When I announced my retirement, one of the first emails received said: “Good riddance, you’ve said nothing, done nothing, and stood for nothing.” Harsh, I thought, but typical of many political letters to MPs. The funny thing was that a week later I received another email from the same man. It said: “Mrs Rich, my heartfelt apologies. Comments from your colleagues, the media, and even your opponents seem to have been uniformly positive. I can only conclude that I got you mixed up with someone else. Sorry about that. Mistaken, from Petone.” It was a strange exchange but somehow it sums up politics. Criticism is fulsome, and sometimes unwarranted, but every so often we get the right messages across and we can change minds.
It has been an honour and a privilege to have taken my seat in this Chamber as a National member for 9 years. It is an experience that few New Zealanders ever have, and I will remember it for the rest of my life. I would like to acknowledge Madam Speaker, our first woman Speaker, and say how proud I was as a woman in New Zealand to attend her swearing-in. The perfect rugby pass of a handbag to the surprised Darren Hughes, as she strode up the aisle to meet the Prime Minister and Governor-General, was also impressive.
Mr Deputy Speaker, you have been a good friend to me during my 9 years and I am honoured that you are in the Chair. I also acknowledge former Speaker Sir Robin Gray. His support over the years has been invaluable. When I was cleaning out my office I found a card from Sir Robin, received when I first became an MP. He said: “The delivery of one’s maiden speech and valedictory are the only two times when a member is free to say exactly what they want to say.” That is very true.
Leaving here is hard at such an exciting time and after the hard graft of Opposition, but it is the right decision for me. Being an MP is not a job; it is a life. Political service is all-consuming, and the New Zealand public deserves nothing less. In preparation for my valedictory, I read my maiden speech. Nine years later, my beliefs have not changed and I have done exactly what I said I would do. I will not pretend that I am unaffected by the experience—I have a thicker skin; I can deliver a better speech—but the things I believed in before I came to politics are the same. In some ways I am fortunate. I leave at a time of my own choosing, positive about Parliament, my party, and our democracy.
I do not agree with some who leave Parliament and say that little can be achieved through such public service. An MP can make a difference every day, if he or she chooses to. I have taken a Ralph Waldo Emerson approach to politics and always thought that if even one life is breathed easier as a result of the work we have done, then that is success. That is why I have found constituency work satisfying, particularly its harder edges—cases like the inmate mother handcuffed during childbirth; the woman who could not get her teacher’s registration because she had the same name as a Christchurch criminal; the boy who absconded for 3 months before officials looked for him; and many others. These are not big cases to the public, but I can say they were for those individuals involved.
I would like to thank the journalists with whom I have worked closely. I would not have had such success in solving the tougher cases from Opposition without their stories. There is nothing like a front-page lead to galvanise the authorities into action, after all other approaches have failed. Some of the Child, Youth and Family cases still haunt me. I recall the shock of realising that a 9 kilogram 2-year-old, left to eat toothpaste, was the same weight as my son Jonathan at 6 months.
There were the scandals—grants for hip-hop tours, and other questionable spending. One day my erstwhile opponent Steve Maharey might tell me whether I was effective, but it is a fact that many of the schemes I pilloried do not exist now. At this point I would like to acknowledge the impact that political life can have on family, because my mother and sister both worked for the Community Employment Group—one of the organisations that I had criticised. In my defence I can say that my aim was to get better financial management. I never imagined that the whole department would get shut down.
Many in my family are dedicated public servants. I say that the Public Service cannot be that politicised because at one point there were five of them working in Ministers’ offices or departments. Such is their professionalism, I can proudly say they have been no help to my political career whatsoever. I could not even ask how their day was going, during Budget time.
I have added to my family since becoming an MP. I could not have received more support from my National colleagues. Parliament is not a great place for families, but it is the worst place to be pregnant. Simple things, like taking a call in the House, prove difficult. Although it breached the Standing Orders, I was thankful that Jonathan Hunt allowed me to perch on the arm of my chair so I could stand quickly enough to take a call. It was probably vanity, as the cameras were certainly not there to see me, but I did not enjoy the walk to caucus each Tuesday. Years later I had to ring TV3 to ask them to stop using the footage of Simon Power, who was at that time slim, and myself, the size of the Goodyear blimp, waddling along the corridor. I was starting to get mail asking why I had been pregnant for 5 years.
I am proud that my son Jonathan is a Southlander, but it was not my ambition to have him 5 weeks early, at the 2001 National Party conference in Invercargill. When my daughter Georgia grows up I hope she will be proud that she was the first baby to sit in this Chamber. She sat with me quietly here one evening, and no one called “stranger in the House”. She was born after the 2002 election. Members may recall that for nearly 3 weeks it looked as if I was not going to make it back to Parliament. Even my office had been reallocated. I returned on the equivalent of three party votes per electorate. Whether members think that is a good thing or a bad thing is up to them, but it does demonstrate the importance of the party vote in MMP.
