I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Can I just indicate to the House that my retiring colleagues, or my departing colleagues, have indicated a desire that congratulations should occur at the collective end of their valedictory speeches, rather than between each one.
Before I begin my comments, can I follow on from the comments of Winston Peters and say a few words about Brian Donnelly. The words Mr Peters used are, I think, very appropriate today. I do not think there is anybody in this House who met Brian Donnelly and did not become a friend of his. I met him when he was in the position of Associate Minister of Education, and through the time I was here he talked with me often about education, and we shared a passion for that. I am sure that all members in the House found something that they would have talked about with Brian during that time, and today members will be thinking of him, his family, and his close friends in New Zealand First. Our thoughts are with them.
Madam Speaker, can I acknowledge you and thank you for your friendship over many years. I know that you too are leaving Parliament, and I hope we can continue our habit of occasionally discussing issues of the day over a meal in a well-chosen restaurant. I say thanks also for the opportunity to address the House, and I wish my colleagues who are doing the same all the best for their respective futures.
Like many parliamentarians, I am from a working family. My father, who is now 96 years old, came to New Zealand from Glasgow as a young boy to work for his father. I cannot disclose the age of my mother, but her family also migrated from Scotland and settled in Dunedin. My talented colleague Lianne Dalziel and I are cousins twice removed because our grandmothers were sisters in Dunedin. Like Mr Key, I am a State house boy, yet I am here saying farewell after 18 years in New Zealand’s Parliament. That I am able to tell that story says a great deal about what is good about this nation. Fairness and equal opportunity have long been part of the New Zealand political tradition, and it led to Governments putting in place institutions that made a practical difference to people like me.
Like most parents, mine—whose love and unflinching support I want to recognise here today—did not have the personal resources to present me with all the opportunities I have enjoyed during my life; only the community, working together, could do that. That is why I have been profoundly influenced by the 1949 Clarence Beeby, Peter Fraser quote, which, to paraphrase, says: “No matter our background or circumstances, we have the right, as citizens, to go as far as our potential will take us.”, and so that this is not just a pious hope, the community has to make that possible. I had the good fortune to be born into a society where people were prepared to work hard to ensure that that hope was fulfilled.
I do not want to idealise the New Zealand of my youth, because there was a lot wrong with it, and I have spent a lot of my life arguing for change. But the good fortune I have enjoyed has made me see politics as a noble calling, and government is able to have a positive influence on the lives of citizens. It was the move away from this kind of thinking in the 1980s that encouraged me towards elected politics, first as a city councillor and then into Parliament, following the colourful Trevor de Cleene, whom many people here will remember, as the MP for the wonderful city of Palmerston North.
I do not claim that everything done under the banner of Rogernomics was wrong. Like many of my generation, I wanted to see a more open, diverse, and modern society, but an overemphasis on the market as the solution to everything led to economic underperformance, social breakdown, and personal isolation for vulnerable people. Yes, there were success stories, and they were often held up as proof that policies were working. But celebrations of personal triumph are no substitute for the kind of collective progress that makes a difference to the lives of all New Zealanders.
In 1990 I had my chance to contribute to a change of direction in New Zealand politics when I joined Parliament. I note, as an aside, that I watched with awe the confident and assured way in which Dr Russel Norman introduced himself to the House recently. In contrast, my first time in the Chamber, standing about where Dr Norman is sitting, with my friend Paul Swain, was a little different. I remember nervously, and in an excited way, watching around the Chamber as the man who became known as the “Great Helmsman” moved around the floor, welcoming people to the Parliament. I said to myself, the way one does when one is tired: “That’s Jim Bolger.” This was at just about the same time as he said: “Hello. Who are you?”, and I said: “I’m Jim Bolger.” He said: “No you’re not. I am.” We have had quite a good relationship since then—sort of twins, really.
In my maiden speech to Parliament I took up the theme mentioned earlier, arguing that it was time to achieve a better balance between the roles of the State and the market. I went on to explain that, like all societies, we were on the edge of such an enormous amount of change; we were confronting new times. Only if we harnessed the strengths of the market and the State would we be able to respond in a way that would mean New Zealanders would benefit. I suggested borrowing from Neil Kinnock the quote: “There is a limit to what the modern State can and should do, but there is no limit to what it can enable people to do for themselves.” I talked about a new agenda for training, for education, for research technology; investing in infrastructure; a high-value, high-skills, high-wage economy; full employment; advancing the interests of women; people with disabilities; acknowledging tangata whenua; becoming a culturally diverse society; strengthening public services; and developing an environmentally sustainable future.
Beginning in 1991 with what was known as the Labour Listens campaign, I had 9 long years to think about how to advance that kind of thinking in practice. Labour policies were greatly influenced during that time by what became known as the third way. No one talks about this alternative much any more, not because it is of no use but because, I would argue, we are all, to an extent, third-wayers now. We agree that the old ideologies have declining relevance, and that issues like globalisation, changes in family life, and our relationship with the environment have dramatically changed the political agenda. The necessary relationship between the State and the market and civil society is accepted. We all accept the mixed economy. We all want to invest in the solutions to social problems. If the centre of politics in the 1980s and 1990s was the market, I am delighted to say it is only part of the centre today.
In 1999 Labour was able to form a Government. After 9 years of playing the understudy, the prospect of governing seemed like a simple transition. Let me warn new players that it is not. The jobs of an Opposition spokesperson and a Government Minister are very, very different. In the MMP era there is a period of calm, and then coalitions are formed and the world explodes. The expectations on Labour in 1999 added to that pressure, and I felt at the time like I had just stepped on to a train that was leaving a station. It picked up speed, and it did not often seem to slow down.
Driving that train was someone who, I thought, would be one of New Zealand’s great Prime Ministers—I believe that it is now beyond doubt. Helen Clark, it has been an absolute privilege to serve with you. Stoking the fires was the wonderfully talented and acerbic Dr Michael Cullen. At the end of my maiden speech in 1990, Michael came over and said that it was good to see another radical communitarian in the House. I think I am probably the only one in the House who would take that as a compliment. In the guard’s van was Jim Anderton. I have always had the greatest admiration for Jim, even when I was the target of his fierce denunciations of Labour in the House during the 1990s. Jim has a very loud voice, and one can feel very, very crushed by it when he gets rolling. But it has been an honour to share a bench with a man whose commitment to the values of social justice has never ever wavered.
In the carriages, if I can draw out the metaphor a little more, were the rest of the team. During my 18 years I have worked with wonderful colleagues, and I want to thank them for sharing the good times and hanging together during the tough times. The “Backbench Seven”, as they were called, came in in 1990. Wonderful characters like David Lange, David Caygill, and Heather Simpson, who until recently I thought was an MP, were here already. Then there were the people who came in from subsequent elections—people like Ruth Dyson, Mark Gosche, Mark Burton, Parekura Horomia—and Annette King and Trevor Mallard, who were known as retreads for a little while. Ashraf Choudhary is the first person of a new-settler community to come into this House, along with Pansy Wong, and is changing the face of politics literally. I think he has done a wonderful job, and so has Pansy. Darren Hughes, who is one of the funniest people in Parliament, has been a great friend to me. Shane Jones—I could go on with person after person, and forgive me that I will not go through all of you. You have been wonderful colleagues to be with.
It is said that one does not make friends in politics. Well, one does. Those people are friends to me. Some members on the other side of the House are friends, as well. I hope that it does not ruin his career, but I would like to acknowledge my friend Simon Power, who is likely to be, possibly, maybe, my local MP after the election. I have enjoyed the company of many other people around this House. Eric Roy and I spent a wonderful night in Queensland discovering that he was a Renaissance man, if ever I saw one. I would like to acknowledge Rod Donald, who I thought was a wonderful colleague and certainly a very kind person to me.
But it is a challenge to maintain friendships, because of the all-encompassing nature of our job. Politics is not a job, actually; it is a lifestyle. There is always more than one thing to do, and we are surrounded by staff and officials. On Monday mornings if one is a Minister one joins colleagues to talk informally about the issues facing the country, before going to that special place on the 10th floor. It is a bit like the TARDIS up there. One arrives there and makes decisions. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays one comes to the House and answers questions in the full glare of the Opposition and the media. I loved it; it was heady stuff. But there is always something that brings one down to earth.
I remember going, as the Minister of Education, to a Mission-On launch with Tana Umaga. The kids had lined up—hundreds of them—to welcome him into the school. I tagged alongside Tana saying hi to the kids. One of the boys finished with Tana, and he turned to me and said; “Who are you?”. I was about to say: “Well, you know, I’m the Minister of Education.”, when he asked: “Are you Tana’s hairdresser?”. So I paused for a moment and I thought: “Which is the best option?”. I said: “I’m the hairdresser.” One of the great pleasures of this job is that we do meet wonderful people like Tana, and I would like to acknowledge all the other wonderful people I have met around this country. This is a great nation and we meet superb people everywhere we go.
I also want to record my thanks to my staff in Palmerston North, in Bowen House, and in the Beehive. We will have a chance to say more to each other later on, but if you do not mind I will single out one person to represent you all, and that is Kathleen Lambert who was my secretary while I was a Minister. She taught me to swear, and she saw me through my time as Minister. No, I already knew it, Kathleen; I just grew a little! I have worked with truly committed public servants, some of whom are here today, and I want to thank them for what they do for New Zealand. But I must point out, in case anyone is wondering, that I am not including Christine Rankin in that list.
I say to the people of Palmerston North, thank you for your support. I say to the media that I know you believe in the importance of the fourth estate, and I want you to know I do too, and it has been strengthened by meeting you—it has been strengthened by that process. To the staff of Parliament, I say thank you for taking care of me. I thank the talented, committed Labour staff—the research unit deserves special attention—and my friends, some of whom are here today.
I said during my maiden speech that politicians made very poor friends, and that is still true, but you have been wonderful friends. To my family, you have always been there for me; thank you. To Elizabeth Rose McKay, whom I meet in 1982 and married 6 years later, and who died of cancer on 19 March 2004, I say that if I have achieved anything in this Parliament, Elizabeth, you made that possible. If she was here today she would no doubt say in that very straightforward way of hers: “Well done, but there’s a little more to do.”, and there is.
The last three Labour-led Governments have made a very positive difference to the lives of New Zealanders. In my city of Palmerston North the contrast between the way things were and the way things are is stark. Like most regions, the Manawatū was in decline. I recall 1,600 manufacturing jobs leaving the region in 1 year. People wondered whether there was a future. Since 1999 there has been economic growth, jobs, fewer people on benefits, rising house prices, and, most important, a sense of confidence in the region. We can face the current economic problems with some confidence because, as Dr Brash noted recently, the economy is fundamentally sound. So, what next? As we are all third-wayers of one kind or another, a focus on building a dynamic market economy and quality public services remains. I would emphasise, as members might expect, the need for universities and research to be given a whole lot more money!
Let me list five other challenges. The first challenge is the democracy challenge. We do not need a referendum on MMP, but the political process should be constantly reformed to ensure the meaningful involvement of the New Zealand people in decision making. New communications technology offers the best opportunity yet to include as many people as possible, and it should be taken. Second, I mention the poverty challenge. We should aim to eliminate poverty through a combination of redistribution, lifting the level of benefits, and tough-minded policies that are designed to close the gap between the haves and the have-nots. I note in particular the need for universal early intervention programmes from 1 year prior to birth to 5 years after.
The third challenge is the nation-building challenge. New Zealand in the 21st century is the home of many different communities. We need to consciously lay the foundations for a diverse autonomous Pacific nation that is unified by a sense of what we have in common. We need a written constitution and a timetable for when we will become a republic. That is not a criticism of our past; it is a recognition of what we have become. Fourth is the Green challenge. Climate change and global warming have made the environment a concern to us all, but we do need to move beyond the debate about what we cannot do to one about what we can do. We need to show how a prosperous and growing nation can also be sustainable, and that requires innovation, not regulation, to be at the front of our minds.
The fifth challenge is the family challenge—appropriately. New Zealand should be proudly family friendly. Families in all their forms are the building blocks of our nation. We need to organise our society so the needs of families and children are central. It is time, for example, to look again at the organisation of work—flexible hours, job sharing, time banking, 4-day weeks, 9-day fortnights, and more parental leave. Space must be created for families. Members will have their own goals. Make them bold. The mistakes of the 1980s and 1990s have left a legacy of understandable caution in politics. The current economic crisis reinforces this stance. But in the midst of new times the spectre of the past should not be allowed to get in the way of a vision for the future.
