Chris Bishop came into Parliament as a National list MP in 2014 with what you might call form.

He’d been a lobbyist for a tobacco company, had worked for Cabinet Ministers Steven Joyce and Gerry Brownlee and had earned a reputation at Victoria University as a far right libertarian with an undisguised ambition to be an MP.

With a father who had been a TVNZ Press Gallery journalist and a mother who is a top environmental lawyer, he was born into what you might call the Wellington political establishment.

Like both his parents he has been a champion debater.

“When I was elected I knew where the toilets were here,” he jokes.

In other words he had precisely the sort of CV that cynics around Parliament believe means its owner is inevitably headed for a fall.

But it hasn’t happened.

Instead he has confounded his critics to the point where his name appeared last year on virtually every media shortlist as backbencher of the year.

Maybe this was predictable.

His widely admired maiden speech referenced his waterfront worker great grand father’s 1951 waterfront strike loyalty card and his father’s farming National voting family thus introducing the House to a person somewhat more complex than they might have imagined.


In many ways he is a sign that something is changing in the National Party.

It’s easy to look at the rough and tumble of Question Time or to follow the Prime Minister’s innumerable media appearances and conclude that what we have in Parliament is simply a slightly modified version of bullrush.

But Mr Bishop with his subtleties and complexities is part of a new generation in politics who are reinventing the old rigid ideologies.

Ask him what will matter this year and he will single out two particular areas; neither of them necessarily headline makers.

His first pick is the debate about planning reform which to a certain extent means the Resource Management Act reforms but more probably will eventually centre on the way politicians react to whatever recommendations the Productivity Commission comes up with as it examines the totality of planning legislation.

“I think this is going to be bit edgy this year,” he says.

“It sounds quite boring but it’s actually right at the hard edge of some of the economic and social debate around inequality and poverty and around housing affordability.”

Like Finance Minister Bill English he has noticed what appears to be a shift in Labour’s position indicated by an Op-Ed piece in the “NZ Herald” co- authored by Phil Twyford and NZ Initiative Director, Oliver Hartwich which essentially argued for a freeing up of urban boundaries.

“I think in terms of that battle over do we need to free up more land, do we need to liberalise planning laws— the things that we’ve been saying for a while.

“I think we’ve won that battle and the Labour Party now concedes that and so now the issue will be where that leads this year and next year.”

And in a similar vein he sees how Labour reacts to the TPP as being a key political issue this year.

“One of the big dividing lines in New Zealand politics at the moment is peoples’ attitudes to the outside world.

“We have been very resolutely focussed on the idea of an open globally competitive confident market economy.

“For 30 years there’s been a consensus that our future is as a trading nation believing that you can’t insulate yourself from the rest of the world.

“But now if you look at Labour – it looks like they are trying to have a bob each way.

“I’m not quite sure where they will go and I think that will be one of the big questions this year.”

He describes himself as a social liberal and an economic liberal with the word liberal meaning slightly different things in each description.

And he cheerfully admits that now he is not as right wing as he was when he was 20. 

He’s 32 now.

Though he is the deputy chair of the Finance and Expenditure Committee, a plum assignment for a new backbencher, his focus is just as much on the electorate he is trying to win, Hutt South.

He was one of four backbenchers with Todd Muller, Alfred Ngaro and Mark Mitchell, who spent a month in Northland bolstering National’s campaign in the by-election.

And that experience taught him that local mattered in politics.

Unfortunately for him Hutt South is held by Trevor Mallard whose roots in that community are deep and who is a high profile local MP.

But though Mr Bishop is only a list MP he operates and campaigns as though he is the actual MP for Hutt South.

“I started door knocking in February last year and I’m going to continue doing that.

“I think people like it that they’ve sort of got two MPs.

“Besides that, competition makes everyone lift their game so it’s good.”

Meanwhile back down the motorway at Parliament he wants to spend this year “consolidating”.

That will mean seeing his Private Members’ Bill to compensate live organ donors through the legislative process.

He says he has ideas for two more members’ bills — a process he finds exciting.

And apart from the Finance and Expenditure Select Committee, he sits on the Regulations Review Committee which he also enjoys because it is a non-partisan committee and includes David Cunliffe and David Parker from Labour who he finds interesting.

So far he has confounded his critics but his biggest challenge now may be to live up to the expectations of his new admirers.