One of my most satisfying political memories is playing a part in the section 59 debate, although it was not an easy time. For months one would think the sky was falling in, for all the bleating of some opposed to losing the right to hit children. Some said parenting would become illegal, Child, Youth and Family would steal our children, and good parents would end up in jail. Well it has not happened. In the years to come I think most people will wonder what all the fuss was about. I believe the Bradford law will be another chapter in our gradual move to social enlightenment, alongside other seminal pieces of legislation that brought women’s suffrage, homosexual law reform, and the recognition of civil unions.
Initially I supported Sue’s bill because I wanted to close the legal loophole that allowed some parents to batter their children and escape conviction. By the end of the debate I supported the message that hitting children for any reason was not OK. A turning point was listening to another MP talking of the loving smack and the merits of using an instrument to beat children. With referenda pending, any politician who thinks that electoral glory comes from the promotion of hitting kids needs to take a reality check.
Much has been made of the solitude of my position within the National Party caucus on this issue. The day John Key brokered the deal I recall walking to Copperfields and passing the press gallery chairman, Vernon Small, who quipped that I was the last tōtara standing, although given that I am short and pale, a slightly smaller and less indigenous analogy might have been more appropriate. He looked at me with disbelief when I mumbled: “Might be a forest by the end of today.” In truth I was never the lone tōtara of the centre right. I had the support and friendship of Doug Woolerton and Brian Donnelly, brave and inspiring men, hardly the wet-sook liberals that Sue Bradford and I had been accused of being.
National’s concern was making the law work in practice and ensuring that good parents were not punished. So once John Key had found a way through that deadlock, National supported the legislation—the tōtara had become a forest after all. It is frequently said that Katherine Rich voted against the party. That is not correct. I leave Parliament having never crossed the floor, and publicly supporting every caucus decision. What I have done is voted according to my conscience and thankfully National has a strong tradition of protecting the rights of its MPs to do so.
Commentators who have questioned my place in the National Party, I think, fail to understand our party’s history. I know exactly where I stand in National’s history of a liberal tradition, following names that include Ralph Hanan, Tom Shand, Katherine O’Regan, Marilyn Waring, Roger Sowry, Clem Simich, and I have added Simon Power to that list! The last five have very much inspired me as an MP.
Liberal conservatives have always had a role not only in tempering the harder edges of conservative politics and encouraging change but also in acting as a cautionary voice in times of upheaval. One of my colleagues calls me the “um, hang on a minute” person because of my propensity to bring up the possibility of less-charitable interpretations by the news media of some of our ideas.
I am proud of my voting record. Some agonise over conscience votes, but I have never struggled because essentially most are about human rights and whether one believes that all New Zealanders should have the same rights. I have never been lobbied by caucus to change my vote, but there have been occasions when party members have taken issue. In each case I have reminded them of the National Party principles that I hold dear—equal citizenship and equal opportunity, individual freedom and choice, and personal responsibility.
Every MP has their annus horribilis, and mine would have to be 2005. Members might recall I had a slight difference of opinion over a welfare speech. Looking back, I think I got into trouble more for what I did not say rather than what I did, but it surprised me that few read that speech closely or understood it. Demotion, clearly, was not a career highlight, but it was preferable to trying to explain why I, a well-paid mother with all the supports in the world, intended telling a DPB mum to leave her baby in childcare in order to net probably less than half the minimum wage. That time was not much fun, but I was determined to leave here feeling positive, because over the years I have realised that politics can deliver to our doorsteps hundreds of reasons to be bitter but it is up to us to decide how we react to those situations. I found that most things could be survived as long as there was family, friends, and Flying Nun—a good dose of Flying Nun, I have to say.
Politics can also deliver small kindnesses. When I announced my plan to step down, I was really touched by the press releases issued by the Māori Party. I will miss regular Chamber chats with Pita about family and parliamentary life. The surprise farewell that our president, Judy Kirk, and the women in National held for me is a wonderful memory; I thank them for that. I will miss the regular parliamentary exchanges—hearing about Maurice’s latest cellphone or gadget, inappropriate jokes from John Carter, critiquing fashion with Paula Bennett, that wonderful poetic marae-speak from Shane Jones, Mr McCully’s hospitality and infinite wine supply, and teasing Mahara Okeroa that we Nats indeed have a secret agenda, and it is to make him our first ambassador to Namibia!
But now I would like to make some comments about future policy. I know that under John’s leadership the economy and other major portfolios will be taken care of, so I want to pick a couple of smaller issues for comment. I hope that support for Kiwi music is continued and boosted. Kiwi music brings us together. It is one of the glues of our society. The market will never support local music sufficiently, given the size of our country. Reading-recovery programmes are particularly dear to my heart, and I would appreciate improved support for them. Those programmes and others save many Kiwis from lives of illiteracy. I would like to see the Office of the Children’s Commissioner retain its independence as a strong voice and social conscience for our nearly 900,000 children, who do not vote.
