-background feature in the Zoom app but for doing it with a purpose.

Finny sat in front of a Barrett Reef backdrop drawing parallels between the crew of the Wahine hitting the reef and the response to Covid-19.

He said New Zealand might just miss the economic rocks if it gets things right but is at risk of becoming dependent on one market, China, and one sector agriculture. 

Appearing just after Easter, he said New Zealand doesn’t want all of its eggs in one basket.

Green Party co Leader Marama Davidson & National MP Louise Upston

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Taking a break from grey suits, glasses, and maritime themed backgrounds here’s Marama Davidson and Louise Upston rocking a red lip at home while quizzing Ministers. 

Davidson’s shade* is called ‘asking about outcomes for Maori in all areas of the Government’s Covid19 response’ while National’s social development spokesperson Upston’s red hue is dubbed* ‘questions about the numbers of young adults on job seeker benefits during the lockdown’. 

*may not be actual lipstick names

Finally here are a few MPs with books in the background proving they do read (or at least they own) some books.

Top left clockwise: National MP Judith Collins, National MP Paul Goldsmith, Labour MP Kiri Allan, Labour MP/Minister Phil Twyford

Photo: Screenshot/New Zealand Parliament

From top left going clockwise: National MP Judith Collins, National MP Paul Goldsmith, Labour MP Kiri Allan and Labour MP/Minister Phil Twyford.

The Committee’s schedule might change once Parliament resumes on 28 April but at the moment it is sitting Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at 10am and can be watched live on Parliament TV Freeview channel 6 and 7 or on Parliament’s Facebook page.