19 Oct 2020

Election 2020: 'Historical high' - New Zealand Parliament readies for more diversity

11:04 am on 19 October 2020

The 2020 general election has paved the way for an array of diverse candidates to enter Parliament - from a record high representation of women and the inclusion of multiple ethnicities.

Labour has claimed a landslide victory in the 2020 election and has the numbers to govern alone.

Labour has claimed a landslide victory in the 2020 election and has the numbers to govern alone. Photo: Getty Images

New Zealand's first African, Latin American and Sri Lankan MPs are among the 40 new faces entering Parliament.

Along with seven of the Green Party's 10 seats, more than half of Labour's 64 seats in Parliament will be occupied by women.

University of Auckland Public Policy Institute director and politics professor Jennifer Curtin said for Labour there was now diversity through the list as well as electorate seats.

"They [Labour] are sitting on 55 percent women, even with National we're at 31 percent women. So the total representation of women in our Parliament this time around is close to 48 percent which is a historical high."

She told Morning Report part of it came down to design and how mixed member proportional representation (MMP) allowed for lists.

"Most parties use the opportunity to, if not set targets, but at least try and ensure that their lists mirror New Zealand society. That was the intent of the Royal Commission on Electoral reform [System] Report back in 1986 when they recommended the choice of MMP.

"So we've seen most of the parties trying to intersperse what we might think of as homogenous - the traditional white male candidate - with a range of other candidates. And this election it looks like it has worked pretty well."

She said quite often parties on the right did not put "diversity candidates" high up on the list.

But citing international evidence, she said "soft quotas" were an important way of bringing in a diverse array of candidates.

However, she said the New Zealand Parliament was still behind when came to including those with disabilities.

"Parliament is not an easy place to work ... there's definitely work to do."

She said with more young people in the House now and the rainbow community making up about 10 percent, there was still a range of other diversity that needed to be brought in.

"Disability is a really important one - not just because of the voices, but also just reassuring those aspiring to politics that it's an accessible place to work and I'm not sure that - as a result of the [Debbie] Francis report - we're there yet."

Who's in

The special votes are still yet to come in, but Parliament will be painted red with Labour on track to have 64 seats.

National's sea of blue is now looking more like a pond, dropping from 56 seats to 35.

The minor parties have also seen a massive shake-up.

Labour is forecast to bring in 22 new MPs.

Ayesha Verrall  (at podium)

Dr Ayesha Verrall is number 17 on the Labour list. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

The highest-ranking is infectious diseases expert Dr Ayesha Verrall - but Labour leader Jacinda Ardern would not say if she would be given the health portfolio.

"Obviously a portfolio like health is a very significant one. But generally, when I've been asked I have pointed out that we have had governments form before where people have taken on roles very quickly. For me, it will be about balancing that experience and expertise we have, but also the talent that exists in our caucus," Ardern said.

ACT leader David Seymour will have his hands full going from a solo act to wrangling nine fresh MPs.

But he said their collective experience would be useful; the new talent includes a former police officer, environmental engineer and small business owners.

"Of course there's a challenge for me leading that team and I want to melt our caucus into a very high performing organisation. For them, Parliament is a bit of weird place sometimes, there'll be a few ropes for them to learn but I'm very confident they can do it," Seymour said.

Ricardo Menendez March of Auckland Action Against Poverty

Ricardo Menendez March from the Green Party. Photo: Supplied

The Green Party were also big winners with 10 seats meaning they'll bring in three new MPs.

Anti-poverty campaigner Ricardo Menendez March is number 10 on the list and he is promising to be a vocal advocate if the final votes allow it.

"Personally I'm really looking forward to potentially fighting for our people on the benefit and those on the social housing waiting list so that they have a life of dignity."

And the Māori Party is likely to be back in Parliament with Rawiri Waititi who is 415 votes ahead in Waiariki with special votes still to be counted.

"It's going to come down to specials and it's going to be a tight race. But what it does say is that the Māori Party now has the waka on the water."

Who's out

But the pendulum swings both ways.

National's Dan Bidois is one of the victims of the massive shift to Labour in the electorates.

He won the Northcote by-election in 2018 following Jonathan Coleman's departure from politics - beating Labour's Shanan Halbert by 1300 votes. But the tables turned on Saturday night with Halbert taking the seat by the same margin.

Bidois was disappointed but was already plotting his next move.

"I'm happy to go back to the private sector. I'm about to start job hunting and I'm quite excited."

But he's not ruling out another tilt at Northcote in 2023.

Nelson MP Dr Nick Smith on Tahunanui Beach

Nick Smith. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Nick Smith is National's longest-serving MP - he first entered Parliament in 1990. But he too has lost his Nelson seat.

Whether he gets back as a list MP hinges on the special votes.

"I love my job as an MP. National's got a big job to rebuild."

He said decisions will not be made till the special votes are counted.

But the biggest loss of this election is New Zealand First - out of Parliament, possibly ending a four-decade career for Winston Peters.

But his right-hand man Shane Jones is confident Peters will stay on as leader.

"Not a doubt in my mind and it's up to the board and our rangatira Winston to ascertain and chart our way forward."

The final results including the two referendums will be announced a week later on 6 November.

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