New Zealand Law Society - Six lawyers or former lawyers elected to Beehive for first time – and more could join them

Six lawyers or former lawyers elected to Beehive for first time – and more could join them

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Duncan Webb
Duncan Webb

A prominent lawyer who has fought for people affected by the Christchurch earthquakes and the man taking over in John Key’s former electorate are among the new intake to Parliament following Saturday’s general election.

Duncan Webb regained Christchurch Central for Labour from the National Party incumbent Nicky Wagner with a provisional majority of 2,265, while Chris Penk took, to almost no surprise, the National stronghold of Helensville with an interim majority of 12,798. That’s down from the more than 18,000 majority the former Prime Minister had in 2014. A total of 31 people from the legal profession contested the election.

Mr Webb, who gave up his partnership at Lane Neave in Christchurch last year, had to win the electorate as his placing on the party list, at No.43, would not have been enough to see him get into the Beehive.

His election material notes that he has been working to help ordinary people in Christchurch “get their homes, lives, jobs, and businesses back on track after the earthquakes.”

He says he will have plenty to get his teeth into, in the next Parliament, whoever leads the government.

“There’s a lot of work to be done around insurance issues and the Christchurch rebuild, but there’s also wider issues about access to justice and the ability of consumers generally to get redress when things don’t go right, particularly on important things.

“Insurance is a classic example of that, you know really high-value transactions where homeowners and consumers aren’t really getting what they deserve because the system is far too complex and expensive.”

Legal knowledge

Chris Penk says his focus in parliament will be infrastructure and planning issues for his area, as well as environmental issues. “The area west of Auckland has been growing a lot in recent years which is very exciting but it does put pressure on the area’s infrastructure,” he says.

Chris Penk
Chris Penk

Mr Penk, who was once a submarine driver in the Australian navy, says his legal background will be of enormous value to Parliament.

“Being a former practising lawyer I am, of course, well used to the application of the law and how you think about law, and that is a tool that will help in the consideration of legislation that will help New Zealanders. Having my own firm means I have gained some business owner experience which is also a great asset.”

The Auckland-based firm Ong and Penk is now being renamed Ong and Partners.

Special votes could boost tally

The election saw four other lawyers or former lawyers being elected for the first time including; Harete Hipango, who held Whanganui for National, and Willow-Jean Prime, Kiri Allan and Marja Lubeck of Labour through the list. Ms Prime, who ran against Winston Peters in Northland, gave birth to her second child on 5 August, and campaigned with her new daughter.

Out of the six lawyers or former lawyers who were elected, just Duncan Webb and Kiri Allan still hold current practising certificates.

After the almost 400,000 special votes are counted, there could be at least one more lawyer added. The Greens currently have seven seats with human rights lawyer Golriz Ghahraman eighth on their party list, after she was bumped up several places in the run-up to the election due to internal divisions. Recent general elections have seen the Greens gain an extra place in parliament from the special votes at the expense of National. Should Labour also benefit from these votes, Bay of Plenty lawyer Angie Warren-Clark is the next cab off the rank. The official results will be announced on 7 October.

Current senior MPs with a legal background to be re-elected include Amy Adams, who was the Justice Minister in the dissolved Parliament, Christopher Finlayson, Judith Collins, Simon Bridges, Andrew Little, David Parker and Winston Peters.

In New Zealand only those holding a current practising certificate may call themselves a lawyer.