If I may, I will talk to the media for a moment. Exploring these choices requires a different kind of public conversation; one where politicians—and others—feel able to participate in a dialogue that will lead to real change, instead of being forced to watch every word they say or being driven to release the next 3-point plan or new initiative to feed a 24-hour cycle of news and entertainment. Now, despite leaving, I remain very cautious when it comes to telling the media what to do, because as Mark Twain once said: “Speaking of the media, it is not wise to pick a fight with someone who orders their ink by the truckload.”, which means it is time to say goodbye.
I have been in Parliament for 18 years and in local politics for 3 years, and I have decided it is time to move on to make way for the next MP for Palmerston North; a young man who I think will make a real contribution to his city and to his country: Mr Iain Lees-Galloway. Politicians who have crossed over to the other side tell me there is life after politics, and I notice four of them here: Mr Jonathan Hunt, who I think was a wonderful Speaker of this House and a wonderful friend to me when I originally came into the House; Jill White, who was the member for Rangitikei and the Mayor of Palmerston North, who is a wonderful friend to me; Graham Kelly, who is not only one of the best jazz musicians in the House but a wonderful man; and Judy Keall, who lived just up the road. Judy and I did some wonderful things—they were all seemly—along our electorate boundaries in the past. They show that there is life after politics, and because I have been peeking, I know there is.
There is one person in particular who has made me believe there is new life after politics, and that is my partner, Bette Flagler. Bette gave me this gold watch yesterday. She said: “No one else is going to give you a gold watch, so here it is.” Have members got the hammer! No, I will not do that. Betty’s enthusiasm for life is infectious, and she has made me optimistic about the future. Together we are setting out to meet new challenges. We are building an environmentally sustainable house, and I am joining Massey University in the immediate future. Universities, by the way, are charged under legislation to be the critique and conscience of society, so you may be hearing from me!
My life is very complex, I have to say. Let us call it being a grandfather. In the last 3 years, Liam, Felicity, Olivia, and, just 3 weeks ago, Izak—spelt I-Z-A-K; hmm—have been born. Last Christmas Bette and I invited the babies to bring their parents to the beach for what we hope will be the first of many happy summers. Judge Mick Brown, whom I admire greatly, once said: “The best things we can give children are great memories.”, and that is what we want the babies to have. They do not know much about politicians. I say to members that they do not know you, but I want you to know that they are reliant on what you do to make it possible for them to reach their potential in the world they will grow up in. That is a lot of responsibility on your shoulders, but I will know you will wear it well.
Goodbye; it has been a great privilege to be here. Thank you to the people of New Zealand for having me, and, in the words of John Lennon, I hope I passed the audition.
Ā, tihei mauri ora. E te Whare e tū nei, tēnā koe. Te rōpū nei, tēnā koe. Ngā mate, Brian Donnelly e hoa, haere, haere, haere ki te wā kāinga. Āpiti hono, tātai hono, ko te hunga mate ki a rātou, tātou te hunga ora ki a tātou, nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, kia ora anō tātou katoa.
[Behold the sneeze of life. To the House standing before me, greetings to you. To this gathering, greetings to you. To the dead, in particular to you, Brian Donnelly, the friend, farewell, farewell, and depart to the homeland. Hail the bonds that bind the dead to the dead, and us, the living, to each other; so, greetings to you, greetings to you, and greetings once again to all of us].
Eighteen years ago—last century, in fact—I walked through the Noes lobby with my good friend Steve Maharey at the start of the new parliamentary term. We had just come from a caucus that had been decimated by Rogernomics. Mike Moore, the then leader, had advised us that the TV cameras were coming to film the caucus and that we were to lounge across empty seats to make ourselves look bigger. That night on TV we looked a small, slovenly, and bedraggled lot.
I recall that John Banks was particularly cock-a-hoop at National’s victory. “Banksie” delighted in deliberately getting people’s names wrong. I was “Paul Swain from Eastern Hutt”, and Steve was “Maharey from Palmerston North”. “Banksie” sneeringly referred to us collectively as “Swan from Manawatū”. Many years later as the Minister of Transport I received advice from John, who was then the Mayor of Auckland. After learning that the Government was negotiating with the Green Party on transport, “Banksie” reminded me of his Auckland saying: “Dreadlocks mean gridlocks.”
I have reread my maiden speech, a pastime for retiring MPs. It is a brilliant, visionary piece of work, and I cannot understand why it is not compulsory reading for all stage I political students.
My first electorate case involved a constituent’s son who had been thrown into a dark British dungeon for strangling a goose in Hyde Park. With the help of Don McKinnon, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, I managed to arrange for the distraught mother to talk to her incarcerated son. That episode taught me two things: first, do not strangle geese in Hyde Park and, second, although we have our rows and differences in this place—and I have loved every minute of them—Parliament does work together on occasions for the common good.
It has been a great privilege and honour to represent the people of Eastern Hutt from 1990 to 1996, and Rimutaka from 1996 until now. I have been involved in many great local issues and I have worked with many great people. I particularly pay a tribute to the unsung heroes in our community, the members of local organisations such as service groups, sports clubs, churches, school boards, and the like, whose work is the heart and soul of any local community. I salute them for that work. I hope that Chris Hipkins, the Labour candidate for Rimutaka, is given the opportunity to continue the work that I have enjoyed so much.
During our 9 long years in Opposition we developed our plans for what we would do in Government. The Labour-led Government won in 1999, and we hit the ground running. I was privileged to be elected to Cabinet. I had often seen old photos of serious-looking men, half-turned to the camera in the Cabinet room, and I am proud that I am now in a photo like that.
My achievements and successes as a member of Parliament and a Minister are far too many to detail here. Suffice it to say, they will be fulsomely described in my CV. However, I did have an auspicious start to many of my portfolios. I had been the Minister for Information Technology for only a week or so, responsible for the Y2K issue, when I became seriously ill and ended up in Hutt Hospital, attached to every computerised machine the staff could lay their hands on. At 2 minutes to midnight on New Year’s Eve, I hazily remembered an officials’ report saying that Y2K should not be a problem with computers in the public sector generally, but that there were major concerns about hospitals. As the clock struck 12, I braced myself to meet my maker. At 1 minute past 12, finding myself still alive, I congratulated myself on a job thoroughly well done.
I had been the Minister of Transport for only a couple of weeks when bits of Air New Zealand planes fell off and landed in South Auckland. I was disturbed to hear from an official that the bits were probably not important anyway.
I had been the Minister of Corrections for only a short time when I was advised that two skinny inmates had escaped from a Department of Corrections bus on the way to Rimutaka Prison. The fact that they had escaped in my electorate and not Trevor Mallard’s electorate of Hutt South was infuriating. I asked how much the retrofitted bus had cost to keep the prisoners locked inside. “Around $350,000.”, I was told. I mused that it would be cheaper for the department to lease ordinary Stagecoach buses, so that when prisoners wanted to exit they could pull the cord like everyone else. That was early on in my reign as Minister of Corrections, when I still had a sense of humour.
My most heroic comment came early on as the Minister of Commerce. When asked by a reporter whether I agreed that the New Zealand sharemarket was the Wild West, I replied: “Yes, but the sheriff’s coming to town.”
The most influential thing I did as a Minister was as the Minister of Immigration. As a result of a “misunderstanding” with a reporter, a New Zealand Herald headline screamed, “Government lifts migrant target to 50,000”, which saw Fletcher Building shares rise on that day. I was extremely grateful to receive a phone call from the Prime Minister on that morning, offering me advice, guidance, and detailed information on the Government’s immigration programme.
Notwithstanding that, I feel privileged to have been part of the Labour team, which has made a difference to the lives of ordinary people. I am pleased that the unfettered free-market ideology, and its scant regard for social dislocation, has been buried, hopefully forever. It is ironic that the high priests of that religion, who have preached deregulation and minimalist Government for years, are strangely silent now as their cronies in the United States are bailed out from their greed, incompetence, and dishonesty by hard-working, ordinary taxpayers.
I am pleased that we in New Zealand have adopted a modern approach to economic management that sees the Government working in partnership with various sectors, organisations, groups, and individuals to improve the potential of our nation. We New Zealanders have a much stronger sense of pride in who we are now, which has been helped by success in film, design, science, music, and sport, and under the leadership of Prime Minister Helen Clark New Zealand has become a strong, independent nation that shows leadership on issues such as war, poverty, and climate change. Most important, however, I am proud to have been part of the Labour team that has made sure that the rising tide would lift all boats—that improved national wealth would be shared by the many, not just the few.
We have done well here, but, of course, there is always more to do. A key issue I would like Parliament to become more engaged in is the work being led by Business New Zealand and the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions on improving workplace productivity. I was involved in this work as the Minister of Labour, and it seems that much of the focus on monetary policy, interest rates, exchange rates, and the like could be reduced if productivity improvement had a more important place on the economic agenda.
I have been party to many important changes over the years, with the most significant being the introduction of MMP in 1996. I supported a change to a more proportional system of Government, and when I look around the Chamber I am pleased that we are starting to better reflect the wider community that we are supposed to represent. Although the decision-making process is slower on some things—often frustratingly so for a Minister—it is important to remember that that is what the public wanted: more considered decision-making. The coalition and support party arrangements have matured significantly over the years, and the fact that this Government has honoured the 3-year contract with the people is a tribute to all the parties involved.
There have been many hilarious moments in and around this place, far too many to mention, and I will try to mention just a few. The best comment from a constituent came from a person in John Carter’s Northland electorate. We were playing for the Parliamentary Rugby Team in a paddock in Awanui, north of Kaitāia, raising money for school cricket. The ball was thrown in on our 22. Chris Laidlaw passed it to John Carter, the local MP, who shaped to kick. “Don’t kick it, Carter!”, shrieked Chris, sensing danger. John kicked, it came off the side of his boot, and it landed in the outstretched arms of the opposing man-mountain of a centre. With three of us hanging off him like leaves in the breeze, the centre crashed over for a try under the sticks. “I told you not to kick it, Carter!”, moaned Laidlaw. “Don’t worry.”, came a voice from an elderly constituent on the sideline, “He doesn’t listen to us, either.” Duncan Garner got his nickname “Scoop” on that trip, given that he missed the National Party leadership change that happened right under his nose on that weekend.
The best point of order came from Winston Peters. Members will know that it is unparliamentary to call someone a hypocrite. Winston, who had become agitated by a speech, took a point of order, sought leave to table the Oxford Dictionary, and asked members to look up the meaning of the word “hypocrite” and compare the definition with what the member was saying.
The best interjection on one of my speeches came from Michael Cullen. We had taken great delight, in Opposition, in reminding the National Government of its “Read my lips: no new taxes” promise. I had collected up anything that looked like a tax increase—accident compensation levies, excise duties, rates rises, bus fare increases; anything at all—and, gathering up every inch of constitutional outrage I could muster, I shrieked: “See, National promised no new taxes, but in fact they have introduced nine new taxes.” “They must have been speaking German.”, came the dry interjection from Michael Cullen.
And the best answer to a parliamentary question came from my great friend Parekura Horomia. The prime question that was asked was innocent enough: “What did the Minister think of such and such?”. Parekura indicated enthusiastic support. “How does he reconcile that answer with a letter signed by him a month ago stating the exact opposite?”, asked the questioner. We all drew breath, knowing that this was the question that we, as Ministers, all dreaded. “That is easy.”, said Parekura, “It was a pre-letter.” The House went quiet as everyone pondered the answer, and one of ours stood to ask the next question. By this stage pandemonium had broken out on the Opposition front benches, as its members realised that this was not an answer, at all. A point of order was taken, and an answer demanded, but the Speaker, the Rt Hon Jonathan Hunt, advised that it was too late as he had called the next question. To this day it is unclear what a “pre-letter” is.
There are far too many people to thank, but I have chosen a few. I say thank you to our Prime Minister, Helen Clark, for her leadership, courage, compassion, and humour over the years. Her support for me when I was unwell certainly helped my rehabilitation. I am pleased to learn that she is only midway through her career, and I sincerely hope that she will be able to continue the great work she has overseen over the last 9 years.
To the Mayor of Upper Hutt City, Wayne Guppy, and his wife, Sue, who have been good friends to my wife, Toni, and I, I say thank you. Wayne is one of the top mayors in the country, and a top bloke. He has vision, is a strong leader, and genuinely cares about the people of Upper Hutt. It has been great working with him on all the issues over the years. I will particularly miss our All Black selections, often ignored by the hierarchy, and the annual battle on the Upper Hutt bowling greens, and I am pleased to note that I am going out on a high.
To my dear friend Paul Tolich, I say “Thanks, mate!”. Tolly has stood by me through thick and thin over the years, particularly when it was being alleged that the party was mysteriously moving to my left. The union movement and the Labour Party are the stronger for Tolly’s dedication and commitment.
