3 Jun 2018

My first select committee

From The House, 7:31 am on 3 June 2018

There are quite a few new faces around Parliament as a result of the election last year and with the new job comes new responsibilities, like fronting up to the public, and facing off with the powerful, in select committees. 

Green Party MP Chloe Swarbrick (left) and National Party MP Simeon Brown (right) at select committee.

Green Party MP Chloe Swarbrick (left) and National Party MP Simeon Brown (right) at select committee. Photo: VNP/ Phil Smith

Select Committees are made up of groups of MPs from all sides of the House who consider petitions, bills, and hold inquiries. They're basically sub-committees of Parliament and in many ways resemble tiny little Parliament's of their own.

They're a major point of contact between MPs and the public and usually show a friendlier side of MPs compared to the combative atmosphere in the House. MP's operate on a first-name basis here, and the Standing Orders are less strictly enforced - which mostly works.  

To find out what it's like for a newbie on select committees The House spoke to three MPs; the Green Party's Chloe Swarbrick, the National Party's Simeon Brown, and the Labour Party's Kieran McAnulty.

We chatted with them in the first week of Committees and again six months later. 

The pictures below are of Labour MP and junior whip Kieran McAnulty in late November 2017 and again in late May 2018. Younger, older, much the same? They say a beard ages you, but could it be that six months as an MP has a similar impact?  

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Labour MP Kieran McAnulty before select committees and after six months of select committees. Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

In our before-and-after chats with the MPs a few themes emerged.

Mostly Harmless

The three all agreed that Select Committees are much more convivial than the debating chamber (the more usual public face of Parliament). In comparing the two, Simeon Brown described the chamber as "theatre". They all agreed that MPs mostly manage to work together well in the more sedate committees despite their public clashes.

They also agreed that a surprising amount of good work is done in committee and much is never seen. Here MPs from across parties can work together to make legislation 'good law' even when they disagree with its intent.

It's not always happy-go-lucky though. There are twelve subject Committees but, perchance, all three have spent time in the same committee - Education and Workforce - chaired by National MP Parmjeet Parmar.  They all raised it as an example of how committees aren't always low-key. It's recently become both politically divided and highly charged while some hotly contested legislation is under consideration.   

The Public Conduit

A second theme was how the committees act as a conduit between the public and MPs. Committees receive many thousands of submissions each year, and meet with thousands of submitters, hearing and quizzing their opinions. The MPs could all see how this fed into and affected legislation; solidifying or challenging their own opinions, and presenting competing points of view for them to balance.

One of the committees is a little different in this conduit role. Simeon Brown sits on the Regulations Review Committee, chaired by National's Gerry Brownlee. It acts like a small appeal body for the public. Parliament sometimes lets other bodies make rules on it's behalf, called regulations. This committee checks that regulation makers aren't running away with themselves, and hears appeals about where the rules might be unfair.    

Pile it on, I'm an MP

All three new MPs are loving their new roles and each made a point of saying how privileged they felt to be doing it at all. But you get the sense that they are also stunned by the sheer workload.  Never been so busy is a common refrain, never imagined it was possible to be so busy.  "Supposedly, I live in Auckland", said Chloe Swarbrick, who admitted she always knew that representing a smaller party was going to mean an immense amount of effort.  But no-one seems to regret taking it on.