I believe in the collective wisdom of people and the importance of democratic participation but it is easy to get disheartened about what appears to be an apathetic public fed a diet of reality TV and Government spin.
Every once-in-a-while, my faith in collective wisdom is rewarded.
Here is one such occasion.
Think back to Easter 2012 – NZ was still struggling with the effects of the global financial crisis and the rhetoric was thick with austerity-speak.
We all had to tighten our belts (although spending on tax cuts that favoured those on the highest incomes were a good idea, of course!).
In the midst of this environment, on the Thursday of the Easter weekend, my member’s bill extending paid parental leave to 26 weeks was drawn out of the ballot.
I still remember the moment I was informed.
I was meeting with Women’s Refuge who were detailing how recent Government legislation and policy were making life even more difficult for the victims of domestic violence they work with. From the 90 day ‘fire at will’ law to the rationing of state housing, it was all a grim picture for women.
And then there was a knock at the door and an announcement that my bill had been drawn.
It was as if a ray of sunshine had burst into the room – Parliament would soon be debating a measure that would be positive for women, rather than detrimental.
I knew Peter Dunne was on public record as being a supporter of extending paid parental leave when my Bill had entered the ballot a few years earlier. Things were about to get interesting.
The Government was facing its first defeat in Parliament. And it was Easter.
The media immediately got the political importance of the Bill being drawn and there was wall-to-wall coverage of the Bill over the Easter break.
It captured the imagination of the New Zealand public – finally, something to be excited about rather than to be worried about.
I guess the Crosby Textor office was closed over Easter, because for four whole days the Government said nothing. They were either all on holiday or paralysed by having no-one to tell them what to say.
So for four glorious days, I got to promote the many merits to families, children, employers and the NZ taxpayer of extending paid parental leave to 26 weeks.
And then when the Government finally found its voice, Bill English said it was going to cost $500m over three years and he would use a financial veto to make sure it didn’t go ahead.
This trumped up costing was designed to kill off the public enthusiasm for the proposal and frighten people into rejecting it.
It didn’t work.
A few weeks later, TV One reported their poll of 1000 people showed 62% supported Labour’s proposal and that more than 50% of National voter agreed too.
The polling question used the frightening and false figure of $500m (it turned out the Bill was costed at $276m over 3 years) during a global financial crisis and still people wanted it.
And so my faith in the collective wisdom of the people was restored.
I feel proud to be a representative of a country where people embrace the value of early investment in children rather than paying for bad outcomes later on.
I am delighted that people saw through the Government’s scare tactics.
I am pleased that Labour’s campaign has forced the Government into extending paid parental leave to 18 weeks.
I am fortunate that the Bill has now got a second chance to be debated after it was finally defeated 60-60 at third reading, just prior to National losing the Northland by-election.
As the Bill is about to make its way back into the House for a second reading (again) we will soon see if the government will use the extreme measure of a financial veto against families and the 99.94% of submitters who support it.