National's Todd Muller recognises need to check in on 'younger' MPs with 'less life experience'

National leader Todd Muller recognises the need to check in on "younger" MPs with "less life experience" after 35-year-old Hamish Walker became embroiled in a privacy breach.

Walker announced on Wednesday he would not seek re-election in the Southland electorate after leaking COVID-19 patient data to the press - and Muller is now facing questions about whether MPs are given enough guidance. 

"I think it's a fair question," Muller told Newstalk ZB. "When I look back, when I came in, I felt incredibly supported. So, you think 'yes, that worked for me and maybe, therefore, it works for everybody else'.

"At times like this, you need to just check that when you bring people in who are perhaps younger, perhaps have less life experience, maybe you just need to make sure that level of support - not just the initial induction which is very strong - but actually that ongoing support where it needs to be." 

Muller said he thought Walker "certainly had a lot of support" but acknowledged there is room to improve the amount of guidance offered to MPs with less experience.

Fresh MPs take part in a Members' Induction Programme run by the Office of the Clerk and Parliamentary Service, designed to help make MPs' transition to Parliament as easy as possible.

They learn about a typical sitting day in Parliament, MPs' role as a member of a select committee, and get introduced to the media, among other things.

Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick, Parliament's youngest member at age 26, says there's a need for more up-skilling of MPs to "reach the standards we'd expect" from the people leading the country. 

National leader Todd Muller (left) and MP Hamish Walker.
National leader Todd Muller (left) and MP Hamish Walker. Photo credit: Newshub / Facebook

"I was really privileged coming into Parliament to be surrounded by experienced colleagues who showed me the ropes. Unfortunately, not everybody has that to the same degree," she told Newshub.

"There's a massive gap between what you can learn from a book about parliamentary procedure and the reality of how one becomes an effective representative."

Swarbrick said MPs come from a diversity of backgrounds, which she said is critical for a representative Parliament. There's no specific school you have to have been through or degree you have to have, she said.

"But that lack of uniformity also means many don't have experience managing people."

"Ultimately, there's a million different ways to do this job, and the things different MPs emphasise, different ways they engage with their constituents or different approaches to problem-solving they take mean there is no straight-forward job description."

Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick is New Zealand's youngest MP at age 26.
Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick is New Zealand's youngest MP at age 26. Photo credit: Getty

Muller entered Parliament in 2014 at the age of 45 as the MP for Bay of Plenty. Walker was more than 10 years younger - 32 when he became the MP for Clutha-Southland in 2017.

Even younger was Walker's Clutha-Southland predecessor, Todd Barclay, who was elected at age 23 taking over from Sir Bill English who previously held the seat.

Barclay didn't stand for re-election in 2017 following a parliamentary scandal. He admitted to secretly recording conversations between staff he inherited from Sir Bill.

Todd Barclay became MP for Clutha-Southland at age 23.
Todd Barclay became MP for Clutha-Southland at age 23. Photo credit: Newshub

National has even younger candidates lined up for the September election.

William Wood was 17 when he was selected in 2019 as National's candidate for Palmerston North, which is currently held by Labour MP Iain Lees-Galloway, 41.

National also selected Catherine Chu, 23 at the time, to challenge the Port Hills seat - renamed Banks Peninsula - which is currently held by Labour's Ruth Dyson, 62.

The Greens have put up a teenager, climate change striker Luke Wijohn, to contest Prime Minister and Labour leader Jacinda Ardern's Mt Albert electorate in Auckland.

National's youngest MP is Simeon Brown, 29. Labour's youngest MP is Kieran McAnulty, 35.