barry coates mp

Barry Coates on his first weeks in Parliament

Week one in Parliament has been quite an occasion. I would like to share the experience.

I had given up on the prospect of getting into Parliament before the election and had been enjoying the diverse work I was doing in developing up a sustainability programme for the University of Auckland Business School, coordinating the TPPA campaign, and co-convening the Green Party Policy Committee. I had kept my ears open for any possibility of an MP standing down, but hadn’t heard anything. A few months ago I told an MP that I thought it wasn’t going to happen. The MP looked a bit thoughtful and said, “Well Barry, you never know.” It was Kevin Hague. Perhaps I should have known something was up, but I was surprised when I got the call from James Shaw that my life was about to change.

I’ve been in a lot of strange situations before but there’s nothing quite like entering Parliament. It’s a rather surreal experience. You get given lots of advice, but the unexpected still happens – like the swearing in ceremony on day one (Tuesday 10 October). I was accompanied into the Chamber by James and Metiria, and all was going well. I got through the difficult bit in saying I would honour and obey the Queen (as a republican I found that particularly difficult) and turned away, about to return to my seat.  Metiria turned to me and said, “When you said Her Majesty, did you mean me?” Cruel and unfair. An attack of laughter looks out of place in a solemn occasion. But I managed to contain myself and my revenge was including the incident in my maiden speech.

I had gone through many successive versions of my maiden speech. It is a unique opportunity to define who you are and what you stand for, so there is pressure to get it right. After numerous drafts, I delivered the speech on day two and felt good about how it went (www.bit.ly/BarryC). It was pleasing to get a welcome from a lot of Labour MPs, as well as some NZ First and National Party ones too.

I got lots of feedback, not only on the speech but also on the appearance of an unexpected visitor alongside me, visible on the video – a pair of wriggling bare feet! I think that it’s important for the Greens to be grounded, so it was a nice touch.

Day three was into the deep end, with the morning in an intense Select Committee meeting on a poorly conceived Bill on trade, then three speeches on legislation in the House, each 10 minutes long. It meant getting up to speed quickly on complex Bills. Thankfully there’s good analysis and support from Green Party staff and other MPs.

I am deeply grateful for the support of so many Green Party members in being able to represent you in Parliament, and the 10.7% of New Zealanders who voted for us. My portfolios are Senior Citizens, Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Trade, Overseas Development, Arts and Culture, Statistics, Gambling, Racing and Ministerial Services. I would welcome feedback and suggestions.