This will be the last speech I give in this House, and I start by acknowledging Pete Hodgson and Jim Anderton, who are also giving their valedictory speeches today. They have both made a tremendous contribution to our Parliament and to our country. Their combined service adds up to 48 years. I am very happy to be saying farewell with them today.
I have had some good advice that a valedictory speech should be dignified and not churlish, and I will do my best to meet that standard. However, there are some things I really want to say, so if I offend anyone in the House today, I apologise in advance. It has often been said that there are no friends in politics. That has not been my experience. I have made some wonderful friends, and not only in the Labour Party. Of course, I have made a few enemies too. In the interests of dignity I will not mention their names, and I remain hopeful that they will not mention my name either.
I first stood for Parliament, in 1999, because I was committed to improving the rights of working people. That was a difficult time for so many New Zealanders. As a union organiser I had seen the devastation that the Employment Contracts Act caused in working people’s lives. I got to Parliament for a very brief 10-day stint as a list MP in 1999. I congratulate Keith Locke, who actually took my space in the final count after the special votes came in. Keith, I bear you no malice.
In 2002 I was elected as MP for Waitakere. The sheer joy of being part of the Helen Clark and Michael Cullen Government, which did so much to bring fairness back to New Zealand, is something I will always hold dear not only for the many things that I had campaigned for in my former life—fairer labour laws, enhanced health and safety in workplaces, Modern Apprenticeships, 4 weeks’ holiday, paid parental leave, increases to the minimum wage, and creating jobs for people—but also for the restoration of income-related rents in State houses, free early childhood education for every 3 and 4-year-old child, affordable doctors’ visits, tax credits through Working for Families, putting money in the pockets of families who really needed it, KiwiSaver, help with homeownership, and interest-free student loans. Those were exciting times, and they have made a mark in our history, in making our country a better place for all New Zealanders.
I have also had the opportunity to be part of some major social changes. These included the amendments to section 59 of the Crimes Act, and the Civil Union Act. Social change is always controversial. Emotions run high, people become polarised, misinformation becomes widespread, and there can be more heat than light in the debate. The easy option for some would be to pull back, to retain the status quo, but I could not in all conscience do that. Chairing the Justice and Electoral Committee on the changes to section 59 of the Crimes Act had its challenges. The law was never about criminalising parents for lightly smacking their kids. Rather, it was about protecting our children from being beaten.
Sue Bradford introduced the legislation to Parliament as a member’s bill. The select committee heard from hundreds of parents, caregivers, children, young people, and organisations. I thank all the members of the select committee, who treated every submitter with respect. I particularly acknowledge the invaluable contribution of my Labour colleagues Charles Chauvel and Ann Hartley. I also acknowledge National’s Chester Borrows, who, despite a difference in opinion on how to achieve it, shared the same commitment to providing a safer environment for our nation’s children.
Lobbying at that time was full-on, and it was a very intense time both inside and outside Parliament. I recall a conversation with Doug Woolerton from New Zealand First, who was supporting the change to the legislation. I said to him: “Dougie, are you still with us on changing section 59?”. He replied: “Yes, but I’ve just been talking to Chester, and I told him his amendment seemed all right. Is that OK?”. I said—and I am sorry about this, Chester—“No. Look, Chester means well, but his amendment won’t be helpful. If you support it, I will be heartbroken.” He replied in true Dougie style: “OK, sweetheart. I’ll tell him I’ve changed my mind.” Subsequently, Doug Woolerton and the late Brian Donnelly were put under immense pressure from members of their party to change their stance. They never wavered, and I want to say in this House how much I admired their courage and their integrity. I have strong views about the damaging role played by some members of the media on the issue at the time, which makes it especially important that I congratulate all the wonderful organisations that advocated so strongly for our children because they knew it was the right thing to do.
The civil union legislation was another important social change, and I am proud to have been part of that change. I still struggle to understand why some people find it so difficult to recognise the right of all people to have their loving relationships acknowledged and celebrated.
