When then-Awarua MP Eric Roy was first in parliament he was asked what it was like.
He replied, there are too many people up there who hadn’t had a bad lambing.
That was back in 1993. There are even more without that experience now:
About 10% of national politicians have had agribusiness careers but increasingly members of Parliament are being drawn from careers in the public or Parliamentary services.
A study by Wellington public relations company Blackland PR found 11 of Parliament’s 121 MPs have experience working in the agricultural sector, nine of them from National, one from Labour and one from New Zealand First.
No Green Party MPs have worked in the rural sector.
The company’s director Mark Blackham said 23% of MPs had worked in business or commerce and 19% in central government.
A quarter of Labour MPs and 20% of those from National worked in the public service or in Parliament before being elected.
A third of all MPs had no definable career but an increasing number were heavily involved in activism or worked for non-government organisations, especially among the Green Party ranks, before entering Parliament.
Agriculture is the one career that differentiates party roots.
“Agriculture is the only major economic sector where experience differs between political parties,” he said. . .
Fewer MPs with an agribusiness or wider rural background is partly a result of MMP. Electorates are bigger in area and fewer in number. One rural MP now services an area that would have had at least two under FPP and list MPs are almost all based in cities.
It is also partly a result of fewer people with any business backgrounds and wider life experience entering parliament and more people whose experience is limited to employment by local or central government and/or in activism.
It’s not only farmers who face bad lambings in a figurative sense. But parliament now has more people with less, if any, experience, employing other people; more who have not had to make decisions which impact on their own and other people’s livelihoods and fewer who have run anything where their own money was at risk.
Parliament is generally more representative when it comes to gender and ethnicity but less representative of people with work and life experience in which they’ve not only faced bad lambings, whether literally or figuratively, but learned from and become better people as a result of them.
MPs are supposed to represent people and a parliament that is representative of the population ought to do that better.
But MPs are also in parliament to make laws and I’d have more confidence in laws made by people who’ve been through bad lambings – literal or figurative – than those whose work experience has been confined to bureaucracy or activism.