Ageism in New Zealand Politics

After the Botany by election selection process Maggie Barry took issue with my ageist comments saying that she was New Zealand’s favourite grandmother, and highlighting the stupidity of ageism in New Zealand politics. Fran O’Sullivan likewise castigated me for my ageism against Don Brash and John Banks and then also my ignoring of the issue in covering the Brash coup.

Maggie and Fran made some very good points. They are right that age should play no part in political discourse, because age by itself is no barrier. By wanting only people around 40 going into parliament we cut off a great many good people who could contribute hugely to New Zealand. People like Maggie (51) and Scott Simpson (52) have valuable contributions to make, and as politics is not a physical sport they can make that contribution over the next 20 years now they are in safe blue seats.

The problem for people like Maggie is that older politicians have not had a track record of achievement. National’s backbenches are littered with those well over 55, who will never make the step up to cabinet, and should have realised that by now.

On the other side of the house it is even worse. Much of Goff’s lack of traction is his elderly team. Goff dying his hair made him the laughing stock of the country, and put back the cause of the older politician. People like the dated Annette King, Lianne Dalziel, Ross Robertson and the now physically damaged Trevor Mallard are well past their used by dates, and should have made way for fresh talent they are currently holding up. Davis, Chauvel, Adern, Nash and Robertson all offer much more to Labour than people who are branded too heavily with the rejected Clark regime.

Our political system needs to realise that older MPs actually can do a lot of good, and someone who has the breadth of experience that Maggie does is probably going to be far more useful than someone who worked in an Electorate Office or was a house husband before they went to parliament.

So I am wishing both Maggie and Scott, National’s oldest new entrants in 2011, all the best for successful careers in parliament.


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  • jaymal

    So what you are really saying is it is not age in life that is a problem, its age in a job. Someone can enter a job at age 60 and as long as they have enthusiasm, drive and a positive attitude they are really valuable. If you’ve been turning the handle badly for 20 years you are useless, even if you are only 40.

  • David Parker spent his speech in the GD yesterday lamenting National’s lack of new faces. Had he looked to his right, he would have seen the benches of Phil Goff (Class of ’81) and of Trevor Mallard and Annette King (Class of ’84).

    Pot; meet kettle.

  • lcmortensen

    MP’s in the 20+ years club and need to be replaced. Remember – politicians are like nappies: they need to be replaced often and for the same reason!

    Bill English, Tony Ryall, Nick Smith, Murray McCully, Maurice Williamson, Lockwood Smith, Phil Goff, Annette King, Ross Robertson, Lianne Dalziel, Trevor Mallard, Peter Dunne

    John Carter, George Hawkins, Pete Hodgson, Roger Douglas and Jim Anderton are quitting anyway at the election.

    (Source: 49th New Zealand Parliament article, Wikipedia)

  • excuseme

    Well done to Maggie Barry. I hope she does well as an MP. To do that, she should dedicate herself to being a truly great advocate for her electorate – servicing their voter needs (usually getting resolution of bottlenecks in the infuriating bureaucracy), and representing their views faithfully in Caucus and in the House. Even if the latter means bucking the Whip on a matter of substantive principle.

    Importantly, Ms Barry needs to avoid representing herself as a “communications expert”. She’s not. She is a superb communicator on TV and radio, but she is not a communications strategist – something quite different. In my view she would do well to decline any appointment to or involvement in media-related committees or policies to avoid the inevitable risk of becoming narrowly stereotyped.

    Oh, and women’s issues too.