Chlöe Swarbrick went first, talking about democratic engagement, her enthusiasm for politics as a youth, why politicians need to be genuine and be seen to believe what they’re talking about, rather than simply quoting facts and figures, and even made a surprising veer into a topic I didn’t know was one of the issues close to her heart: mental health. She confessed that, like me, she’s a different type of normal, and that we are going to have to get used to a significant section of our society struggling with anxieties and depression, especially if we don’t improve our quality of life for younger generations.
Golriz Ghahraman followed, and talked about her own political idols: Keith Locke and Catherine Delahunty. She also paid acknowledgement to the sad departure of both Mojo Mathers and Metiria Turei, and it was really good to hear both of their names spoken early in the new Parliament, and shared an anecdote about how her partner encouraged her to stand up and make sure the issues she cared about were still talked about in Parliament.
She carved out a very good space for herself with a blistering counter-attack on people who told her during the campaign that she didn’t have a right to live in New Zealand, or that she was being ungrateful by advocating to make New Zealand better, as if she should be disqualified from politics because she came here as a refugee, and those who threatened her life. It is people with that sort of attitude who perhaps would do well to understand what life outside of a safe, secular democracy like New Zealand is like, so that they could really understand the issues.
Overall I was very impressed with both speeches- I was talking about them live with a friend who’s normally an avid Labour supporter, but also a huge fan of Chlöe’s, and we both ended up becoming very impressed with each other’s favourite new MPs in Parliament this term. (I have of course been warming up to Chlöe over the campaign, as she has been an amazing performer)
I also feel an amazing relief to know that Chlöe is like me in having lived experience struggling with mental health, and we need more MPs like this, although I honestly don’t know how anyone, no matter how recovered, would cope with Parliament even after having an anxiety disorder, which is normally a relatively mild mental health condition. This was one of the most heartbreaking things about the campaign for me when the Greens fell back in the polls after our variety of bad news stories: we had been polling just about high enough that the amazing Leilani Tamu would possibly squeak into Parliament, and we would have a spokesperson on mental health with actual lived experience on the issues. There is no way that Chlöe is the only one in Parliament who has had this experience, but it was fiercely brave of her to come out about it actively in her maiden speech, especially after Leilani literally had people asking her if “she was that crazy woman” after having talked about her own mental health on her blog.