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Guide to 2008 NZ Election
Archived NZ Parlt 2005-08
Archived NZ Parlt 2002-05
Our Parliament House
International perspectives on democracy
Electing Parliament
General-election results
Parliamentary parties
NZ First
United Future
Forming the government
Composition of Parliament
The role of the Speaker
Who drafts the laws?
How laws are made
How a bill becomes an act
The Office of the Clerk
Parliamentary Service
MP's pay
A Labour example - Darren Hughes
A National example -
John Key
Select committees
Select commitee members
Petitioning Parliament
Visiting Parliament
Opinion polls
Parliamentary history
The New Zealand Business and Parliament Trust



What MPs do

Code of ethics
Becoming experts
Community work
Parliament's check on the executive
Personal lives
More duties
MP's pay

Conventions, not job descriptions, guide what members of Parliament are expected to do.

Becoming experts

MPs' duties in the House of Representatives include scrutinising legislation, organising the business of the House, and taking part in debates.

Back-bench mps (those who are not ministers) serve on several select committees. They seek to become experts in the areas of public policy the committees cover. Committee members:

  • hear submissions
  • question ministers and officials
  • debate principle and details of legislation
    conduct enquiries
  • devise large or small changes to the legislation.

As members of political parties, mps try to get the media and the public to take note.

MPs are in constant demand to give speeches, write articles for media, attend functions, and meet visitors. They are regularly lobbied by interest groups and individuals who want to promote ideas. They must respond to many letters and emails each year, with sense, sensitivity, and often with practical action.

Community work

Electorate mps represent their particular electorates (some of which are extremely large). They must keep up with local issues, and argue on behalf of local causes within Parliament, within their party caucuses, and elsewhere.

Members often have weekly clinics in their electorates where they make themselves available to constituents for any queries they have. These may relate to issues about legislation or government policy or difficulties encountered with state agencies. MPs can help people to have their voices heard in Parliament and government.

Before they become members, some aspiring political leaders assist current Parliamentarians – laying the groundwork, learning the ropes, promoting their beliefs. After becoming mps – and moving on to other roles in government or opposition, parliament-arians still need to represent constituents as well as discharging duties, perhaps as party whips, or otherwise outside cabinet, as ministers with one or more portfolios, as Prime Minister, or in the Speaker’s chair.

Constituency mps usually have at least one office in their electorate and two full time staff members to help with their local duties.

Many list mps also work to represent local communities, especially in areas where their party has no electorate mp. For example, National had no electorate mps in the Hawkes Bay region, so in a recent Parliament Napier list MP Anne Tolley acted as an extra local MP for National.

Other list mps work to represent special communities that do not have geographical boundaries, such as Māori, Pacific Islanders, trade unions, the business community, and women. Pansy Wong, for example, lives in Christchurch, but works to represent members of the New Zealand Chinese community, who are spread throughout the country.

Both constituency and list mps have a budget to spend on things such as operating their out-of-Parliament offices, printing and photocopying for parliamentary purposes, and purchasing equipment. For a constituency mp, the budget is $55,000, and for a list member, $34,200. This budget is administered by Parliamentary Service.

Parliament’s check on the executive

Former Act Party leader Richard Prebble said mps are a check on the executive. The mp’s role is to be a mini ombudsperson. “We are not social workers. We inform constituents on the right place to take their complaints. If constituents are not treated properly, MPs anticipate electors would bring the complaint back to us for follow up,” said the now retired parliamentarian.

Code of Ethics for all MPs

Manukau MP, Ross Robertson, said his reappointment as Assistant Speaker of the House of Parliament in 2005 will enable him to continue his campaign to introduce a compulsory Code of Ethics for all MPs.

"This code will cover the behaviour and performance of MPs both in the House and outside it" Ross Robertson said in a media statement.

"It is high time that Parliamentarians showed more respect for the House itself and for their colleagues. I have no problem with robust debate, but some behaviour goes a long way past the bounds of common courtesy.

This has become particularly important now that the Parliament is finely balanced and has so many new MPs. We don't want these new MPs reduced to low level brawling" he said.

"The biggest advantage of such a Code lies in its ability to generate or regenerate trust of citizens in the institution of Parliament and its members.

"It is our responsibility as Members of Parliament to secure and maintain the trust of citizens. This is a lynchpin of democracy and is essential if we are to progress as a nation.

"I will be asking the Parliament's new Standing Orders Committee to consider the Code and will be urging MPs to support its adoption" Ross Robertson said on 8 November 2005.

