10 Oct 2021

My view as a fly on Parliament's wall

From The House , 7:23 am on 10 October 2021

As an eighteen-year-old high school student from West Auckland, New Zealand’s politicians have always felt unreachable.

That is, aside from the same faces on television speaking of whatever new socio-political matter made Breakfast headlines that morning. And the politicians I related to rarely got the chance to grace the morning news and become a familiar face.

So, as someone who wants to be a politician, in August I jumped at the chance to intern with Hon. Phil Twyford and live amongst New Zealand’s very own hive of micro-celebrities.

Trevor Mallard and Justine Tucker on the Speaker's daily briefing on Parliament TV

Trevor Mallard and Justine Tucker on the Speaker's daily briefing on Parliament TV Photo: VNP / Parliament

I had the honour of being a fly on the many frame-filled walls of Parliament; an insect with an all-access pass.

Until I visited Wellington, the most grandiose building I had ever been to was the Auckland War Memorial Museum. And it was the scale of Parliament, the Beehive and the surrounding buildings that struck me first. It makes a rather large deal of itself.

At the same time, the mishmash of 19th, 20th and 21st-century architecture reveal a timeline of events unfolding both in and around the structures.

This theme continues throughout the interior as old and new merge. Photos of every Prime Minister line corridors, modern Kiwi art is backdropped by drab wallpapers, celebrations of culture fall next to a bronze bust of Robert Muldoon - a mixed bag.

Nonetheless, a certain charm rings throughout the historical memorabilia that has been carefully curated - reminiscent of a museum.

The Parliament buildings, to me, felt like an overdramatic documentation of New Zealand’s past and present. But, this is fitting, as it’s also a place where decisions for the future are made.

The times I felt like I learnt the most were when I got the chance to observe interactions between people.

The atmosphere between the team members in Phil Twyford’s ministerial office felt comparable to a school project with friends. For, amidst the stress and pressure, there’s a prevalent sense of collaboration, synergy and humour.

This is in stark contrast to what I imagined a Government office being. And this wasn’t isolated within Phil’s team, for everyone I met - no matter their position - treated me with the same kindness and respect.

As a high school student, I initially felt out of place and way out of my depth. Underneath every stern handshake and friendly introduction was a teenager just following the mantra: ‘fake it til you make it’. But, whether they saw through my facade or not, the more I got to know the spirit of Parliament and the people who worked within it, the more I saw myself fitting in amongst them someday.

A final, notable observation I made was the interactions between Parliament’s ‘Big Kids’. These being MPs, especially within the debating chamber or select committee meetings.

National MPs Andrew Bayly and Michael Woodhouse react to answers in Question Time

Interjections and barracking are common and loud during Question Time Photo: ©VNP / Phil Smith

Being able to observe Question Time was an amusing experience, for the bickering, shouting and interruptions more closely paralleled a classroom debate as opposed to Parliamentary leaders in diplomatic discussion.

But, then again, perhaps I still see these people as being too far-removed from people like myself.

There was a select group of Opposition members who consistently shouted at whoever was speaking, and the collective rolling of Government’s eyes was fascinating to watch.

It all came to a head though, when the Speaker rose and gave a telling off to the opposition members, in a way that - again - reminded me of classroom dynamics much more than I expected it to.

Continuing with my classroom analogy: everyone was on their phones. Obviously, I’m much too polite, because it put out an air of puerility that left me perplexed.

An estimates hearing for vote courts before the Justice Committee at Parliament

An estimates hearing for vote courts before the Justice Committee at Parliament Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

Then again, I observed this same behaviour during a select committee meeting; the difference being, a committee meeting is a much more intimate setting. There, subtle displays of disagreement and dispute were just as loud as shouts across the debating chamber.

In this environment, real character came out unapologetically for a raw, unfiltered form of debate that was a pleasure to watch. Again, phones were out and dynamics were that of classroom cliques - but, by that point, I had become accustomed to it.

I would say that the most significant observation I made during my time in Parliament had to be the welcoming attitudes of the people there, and, for that, I cannot thank them enough.

I know that going into my own schooling and professional life I will take what I learnt and observed to achieve my own goals - whether that path takes me back to Parliament someday, or it doesn’t.

My time peeking behind the curtains of New Zealand’s political centre was an insightful look at a possible political future for myself.

To all the wonderful staff at Parliament: thank you for allowing me to shadow you on your endeavours and be a fly on Parliament’s walls.

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