In 2007 my member’s bill the Human Rights (Women in Armed Forces) Amendment Bill was drawn from the ballot. When the Human Rights Act was enacted, the New Zealand Defence Force had a policy of not allowing women to serve in combat roles, which was recognised in that legislation. However, the Defence Force had discontinued that policy in 2000. Despite the fact that the discrimination had ceased, the wording of the Act prevented New Zealand from complying with the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, known as CEDAW. The bill removed that wording and allowed us to ratify the United Nations convention. It was a historic moment for New Zealand—and we beat the Australians to it.
Perhaps my proudest experience was being entrusted with the passage of the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Bill in Parliament. The bill was promoted by the Waitakere City Council under Mayor Bob Harvey’s leadership, the Auckland Regional Council, and the Rodney District Council. It provided long-term protection for the Waitakere Ranges—in particular, from the ad hoc development described by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment as death by a thousand cuts. The Waitakere Ranges Protection Society and the Hon Jonathan Hunt had campaigned for many years, and I am proud to have played my part in providing added protection for this iconic landscape for generations to come.
During my time in Government and in Opposition I have been actively involved in victims’ rights. I was the chair of the Justice and Electoral Committee during the inquiry into victims’ rights in 2007, and later became the Labour Opposition spokesperson on victims’ rights. At the inquiry we heard from many victims of crime, and also from some organisations. The messages were twofold. On the one hand, some, like the Sensible Sentencing Trust and members of the media, focused almost exclusively on how long the perpetrator should be locked away. On the other hand, others saw more complex issues. Many told the select committee about feeling let down by their treatment within the justice system, and there was a need for better information and support, more counselling, a victims’ advocate, and enhanced restorative justice. Some progress has been made, but there is still much to do.
I am not renowned as a bipartisan person; I will admit that. But this is one issue that cries out for a bipartisan approach. Victims’ rights and law and order should not be political footballs. If there is one message I would like to leave this House with, it is that making the Department of Corrections our second-largest Public Service agency is really nothing to be proud of, and it will do nothing to guarantee community safety in the long term.
On a less bipartisan note, one of the most challenging issues I have been involved in was the accident compensation scheme’s cuts to counselling for victims and survivors of sexual abuse. Many campaigned for reinstatement of that counselling, including survivors and the professionals and organisations that support them. After almost a year and an independent inquiry, some counselling support was reinstated, but not before immense harm had been done, and to people who had suffered so much already. I admired so much the tenacity and the courage of those women and men, and it was a privilege to work alongside them.
My other recent role has been as Opposition spokesperson on disability issues. Whilst we were in Government some exciting things happened in the disability sector. These included making New Zealand Sign Language an official language of New Zealand in 2006, New Zealand being awarded the prestigious Franklin Delano Roosevelt International Disability Award in 2007, and ratifying the United National Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008. However, there are many challenges ahead. In these hard economic times disabled people are the most adversely affected in terms of education, training, and employment opportunities. It is the Government’s role to ensure that all citizens have the ability to participate in society and to reach their full potential.
My maiden speech drew on my experiences as a union organiser—in fact, it was those experiences that brought me here—and my belief in the need for a strong, democratic union movement remains. The contribution of unions and workers is essential to the well-being of working people and their families. I can only hope that I have honoured their contribution during my time here.
There are many people here whom I want to acknowledge today: all the hard-working parliamentary staff, the messengers, the security people, the cleaners, the Hansard, select committees, buildings, travel, and library staff—all of the workers here, without exception, do a tremendous job. My office in Waitakere has been very busy, and people have come with many issues, from immigration to accident compensation, housing, training, jobs, education, and health, to name just a few. We could not fix everything, but I know we were able to assist in making some really positive changes in people’s lives. That is one of the most rewarding parts of the job, and it happens only because of the extraordinary commitment of wonderful staff.