DecisionMaker sought and was given his draft Code of Ethics.

Draft code begins

Code of Ethics for Members of Parliament

The Code of Ethics sets out its purpose. It specifies the public duties of Members of Parliament, and the personal conduct expected of them. It also specifies the conduct expected of Members in the House.

Purpose of the Code

The purpose of the Code of Ethics is to assist Members in the discharge of their obligations to the House. to those they represent and to the public at large.

Nothing in the Code of Ethics derogates in any way from Standing Orders, Speakers’ rulings, or any other official code of conduct applying to any Members. The Code of Ethics supplements and supports those requirements.

Public duties

Members have a duty to uphold the law and to act on all occasions in accordance with the public trust placed in them.

Members have a general duty to act in the interests of the nation as a whole; and a special duty to those they represent.

As representatives of the people, Members have a duty to set an example to all by observing the highest standards in their conduct.

Personal conduct

Members should at all times conduct themselves in a manner which will tend to maintain and strengthen the public’s trust and confidence in the integrity of Parliament and never undertake any action which would bring the House, or its Members generally, into disrepute.

Members are to observe the following general principles in their conduct:

Selflessness: Members should take decisions solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends.

Integrity: Members should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties. Information which they receive in confidence in the course of their parliamentary duties should be used only in connection with those duties, and never be used for the purpose of financial gain by themselves or others.

Objectivity: In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, Members should make choices on merit.

Accountability: Members are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.

Openness: Members should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.

Honesty: Members have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.

Leadership: Members should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.

Conduct of Members

1. Members are to observe any standards of conduct which the House may prescribe. They are to behave at all times in such a manner as will enhance the dignity and decorum of the House.

2. Members should not leave the chamber when the Speaker is addressing the House, and should not normally leave immediately after delivering a speech.

3. Members should avoid making allegations in the House that are not supported by evidence.

4. Members should not sit or stand with their backs to the Chair.

5. Members should not consume refreshments in the chamber, except where other members are not affected or proceedings are not disturbed.

6. Members in the chamber should not read books, newspapers, or other publications unrelated to their parliamentary duties.

7. Members should not bring cellular telephones, mobile phones, dictaphones or pagers into the chamber, or play cassette or tape recorders either in the chamber or the galleries, or use portable computers in the chamber in a visible way, or in a way that disturbs proceedings.

8. Members should not display flags, emblems or any exhibits in the chamber without permission of the Speaker.

9. Members should not conduct conversations in the chamber unless it is necessary to do so, and then only so as not to disturb the proceedings.

10. Members should not conduct conversations in the lobbies in such a manner as to be heard in the chamber.

11. Members should not shout slogans, engage in ad hominem abuse, interrupt a member speaking, or otherwise act in a disorderly manner in the chamber, the lobbies, the galleries or adjoining rooms and corridors. Draft code ends

Personal lives

With very few exceptions, MPs work long hours and try hard to serve the needs of the people they represent. Few work less than 60 hours a week, and many regularly work over 80. Amidst all this, mps also try to maintain some kind of personal life. Many have spouses and young families who find that they see little of mum or dad once she or he becomes a parliamentarian.

Peter Dunne, leader of the United Future New Zealand Party, gets to his Bowen House office at about 8am. Although he may leave by 6pm, he often finishes his day at midnight. He is lucky to get one day off at weekends. His persistence in politics has been rewarded – from being a one-man parliamentary political party he now has influence over the minority Labour government with his team of three mps.

Those MPs who become ministers or leaders within their parties have all these duties and more. They may also have government departments and ministries to run – some of them with thousands of staff, spending millions of dollars a week.

Ministers, working within their portfolios, or collectively, make and influence the decisions the state can make that affect people's lives. In the checks and balances of New Zealand’s political system they face the prospect of rejection or further acceptance by the electorate. ..

MPs' pay

In 2003 Members of Parliament received a basic salary of $110,000, click here to find out more about payments in 2006. They also get a range of allowances to cover expenses such as accommodation in Wellington. Parliamentary Service administers payment of all Member's salaries, allowances and superannuation provisions, as fixed by the Remuneration Authority, which is an independent body.

For more information, see the current statutory regulation Parliamentary Salaries and Allowances Determination.

Find out more!

Parliamentary Service
Parliament Buildings, Wellington
Tel: (04) 471-9999, Fax: (04) 472-2551
Or contact us by email.