To all those who work in Parliament—receptionists, messengers, Hansard reporters, select committee staff, Crown car drivers, security guards, Bellamy’s staff—I say thank you. To all the board members, chief executives, and public servants who serve New Zealand so ably and professionally, I say thank you for their contribution. To my ministerial, parliamentary, and electorate staff, and in particular to Jan Paterson, Ida Simons, Janette Granville, Krisna Crowley-Nepia, and Rebecca Leahy, I say thank you for their advice, help, and friendship. And I say thank you to those in my local Labour electorate committee for their loyalty, hard work, and support over all these years.
To my family—my late father, who has organised a heavenly chapter of Grey Power to make sure the superannuation surcharge never comes back; my mother, who has defended my honour on late-night talkback shows; and my brother and sisters, who have had to put up with ribbing from friends following some of my pronouncements—I thank them all for their support.
I come now to my children. To my sons, Ben and Sam, who are both overseas, I say that I am incredibly proud of them both. I am proud of who they are and of what they have achieved. And to my darling daughters, Maddie and Emily, who are here today, I say that they keep me young and bring me never-ending joy and happiness.
The best thing that has happened to me in Parliament was meeting, falling in love with, and marrying my wife, Toni. She has been my rock, my calm confidante, my best friend, and my media adviser over the last 8 years. I look forward to spending more time with her from now on, and to sharing life’s adventures, whatever they may be.
As Ruth Dyson is wont to say, finally and in conclusion, I now prepare to leave this place. As a former Minister of Corrections, I understand how inmates feel at the end of their time—I am looking forward to personal freedom and hoping I can survive outside the institution.
At some time in the future a Speaker will stand at 2 p.m. in this House, announce with sadness the passing of the Hon Paul Swain, “Minister of This and Associate Minister of That”, and invite members to stand for a minute’s silence. Two new fresh-faced MPs, sitting where Steve Maharey and I started all those years ago, will rise, and one will ask: “I wonder who that old codger Swain was?”. I hope someone will have the decency to remind them that he was the captain of the parliamentary cricket team that beat the diplomats in 1997.
With that, I bid members goodbye and good luck. Nō reira tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, kia ora tātou katoa.
Firstly, I would like to pay tribute to you, Madam Speaker, for your infinite patience, and for your humour. I extend my deepest sympathy to the family of Brian Donnelly, and to his New Zealand First colleagues. Kia kaha!
I have had the privilege of actively participating in a fantastically exciting, and at times challenging, journey during the 15 years I have been a member of Parliament. I come from a family that has a history of political activity, born out of a strong desire to improve the lives of those who are not among the most fortunate in society. I started asking my mother Jean whether I could go to political meetings with her while I was at primary school. Her instructions were: “If you are quiet and sit up straight, you can come.” As members will know, I have continued to put her rules into practice here in Parliament—
Oh well—OK! Perhaps I have deviated from that path once or twice over the last 15 years, particularly the bit about being quiet. Although my interest and political activity increased over the years, I never contemplated becoming a member of Parliament. I have never hungered for personal recognition, but I have always been highly motivated by the need to make life better for those who are less able to advocate for themselves. I contested the 1990 general election, missing by a mere 409 votes—who counts? However, I was elected in 1993, and there began this absolutely incredible journey that I have been on ever since.
I am sure there are some who think they got elected to Parliament as a result of their charm and good looks. I know that I am here because Labour principles are at the core of my very being, because of the hard work and commitment of the Whanganui Labour team, because of my family, both past and present, and, perhaps most important, because the word “Labour” is beside my name on a voting form. I thank the voters who ticked my name and “Labour” during the six elections I contested. I worked hard to deliver on their expectations of me, and I hope that in most cases I succeeded. “Thank you” are totally inadequate words to describe the debt of gratitude I feel towards the Whanganui Labour team that has worked with me since 1989. We have had some great times together, and my heartfelt thanks go to them all. Politics is not really very glamorous—is it, Rona—when you are standing out in the freezing cold, selling raffle tickets and holding garage sales to raise funds, or delivering pamphlets along streets that seem to stretch for miles. It is the Labour team throughout New Zealand that does the graft in the back rooms and on the streets, passionate and committed in its desire for a fair New Zealand for all New Zealanders.
Members of Parliament could not function successfully without the support of their secretarial staff, both in our parliamentary offices and in the electorate. I have been extremely fortunate in the calibre of staff I have had working with me. My staff have all been incredibly loyal and hard-working, and I know I would not have achieved what I did without them. I say thank you to my staff for being partners in serving the Whanganui electorate, for your humour, and also for your strong belief in delivering social justice. As my long-serving secretary Lyn Crossley and I used to frequently say when faced with yet another challenge: “It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.” My husband, Warren, and our children, Trent and Megan, have continued to be the wind beneath my wings during the years I have been in Parliament. I would not have been able to do the work I have done without you by my side. Through thick and thin, you have been there, and I know that you have made many sacrifices for me and for the Labour Party. Your love has sustained me.
I have always had an interest in conservation and environmental issues, and I was really proud to have the opportunity to introduce the Wildlife (Penalties and Related Matters) Amendment Bill. This bill increased the penalties for offences against native flora and fauna, and the legislation now really does afford greater protection for our native species. The bill received unanimous support in Parliament, and that is not something that happens around here every day. I was not so successful with the Housing Responsibilities Bill, where I sought to have income-related rents restored for State house tenants, and unfortunately the National MPs of the day voted against the bill. However, when Labour came into Government in 1999, one of the first policies we passed was a return to income-related rents. This was a lesson in time, patience, and the privilege of being a member of a party that knows the benefits of social justice across many policy areas, and is prepared to put those policies and beliefs into action.
Although being an active participant in politics is not for the faint-hearted, a day in Government is definitely better than a thousand in Opposition. I have had 6 years of being an Opposition MP, and 9 in Government—guess which I prefer? As we battle away in the political trenches, much of our work is unseen and intangible, but it is all part of the political process we must endure. Saving the West Coast’s forests is a very real and tangible Labour policy, and I look forward to the day I can take our grandchildren to see them. The political battle to save these forests was a very new experience for me, but I learned from it and went on to face others. We could not have instituted that policy without our leader Helen Clark standing beside us.
The recently opened $30 million - plus Whanganui University College of Learning campus and the new $34 million Wanganui Hospital clinical services building are just some of the policies I have been absolutely delighted to see put into action in the Whanganui electorate under a Labour-led Government. South Taranaki and large parts of rural Whanganui were included in the reconfigured Whanganui electorate following the introduction of an MMP system in 1996. The Labour team got to work and started to bring new services and investment in these areas, and we have seen a new hospital, I say to Dan and Rose, and other investments in this area. A Heartland Services centre was opened, and there was massive investment in roads, including the Hāwera railway subway, the widening of the Tangahoe Bridge, and the $7 million investment that will improve the Whanganui River Road. I am descended, on the paternal side of my family, from Ngāti Pāmoana of Koroniti on the Whanganui River. Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi is my iwi. Facilitating economic development opportunities along the Whanganui River is important to me, and I look forward to the expansion of farming, horticulture, and tourism ventures that improved road safety and access will bring to this part of the electorate.
New Zealand’s relatively small population means that we know quite a lot about each other. Some people here know things about each of us that we do not even know ourselves. Here in Parliament, we are inclined to tell each other occasionally, too. The small size of our population and our Parliament also means that we have a unique relationship with the media. Before entering Parliament I used to think the media was some lofty, all-knowing, all-seeing group of people. Well, I soon got that naive idea knocked out of me. They are just the same as us politicians. They do not like criticism either; they also like to have the last word, and in most cases they do, too. In my early days here, the press gallery was famous for its parties. We MPs looked forward to these events, as we knew no one in attendance would suffer from dehydration or lack of sustenance. MPs from both sides of the House also knew they would spend some time during the next few days engaged in speculative conversation about what went on both during and after these parties. Well, that was then and this is now. Just like us, the media are also under much greater scrutiny, and have become uncharacteristically sedate. Perhaps it is time for renewal!
MPs are constantly being told by all manner of people that they should improve their behaviour in the House. Some MPs also venture into this territory. In my maiden speech, I acknowledged that the debating chamber was a naturally combative place, and that I would not remain silent and quietly accept legislation that would disadvantage the people who elected me to Parliament. I have been known to utter the occasional interjection, and a journalist once wrote something uncharitable about my voice and paint, or some such description—a cutting blow. I was so devastated that I had to have a wee lie down. However, I quickly recovered and continued to point out the error of the ways of the National Party and of any other MP whose party was in opposition to Labour. I hope they realise I was just trying to be helpful.
Although the general consensus among the public is that we politicians spend our whole time attacking each other, there have been moments of great spontaneous humour that every MP has enjoyed. We will never see the likes of David Lange again, and his one-liners were brilliant. John Carter could always be relied upon for a joke for the bowling club. National’s Gerry Brownlee has been known to make the occasional helpful interjection too. In June last year, some of us were looking forward to directing some informative and helpful interjections—sotto voce, of course—towards Gerry, following a most interesting meeting he had had in his office. Unfortunately, we were thwarted in our cause by the code of conduct for MPs documents that were being tabled in the House that day. Not to be outdone by this temporary stay of required good behaviour, I had been making meaningful eye contact with, and intimations to, Gerry, below the Speaker’s radar, of course. I have here the note that Gerry wrote to me when he knew he was home free: “Jill, sharpen up your conduct, and stop hassling and intimidating me in the House. Gerry.” I have yet to witness Gerry being intimidated by anyone. This was an exchange conducted without rancour and with good humour from both of us. Parliament should, and hopefully always will, be a place where people of strongly held opinions assemble and put their beliefs forward for public scrutiny. This is not a place for, as Ralph Chaplin wrote, the “cowed and the meek Who see the world’s anguish and its wrong And dare not speak!”.
I have had a variety of roles and responsibilities during the last 15 years, and appreciate the irony of being appointed as an Assistant Speaker, a bit like the fox minding the chicken coop. I have also been a junior and senior Government whip. You learn a great deal about human nature in these roles. The work a whip does is largely unseen. However, it is an exciting and challenging role, with constant liaison between the executive and the backbench, and with other parties. The Government whips are often at the centre of what is going on in Parliament and their organisational and management skills are tested every day.
More recently I have been chair of the New Zealand Parliamentarians’ Group on Population and Development. This all-party parliamentary group views population and development issues, including sexual and reproductive health and rights, and gender issues, as central to the elimination of poverty. The group also promotes sustainable economic growth and environmental sustainability. Much of the group’s work is focused on the Asia-Pacific region and we value the positive relationship we have with NZAID, sharing a belief in delivering international aid and development effectively.
I love the atmosphere of the debating chamber. It is an exciting place even when the bills being debated may seem tedious and at times irrelevant to the wider public. I am conscious of the fact that only about 120 of us have won the right to sit here at any one time, and also of how precious our democratic system is. Too often those who criticise MPs and their behaviour would not have the intestinal fortitude to stand for election and be prepared to suffer the often unjustified criticisms MPs receive almost every day. I believe that New Zealand MPs largely conduct themselves responsibly and care about their constituents, their electorates, their country, and the rest of the world. Voters can choose to elect timid candidates who will never be heard of again once they enter this place, but I suspect the electors would soon tire of that sort of character.
Fifteen minutes in which to cover 15 years of parliamentary service requires some discipline. I have had experiences I never dreamt would be possible. I have met and talked with people I would have only read about if I had not been an MP. I have seen firsthand how highly regarded and respected our country and the Helen Clark Labour-led Government are internationally. It has been an immense privilege to work with Prime Minister Helen Clark. Whoever would have thought I could ring one of the most effective Prime Ministers this country has known and say: “Helen, Jill here. Ring me when you’ve got a moment, thanks.”
I am proud to be a New Zealander and I am privileged to have played a role in implementing Labour Party policies that have improved the quality of life for thousands of New Zealanders. I have spent too little time with my family over the last 15 years. Warren and I have two precious grandchildren, Isabella and Freddie, whom we want to see more of. We are excited about our future. I leave this House comfortable in the knowledge that I tried to do my best. I will always value the truly wonderful range of experiences I have had and I sincerely thank all those who helped make it possible. Thank you.
As I walked down the corridor to my first caucus meeting in 1996, Helen Clark asked me whether I had made the right decision, because 24 hours earlier I had turned down an appointment as the principal of Wellington Girls’ College to become a member of Parliament. There have been many times in the midst of some media-driven storm—unfortunate nicknames, unflattering photos, and television crews trying to film across backyards into my bedroom—when I have definitely thought that I had made a mistake. Yet on reflection I know I have been given the opportunity to broaden my understanding of this country and to make a difference, for my immediate community in Wellington, and for New Zealand in general. I am glad that I took the risk but I am also so very happy to be going.