And now for some specific people I would like to thank. To John Key: I have enjoyed my time on National’s front bench and working for you. I respect you because of your beliefs and your way with people, and I know that under your leadership National will not forget those less fortunate. To Bill English, the man with a brain the size of a small planet: thank you for giving me the welfare portfolio. You could have walked away from politics years ago, but I think New Zealand is fortunate that you decided to stay and fight. To Gerry: I fail to put this into words properly, but thank you for your humour. In some of our darkest moments in Opposition I have seen you lift our combined spirits with a clever one-liner and positive attitude, and that is quite a gift. To my best political friend, Simon Power: the people of Rangitikei are very fortunate, indeed. Stay staunch over the coming years. I know you will uphold National’s liberal tradition and play a strong “hang on a minute” role in Cabinet debates—PS, please introduce some decent rehabilitation to the women’s prisons because next time I visit my constituent I want to know she has more to do than just play ping-pong.
I would like to thank John Slater and Jenny Shipley. Had it not been for their faith I never would have taken my seat. To my colleagues from the “class of ‘99” that has met almost every Tuesday for 9 years: thank you for your support and your friendship. Likewise I am grateful to party officials Craig Myles, Roger Bridge, and Kate Hazlett, and all my electorate chairs. I would like to thank my loyal secretaries, Pat Humphries and Robyn Broughton, and my driver, Roy Bremner.
To my husband, children, and parents who are here: thanks just does not cover it, in particular, Andrew. Campaigning in Dunedin is never easy, but Andrew’s intimidating use of balloons and bodyguard approach to campaigning has kept most opponents at bay. I could not have lasted through 9 years in politics and two babies without his support.
Regrets, well, I have had a few. Speaking with Don Brash last week, we shared the regret that we did not make more progress with the Christchurch civic crèche case. As a circuit-breaker, Rob Muldoon got an Australian judge to look at the Arthur Allan Thomas case. That might be an option for this one. I regret not being able to implement my strategy for welfare, but I am confident National has good policy for the future. Compassionate and practical welfare provision will always get better results than condemnation. I regret that there are not more hours in the day to achieve the most illusive of conjuring tricks—the mythical work-life balance.
But I do not wish to dwell on my regrets. They are more than outnumbered by positive memories I will take from this place; also the satisfaction of having done my job to the best of my ability. I leave positive about New Zealand and our parliamentary process. We live in a robust democracy in one of the least corrupt societies in the world, and I think we should remember that when the daily small scandals threaten to distract us.
I issue one final plea to my fellow parliamentarians and the gallery. We all belong to political parties but we are not clones. National and Labour are broad-based parties, which means that each will have members who sit on different parts of the political spectrum. We back party policies, but it is not a scandal to privately hold a different view. In the last year I have seen too many stories that run the line that this is somehow a crime. Regarding conscience issues, we all have a conscience, and we must remain free to exercise it on those issues that go to the heart of our belief systems. I urge all party whips to ensure that this most vital of parliamentary freedoms is never forgotten.
Looking back on many valedictories delivered in this Chamber, I find a popular choice for retiring MPs is to quote Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”. Well, anybody who knows me knows that I cannot abide crooning; I have always preferred the Sid Vicious version. I have done things my way, but I have done them within a National team and Parliament as a whole. I wish you all the best for the coming election, and I say thank you and goodbye.
Mr Deputy Speaker, honourable members, Corinne and Kendra—gosh, you know, no matter how many times you speak in public, you still get nervous, don’t you; isn’t it a shocker? As recently as a week ago I had not intended to make a speech in this House today. As people may be aware I have been quoted in the media as saying I have not particularly enjoyed my 3 years in Parliament, and I have been critical of some of the ways this complex operates. I had initially planned to leave it there.
However, I was recently approached by a very senior colleague, who managed to find me all the way back up here and sit beside me—quite an achievement. This colleague rarely speaks, but when he does he is well worth listening to. He told me that in my short time here he had never heard me speak in a negative manner in this debating chamber. That is something I have prided myself on—always trying to add a bit of value or to make an improvement. It was at that point that I realised I did not want to leave Parliament in a manner that could be perceived as being negative. I thank my wise colleague Clem for his words, and I assure him that his message to Wellington got through to me.
I wish to start my final speech by thanking Parliament for the opportunity it has given me to serve. I know I have been very lucky to have been a member of Parliament. It has been a wonderful learning opportunity. I do not regret my 3 years here. There are so many in our communities who strive to get here but never do. Even now as I speak there are people around the country working incredibly hard to become an MP. Some will, most will not, and my heart goes out to those who will fall short.
It has been an honour to be here, and for that I wish to thank the National Party for selecting me and all the people who have supported me, in particular my wife Corinne and my princess daughter Kendra. I will tell members now: being a Wellington MP has had some huge advantages. I have been able to go home at night to my family, and I have also been given the opportunity to take Kendra to school every day. Parliament can be particularly hard for those who cannot head home each night and do not get to see their kids in the morning. I applaud, and we should all applaud, the sacrifices that those MPs make. But I would tell those MPs to not ever lose their perspective on what is truly important in life.
Of course, history will show that I did not get into Parliament in quite the manner I had hoped. I freely acknowledge that I would have loved to win the Wellington Central electorate, but I was beaten by the better candidate on the day. As a result I entered Parliament as a list MP, which, I can tell members now, is very much second prize. So it is as an inner-city resident that I thank the Hon Marian Hobbs for having done a great job as my local MP. I have enjoyed working with you, Marian, on the Local Government and Environment Committee. You are sharp, you are smart, and you know your stuff. And, by the way, you are a damned good cook, as well. We have become even better friends during our time here, and it is handy having an accommodation option on my next visit to England, if I can suggest that.
