2 Jul 2017

The kaupapa MP - Catherine Delahunty

From The House, 7:32 am on 2 July 2017

Elections are a time of change. The mighty can tumble, underdogs can shine. For some, it’s a signal to move on of their own accord.  The Green's Catherine Delahunty looks back at her time as an MP for The Houses series with exiting  politicians.

At the age of two, Catherine Delahunty sat in a pushchair with her parents at an anti-nuclear protest on the steps of Parliament.

Now at 63, she’s finishing up three terms as an MP in a place she says she never liked.

“I see my time in Parliament as another episode in working for change and justice, it’s not the highlight, it’s just one experience,” she says.   

A job as an MP was never the aim but Catherine Delahunty realised she could increase attention for issues she’s passionate about from the inside while others continued the fight from the front steps.

“I’m a kaupapa driven MP. I’m not driven by career, I’m not trying to be the Prime Minister, I’m not trying to be a celebrity.”

“I see my job with all these resources and opportunities and access to power to facilitate other people to use the system for what they want. It’s not only about being in the front, it’s also about doing the hard yards.”

New Zealand Greens MP Catherine Delahunty is pushing for an independent fact-finding mission to West Papua.

 Catherine Delahunty holds the Morning Star flag, a symbol of West Papua's struggle for independence from Indonesia.  Photo: RNZI

Parliament is an “untrusting, toxic environment” compared to some of the community groups Catherine Delahunty has worked with but she says it’s not all bad.

“I believe in seeing things through and being committed to what you can do in this place. So because I don’t like it, that isn’t really relevant, in some ways I haven’t liked Parliament but I’ve absolutely loved the opportunity Parliament gives me to go out into communities.”
 
There are many things she’s proud of like having been at Parihaka for the Crown’s apology, giving West Papuans a platform to speak about their fight for independence and standing up for the Treaty of Waitangi.

She’s also grateful to the Green Party but says she’s got other work to do.

Catherine Delahunty (front) holding part of the list of 12,000 names supporting the call for swimmable freshwater.

Catherine Delahunty (front) holding part of the list of 12,000 names supporting the call for swimmable freshwater. Photo: RNZ / Benedict Collins

“My time is not forever and I really want to free myself from commuting on aeroplanes up and down the country, going to question time for pointless and debilitating exchanges between people that are uninspiring and people don’t respect us.”

“This is not the pinnacle of the world. The parliament doesn’t make change, it’s a follower and I want to acknowledge the people who really make change and I want to be part of them again as well.”
 
It’s easy for MPs to get caught up in the “protected little world” of Parliament and she says many forget about the everyday problems New Zealanders’ face like paying the bills.

“A lot of people in this community and this country work really, really hard and don’t get the status rewards or the financial rewards or the free travel that we get...not having to worry about how to pay a bill, that's such a luxury.”

Green Party MP Catherine Delahunty

Catherine Delahunty says it's an MP's job to make it easier for others and put the pressure on the government to make change.  Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

“We’re all impacted by the environment that we’re in, and I need to do a detox after I leave here... and remember what it’s like to not have all that soft padding around you and everyone wanting to hear what you’ve got to say.”

It's been a seven day a week job for years and she’s looking forward to having time for a cup of tea on the porch.

“I’ll have time to reflect. The worst thing about being an MP is that theoretically, we should be reflective practitioners. We have no space to reflect on what we do,” she says. 

“We react, we perform but we don’t reflect and actually to be sane and whole in your politics or personal life, reflection is really important. I haven’t done any reflection for about eight years so I’ve got a bit coming to me.

Catherine Delahunty will step down as an MP at the September election.