As I go I have some memories, many thanks, and some reflections on democracy. The records show that I have held a number of portfolios. When the Prime Minister rang and asked whether I would add environment to broadcasting, I advised her that I was arachnophobic, to which she replied that that was covered by conservation. But then there was the minimal science education that I had had, and my first public issue was genetic modification—I had so much to learn. Thank goodness there was a royal commission! It gave me some time to understand the portfolio.
Environment was a portfolio and a ministry that I came to love. I enjoyed our weekly meetings with Barry, Lindsay, Sue, Dave, Bill, Tim, and many others. We all learnt together. They learnt about apostrophes; I learnt about the Resource Management Act and the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act. Our aim was to work with local councils to find solutions, such as that to the deteriorating water quality in Lake Taupō and the Rotorua lakes. Sometimes our work was to listen and to enact the solutions proposed at local levels, such as the Fiordland Marine Guardians solutions, and sometimes it was to provide clear leadership. As someone who grew up in Christchurch smog and lived there for 40 years while people argued over whose fault that dirty air was, it was great to be part of a Government that set the national environment standards for air quality. I am confident that lives will be saved because of this work.
With the National Library and Archives New Zealand, I had a clear idea—with Michael Cullen—of what needed to be done. Regardless, persuading others of the way forward was just as difficult. But there were wonderful people in those communities—people such as Lydia Wevers, Brad and Susan Patterson, and Rachel Underwood—and together we found legislative solutions.
In broadcasting, our theme was to celebrate who we were, to tell our story. The great success was a local music quota—I say thank you to Katherine Rich for her reference yesterday. Only 3 percent of music played on major stations was New Zealand music. We argued for 20 percent. “Impossible!”, they said; “Eat your words!”, or something like it, was what Michael Cullen said. The music quota and the promotions by Brendan Smyth at New Zealand On Air have given opportunities for New Zealand musicians. We now celebrate our voice and our sound.
When our second term of Government came around, I was very happy to exchange broadcasting for New Zealand aid and disarmament. Matt Robson had worked to establish the new agency, NZAID. Now we had the chance to ensure that this aid agency worked differently. We were to concentrate on the Pacific. We determined to work in partnership, and thus build the capacity of, say, the Solomon Islands Education Department, or community health in Papua New Guinea. Peter Adams and the wonderful NZAID team have built a way of working that is admired worldwide. It is the Rt Hon Winston Peters whom I must thank, and also Michael Cullen, for the substantial increase in the aid budget—God does work in mysterious ways! Good, effective government works with parties, ministries, non-governmental organisations, and community groups. I feel that I have been part of a very good Government, able to work with different partners.
Good government is also dependent on brilliant public servants. I experienced this when given the curriculum review to supervise for a short time. Professionally, I understood this work, and I knew enough to know that the review was being undertaken with rigour and energy. The supervision needed was very light, indeed. We are so well served by our public servants. Personally, I always feel so offended by the derisory term “bureaucrats”, which is flung about so easily in this House in order to itch an ill-informed scab.
I think you can see that I loved being in Cabinet, but journalists could not conceive of a person who would voluntarily stand aside from that work. In their eyes I must have been pushed—no politician would ever voluntarily halve his or her pay. It is sad that our press gallery is full of people whose perspective is so jaundiced. It does not build respect for democracy, but maybe that is the aim of the media, which is increasingly owned by fewer corporations. The fourth estate, I think, wants to be the sole or only estate.
In 2005 I did stand down. I dreamt of New Zealand following the Nordic example of being able to build a strong, fair society around years of social democratic Governments, rather than the turnover every 6 to 9 years with the consequent catch-up, repair, and buy-back that always has to take place. To achieve this requires excellent succession planning, and anyone with a brain and eyes today can see that we in Labour have achieved it. Twenty-five percent of our 2005 caucus has retired, or is retiring, in favour of some very talented successors with new perspectives and new experiences.
In 2005 it was back to the backbench and three select committees, and, latterly, the enjoyable role of Assistant Speaker. I was particularly proud of the manner in which the Local Government and Environment Committee—John Carter—worked together to bring back positive legislation on waste recovery. And this is a good time to thank Mark Blumsky. We have worked well together in Wellington over the years, and that same style was evident in select committee work. Thanks, Mark, for always treating me as a friend and a human being, especially when I was in the poo. I also loved working with Brian Donnelly, and I am so sad to hear of his passing today. He had the unenviable task of chairing a select committee that had four principals on it; that he survived is amazing.
I have positive memories of life as a politician to take away with me, and, Madam Speaker, I very much appreciate the support you have always given me, both in Cabinet and in the House. Few people know—but I will reveal it now—that we were taught by the same nuns. That accounts for our hair colouring. These positive memories, though, are tempered by my concerns about the role of the media in democracy. It is not a concern about whether different news media organisations support a particular party, nor is it a concern about how I personally may have been reported. Rather, it is a concern about the trivialisation of decision making in society. For that is what politics is: the making of decisions, be it the laws we pass or the Budgets we approve. But modern news media do not evaluate our decisions in the light of which policy is best. Instead, they build a web around personalities and behaviours. It is about hockey mums versus the first black presidential nomination. It is about a smiley new face versus the one we are familiar with. The news is about the decision makers and rarely about the decisions. By focusing on the shallow world of perception, we can afford not to analyse the different policies or choices. In fact, we can do away with policies altogether.
Such a light analysis of the issues, of course, plays into the hand of the slick and polished. I take up Steve Maharey’s point that any attempt at thinking out loud or inviting comment is dismissed as weakness, and if one trips over words or confuses a term or name, then one is portrayed as a poor performer. It is very interesting to note the concept of “performance”. To be successful in this world of light analysis, one need only sound assertive, even—and especially—when one does not know what one is talking about. The impression that one knows is enough. If one belongs to a paper whose journalist numbers are shrinking, then it is quicker to accept the assertion as truth without searching for any evidence. If we continue in this unholy partnership between assertion without knowledge and a celebrity-focused media, then democracy will be short-changed, and we will get the politicians we do not deserve. We will be presented with the slick and image-rich, and we will lose out on the politician who listens, who collaborates, who invites comment, and who actually thinks and reflects.
In the world of perception, debate becomes the repeated exchange of carefully tested phrases—when we are in the Chair we hear them all the time—and sound bites, rather than an in-depth analysis of the issues. The media are not interested in argument—only in posturing and emotion. If I had not experienced such in-depth debate in Cabinet committees and in some select committees, then I would not have survived 12 years of trivia. Column inches have been wasted on perks, but has equivalent space been devoted to the importance of strong Central European economies to stability in Europe? Every Christmas we learn what prisoners are eating for their lunch that day, but has there ever been a story about trades learnt or literacy gained by those in prison? As a society, we deserve better.
Our taxes do provide one shiny example of good analysis: Radio New Zealand. Thank you, Kim Hill, for bringing science and mathematics into the mainstream on a Saturday morning. Thank you, Veronika Meduna, for explaining complex issues so clearly. Work on genetic modification taught me that both science and statistics were poorly understood at a time we needed to understand them in order to make good decisions.
I end this valedictory with many thanks—first, to Helen, the Prime Minister. Helen, you entrusted me, this inexperienced politician and eccentric principal, with some very interesting portfolios. Thank you—it is sincerely meant. I admire your courage and strength—it is awesome. You keep going in the face of horrible personal attack and innuendo that others would run away from. But although I admire your courage, above all I love how you work so hard for New Zealanders—not for Helen Clark but for New Zealanders—so that we can all have a better life. I get so cross when people mistake the power to do good for power for power’s sake. Thank you so much.
To Michael Cullen, I say a special thanks. You were so patient in your financial explanations. I know that my Cabinet colleagues always sighed with relief when I asked my questions. You have been so staunch, so principled, and so clear about supporting those New Zealanders who cannot support themselves. Your service as Minister of Finance will be applauded in all the history books of the future, and is that not deliciously ironic? In my role as Assistant Speaker, I have come to appreciate your exceptional devotion to, and leadership of, this House. You treat Parliament with respect.
I have been blessed with wonderful public servants to work with, from a number of ministries, and I include the staff of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Cabinet Office, who are always tidying up after me. Thank you all for your patience, your humour, your honesty, and your amazing hard work. To my staff in my ministerial office—Neil, Trevor, Grant, Alistair, Viv, and Paula—thank you for being such a brilliant team. You and the ministry staff survived my regular post - question time depression, and always supplied the missing names, nouns, and terms, in any meeting. What will I do without you, in Birmingham?
Paula—we have worked together for 8 years, and you are brilliant and reliable. I tell members not to line up to take her! No travel plan has ever been messed up, and no appointment forgotten. I have enjoyed good company—in particular, I have enjoyed watching you with your family; the parenting skills of you and Tony always fill me with hope for our society. I thank my electorate office staff: Sheila, Anna, and the ones who went before them—I think I see Jordan up in the gallery; he was known as Diggory when I forgot his name. People think that I do it all, in the electorate, but it is your networking, your courtesy, and your attention to detail, that have made my service to Wellington Central possible.
To Jimmy, I give very special thanks. People think that VIP drivers are mere chauffeurs; you are all so much more. On the morning I learnt that my mother had died, while Jimmy was driving me back from the airport he organised staff to come around with soup and bread, and to support me while I gathered myself together before representing the Government at the Armistice Day service. Jimmy explained to the Visits and Ceremonial Office and to the army chaplain that I might cry a little more than normal, in the circumstance. Thank you, Jimmy, for being a true friend in both sad times and happy times, and for looking after me. And I extend my thanks to the security staff—and I have needed them on many occasions—the officers of this House, the messengers, and the staff at Bellamy’s for always being so cheerful and helpful in this House.
To Claire, my daughter, and to Josh, my son, who is not here: thank you both for growing up into wonderful people. You did this in spite of me and my always wanting to change the world, while ignoring the pile of ironing or your homework. You both work so hard for a just society. I feel so proud that in your different ways you work for social justice. I love you both, and feel very loved by you. I often feel that you are both so much wiser than your ever-so-crazy mother.
Finally, I thank the constituents of Wellington Central, and within that, the local Labour team. You trusted me, you worked with me—please shift that trust to Grant Robertson. Grant has worked with me for over 12 years. We have learnt much from each other. I go with ease and happiness because I am confident that if my constituents select Grant for Wellington Central, he will serve them with commitment, empathy, and intelligence. He is a person of integrity and personal warmth. In my wildest dreams, I could not imagine a better successor.
Madam Speaker and parliamentary colleagues, time limits prevent further stories and thanks, but thank you for the privilege of working with you all in the last 12 years. Kia kaha, e hoa mā; kia manawanui!
I acknowledge the passing of my good rugby league mate the Hon Brian Donnelly; may he go in peace.
Madam Speaker, I acknowledge you and the other presiding officers. The Hon Margaret Wilson has made history as our first woman Speaker, and I thank her for her friendship over many years. The Hon Clem Simich showed me the value of being fair to Opposition MPs as a select committee chair. I have tried to follow his example in that role. I thank the people who work to make this Parliament the place it is: the Office of the Clerk, select committee and parliamentary staff, the library, the messengers, security staff, drivers, and of course those who feed us and keep this place clean and well maintained.
There are a number of us departing today, and I acknowledge all of them and the Labour family who have gathered to support us. Kia ora, talofa lava, and greetings. There are 117 years of collective experience amongst us—something most workplaces would recognise as being a significant loss of knowledge, yet the public commentary will probably be minimal. I am going to miss this place, the many friends who will be returning later this year, and those like me who are leaving. They are special people who have given their best to this place and our country.
Nineteen ninety-six was our first MMP Parliament, and I was a list MP, encouraged here particularly by my good friend David Lange and many others. We waited a long time for a Government to be formed and even longer to make maiden speeches. I look back on that speech and feel enormous satisfaction at what has been achieved in the past 12 years, and in the role I have played in delivering on the expectations of the people who put us here.
The people of Maungakiekie elected me from 1999 onwards as their electorate MP, and I thank them for their loyalty and support. I achieved that with the help of a loyal and hard-working group of Labour Party members and supporters. There are many of them, but I would like to especially acknowledge Robert Gallagher, Murray Cotter, Christine O’Brien, Adrian Martin-Devitt, Leila Boyle, Richard Northey, Andrew Beyer, and Jo Fitzpatrick, and of course Carol Beaumont, who will fill my seat later this year. The union affiliates and the energetic Pacific sector have always been there for me—fa’afetai tele lava; thank you very much. Helping me have been two extraordinary friends. My electorate agents, John Fenton and Lydia Sosene, epitomise what true public service really means, and they do their work with love in their hearts. I thank them both.