Ironically, this has actually been one of my problems here in Parliament: I quite like a few of the people I work with who happen to be in other parties. In the last few years I have come to realise that I am probably a bit too trusting, and I just do not dislike enough to be a truly effective MP in the way that this place currently operates. Some people think I am absolutely mad for leaving now, when a change of Government looks quite likely. However, those who know me and understand why I have made my decision will know why I made it and why the election result will not affect my decision.
In my maiden speech 3 years ago I said I came to Parliament because I wanted to make a difference; I wanted to add value. In my time as the Mayor of Wellington I did manage to help change that city hugely, and I wanted to bring a taste of that to the national level. My intention was to be positive, to build, to improve, and to make a difference. Frankly, I have not been able to do that as much as I would have liked to, and because of my personality type, the way I work, and the way I want to work, I cannot see it happening in the future, and that is why I made the decision to walk away. In my experience and observation sitting back here, Parliament does suit a certain personality type, and it does require people to behave in a certain way in order to succeed. National politics is not for everyone, and that includes me. The trick was to recognise this fact and to act.
As my father said to me recently, the easiest thing I could have done would have been to stay. He said to me: “Don’t be too scared to make the true hard call.” His advice has always hit the mark. I say “Hi” to Blum. I know you are watching, and I love you to bits, Dad.
However, I believe my time in Parliament has been valuable because I have learnt a great deal. I have met some wonderful people, and things have been clarified in my mind about how I work best and where I can make a true difference.
I thank my excellent executive assistant—she typed this, obviously—Susan Palmer for all her work over the last 3 years. She has been a great friend. I think we have been unique during our term in the sense that we are the only MP and executive assistant whose offices are not connected. They are literally right next door to each other, with no connecting door. That means from time to time I have had to use the Parliament House intercom, which involves me yelling at the wall: “Susan, have you got that file in here?”. It generally works well, and when it does not, it is a case of knowing that Susan is not in her office and it is not the intercom that is broken—that is the trick.
I say a special hello to Tom Chambers, who is my at large, out and about electorate agent. Tom, you have been a very good friend and you have kept me honest.
I thank the MPs and the staff in the leader’s office who have popped into my office to say hi—and to steal the lollies, I say to Chris Finlayson. I fear that some of them will miss my lolly jar more than they will miss me. As for this back row of MPs, I tell members there is a huge starvation issue ahead for these guys, and there will be a dramatic loss of sugar levels—you will have to find a new sugar daddy, guys!
At this point I record my thanks to the guards and the messengers who have always smiled and said “Gidday”—neat people. Thank you also to the librarians, who have dug up the work for me, the cafe staff, and others who make Parliament run ever so smoothly. I know I will never have another job with seven mail deliveries a day.
I sincerely thank my inmates—the National MPs’ class of 2005, the MPs I came into Parliament with. Those guys really do rock! I have enjoyed working with them all, and I am lucky to have made some friendships that I know will never ever fail. Those members will all go far, and I for one will be cheering for them big time. For the sake of the country they had better do it on 8 November.
Finally on the thankyous, I pay a particular tribute to a very special MP, and I know that he will be hugely embarrassed by this. I have been lucky enough to have worked, and to have travelled around the country, with John Carter. After more than 20 years in Parliament, John still exudes passion, commitment, energy, and excitement about his job and the National Party. John, you are a true inspiration. Your mana and reputation in the local government sector is huge, and you deserve recognition in the future.
Like John Carter, I have always wanted to add value to my work, and there have been some successes from my time here that I will always be proud of. I believe that I made a positive contribution to National’s economic development policy, but I particularly enjoyed helping to shape Parliament’s local government policy. Both of those areas were real passions of mine. They were not sexy for the House, but they were passions of mine. By way of warning, I tell members that I may well be on the other side when the local government policy is actually being delivered.
Locally, after a big struggle, we did get Government funding for the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, which it totally deserved. When the Government turned down the initial funding request, possibly the only person angrier with the Labour Government than me was Marian Hobbs, the local MP. But between us we righted a major wrong for what is an iconic Wellington attraction.
Another achievement I would mention is the successful trial of my voluntary retailers’ code of practice around the sale of volatile substances, such as meths, glue, and paint. It was designed to curb abuse. We did the research, found the funding, developed the shop resources, and ran a very successful trial here in Wellington. However, when we approached the relevant Minister for support for what we thought was a non-partisan, country-wide issue, he basically dismissed us. More than a year later—surprise, surprise—Jim Anderton launched a very similar scheme, but basically cut out all of those people who had worked on the successful trial. I am assured by my colleagues that having a policy stolen is the highest compliment, but I still feel there has been a lot of wasted effort, a lot of wasted intellectual property, that could have been better directed against a very real problem.
