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Heather Roy's Diary - One Year On

Heather Roy's Diary - One Year On

ACT is dedicated to enabling New Zealanders to have more opportunities and choices in their own lives. We promote political and economic freedom, strong families and communities, smaller government, and greater empowerment of individuals.

One Year On I have now been an MP for one year and it is a good time to reflect on the Parliamentary term so far.

The 2002 election was fought fiercely, but not on any issues of substance. Helen Clark called an early election to coincide with a particularly strong performance in the polls. As this was not something she could use as a campaign issue, the Labour spin was "Will Labour need the Greens" to govern. The issue caught fire, and had otherwise sensible people campaigning for Labour to keep out the Greens. This was bad news for ACT because we were an unlikely bride for Labour - but, then again, so was Peter Dunne.

Sitting governments usually lose votes, but since MMP the loss seems to be disproportionately taken by the junior coalition partner. Despite fighting a creditable campaign, Alliance didn't survive. While all of this was going on, ACT fought a guerrilla war on the real issues - crime and justice, and the economy. We knew these issues counted, and we got our message out using direct mail delivered by volunteers. The other parties caught on and burnished their own law and order credentials - implausibly so in Labour's case. In any event, the effort was enough to give us a small increase in our percentage of the vote - and the last MP elected on our list was me.

Parliamentary life is difficult to describe. It is unlike any other occupation. It has its own rules and traditions, and these merge with the very serious matter of law-making. The nuts and bolts of law-making are carried out in Select Committee, and I sit on the Health Select Committee. This is where most Parliamentary work is done, but it is generally detailed stuff and seldom gets reported. However, astute lobby groups know how the process works and are ready to make submissions. As the Speaker complained on my first day, the press gallery seldom shows much interest in legislation, but it is important that it be done correctly. Interest tends to focus on personalities, and the public enjoys cases that involve real people in real situations. At this point, a lawmaker must become a politician to convince people that the laws they intend to make will make a real difference.

Where to from Here? I have already said that the junior coalition partner tends to absorb the punishment of the governing coalition, and this rule appears to be holding true for United Future. Everyone knows the Greens are much more philosophically aligned with Labour, but the Greens turn off a high proportion of traditional Labour voters. So United Future is useful for the moment - although it is clear to everyone, except them, that they are going the same way as the Alliance. When they see what is happening they will become restive. Jenny Shipley did Winston Peters a huge favour in 1998 by dismissing him. This gave him a chance to campaign in 1999 as an Opposition figure. However, Peter Dunne is reportedly keen for a Ministerial post for the second half of the term (if he tows the line). This time will be up in six months, and will decrease any temptation to jump ship. It isn't clear why the United

Have I done the right thing? On a personal note, I am frequently asked if I am enjoying the job. The answer is definitely yes. I have no regrets, and the work is extremely stimulating and interesting. The political game takes a bit of getting used to, but even that is fascinating and never dull. Is it what I expected? Pretty much - although the demands on one's time are great, and I underestimated the sheer volume of reading that needs to be done. Juggling family commitments and work isn't easy for any MP, but my family and I seem to have struck a balance. I particularly enjoy getting out and meeting people and groups - both in the health field and around the electorates. Health has been a great challenge for me. It certainly presents the country with, perhaps, the greatest of domestic challenges after welfare dependency. If I can help, in even a small way, to move New Zealand's healthcare properly into the 21

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