In Wellington there are many people whom I would like to mention, but they are too numerous to name: those who worked in my office when I was a Minister to make the work we produced so much better with their efforts, and who stood by me through very trying times. I thank them. I worked with intelligent, committed, and talented people in the ministries and departments I was responsible for. I praise them for their efforts. We are lucky in this country that good people are prepared to sacrifice personal wealth and opportunity to work in our public services for the good of our communities. There are a couple of people I do want to thank personally. For 10 years Jen Toogood worked with me here in Parliament. She kept me sane and organised. She taught me how this place worked and offered enormous friendship to me and my family. Thank you, Jen. Since she escaped, Janet Emmerson has filled that role, and I thank her too.
For 9 of my 12 years I have been part of a very good Government led by two exceptional people. Helen Clark and Michael Cullen are great Labour leaders who ensured we delivered what we promised, and more. They will continue to deliver. It was an honour for a South Auckland working-class boy like me to serve in their Cabinet for almost 4 years. I wish it could have been longer, but that was not to be. I look back now with great pride at the things we achieved together: income-related rents for State house tenants, the scrapping of the Employment Contracts Act, the reorganisation of primary health care so people could go to the doctor again, the minimum wage increases and 4 weeks’ annual leave, KiwiSaver, Kiwibank, KiwiRail, and so on. I believe strongly in those things, and that is why I came to Parliament—to change our laws and spending priorities.
I never thought I would be a “roads and bridges” sort of politician. When I became Minister of Transport I was in severe danger of not being one. I sat down with transport officials early on, and I was told we would not even start on a new piece of motorway in Auckland in our first term, let alone finish one. Such was the shambles we inherited. Well, there are many roads, bridges, and motorways now built and a busway I feel particularly proud of. I never got my name on the opening plaque of many of them, but I can now drive on them with a sense of pride I thought I would never feel. To my Green comrades, I say we dramatically boosted public transport spending too—something enormously important to the community I represent and to the environment.
Last year I went to Samoa with my family to receive the matai title of Vui from my grandmother’s village of Lano, on Savaii. I treasure that trip and the title I was given. It sits alongside the honour I have of being the first person of Pasifika descent to be the Minister of Pacific Island Affairs. Samoan culture requires a title to be earned, but I still felt enormous trepidation about accepting these roles because I am New Zealand-born and without the language of my father. But the Pacific community is generous and has given me great love and support. This empowered me to confidently work on policies I believe have made a difference. Pacific people are now able to send their children to early childhood centres that teach in their first languages, more of them are achieving educationally, we have built capacity in health delivery, education, and social services, and Pacific people are taking the world by storm—not just in sport but in music, art, film, television, and writing. I know that because I hear it on our very own radio stations and, occasionally, see it on our very monocultural TV screens.
I thought of one thing that best illustrated the satisfaction an MP can get from doing this job. There are many things I have been involved in, but this stood out. On the wall behind my desk I have had a photo for several years. It is a picture of the Prime Minister and me with a Tongan family in Te Pāpapa, Auckland. It was at the opening of the first Healthy Housing project that Housing New Zealand Corporation undertook, which happened because we had a terrible problem with illnesses like meningococcal disease, caused in part by overcrowding in houses due to the market rents regime of the 1990s. Together the university, district health boards, and Housing New Zealand mapped the worst outbreaks, located at-risk families, and built them larger, more appropriate homes to live in on existing State-owned land. The market had delivered disease and poverty; good, joined-up Government delivered people from that. I feel proud of that; it is a type of work that defines us as a true Labour Government.
I have had some fun and learned many lessons along the way. In an early unguarded moment as Minister of Housing I sat for over an hour with a reporter, discussing my aspirations and plans for the portfolio. I thought it went well. The next day I picked up the newspaper to read the headline “Minister to give BBQs to State tenants”—or something ridiculous like that. I took flak for at least a week. It was not my suggestion or plan, but that did not matter to the journalist; he had scored a good hit on the new Minister. I will not reveal where the suggestion came from, but I am glad I did not mention the other one from the same person, who had suggested turning State houses around to face the sun—not a bad idea, I think.
During my term as Minister of Transport I faced some tough times. From memory Ansett in Australia collapsed, Air New Zealand and Qantas were in severe trouble here, and our railways were broke and broken. In the House, in the midst of all this chaos, I was asked the inevitable question by a member from over there: “Can the Minister list his achievements since taking over the portfolio?” Ah, the joys of question time! We did, of course, rescue Air New Zealand and rail. I pay tribute to Michael Cullen. It was inspiring to work beside him on those significant issues.
My scariest moment was not here, but in a school gymnasium in Auckland. It was the year the APRA Silver Scroll Awards picked the best 30 New Zealand songs of all time. I was asked to play drums by an old mate, Al Hunter, with a band of very, very good professional musicians. The song was Dave Dobbyn’s “Loyal”, and I drove my family absolutely mad learning it properly. They hate the song now. I was nervous as! A huge audience with the cream of New Zealand musical talent, including Dobbyn, Herbs, Bic Runga, etc. were all sitting there. Finally, we were on the stage and all was going well until Al forgot the words and stopped singing. The drum part starts and stops, and I had learnt when to come back in from the lyrics. Ah! Just in time, Al remembered the words and I came back in on cue. What a relief! We got through. Of course, some kind journalist bagged me for even being there, but I give big thanks to Al for asking me—I loved it.
We speak a lot in this job, and I enjoy it, except when I have to read speeches. I have never had any serious slips of the tongue—not like John Carter, anyway. It was very cunning. But I recently avoided the debate on the Employment Relations (Breaks and Infant Feeding) Amendment Bill in the House. I kept getting the title wrong, and did so in front of an audience of more than 300 when boasting of the imminent passing of the “Rest Breaks and Infant Breeding Bill”. It might be a good idea, Paul.
As I prepared this, my last speech in the House, I thought back to my first. That day I spoke of my hopes and ideals, and my family were sitting in the gallery. Many of them are here again today. I greet my daughter Jessica, son Jacob, and grandson Izaiah, and I acknowledge Liz who is away shopping—overseas. My children have known a father involved only in unions and politics, but they love me anyway, as I do them. I greet my mothers, brothers, and sisters, and others who have travelled to offer support—loving support that only families can give.
There are two family members missing, though: my wife Carol, and our son Kristian. It is Carol’s birthday today. I say “Happy birthday, honey.” She is sitting at home watching this with my beautiful sister Sala, who is our rock. I hope they have figured how to watch it on the television. Carol and I have been together since September 1974. We met as teenagers. I am here in this place because of her loving support. When she was struck down with a severe brain haemorrhage in 2002, our lives changed forever. Carol requires 24/7 total care and always will. She survived the normally fatal bleed through a combination of will power and prayer, coupled with the marvellous skills of the people who work in Wellington public hospital. She has been at home for 3½ years, cared for by devoted and loving caregivers and our family. I pay tribute to Loto, Sabrina, Milika, Losa, Fotui, Ketuli, and others who have worked in our home. They are all patient and wonderfully caring women. I also acknowledge the dedicated people who have worked with Carol these past years to help her survive and make some improvement. Carol has continued to encourage me in this job. Even now she would be prepared to see me carry on, but it is time to move on.
Without Carol’s mother, Shirley Gladding, I could not have contemplated continuing in Parliament as long as this. Shirley has enabled me to be here. She has given me and Carol so much, and we love her dearly.
People react to disability in different ways. We have seen some friends, and even family members, drift away from us. That is not a criticism of anyone; it is just a reality for many disabled people and their families. I was told this would occur. We have been blessed, though, with truly good friends. I have already mentioned our Labour family, but I also acknowledge very special people like Cathie Sharpe, Paul Chalmers, Fiona Johnston, and Beverley Roser who give us so much support. Of course, I thank again all my caucus colleagues who carried extra burdens so I could care for Carol, especially Ruth Dyson and Steve Maharey, who guided me through the best and worst of times.
I leave this place with some parting requests. My family has experienced many challenges. We have lived with Carol’s disability for 6½ long years. Many families share this experience, and more will do so in the future as medical science keeps people alive who once would have died. Twenty-two New Zealanders a day have a stroke, and just over half of the survivors have ongoing problems with disability. They experience a different regime from that of those who are disabled by an accident. I would forego a thousand tax cuts if I was able to access the treatment and services that Carol needs, and would receive, if she were covered by accident compensation. I know there are other families who feel the same. As a nation we can afford to treat people equally, and I implore members to commit to this as a Parliament in the future.
In the last few years in my community I have worked strenuously on our youth and violence problems. We have made great progress, especially in my home town of Ōtāhuhu. I love doing this work, and I want to continue it when I finish here. What is clear to me is that behind the problems in communities throughout New Zealand is the damage done by the deregulated labour market. The insane idea that we must all be available to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, has ruined family life for too many. Our communities suffer, we struggle to find people to run our schools and clubs, and many parents just are not there when their kids really need them. This is what lies behind the youth gang problems of the poor streets and the drug problems of the rich, leafy suburbs—not the lack of longer and longer prison sentences, as advocated by some. Employers must pay more than lip service to the need for proper work-life balance, or our Government must legislate for it.
As I said earlier, the other person who is not in the gallery today is my beloved son Kristian. I ask on behalf of the hundreds of families each year like ours, who suffer the loss of a son or brother as we did, that efforts continue to reduce our suicide rate and to find answers so we can avoid the grief we still feel.
Madam Speaker, I have felt motivated for years by the idea of working to make things better for future generations. I have been privileged to have had 12 years here working on that goal. Six years ago I actually became a grandfather, so the idea became more real and more pressing. Three weeks ago I missed grandparents’ day at Izaiah’s school, because I was stuck here under urgency. I will not do that again, nor be away on Carol’s next birthday. I look forward to carrying on my work locally, being home at night, supporting the Warriors more often, and having a more normal family life.
Finally, some years ago I read a quote from a former politician. I am hopeless at remembering these things, so please forgive me if I paraphrase. It goes something like: “There are people who go into politics to be something, and there are people who go into politics to do something.” I hope that I will be remembered as one of the latter. Thank you, and farewell. Ia soifua ma Ia manuia.
Kia ora tātou. A valedictory is essentially a once-in-a-lifetime affair—a privilege denied to those departing after an election defeat, or after an early and rushed poll of the 1984 variety—so like all rare objects, a valedictory should be treated with respect and care. Our maiden speeches may be flushed with naive and outrageous optimism, but our valedictories are where the rubber hits the road. One of those watershed moments is described powerfully by Eminem in “Lose Yourself”:
Would you capture it or just let it slip?
We politicians are practitioners of the mysterious art of representative democracy. We, the departing Labour “nine guitars”, know how hard it can be to explain that art to potential employers, yet the skills of listening and acting, of guiding people and causes to solutions, of managing committees and portfolios, and of promoting values are all real and all valuable. How does one meaningfully summarise 12 intensely busy years doing this work of democracy? I have long tortured my Christchurch colleagues Lianne Dalziel and Ruth Dyson by dividing speeches on every conceivable topic into three points, so it would now be entirely unreasonable to disappoint them. Of course, this all comes with a warning. With certainty, the American humorist Ambrose Bierce defined history—the subject of most valedictories—as “An account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools.”
First, one can attempt to tell the story of democracy with numbers—election results, casework achieved, changes experienced—the vital statistics of the job. The business of democracy can be brutal: elected MPs live and die by majorities. I first stood for Parliament in 1996. Then, mobile phones were as large as bricks, people communicated with MPs by visits and letters, and websites were places where spiders lived. My campaign volunteers were a little mystified by the potential but irritated Labour voter who phoned my campaign office to complain that when she searched for me on the web, all she could find was an, admittedly impressive, full frontal picture of the US porn star Tim Barnett. My win, then, was maybe understandably the narrowest of any electorate member of Parliament—with a majority of 653. Survival was my total focus for that first 3 years. By the last election my majority reached 7,836 and sleep was a lot easier.
At the heart of New Zealand democracy are local and personal concerns. I represent Christchurch Central. It is home to vibrant neighbourhoods, the urban heritage heartland of our nation, and a succession of superb Thai restaurants that have sustained me through the years. It includes the most valuable real estate in the South Island, and, for many generations, some of the poorest people. Those who fall through the net come to a local member of Parliament. We comfort, strategise, inform, advocate, and even link people together to create a campaign. This is eternal work. The task of responding to such presented need is as deep as the ocean, and as vital as fresh air in areas like Christchurch Central. In the 12 years representing that electorate, my staff and I have opened 10,400 case files. Health, immigration, and Work and Income matters make up about a third of them. The sheer range of other matters reaching us as electorate MPs is unrivalled in other Western democracies. The profile of cases has changed, and the success rate has increased, because for the past 9 years we have had a Government that cares more for communities like mine, and that has invested political energy and funds in making government work for the people rather than work against them.