I was proud to be the Mayor of Wellington. I have to say that I have struggled to have that same pride as an MP in the New Zealand Parliament. Partly, that is because the public can have a very negative view of politicians and what we do. It is sad to hear how many people feel obliged to make a derogatory comment when they find out that one is an MP. Sometimes I fear we are our own worst enemy. It is hard to explain to members of the public the value of having long debates in the Chamber when the results of the vote are actually known long before we make the first speech. In local government there was always the chance that if a councillor made a passionate speech that was well researched and well reasoned, that councillor could actually sway a few votes around the table, but not here. As a House, we spend an extraordinary amount of time speaking to no effect.
I remember, back as a brand new MP, how excited I was going into question time. What a disappointment! It descends into a farce when Ministers have only to address rather than answer the question. It becomes a competition as to who can give the best smart-arsed answer. It is a tragedy for democracy in New Zealand that accountability can be dismissed so lightly. The public does deserve better. I sincerely hope that the next Government—of whatever composition—looks again at this precedent, and makes the selfless call to require Ministers to answer; it is the right thing to do.
This Parliament also passes law that I sense we all know could be better, but sensible amendments are turned down for political and philosophical reasons. The them-and-us factor is stronger than I had expected. It is damaging the quality of legislation, and I believe it damages the country. If they have their answer and we have our answer, then the chances are that neither of us is exactly right. The emphasis should be to just work it out, but that does not happen too much in here. It is often all or nothing, but few solutions come entirely from philosophy or ideology, and as a result I think we do miss out on some of the real solutions.
Another reason there is a lack of respect is that we are a long way from the coalface. We are in a rarefied bubble. We have more security guards to get through here than at any airport in the country. And it does change people, but rarely for the better.
My challenge to those who will be in this Chamber next session is to rebuild the respect that people should have in this institution and in the basically good people—which they are—who serve here. I will not be here, of course, and my advice to anyone here is: “If you do not fit, do not stay.” And that applies to me. But I am afraid I think that some MPs stay in Parliament because they just do not have too many other options. I do not think that is a good enough reason to stay around and not add value.
My hope is that one day New Zealand has a Parliament that is more united, more cooperative, and more respectful, and one that includes members across the spectrum, all of them dedicated to improving their communities. It can happen.
To finish I will share one of the most moving experiences I have had, which was on one of those much maligned trips to Europe. It was an opportunity to look at the interaction between local and central governments in other countries. I learnt a lot, and I thank Parliament for giving me that opportunity to go.
Northern Ireland was an eye-opener. We were addressed by four MPs from four different parties—Sinn Fein, the Ulster Unionist Party, and two others. Their opening comments to us were remarkable. One of the MPs remarked that one of his parliamentary colleagues at the same table used to have him in his gunsights. That colleague responded that the reason he had him in his gunsights was that he knew he had a contract on his family. They were not joking. Ten years earlier they had been literally on the battlefield against each other; at the time of my visit they were sitting at the same table, working as a team for the good of Northern Ireland.
The question was asked: “How is it that you now get on so well when you were literally trying to kill each other not that long ago?”. Their answer was simple. They just said “We now respect each other’s right to be here, and we respect that each one of us is working for the good of the country, as we see it.” If they can do that after years of bloodshed, then why cannot we show some of that same respect in this Parliament? I hope we can.
I leave having learnt a tremendous amount in 3 years. I have met some great people and some great leaders, I tell John Key. I have made a difference in a couple of areas, and I have gained an understanding of how this place works. Those insights will be tremendously useful when I go back into local government—if my wife lets me.
My maiden speech was criticised by some pundits as being too Wellington-centric. I would respond by saying that it is not my fault I cannot get Wellington out of my bones. Then again, I really do not want to. Parliament is staying in Wellington and I am staying in Wellington, so I am sure I will continue to see members of this House around the greatest city in the country. Thank you all for the opportunity.
I seek leave for the dinner adjournment to be taken at the conclusion of this speech, should it proceed past 6 p.m., and for the House to then resume 1 hour after the start of the dinner adjournment.
Is there any objection to that course of action being taken? There is none.
Tēnā koe, Mr Assistant Speaker, and thank you. I want to, first of all, thank Katherine Rich and Mark Blumsky for their kind references to me. I do not know whether I deserve them, but they are much appreciated.
Mark Blumsky made some reference to something that many commentators have referred to in a jocular way over the 17 years that I have been here. I have accepted it as that, but now and then it got annoying. It was about my taking a message to Wellington. Those commentators had it wrong, of course, because it was not my taking a message to Wellington; the question was that if they wanted a message taken to Wellington—that is, the voters in my Tamaki electorate—then I asked them to give it to the Government, not to the Opposition. But it developed from there, and many have had a little fun over it.
If members doubt that a message came to Wellington, I invite them to read my maiden statement in Hansard, Volume 522, at page 6912, on 17 March 1992. From the middle of the page, the next four paragraphs set out very clearly what the message was. After reading it, members will accept that the message was taken on board, and it still is today, because we are a quite different party from what we were in 1991. The message is there, I know that it has been taken on board, and I am very pleased.
