Parliament is supposed to be just that, the House of Representatives, its members a proxy for each and every one of us, warts and all. So sometimes we have to tolerate debates about subjects we might think are frivolous

The late Sir Robert Muldoon, I'm told, never forgot this. When he was often criticised about the calibre, or lack of it, of some of his caucus, he explained that he didn't wish to fill his benches with cabinet minister material. "Some members are content to be just that, and so they should be," he explained. "It doesn't pay to have all your MPs ambitious to take on portfolios. You need the ones just to carry on sitting on the backbenches, doing the ordinary everyday work, happy to be out of the limelight.

"This is, remember, the House of Representatives. These MPs you think are useless, they represent those ordinary folk out there, and they can relate to them."

I was reminded of this a few months back when John Key said words to the effect that he thought Parliament's time could be spent debating more important issues than adoption by gay couples. Not that he opposed it, but that the country had more pressing things to get on with.

He's probably right - child poverty, debt repayment, SOE share issues, ACC privacy breaches, NCEA problems, to name but a few. But to those childless people desperate to have a baby, who are legally unable to adopt, Key's words would have stung.

Parliament is there to represent them, too. Key should not have forgotten them. He is their Prime Minister also.

On a personal level, because I am one of the 'class of 2003' I like and admire Key. It's not political, I have the same feelings about others in parties of the left who entered Parliament the same year. Key's grit, his extraordinary ability to relate to a wide strata of society, are good qualities. But I've also seen a cutting side of him. He once told me he never cries, and I can believe that (though I bet he would in private if anything happened to his family), and of late he's looked close to it over episodes in our nation's disasters - Pike River, Christchurch, Afghanistan's war dead.

And I think this comment about Parliament's time debating adoption by couples in a civil union was thoughtlessly cruel, although interestingly, if same-sex marriage becomes legal, civil union adoption will probably become redundant.

But now Jacinda Adern's Member's Bill has been drawn from the ballot last week, the Care of Children Law Reform Bill, these people have a small ray of hope.

Her Bill will direct the Law Commission to have another look at the legislation, which is crazily convoluted and outdated. No doubt the habitual bigots will come out of the woodwork with their usual shonky evidence about gays adopting babies just so they can abuse them (those nutters were around when I was in Parliament).

The best that can be said about these people is at least they're out in the open, where we can see them and debate with them.

Nikki Kaye, National, and the Green Party's Kevin Hague were also drafting a Bill similar to Adern's, so presumably both these parties will vote in favour of Adern's Bill proceeding through the House, if not to Select Committee.

So, a waste of Parliament's time? No, of course not. Key said, "Less (sic) than 200 non-family adoptions take place in New Zealand at the moment," but didn't specify why. My guess is the reason it's so low is the same as for family adoptions - there just aren't enough babies to go around. That is, more and more women elect to keep their babies, rather than put them up for adoption.

And so the heartbreak of those parents, heterosexual couples, gay couples, single or whatever, who long for a child of their own, by IVF, by adoption, by hook or by crook, but can't have one, goes on.

Anyone who's belted out babies no trouble at all, has no idea of the desperation people go through to produce. To them, Parliamentary debates on asset sales, charter schools, tax reform, and Winston's endless poindsorvorda are probably a waste of time.

The laws need to be changed. Well done Jacinda Adern for front-footing this. Parliament can at last offer some hope for parents-to-be.

Comments (8)

by Kyle Matthews on September 04, 2012
Kyle Matthews

As I keep saying to people, private members bills are only debated on one particular day. Unless the house goes into urgency to debate some government legislation, that's what it's going to do that day. If not gay marriage, adoption, etc, it'll be some other members bill.

Anyone who says that these issues are preventing parliament doing any of the other business of 'more important things' clearly has forgotten these basic facts.

by Kevin Hague on September 04, 2012
Kevin Hague

Good comments Deborah! However, just to correct one point, the Bill that Nikki Kaye and I have been working on is not similar to Jacinda's Bill. Our Bill will be a comprehensive overhaul and modernisation of the law on adoption and surrogacy and will essentially make the changes that the Law Commission has already recommended. 

by stuart munro on September 04, 2012
stuart munro

If parliament were more effectively engaged in resolving some of the other problems that face New Zealand, we might not grudge the private members days. Sadly, our parliament is really good at passing legislation that is meaningless to the vast majority, and really poor at coming to grips with issues like child poverty and suicide rates that grow out of the 1%'s infantile obsession with neoliberalism.

by Richard Aston on September 05, 2012
Richard Aston

What struck me about the Gay Marriage bill first reading debate was how civilised it was. I watched the whole debate on TV, excellent and thoughtful speeches from both sides and none of the usual noisey interjections that make the chamber sound like bunch or quarrelling kids.



by Rob Hosking on September 05, 2012
Rob Hosking

The amount of time Parliament spends on private members bills is a bogus way of measuring the time spent on legislation.

What takes up MPs time is the lobbying they get, as individuals,  on a particular measure; and then there is the time spent hearing submissions in select committees. Both these swell or contract compared to the extent to which people are energised by a particular bill.

Some bills will see MPs barely troubled at all, at the individual MP level, and will be whisked through select committees with only a few submissions. 

Others will get literally hundreds. 


by stuart munro on September 05, 2012
stuart munro

Richard - that's because it requires no funding - a dream issue for politicians to posture and pontificate about. They don't want to grapple with economic issues because the contention will be serious. Risk averse or cowardly, call it what you will.

by Richard Aston on September 05, 2012
Richard Aston

Thanks Stuart - I naively thought that because it was a conscience vote they all actually found their conscience and behaved in am more civilised manner.


by stuart munro on September 05, 2012
stuart munro

Certainly one or two speeches could leave one with that impression, Paul Hutchinson was pretty good for instance. But when we consider the ordinary behaviour of the House, it is the good behaviour that is anomalous and the crude operations of venality and spite that characterise the institution.

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