The business of democracy is about improving lives. Numbers help to show just how dramatic those 9 years have been for real people living real lives. The minimum wage for young people has risen from $4.20 an hour to, in nearly all cases, $12 an hour. The average young family has seen annual doctors’ bills cut by 70 percent. Nearly 3,000 people fewer in my electorate rely on an unemployment benefit. Over 4,000 children have been lifted out of poverty. But the business of democracy does not come cheap. Just last week I gazed out at the glorious, snow-covered Seaward Kaikouras on the Wellington to Christchurch flight. I worked out that I had flown that route 1,800 or so times in the last 12 years, experienced over 1,000 question times, and expended more money than I care to imagine to employ staff and run offices. This is a style of political representation that New Zealanders seem to want, and that has produced the results to date.
Describing democracy by numbers is one way; another is to talk about achievements. Margaret Thatcher once claimed that her greatest achievement was to reform the Labour Party, dragging it in her political direction. A glance at recent policy positioning in New Zealand suggests that that has happened here—in political reverse. But sometimes, of course, appearances deceive.
Democracy is about creating laws. I sponsored one significant member’s bill, the Prostitution Reform Act 2003, and had a big part to play in the Civil Union Act 2004. They are laws with real-life outcomes. To date those outcomes include 600 fewer arrests of sex workers, the setting up and monitoring of health and safety standards for the sex industry, and 2,814 people—led by John and Des, up in the gallery today—who are living and loving, secure in civil unions.
Democracy is about scrutinising proposed laws and inquiring into important matters. For 6 years I chaired a significant select committee that tackled such seminal matters as setting up the New Zealand Supreme Court; ensuring that unfair discrimination was removed from public law, Government policy, and day-to-day activity—and from merely playing catch-up to the rest of society—and establishing a clean slate regime.
Democracy is about making an extraordinary codependency relationship with the media work well. In that respect, I have long ascribed to the advice that if one is going to invite a tiger to lunch, there is little point in pouring the sauce over oneself.
Democracy is about working together whenever possible. For the past 3 years I have been the senior Government whip: the person who sweeps up after the elephant, counsels the elephant, helps it to make friends with other elephants, and, occasionally, polishes its toenails and feeds it bananas. Our Labour caucus has been the most united and positive of teams—49 strong personalities with a love of humour, a passion to deliver change, and a strong and enduring culture of diversity. One could ask for no more from one’s colleagues. In Christchurch Central I have a special political and personal relationship with our city’s strong and vibrant, occasionally argumentative, refugee communities—Afghani, Eritrean, Ethiopian, Kurdish, Nepalese, Somali, and Zimbabwean. Their people’s personal journeys are humbling. When they break through the barriers, my pride as a Kiwi knows no bounds.
Democracy is about inspiring and empowering people. Over the years in the House I have run about 400 lobby training sessions, involving nearly 5,000 people. Recently, I have trained members of Parliament in Papua New Guinea, Bougainville, Timor-Leste, and the Cook Islands—with Zimbabwe to come in a couple of months—in how to do their jobs better, strengthening democracy in the process. I note that when I was in the Cook Islands just a few weeks ago, I was intending to do that training with the Hon Brian Donnelly, but he announced, the day before, his resignation as High Commissioner. He came to farewell the members of Parliament when I was with him in that Chamber; it was an extraordinarily moving moment—kia kaha! It is immensely gratifying to promote the genuine virtue of a contemporary Kiwi democracy: the significant influence of smaller political parties, powerful select committees, and a reasonably corruption-free environment.
We can explain democracy by numbers and by achievements, but people are my enduring memory. There are some whose names I have long forgotten, such as a sex worker who, speaking to a select committee, described her role with her client, behind the closed door of the brothel room, as being “a social worker who went all the way”. There are some whose names I will keep private, such as a delightful Māori man, born, as it happens, 2 days after I was, who was dreadfully abused at Lake Alice Mental Hospital, and who was supported, through my electorate office, to make his public housing tenancy succeed, and to avoid blowing his new compensation payment in the 4 weeks it had taken to spend the last one. And there are many whose names I say with pride. My 12 years here have been under the extraordinary, inspiring, utterly principled leadership of Helen Clark, who is now the world’s longest-serving progressive leader. None of us will see better than her in our lifetimes. Back in 1996 I was one of the MMP intake, fresh from a roadshow, arguing—successfully, in my view—for first past the post against my sadly missed soulmate and MMP advocate, Rod Donald. Long term, he was of course right. My last 3 years here have been enriched by my daily 1 o’clock meetings with Madam Speaker, Margaret Wilson—my confidante, my mentor, and even an extremely young mother substitute, who gave me away at my civil union.
I feel obliged at this point to mention my assistant, Darren Hughes; my life here and beyond would not be worth living if I did not.
Through these 12 years I have been served so much better than I deserved by my wonderful parliamentary and electorate office staff: Amanda, Bridget, Bruno, Gareth, Geoff, Greg, Ingrid, Jay, Jeremy, Kimberly, Kate, Lynne, the two Pams, Rose, Steve, Sue, Tony, and Yani; and star interns: Ben, Heida, Oliver, Pete, Polly, Tor, and Stacy. They all gave more than they could reasonably be expected to give, they were all honest with me, and they all offered aroha and protection when that was needed. I hope that all of them have grown a little, through the experience. Fortunately, I leave the Christchurch Central Labour Party strong, buoyed by the various leaderships of Andrew Dallas, Ray Murray, Robert Watson, and Duncan Webb, and I leave a candidate, Brendon Burns, who will make a great and devoted new member of Parliament for Christchurch Central.
When I was elected in 1996 I was the only openly gay member of Parliament, and I was labelled by the Evening Post as “Parliament’s gay Pom”, as though every institution needed one. Now I am one of a good half-dozen rainbow MPs here. Thankfully, being gay or lesbian will never be irrelevant; the journeys of self-discovery and public advancement that we travel give us special insights and strengths. The venom poured on us by more than a few in New Zealand, and by the great majority in some countries, shows that we are different, and the fact that some equate difference with threat means that discrimination and oppression will follow. Our sexuality comes alive with those we fall in love with. I say to Ramon Pare, who is up in the public gallery today, my life changed forever after meeting you in the parliamentary swimming pool, with Nanaia Mahuta—I will tell the story after. Ramon, you have been with me for most of my time here in Parliament. I still remember, a few weeks after we became partners, pointing you out to my dearly remembered colleague Helen Duncan when you were sitting in the gallery. After peering up at the gallery, she cautiously and somewhat anxiously asked, in that gravelly voice of hers: “Tim, how old is he?”. Ramon, you have, from your very slightly younger perspective, been my rock and my sponge through this strangest of lifestyles—and it is only 7 weeks until our OE starts.
Democracy is too often about ambitions frustrated. I am happy to report that I leave satisfied, at the time and in the manner of my choosing, and in a very positive mood. I am well aware that few depart from here in that way. Do I have regrets? There are a few, maybe, but none that eat away at me. For all that I did not do here, there were other things that I did do, and I regret none of those.
So, what next? I have always tried to build on what has gone before in my career, from voluntary work to local voluntary sector management, from that to national-level non-governmental organisation leadership, and from elected local body membership to Parliament. The challenge left for me is to work for a while in an agency on some of the biggest issues of the world, maybe at the United Nations, with the resources and authority to make a difference. The fearful challenges for all our futures are great. The solutions are clear, even if the routes to them are far from easy. If I can play a helpful part in working through some of those and then come back to Aotearoa, then I will be very happy indeed.
Democracy is about moulding and marketing visions for the future, so what are my messages? I will offer just a couple. It was on my first visit to the United States in the mid-1980s that an inspiring Chamber of Commerce president in Hartford, Connecticut—a city riven by a searing social and economic gulf between white rich, and brown and Hispanic poor—surprised and delighted me when declaring that a society is best judged by the way it treats its most marginal people. New Zealand does well by this standard. Five years ago we became the first nation in the world to decriminalise prostitution, 3 years ago we became the first nation outside Europe to legislate for equal rights for same-sex couples, and a year ago we took the brave and necessary step of protecting children, the most powerless people in our society, from parental cruelty. Such a reform agenda is about creating clear law to deal with the wrongs that keep people on the margins. In my view, that reforming energy needs to move on to voluntary euthanasia—righting the wrong of deaths made ghastly by massive pain, which is in a sense a complete helplessness and powerlessness—and to a revolution in our drug laws, which generate the nonsense of $4 being spent on prevention for every $1 spent on treatment, with 90 percent of the cannabis crop remaining undetected, and keeping gangs rich and courts full. The fundamentalist lobbies in our society seek to veto debate on such matters. Acceding to that veto is to avoid problems that it is Parliament’s duty not to avoid.
Second, New Zealand forgets at its peril that the region in which it is nearest to being a dominant influence is the Pacific. On offer to us in the Pacific is tremendous goodwill, and what is best about our nation feeds opportunities to inspire and resource those fragile States in a distinct post-colonial partnership, rather than in a colonial style. As—thankfully—we increase our development aid to those States, we must greatly lift our game in strengthening their democracies, by working directly with politicians, and by asking them and not officials what their needs are. It is not happening now, and it needs to happen.
Ramon, my MP whānau around me here, my friends in the gallery watching and listening, and even those reading this afterwards, including my dear mother, Faye, in Britain, we all know that wisdom is all around us, if only we would take the trouble to learn. I have grasped the opportunity, learnt to my capacity in these 12 years, and now I am moving on, wiser, seeking, and spying new horizons. The experience has ended. In Eminem’s words:
Kia ora, Madam Speaker. Madam Speaker and colleagues, it is hard to imagine what more might be said, but I would reinforce some of the comments that my colleagues have made and add some further observations.
The last 9 years have been full of remarkable policy achievement. Who would not be pleased that the kept promises of this Government are now improving the lives of New Zealanders? We can all celebrate, and should do so, that under this Government superannuation is secure, the Working for Families package is making a real difference to thousands of families, and Kiwibank and KiwiSaver are helping to assure our future. It now costs much less to visit the doctor, prescriptions average $3, and preschoolers have 20 hours’ free early childhood education. I am personally proud of the passage of legislation that I inherited, and that Tim and others have referred to, in respect of civil unions and the care of children, and I note also the success of the reintegration of Child, Youth and Family Services into the Ministry of Social Development family. Stunning reductions in unemployment beneficiary numbers—from 161,000 in 1999, to fewer than 20,000 now—have enabled the implementation of new initiatives such as Working New Zealand and programmes to improve access to health services and to support and strengthen vulnerable families. I want to acknowledge the leadership in this area of the Ministry of Social Development and I am delighted to see Peter Hughes, Sue Mackwell, Doug Craig, and Don Gray in the gallery today. I want to extend to them and to my former ministerial staff Debbie, Janet, and Linda my thanks for their dedication, their professionalism, and their friendship.
Another area where we are making progress—and we surely need to—is in respect of the violence in our households. I remain appalled that in a country with our awful level of domestic violence, anyone should seriously advocate the need to provide a defence for violence against children. Let us hope that gradually our communities are coming to agree that it is not OK. But we should all be frustrated that not enough objectivity is applied to the charades that happen in the community and in this place, and that Opposition parties and other parties in the community indulge themselves so uncritically in playing to the basest motivations in our community. Government is about facing up to hard decisions. How could it be that this country debated a “fart tax”—which was not about either farts or a tax, actually—and then the Government was criticised by those who had built the deceit for not moving fast enough on issues relating to global warming? I guess the latest exercise in similar cynicism is the extraordinary argument—it is not a discussion or a debate—around energy-saving light bulbs. Really? So now it is a bad thing to encourage everyone to save money, save energy, and make a practical contribution to the challenges we all face? Well, if that is PC, bring it on.
It is because of a lack of serious informed debate that I consider it a tragedy that too many journalists have become players, not reporters. Some of them want to be the news; they no longer want to merely report events. Those who were once watchdogs have appointed themselves attack dogs, and some are about as endearing and useful as the nastiest pit bull. Our community, in my view, needs to give more attention to the key role of the media in ensuring the dissemination of accurate information on issues and improving, above all, the quality of debate. Last week I was reading the words of a British media commentator who outlined her view of the media responsibility for the quality of the conversation as much as for the quality of the presentation of the news. That responsibility in our community is not enhanced, in my view, by journalists who consider it acceptable, for example, to text the Leader of the Opposition during question time, and it is certainly not achieved by the open articulation of personal political views.
