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Scoop's "Meet The MPs" Project: Brendon Burns

Scoop Audio: Scoop's "Meet The MPs" Project - Brendon Burns

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Scoop Audio: Scoop's "Meet The MPs" Project: Katie Foley Talks To Labour’s Brendon Burns.

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Brendon Burns jokes that because of his career choices, he cannot slip any lower in the public’s estimation.

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In November 2008 Christchurch Central voted him into a career as a Member of Parliament.

For 12 years he sat had on the other side of the fence as a parliamentary journalist in the press gallery.

“I make the joke that there is not anywhere else I can go to fall lower in the public esteem than being a journalist and in politics,” he says.

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In a previous life Burns was a Liverpudlian, Marlborough Express Editor, Qantas Media Award winner and a vineyard owner.

Today he is an MP, an avid reader, a husband and proud father.

His 12 years experience as a parliamentary reporter for The Press have coloured his perceptions of life in the house.

“I worked in this place, in Parliament, for 12 years as a gallery journalist and that gave me a good awareness of politics, the demands on politicians, of the capacity to make change.

“I was here from the tail end of the Muldoon era through Rogernomics, through Ruthanomics, so I saw a fair bit which left deep impressions on me about what was the right thing to do and what was the wrong thing to do.”

As editor of the Marlborough Express he attended a factory opening which he now recalls with vivid detail.

“I went to see Helen Clarke open a mussel factory expansion in Havelock and jumped in the car with her and driving back I said to her, ‘do you think you could win this seat’?

“She looked at me in the eye and she said ‘I think we could Brendon if we had a good candidate’, and a week later I was the candidate.”

Burns comes from a strong labour family, his parents and siblings are all avid labourites.

“My wife came from a family that was on the other side of the fence but I sussed her out...

“I said to Philippa when we got married that one of the things I might like to do was go into politics one day.”

Scoop’s Katie Foley met with Christchurch Central MP Brendon Burns to talk about Labour, life as an MP, and bringing an old-hack-journalistic style to parliament.

He talks openly about his background and career, the smacking referendum, and the tweaks he would like to make to MMP.

A request to name a dream team of seven living or dead MPs, with a limit of three from his own party, is cause for much brow furrowing for Burns.

He takes to the task with deep contemplation and spends at least five minutes with pen and paper making careful additions and subtractions.

Q & A

What is your view on the decision taken by the Government in relation to the smacking referendum in terms of what it says about NZ democracy?

“I think we have to take account of them [referendum] but I don’t think you can be held to account for them.

“I was not an MP through the vote on section 59, and on that issue I have to say we so often hear the rights of parents to do as they wish.

“I still think the debate is framed wrongly, it is about the rights of children.

“I for one was a parent who smacked my daughters occasionally, I felt terrible about it afterwards all that.

“I don’t think I have lost that right, but if I did, I personally would happily trade that if I thought I was going to save one more child from being brutalised.”

What is your view on the merits of MMP vs FPP? Should there be another referendum on the subject and what is your preferred outcome?

“I think we need some fine tuning of MMP but I don’t think we want to throw out that system entirely and I say that as somebody who in my press gallery days was here in the dying days of Muldoon.

“There was a Prime Minister running this country as if it was his own plaything.

“He had no real voices against him in cabinet, what Muldoon said went, he ran this country into an economic grave yard because he had the capacity to do it.

“MMP ain’t perfect and no democratic system is.

“I think Winston Churchill once said ‘Democracy is a terrible thing until you think of the alternative.’”

Name a dream team of seven members of Parliament - people who you think exemplify how an MP should conduct him/herself. Your list of seven can only include three members of your own party.

Michael Joseph Savage: “Because he was instrumental in the formation of the Labour movement.

“I’m just reading his biography as it happens at the moment and the commitment he gave to New Zealand was just immense.”

Phil Goff: “Because Phil is, and I think will prove to be, an astoundingly good leader for New Zealand.

“He’s inclusive, he’s smart and nobody works harder than him.”

Rod Donald: “I got to know Rod through the debate on electoral reform as a parliamentary journalist and was really impressed with him and also his environmental values I think are truly important.

“I think he’s a great loss to the parliament and to New Zealand.

Helen Clark: “I think history will judge her as one of the great New Zealand Prime Ministers.”

Shane Jones: “Because I think he has got the intellect.

“He manages to walk the walk in both Maori and Pakeha spheres and he brings a really quirky and intelligent contribution to Parliament.”

Clayton Cosgrove: “A terrier on issues.”

Lianne Delziel: “Because she has such great intellectual capacity and knowledge awareness.”

Ruth Dyson: “Because she is such a hard working MP and colleague.”

The final team is somewhat number and Labour heavy so Brendon picks a non-labour substitute team comprising:

Jim Bolger: “He was a decent man, I knew him well in my past life as a parliamentary journalist.”

“I think that he was underrated - anybody that can win three elections should not be underrated.”

“I think he had a good set of values and I think we can see his commitments still continue through things like Kiwibank and New Zealand Post.”

Doug Graham: “I thought what he did with treaty negotiations was just outstanding.”

“He is a very principled man and I think that he contributed a lot to New Zealand with his sort of quiet dignity and gravitas around him still to this day.”

Kennedy Graham: “Is somebody that I have gotten to know and like and I think he is bringing a real dimension to The Greens that perhaps wasn’t there before.

Katie Foley is a journalism student at Massey University


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