Mr Assistant Speaker, I have been delighted to work with you over the last 6 years. Ross Robertson, you are a top MP. Along with the other Assistant Speakers whom I have had the pleasure of working with—a Deputy Speaker in Ann Hartley, and an Assistant Speaker in Marian Hobbs—you have formed a team of Speakers, and we have operated, I believe, very, very well. A lot of that is due to your knowledge of the rules, your calm personality, and the fact that you do not take too much rubbish. I thank you, Ross, for being a colleague of mine for 6 years in the role that I have had to play. I also thank Marian Hobbs. It has been great fun working with you more latterly, and I respect what you have done.
I pay particular tribute to the Speaker. The Hon Margaret Wilson is, in my book, a very, very fine person indeed. I first met Margaret when I was a student at Auckland University in 1985. She was a lecturer then, and for the last 3½ years she has taken up that role again. She was a delight then, although it was a student-tutor and student-lecturer relationship, but down here, away from this Chamber, most of those who have been with Margaret will know that she has a sense of humour, she has absolute integrity, and she is just good to be with. She has taught me a lot, and we have been able to work together over the last 3½ years, and that is something I have really, really appreciated.
Before Margaret there was Jonathan Hunt. I was with him for 2½ years—another superb Speaker. I first met Jonathan in 1966, slightly before he came to the House. Time slips away; that is only, what, 42 years ago? When I met him, he was at a dinner with Roger Douglas. We were out together, and the acquaintanceship went from there. I was delighted to work with such an experienced person, a top-class Speaker, for 2½ years here.
Colleagues, I want to say thanks also to two special people. The first is Roland Todd, the Speaker’s Assistant. Members would probably notice that we would go a fair way astray but for Roland Todd. He does a superb job, and I thank you for that, Roland. I thank the Serjeant-at-Arms, Brent Smith, who, likewise, plays a role up front, but also in the background. To those two people, my special thanks.
To the Clerk, Mary Harris, to you and your people, I am deeply grateful for the help that you have given me and the other Speakers in the work that we do. You and Debbie Angus are invaluable, as are the other Clerk-Assistants.
I make mention here of David McGee, who was very special to all of us here in Parliament. He was with the establishment for 20-odd years, and was an absolute authority on parliamentary procedure. He is recognised right around the Commonwealth, and, in fact, the English-speaking world, including the USA, for his expertise on how a Chamber and the parliamentary system should work. I was lucky to be with David McGee for much of the time that I have been in Parliament, and, certainly, when I have had a Speaker role.
I now pay special thanks to—hey, this could be a speech all of thanks! But that does not matter. In my view, everything belongs to the future, but I am actually going to talk about a lot of things in the past. You might gather that that is the stage of life I am at. It has been a long past, and I will go on to that.
I first came to this Chamber 51 years ago. In 1957 I sat in the Speaker’s gallery, right where my wife is sitting, with a small group of people. I was hosted here by the Prime Minister, Sidney Holland. The reason he was hosting us was he was the patron of my wing at the police training school. I met him, we formed a relationship, and 18 months later I had the pleasure of hosting him at the training school, where I was his guide and his host when our wing graduated. We have had something like 12 Prime Ministers since then. It is not big-noting, it is just showing how long I have been around the establishment, but I have known personally every one of them. I have not just met them but have been with them and spoken with them, every one right up to the present Prime Minister.
I have been delighted to know Helen Clark. That goes back a few years, too. The thing that really stands out in my mind is that Helen Clark was one of the few who came to see me on my by-election night. She was the first there, and it was a very warm greeting. I thank you, Prime Minister, for the courtesy you have shown me and my family through all of those years. It has been much, much appreciated.
So 51 years ago I was in the gallery. I was 17. Some years down the track—almost another 17 years—I started coming to this Parliament for 1 day a month, and I did that for 15 years in a row. I did it because I was on the governing body of the National Party and we met for 2 days every month. I would spend the late afternoon and evening of one of those days here.
By that time I had established a relationship with David Lange. He did not particularly like me when we started. We had a battle in another by-election, which I knew I would never win, but at a late stage even my family thought I might have a chance. I dreaded the thought, because it was not my intention to start a parliamentary career at that point. But during that by-election Lange was making fun of me, saying I had been born with a silver spoon in my mouth and he had not, and so on. But I knew his history. He had a very upmarket upbringing, if you like. One night after a television interview I reminded him about something. I said: “David, you should really stop saying that. My mother was your father’s housekeeper.” He just laughed and said “Nah!”. I said: “Well, you go and check with Phoebe.”—his mother, who lived in Kohimārama. He did, and she told him that mum was his housekeeper. Indeed, she was his uncle’s housekeeper, as well. Both of them were doctors. From that time on we were as close as we could be.
So I used to come down to the House. I looked after Rob Muldoon for 18 years. There were ups and downs—mostly ups—but I looked after him, both in his electorate as a councillor, and here in Wellington against the hordes who were trying to get at him. I would come down here, and Rob would sit there, and he would just wave. David Lange would see me in the gallery, and without fail he would come and get me, and I would sit at the back of the Chamber. That went on year after year. It went on while he was Prime Minister, too. So we had a very good relationship, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.
I will move a bit closer to where I come from. I came down to the police training school from Aranga. Aranga is a small swamp up north, near the Maunganui Bluff. It was from there that I went down to the police training school as a 17-year-old. We had only recently come back from my old country, which was then Yugoslavia and is now Croatia, where I had spent 5 years.