When I became senior Government whip in 2002, my colleagues told me that in that job I would see the very best and very worst of human nature. The list of the achievements of this Government fills the first category, as do the relationships with some wonderful colleagues, both political and staff. The fascinating idiosyncrasies and dark revelations will have to wait, I am afraid, for the best seller, but I do want to spend a few moments on the lower levels of debate in this place in the last few years. One of the episodes I consider most disgraceful has been the constant attack on the National Certificate of Educational Achievement. The policy, as we all know, was introduced by National. I have watched and been involved in the introduction of that qualification, both as Associate Minister of Education and as a parent of high school students. I have seen the positive effect on my daughter and son, and the motivating effect on them and their friends. That is a common experience. Are they satisfied with Achieved? I do not think so; Merit and Excellence are the targets. Is it not great to have in our country a qualification designed for New Zealand and New Zealand’s needs? So how destructive it has been to hear the constant criticism of this initiative and the inevitable demeaning of the efforts and achievements of our young people and the work of so many great Kiwi teachers. It was not, I think, the Opposition’s proudest moment.
The real low point for me, though, given the hours that a senior whip in particular spends in this Chamber, has been the repeated veiled insults and other misogynistic behaviour toward female presiding officers in this debating chamber. It is ugly stuff; hard to put up with but difficult to do anything about. I hope this is something to which a future Parliament will give attention.
But let me turn to happier thoughts. My special thanks go to voters in Dunedin for their support during 23 years as their city councillor or MP. I hope I have always repaid their loyalty with my hard work. I say thank you to all parliamentary staff, who make this building function so well, including those we do not know who clean up after us while we sleep; to Gina Anastasiadis, who has wonderfully managed the challenges of parliamentary whips and ministerial officers; to Trudi Sunitsch, my Dunedin office manager, who has delivered a level of service to our community that would make any MP look good; and to my family for putting up with it all and even delivering leaflets occasionally.
We are coming up to an election. We again own Air New Zealand, the rail track, the rail corridor—the whole operation—and a world-leading accident compensation system that is not being privatised. This Government will not sell them—eventually. Best of all, young New Zealanders are not coming home from their OE in Iraq in body bags. They would have been had voters made a different choice in 2002 or 2005. For me, that makes the choice this year pretty clear.
Tihei mauri ora. Te mea tuatahi Madam Speaker, kei te mihi atu ki a koe te Kaiwhakahaere o ngā kawa o te Whare, kei te mihi atu ki a koe. E ngā iwi, e ngā reo, e ngā mātāwaka o ngā hau e whā, haere mai, piki mai, kake mai. Haere mai ki te whakarongo ki ngā kōrero poroporoaki o ngā mema kei te wehe atu i te ana o ngā raiona. Me mihi atu hoki ki ō tātou kārangaranga maha, ki ō tātou tini mate e hinga mai rā, e hinga atu nei, e hinga mai rā, e hinga atu nei. Ko tēnei tētahi o tātou, ko Brian Donnelly, kua haere atu ki te tūtaki i a rātou i muri i te ārai nō reira, e ngā tini mate haere koutou, haere koutou, haere koutou. E ngā rōpū me ngā mema katoa o te Whare Pāremata, kei te mihi atu ki a koutou katoa. Ka mai ki ahau i tēnei aha nā wai tēnei tono, māku e kī atu ki a koe ko ahau tēnei e kōrero atu nei. Ka kī mai koe he aha te mea nui o tēnei ao, māku e kī atu ki a koe, he tangata, he tangata, he tangata e.
[Behold the sneeze of life. The first thing for me, Madam Speaker, is to acknowledge you as adjudicator of House procedure: greetings to you. To the people, languages, ethnic groups of the four winds, welcome, draw near, draw close. Come and listen to the valedictory speeches by departing members from the lair of the lions. I acknowledge our many callings and the multitude of our deaths that have fallen there, here, far and near. I acknowledge the passing of Brian Donnelly, as one of our own, beyond the veil, where he will meet up with them. So to you, the many who have died: depart, farewell, go forth. To all the political parties and members, I acknowledge you all. You might well ask who is that talking, and I will respond: it is I. If you ask me what is the greatest thing in this world, I will reply: it is people, it is people, it is people indeed.]
Madam Speaker, this is an acknowledgment of your role as the big chief in this House and the keeper of the rules of this House, and also a call of welcome to those who have come from afar, from different canoes, and from the four winds, and an acknowledgment of all parties and all parliamentary colleagues in this House. We remember those ancestors, friends, and loved ones who have passed away, and, of course, lately our friend and colleague the late Brian Donnelly. If you were to ask me what the greatest thing on this earth is, I would reply: “It is our people, it is our people, it is our people.”
I have been listening to the ringing of the bells and watching the clock controlling my life since I entered Parliament in 1996, and I certainly was moved by the departure of Nandor Tanczos, the Green member who, in his valedictory speech, took out his watch and proceeded to demolish it with a vengeance. For the very same reason, I intend to follow his example. I look at my watch; it has been a buddy of mine for a long time, since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, diving for crayfish. I remember that Nandor Tanczos’ watch came from the Warehouse. This one is a Rolex Submariner, worth something like $5,000. My good friend and capitalist Māori colleague Shane Jones said to me: “Forget it. It is worth too much money.” Madam Speaker, I have changed my mind, and I make no apologies.
I know that Michael is wondering what I might do with his hammer, which I have with me. I listen to the bells and I look at the clock, and I remember the song by Engelbert Humperdinck, I think his name was, and it went something like this: “Please release me, let me go.”, and, of course, the Everly Brothers sang “If I Had a Hammer”.
My maiden speech—it is interesting that if I said that here in the House with different connotations, people would say I was not PC: “He is a Māori, a male, and he is getting up and making a maiden speech.”, and some of my kaumātua would wonder whether I had had an operation—was based on a poem by Banjo Paterson. He was an Australian bush poet, and I think he wrote the poem “The Man From Snowy River”. However, what I will talk about now is the thread of his poem, in terms of my maiden speech.
Banjo Paterson talked in another poem about the Māori wool. He talked about a Māori chief from Rooti-iti-au—I think he was a tipuna of Mita Ririnui. At that time many Māori tribes sold their wool to the bank manager. In those days they were getting ripped off by being paid tuppence for a pound—I think John Carter remembers this—and then the wool was shipped to London, where it sold for five shillings a pound. Behold, when the bales of wool were unloaded in London, they were full of bloody big boulders. If that is not innovation for Māori, then what is? We are still pulling the wool over their eyes, and the bank manager is still looking for the chief from Rooti-iti-au.
Perhaps that is symbolic of Māori process and procedures, and of our being innovative. But we have become so politically correct and culturally correct that we now have Black Power filing a Treaty claim, on the grounds that colonisation is inherently responsible for their criminal whakapapa. Next, we will see the Mongrel Mob filing a claim for the Reserve Bank of New Zealand. I think it was Sir Howard Morrison, God bless him, who sang the song “When will you ever learn; when will you ever learn.”
One will always reflect upon the time served in this House, and it has indeed been a privilege to serve my region and my constituents—Māori, Pākehā, Hainamana Chinese, Indian, Pacific Islander, or any other citizens. I have always made it my commitment not to turn anybody away.
Colleagues who have had the privilege to serve in this House will always take away some memories of special events. They can be humorous, they can be good, they can be bad, they can be very bad, and they can be bloody ugly.
The humorous memory for me was a very humorous one, and the Rt Hon Jonathan Hunt was responsible for it. When I came into this House, he said: “That member is contravening the Standing Orders. He is not allowed to wear his pōtae.” I looked at the honourable Speaker and said: “Taihoa. Point of order, Mr Speaker. There is another member on the other side of the House, from ACT, and her name is Donna Awatere Huata. She is wearing a Zulu turban.”—and very colourful it was. I said: “If it is good enough for her to wear her turban in the House, then it must be good enough for me to wear my pōtae.” I think I won the argument, because I told him that in my culture, Ngāpuhi, males who become chiefs and rangatira attend special events and they wear their pōtae, but they were very, very suspicious of the Speaker wearing a wig. Madam Speaker, and Jonathan, I know that you remember those events very, very vividly.
When members of parties in the House put forward policies and legislation that is good and beneficial for all our people, rational debate takes place, conducted with integrity and respect, and that is good. But it is not so good when members resort to personal abuse and degrading comments, and extend their comments to the wives, families, and partners of members of Parliament in order just to gain some cheap political points at the expense of people who cannot defend themselves. It is little wonder that people out there in the community have no respect for politicians or the democratic process. They hold us in contempt and regard us as being lower than real estate agents, car dealers, or journalists, especially the ones in the press gallery. Just look at the thousands who do not enrol to vote. Surely that must tell us that we should be looking at the underlying reasons why.
Of course, those who are unelected, those “members” who sit in the press gallery, accountable to no one expect their big bosses and those further up the pecking order, do not stand for election, and they can attack any member of this House, because they will not let the truth and the facts get in the way of a good story. They invent headlines, all under the guise of the pretence of freedom of speech. I have never before seen the media in such a feeding frenzy, and the two major newspapers and television networks so insatiable, as they have been in their attack on the Rt Hon Winston Peters.
Māoridom is asking why. Why does the media not run the ruler over every party and leader in this House and scrutinise them in the same way? They are the not the ones who are hiding maybe $100,000 or $25,000; they are the ones who are hiding millions. But they have experts to put their house in order so that nobody, not even the newspapers, can see the footprints or smell the fingerprints. This is the challenge for the media. If they want to run the ruler of morality over members of this House, then they should run it over everybody, beginning with the cockatoo in the House who is not here tonight. Māoridom is asking for this.
I tell them that if they keep putting Winston Peters on the front page of the paper, then they will guarantee he will get back into Parliament. That may be the strategy!
You see, we are not all dumb. The Māori nation is intelligent. Māori can read between the lines. They understand what the secret agenda is. They understand that there is an agenda here to politically execute one of our rangatiras from Ngāti Wai, and it is not going to work. They have tried it before; I know about that personally. New Zealand and New Zealanders deserve better than that. Madam Speaker, perhaps it is time for this Parliament to define what freedom of speech actually means, and also to define the responsibilities and the accountabilities that go with it. Parekura, I am not going to wreck your table, brother.
Finally, I thank my whānau and my friends. Some of them have come a long way to share a few words and, if the Speaker allows it, to sing a farewell song. To my family, to Jacqui, to Reece and Cadence, my children, we have weathered the storm of sewage politics together, and we have emerged stronger and more determined. Kia kaha waku tamariki kei te aroha atu ki a kōrua. I love you all.
To my long-time, geriatric friends Gugi Walker, Rim De Paul, Janine and Audrey, veteran members of the days of the Māori showbands, the Quin Tikis, the Maori Hi Fives, the Maori Volcanics—thanks for the memories, and for sharing some of the old-time favourites with us later. All of you here are all invited to my party, even the bloody media. We will see what they say about that tomorrow.
To our big chief, Helen: ngā mihi ki a koe te wahine toa o te motu. You will surely go down in the history of this nation as one of the greatest Prime Ministers that this country has ever had. People will look back in time to come, put all the pūhaehae—the discrimination—aside and will realise that we did, really, have one of the best Prime Ministers this nation has ever had.
To Michael Cullen, I say that he is as sharp as a bloody tack. And on Treaty settlements, as General MacArthur said, “Like hell I am retreating, I am just advancing in a different direction.”
To Jim Anderton, who is my good friend, and to Carole, I thank them for their friendship over many years. To all my mates over here, in the red and brown corner, I say that it has been an honour and a privilege to be working with them. To my flatmate Damien O’Connor, I say that I am sorry, buddy, but you are going to have to get somebody else to do your laundry.
To my friends and colleagues in the blue corner, to my whanaunga Clem Simich over there, for his kind words, and to Georgina, kei te mihi atu. To Shane, David, Sandra, John, Georgina, Tau, Eric, Phil Heatley, and all the blokes and sheilas whom I was on the select committee with, kei te mihi atu. I thank them for their humour and for their consideration and friendship when we participated in some of the harder questions on the select committees.
But right now I acknowledge the real workers of this Parliament. If it was not for them the engine room in Parliament would collapse. My thanks go to the messengers, security staff, the Hansard staff, to Paora and Nicole, and to all the staff at Bellamy’s and Copperfields—I thank them for their service and support, but I suggest they change the menu. To the drivers of VIP, for Jimmy, Twisl, kei te mihi atu ki a kōrua. I thank them for their service, friendship, their good humour, and sometimes their hard-case jokes.
Sometimes wisdom and friendship transcends the adversarial nature of politics in this House. But I will share a few words with the member from Helensville: never count your chickens before they hatch, keep it clean, and may the best woman win. And so long, it has been good to know you. Nō reira, huri ana i tō tātou Whare, kei te mihi whānui atu ki a koutou katoa.
