By Russell Marshall
In the two decades since I left parliament in 1990, I don’t recall ever watching or listening to a parliamentary debate. In the last month I have done so twice.
The first was the 3rd reading of the Marriage Amendment Bill, giving legal recognition to gay marriage.
The second was afternoon session on 7 May in which tributes were paid to the late Parekura Horomia.
Like any grumpy old man I often think and sometimes say that, like as with so much else, Parliament is not as good as it was in my time. These two memorable sessions may make me qualify that
While I was never sure that the MMP system, at least as it currently exists, was the best we could have, it was certainly better than the antiquated Westminster system we had previously.
A true House of Representatives
These debates were a reminder that the present system does produce a true House of Representatives.
The first debate showed how much more mature we are in the way we look at homosexual relationships.
The second debate showed that there is a growing adoption and recognition of Maoritanga, a development which in a sense enriches us all.=
As a participant in the often bitter Homosexual Law Reform debate in the 1970’s and 1980’s, I couldn’t help but marvel at the level of the latest debate — its common sense, humour, wisdom and of course the relief that it brought to so many.
From my experience of conscience issue debates, one of the enduring outcomes for the major players on an issue is that party lines are never quite clear or sharp again for those who were on the same side.
For instance, my view of National MP George Gair after the abortion debates of the last century changed considerably and enduringly.
Moving tributes to Parekura
Even more impressive and moving, was the session in which tributes were paid to the late Parekura Horomia.
He had been a Labour MP and Minister and many of his former colleagues spoke. A good number from other parties also spoke and.Gerry Brownlee gave one of the best tributes.
There were many stories and there was a lot of laughter.
Often underestimated and sometimes derided, Horomia emerged — as the tributes flowed — as having been a giant among his Ngati Porou people and well beyond – ever busy, shrewd, patient, naughty (as Annette King noted), a kind of self appointed encourager/adviser to MPs, all Maori and younger members in particular. And he was respected and revered beyond anything most of us could imagine or understand.
An estimated twelve and a half thousand mourners had gone to Tolaga Bay to farewell him.
A good number came to the Wellington for the parliamentary tributes. There is now more easy use of given names and the whole atmosphere seemed delightfully informal and friendly, in a way that once would not have been remotely possible.
Perhaps the memory and effect of those two parliamentary discussions will produce a legacy in a Parliament which has most likely not seen or experienced anything quite like them before.
For now at least I am rather less of a grumpy old man.