At the time that I came to Parliament, in 1992, Aranga was topical. Aranga was part of the Te Rōroa claim. The Maunganui Block was part of it. Te Kōpuru was part of it—that is where I was born. Tokatoka was part of it. Waipoua was part of it. It was at that point that the claim was surfacing. Lots of things happen very quickly here in Parliament; within 5 minutes, the whole scene can change. However, the issue that was just starting to bubble then has taken a wee while longer. But it was something that I noticed when I was first here. On 3 April of that year, just 1 month after I had been sworn in, the Waitangi Tribunal reported to the Minister and to the claimants on the work that had been done, with a recommendation—actually, a recommendation that had been made by the Māori Land Court in the year I was born, 1939—for lands to be returned to that tribe. Down the track, I come into Parliament and it is right up there, up front. Tomorrow the Te Roroa Claims Settlement Bill will receive its third reading. That is my second to last day in the House and it is just a coincidence that that has happened.
The people who were involved in those claims—Lovey Te Rore, Alex Nathan, lots of them—were footballers with me up north. They were my coaches. My brother and I were playing senior rugby in Northern Wairoa when I was 14, but that was only because there were very few people in the neighbourhood, in the area. But we were big guys. So I was playing with these people. They have gone now, but they pushed those claims a lot of the way. So did Syd Mōrunga.
At the same time that I came into the House, Croatia was in turmoil. If I have a home country, Croatia is it. As I said before, I spent 5 years there. It was in turmoil. It was at war, and the Balkan area, which had been Yugoslavia, was breaking up. Croatia wanted to be recognised as a nation State. At my first meeting as a candidate with the then Prime Minister, Jim Bolger, in January of 1992, he told me he had had a request from Croatia, and he asked me what I thought of it—whether our Government should recognise Croatia. I said: “Do it straight away.” He spoke to the honorary consul here and gave him the message: “New Zealand will recognise you immediately.” I know he had done some work on it before, but that was thrilling for me because of my relationship with the Croatian people. Today, as I leave, Croatia is on the verge of joining the European Union. It has a little way to go, but it is right there. There is such a stark difference between Croatia today and what it was when I came into this House.
It is a very similar position to that of the Te Rōroa claim, which was just gaining speed then and is going through the House tomorrow. For a lot of that, thanks go to all of the Governments over that time, but especially to the Hon Dr Michael Cullen for speeding it up and for working on it.
It looks like my life has been in lots of 17. I was 17 years old when I first came here to this Chamber, and another 17 years later I joined the National Party. In between were the most exciting 17 years, because I got married to my wife Ann. I met her 47 years ago and we have been married for 43. I have three wonderful children. They were born in that second tranche of 17 years. My third lot of 17 years was spent doing my charity work for the party. They were absolutely wonderful times, but one needs an understanding family for them to put up with it. I was, at most times, looking after four electorates in Auckland, I was a councillor and on the governing body for almost all of that time, and I was away from home 3 or 4 nights a week. Lots of members have done that; it is quite common for people in the party organisation to do it.
Then my opportunity came up—the fourth period of 17 years—and I came in here. This has been the most delightful time of my life—to have been a member of Parliament, to have been a representative. I have no regrets, at all. I think it is an enormous privilege just to be here, but also to be able to achieve things and to do the work. I have had so many opportunities come my way, and I am deeply grateful to all of the people and the parties who have given me those opportunities. I was a backbencher for a while, I was chairman of a select committee, and I was fortunate enough to serve time in Cabinet. For that I am deeply grateful to Prime Minister Jenny Shipley, just as I was grateful to Prime Minister Jim Bolger for what he did at the time of my by-election to come in here.
I have special friends in this House. I could say that all of the other 120 members in this House are my friends, and I am very proud of that. I have special friends like Katherine Rich and Simon Power, which I found rather odd, because I was the oldest one on this side of the House—almost the oldest one in the House—and they were the youngest. Yet we hit it off very well.
I am a liberal conservative, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the liberal issues that I have been able to take part in in this Parliament. In fact, they are my proudest moments. I have been on the right side of, I think, every one, and I have been very pleased to do it. It is all about making people feel better about themselves. It does not matter how small the group is; if you can make just one person feel better about what is, you have done a good job and it is worthwhile doing it. With a whole host of these issues, that is what we were able to do.
I pay special acknowledgment to my good friend Georgina te Heuheu. She was my benchmate in Cabinet, as was Tau Henare. We were at the same end of the table. We were in Cabinet together. I am very grateful to Tau for other reasons, of course. He is partly responsible for my being in Cabinet, because he stuck with us, and stayed in Government in 1998. Those were thrilling times. For the last 4 or 5 years Georgina has been my benchmate here.