[So I acknowledge you all widely throughout our House.]
This is part of my culture and I claim customary exemption, Madam Speaker. I am going to finish off with a waiata—sorry, Tīmoti!
May I first acknowledge you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and my other colleagues who are presiding officers, Marian Hobbs and Ross Robertson. It has been truly a privilege to work with you. I think we have, as a team, tried to ensure that the best traditions of this House have been upheld. I am sorry to ruin everybody’s fun—I guess you thought that last speech meant it was all over. But it is, in fact, the nature of Speakers to do that, so I would hate to disappoint you in my final address. If you will just bear with me a few more minutes, then you can all go and eat.
I thank you, though, for allowing me a few minutes to be able to make a few
comments before I retire. The valedictory speech is one of the few opportunities a member has to speak freely in the House, though I am guess I am compelled to say “always within the Standing Orders, Dover.”! The final address is, however, an opportunity for us all to reflect on our parliamentary experience and a very important opportunity to acknowledge those who have supported us. I think we have heard many fine speeches today that relay that experience.
If there is one lesson to be learnt in this place, however, it is that you are as good as your colleagues and your staff. I have been particularly fortunate to work with the Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Helen Clark, whose leadership skills are unparalleled, as is her lifetime commitment to the service of the people of New Zealand.
I regard myself also as fortunate to have worked with the Deputy Prime Minister, the Hon Michael Cullen, as a colleague in Cabinet. He was never ever able to find enough money for any of my portfolios, but then I realised he treated all my colleagues in much the same way. As the economy goes through its normal, or perhaps not so normal, cycles of boom and bust, we have come to appreciate his prudent management. It is in his role as Leader of the House, however, that I greatly admire his skills. Michael Cullen is truly a great New Zealand parliamentarian, and perhaps one of the few we have had in recent times. The roles of Leader of the House and Opposition Leader of the House are not always understood by many people, yet it is the ability of the people in those roles that determines that Parliament runs in an orderly, if at times very contestable, fashion, so I thank both of you.
I also acknowledge my former colleagues in Cabinet, who provided tremendous support to me at all times. It is difficult for many people to understand the contestable environment that exists within Cabinet or the pressure to perform in a timely fashion. It is a strong sense of common purpose that ensures you stay together through good and not so good times. The backbone of support, however, comes from your caucus, which is ever ready to challenge you and to keep you in touch with the reality that sometimes you can forget, so I thank them in particular.
Parliament could not function without the commitment to undertake the select committee work, which is really the heart of Parliament now in many ways. That work is undertaken by members and not by Ministers, except on a few occasions. In this respect I do wish to acknowledge Tim Barnett, who chaired the Justice and Electoral Committee when I was Associate Minister of Justice. He always pushed the envelope beyond everyone’s comfort zone, but he was always ready to work to ensure, eventually, an acceptable solution would be found.
If the support of colleagues is essential, so is the support from staff. I have been blessed with a group of amazing people who have worked tirelessly to ensure I could do my job. Mike Fokker and Rose Rigarlsford deserve specific mention because they made sure my diary and I were always coordinated. This is not always an easy task. My communications staff worked miracles to ensure the intent of the policies was communicated, if not always well received or understood. It is not an easy job they have. Crowd control, which is not normally in a communications job description, has been part of the reality of the job of my current communications adviser, Rose Hart, and she has managed to keep the lanes reasonably clear for those of you who wished to come to the Chamber. The role of political adviser is an equally difficult one, but I was fortunate to have exceptionally dedicated people who filled that role. The role is often difficult, because it is political advisers who cop the criticism that others do not have the courage to say to your face. Mine, however, always remained focused on our goal and played a big part in whatever policy success I achieved.
As a Minister and a Speaker, you are also as good as the advice you get from public officials, and I am pleased that so many colleagues today have acknowledged their contribution. I have had the privilege of working with some exceptional people, whose professionalism and commitment to the Public Service is something we should all be grateful for. I also thank them for their patience. I know I was considered by some as the Minister from hell because of the pace I set, and I did seem to act in an enormous number of portfolios on a temporary basis that were somehow falling behind—thank you, Prime Minister! When I took up my first role as a Minister I was also given some extremely good advice by a very senior public official. That advice was simply to not waste any time, as it passed all too quickly—and he had seen many Ministers pass through his capable hands. He was a very wise man, to whom I shall always feel grateful. Certainly, the last 9 years have gone by very quickly. I shall also acknowledge elsewhere the invaluable service of the Clerk’s Office, the Parliamentary Service, and those who ensure that this institution runs as well as it does.
I thank and acknowledge the people of Tauranga, who have supported me over the past 9 years. We all know that Tauranga cannot be considered to be a Labour stronghold, or even a marginal seat, though the electorate does tend to vote for Labour in high numbers on the list vote. It is a city I have worked hard for, and I have been very lucky to be able to work with Smart Growth, the mayors of Tauranga City and the Western Bay of Plenty District Council, and the chair of Environment Bay of Plenty, given their commitment to the region. In that respect I thank all of my Cabinet colleagues who were so forbearing when. as a Minister, I ensured that the officials who came from Tauranga had a good hearing by their officers in Wellington. I greatly valued the opportunity to work with them for the good of the community as a whole.
I sometimes hear people comment about the role of list members. It is a new role in our institution and one that is evolving and developing, but it is certainly not a second-class role, as some constituency members would try to have it, on occasions. I think it is an issue we will have to address in future. I will continue, from Tauranga, to watch the progress of that city in the future with some interest.
Finally, I say a sincere, heartfelt thankyou to my family. They are not here today, because as so often happens in political life, family and political diaries just cannot be coordinated. I know, however, that they will be viewing this address and judging it in the comfort of their own home. The struggle to televise Parliament almost seems worth it on occasions such as this, and, as they have assured me, they will see the unedited version. Their unconditional love, support, and advice, especially that from my parents, have kept me sane and given me the strength to see the job through to the end. So I say a very heartfelt and sincere thankyou.
When preparing this valedictory statement I, like so many of my colleagues, went back with some trepidation to look at what I had said in my maiden speech—a ridiculous name for a speech, to someone like me. I wanted to see whether I had achieved the goals I had set out to achieve. I very quickly realised, however, that it is for others to make that assessment, not for me. I am satisfied, though, that given the necessary democratic constraints of coalition Government, little time was wasted. More important, I think my colleagues and I have achieved a better policy balance that has recognised the need for a strong Public Service infrastructure. The market will always have a proper role in the economy, but it must always be balanced by democratic government. The current financial crisis has demonstrated the truth of this reality. Part of the reconstruction of that Public Service infrastructure has been the strengthening of such institutions as unions, non-governmental organisations, and lobby groups that now demand the right to participate in decisions that affect them. How to find better ways for such participation will be a challenge for future Parliaments to address.
I noted in my maiden speech a concern for the rights of women. The struggle for equality has been the main thread throughout my life. It cannot be denied that much progress has been made. It also cannot be denied that that progress has come with women adapting to the system. There is still no fundamental recognition that equality means equality of difference, not equality for women to be like men. This will be the next major challenge. Can the experience of women be incorporated in such a way that we have real choices that extend beyond survival within a system still controlled by the male reality? A practical example of that is the way we organise the business of Parliament. We have made progress. We are trying to accommodate school holidays. We now have a room for breastfeeding, and we have a really good-quality childcare centre. This is all good progress, but we have not fundamentally looked at the issue of work-life balance, which could benefit not only women but also men. That is one of those big, scary ideas we have yet to have the courage to face.
I must also note that Parliament has come a long way towards being more representative, but it cannot be considered to be truly representative while it remains so hard for people with a disability to work here. I acknowledge the Hon Ruth Dyson for her tireless work in that respect. In this institution people are helpful, and that is always appreciated, but it is real change that is required. I have tried to ensure that those with a hearing impairment will get some relief with the new sound system—you do not even notice it any longer. The price for working in this wonderful old building is that those with disabilities still come in the back door or struggle with heavy doors that are likely to bite their fingers off. Again, we adapt to the institution, which is yet to fundamentally recognise the need for real change.
Finally, I want to make a few comments on Parliament and my role as Speaker. Over the 3 and a bit years that I have held the role, I have formed, not surprisingly, some views. As Speaker you have little opportunity to actually speak—I had not thought about that when I took the job. Otherwise, of course, you are rightly accused of participating in the debate. The self-control I have exercised has been extraordinarily uncharacteristic as I have confined my comments to “Order!”, and “Would the member please leave the Chamber.” I therefore cannot resist the opportunity to share just a very few reflections on the role.
First, I thank those who have supported me in it. Apart from the two wonderful Roses—Rose Rigarlsford and Rose Hart—Roland Todd always makes sure my numbers are right. Pam Reader and Nina Sudiono-Price have ensured that the business of Parliament is conducted through the Speaker’s office in a friendly and an orderly way. The Clerk and her office ensure that the business of Parliament is conducted in an impartial and efficient manner. Perhaps the highest compliment that can be paid to the office is to say its advice can be relied on. I also acknowledge the unsung heroes of the House, the Sergeant-at-Arms, whom I nearly had to use once—just to see what he really would do—and his army of messengers, who ensure that all members are well watered and that their notes to each other are delivered with speed; I often wonder what is in them.
The role of Speaker has given me a unique opportunity to understand better what it is that makes our democratic form of government work, so I give you special thanks for giving me that privilege. I have endeavoured in the role to achieve two things: to make Parliament more accessible, and to make the administration of Parliament more transparent and efficient. The televising of Parliament was an important part of this project, and it still has a long way to go to reach its full potential. We are, in this institution, visited by thousands of people every year, and all of the education, tour, and security staff do a wonderful job of making that a positive experience. We need to invest more, however, in the promotion of Parliament as an institution. There are so many creative ways we could introduce improvements into it, so the people of New Zealand are able to have a greater appreciation of their Parliament. That is not a Budget bid—it is all right! But I hope that future Speakers will be hearing what I am saying.
The task of bringing transparency and efficiency to the administration of Parliament was thrust on me soon after I took office, and I confess that I had no understanding of the nature of this role when I accepted it. The task resulted from accusations made by some members in this House that I was personally corrupt. I have written fully in another place about my journey of discovery into the administration of Parliament and the role of the Speaker, so I will not repeat myself here. After 3 years of work, however, I believe that progress has been made, though much work is still to be done. I thank the members on the Parliamentary Service Commission for the extra, tireless work they put into it—and I see Anne Tolley smiling and Tim Barnett nodding, amongst others—because it was truly appreciated, and the advisory role to the Speaker I think was fulfilled extraordinarily professionally by all members. I have confidence that in future the work of the administration will continue to improve with the support of members, who recognise that we, as members of Parliament, must also be accountable.
I will end on an observation about the notion of the independence of the Speaker. I am frequently asked this question: how can the Speaker be independent and a member of a party? The question is normally raised in the context of question time. I long ago realised that the Speaker is seen as fair and impartial if he or she agrees with the member who has raised the point of order—which is usually, of course, not a point of order. Like any referee, I agree that one cannot win but must do the best one can. I must say, however, that most referees have a greater range of penalties than any of the Speakers in this House can exercise, and the fantasy mind writs large in some question times as to what one could do to exercise some control. I thank all those members of the public who made suggestions regarding equipment that could be used to assist Speakers in their job—most of it illegal. However, all Speakers face similar problems, and when the Governor-General kindly had a dinner for all “surviving” Speakers—if I can put it like that—it was interesting, even across the parties, to find that we had all encountered the same issues. I will say, though, that MMP has made the task more complex.
I intend to resist the temptation to grade, rate, or even comment on, the behaviour of members towards each other or the Speaker. But the public do notice members’ behaviour, and they let me know daily what they think about it. That is why a greater understanding of Parliament would benefit everyone. As I have said on many occasions, question time is not truth seeking; that is done through written questions and official information requests. Question time is about political performance. It is the testing of political positions and the ability of individuals to stand up to the test. It is an important part of our democracy, and I have no doubt, of course, that it could be conducted in a less abusive manner. But that is in the hands of members. If I had enforced the Standing Orders strictly, as I have been exhorted to do on occasions, then all I can say is that the House would have been half empty and the game would have taken three times as long.
I should be grateful, however, as we all should be, that we are the beneficiaries of such an accountable, democratic Parliament. It is the obligation and responsibility of each of us who has the privilege of serving in this House to maintain and enhance our Parliament in whatever role we may find ourselves in, because each role we hold is extremely important. I am pleased to be leaving to undertake a new challenge, where I will be paid to lecture, you will be pleased to know—I was told I was not paid to do that here in this House—but I must say that I do not regret a minute of the opportunity I have been given to serve. Kia ora. Thank you.