I shall finish up because you all want to get away. I want to say thank you very, very much to a whole range of people. My sincere thanks go to the Hansard people; the security people in this establishment; the messengers; the Crown transport drivers; the travel office; Bellamy’s; my House committee, with Warren Biddington and Nicola Fenton on it; and the Standing Orders Committee, with its chair, Margaret Wilson, its deputy chair, the Hon Michael Cullen, and David Bagnall the secretary. To my personal assistant in Parliament, Noeline Thresh, who has been with me since I arrived, we have had the same journey with many office changes. I thank you, Noeline and Derek, for your great work and for your support for me and my family. I thank the library staff, Bev Cathcart from the protocol office, and Alison Allen from Inter-Parliamentary Relations. I thank all those people for their courtesy, their goodwill, and the help they have been to me and to others in my 17 years here.
Colleagues, I have people in Tamaki whom I am deeply grateful to. John Tremewan was the chairman when I began there. Some great people have led that electorate ever since, and I thank all of them. In particular, I thank John and Vicki Tremewan for being my agents, and for being great workers and supporters. I am greatly indebted to David and Sue Morris, and to people like Jim Mungall, Tom Barton, and Graham Malaghan. Graham Malaghan I met in 1974. I knocked on his door and met him and his wife Dale. They have been great friends ever since. Graham ran most of my campaigns up until last time, in 2005, and I thank you for that, Graham. I also thank Jonathan Kinsella, who was my chief runabout in my by-election in Tamaki. He was later my press officer when I was Minister of Police as well as having other portfolios. He is now the public relations and press head honcho at the British High Commission, but he is leaving there soon to go back to the UK. So I say thanks to him also. The most recent chairman of Tamaki is Andrew Hunt, and he does a superb job. At the regional level, I am deeply grateful to Stuart Masters, who was my mentor when I first came in, and to Ross Armstrong, who was my chairman when I went out. I was deputy chairman of that region with Ross for 7 years. I thank all of those people sincerely.
I want to say to you all that I go with no regrets, at all. When I came in here in 1992, there were 67 members in the National team, albeit two of them had become Independent. Of the 67 members, there are eight left. There were 99 members in the House, and there are 19 left. That tells me that change has to happen, that I am part of that change, and that I need to move on. I am happy to do so.
I do it in the knowledge that this country is in great health. I have no doubt about that, at all. It is better every day that we go on—some downs, mostly ups. It is a bit like John Carter’s bloody phone message where he says: “Every day gets better.” That is my view of New Zealand. Every day does get better. We have some hiccups.
I pay special tribute to my leader, John Key; to my deputy leader, Bill English; and to Gerry Brownlee, Simon Power, and all of my colleagues. Thank you for the encouragement, for the support, and for giving me all the opportunities that you have.
My first opportunity in the National Party was given to me by George Chapman, who is still around. I still see him. He had faith in me and I hope I have not let him down. Sir George Chapman was my first president, and I thank him and Sue Wood. I have had about 10 presidents leading up to the most recent one, who is Judy Kirk. I thank them all for the many opportunities they have given me
Finally, because we all need to get away, I want to speak briefly about my family. Ann, I love you. You have been a tower of strength to me and to our family. You are as fantastic now as you were when I met you 47 years ago, and I am just about to embark on another life with you, on leaving this House. Thank you, Ann. Thank you to my children Karl and Jacki, who are in Europe. To Simone and Paul, and to my grandchildren Natalia, Sofia, Liam, and Niko, I thank you.
And I thank my youngest son, Ricardo, who is in Los Angeles at the moment. He sent me a note because he could not be here: “To my darling father Clem. From the day I was born 36 years ago, I have had a father that is the kindest man in the world. Growing up in a family with such love and morals is a blessing few children have. I grew up to the smell of politics happening around me, jolly conversations, with thumping tables and debates, vintage cars in a by-election where you stood against David Lange, the son of the man whose house your mother used to clean. Mum asked you to rest your Wellington ambitions until we were finished at school. My, how cool it would have been if you had been an MP when I was at school.” I would have thought the opposite, but that is the way he sees it. “Over these years you have juggled entrepreneurial business with National Party duties. Dominion councillor, policy—you have done the lot. You stepped through the politics of the party with a gentle approach, always making sure everyone was happy and being a loyal friend to all.
After 17 years you entered Parliament. You went to Wellington for the right reasons. It was never about you, it was about making things right and helping others—a feat I fear many MPs hope to do but the world in Wellington often changes the paths of even the noblest cause. Dad, I know how much you love the House and I know how very sad it will be to say goodbye. The New Zealand House of Representatives gained more than a politician 17 years ago; it gained a true statesman of the House. You are this quite simply because you are above the fray and have no ego or personal agenda. Congratulations on being a legend to our entire family and I will be listening to your speech online from the States.” He says: “God bless you, the Hon Clem Simich, and many thanks to Mum, who has stood by your side throughout.”
Those are just some thoughts from my son, and they are endorsed by his brother and sister. I appreciate them and reluctantly share them with you. Thank you for bearing with me. I do thank my family. I also thank my brothers Alex and Frank. Indeed, my family have been my main helpers in my entire 34-year career in politics. God bless you all.
I want to finish by saying that it is hard to leave this place but we all must. But I can take with me my love for this institution, my absolute confidence in the future, and my deepest gratitude for having had the opportunity to serve my country and our people. Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa. Haere rā. Dovijenja i zbogovan. Good bye and best wishes to you all and thank you.