I thank all of my staff over the last 9 years. In particular, in Waitakere, I thank Debbie Taylor, Don Clark, Elysa Hyde, and Megan Murphy, who is with us now. Here in Parliament, I thank Gay Pledger, Michiel Burger, and Ritchie Wards, who is also with me now. They are all fantastic people and have done so much to support me personally, and they have gone all out to assist the people who needed it most.
My thanks go to my hard-working westie Labour team over the years, including but not restricted to my famous fellow westie MPs: Carmel Sepuloni, David Cunliffe, Darien Fenton, and now Phil Twyford. I thank Enzo and Gina Giordani, Debbie Taylor, Mike Loughran, Brian and Mary Lythe, Beverley Buffett, Don and Noreen Clark, Trixie and Bruce Harvey, Hamish McCracken, Barbara and Len Hill, Gerry, Neil MacKenzie, Ngaire, Kimberley Inu, Mohammed Faiaz, Tala, Eric Bechet, Jeremy Greenbrook-Held, Gary Marshall, Kerry Christian, Barbara Hutchinson, Celia, Dave Downing, and Dave Munro. Their support both for me and for Labour never wavered. They are all people I very much admire, and am proud to call my friends. And, of course, I thank all of my mates in the wider Labour whānau.
I will get a bit emotional now—just pause, everybody, for a moment. My taxi driver, Dorothy, works harder than anybody I know. I will really miss those Tuesday morning and Thursday evening journeys hearing about her family. Dorothy’s five children are all at university or will be there in the future. That is testament to her and her husband’s support and self-sacrifice. I am heartened that policies like Working for Families, interest-free student loans, abolition of youth rates, and increases to the minimum wage have helped. Those journeys have been a constant reminder of why I am here.
My best wishes go to Phil Goff, Annette King, and our team—my talented caucus colleagues and our fantastic staff—for building on Labour’s legacy, taking into this election the most progressive platform Labour has presented to the people of New Zealand: a fairer tax system, a $15-an-hour minimum wage, no asset sales, integrating our environmental and economic future, and putting children at the heart of our policies.
To Charles Chauvel, Moana Mackey, Darien Fenton, and Carmel Sepuloni—my very, very good friends—I will miss you all. Also to Carmel, you have hit the ground running in Waitakere, and I look forward to working alongside you in the next 2 months. I can say in all sincerity that Carmel Sepuloni is twice the woman I am.
To my brother, Graeme; my sister-in-law, Pru; my favourite niece, Jessie, and nephew, Rufus; and my very, very good friends Dave Hollander and Kaine Thompson, thank you. You have been a big part of my life here in Wellington. To Mike’s and my modern, blended family—blended families are now the new mainstream. To Mike’s children and in-laws, Nancy, Michael, Ewen, and Kelly; to those beautiful grandchildren Kai, Mahe, Lena, and Archie; and to my sister-in-law, Sharda—actually, my first husband’s second ex-wife—and my stepson Ashwin, I am so happy you are all in my life. To my son, Mark, my daughter, Kirsty, my son-in-law, Shane, and our grandsons, Nīkau and Mikaia, I love you all dearly and I am so looking forward to spending more time with you. To Mike, my rock, I have such high expectations of your support, and you almost always deliver. I am so lucky to have you as my partner, and you are lucky to have me too.
Helen Clark went off to the United Nations, Michael Cullen went off to chair New Zealand Post, and I am going around New Zealand in a campervan. Mike and I are looking forward to it: an opportunity to explore our beautiful country and catch up with many friends, which we have been unable to do for quite some time. The Government will be very relieved to know that we will be complying with the Freedom Camping Act, and all waste will be contained and disposed of appropriately.
Now I am out of here. This has been a wonderful 9 years for me and a privilege very few people get to experience. I leave paid political work with a commitment to continuing in voluntary political work. Thank you.
I arrived here in 1990, but before then I worked for the Labour Party. Jim Anderton, who is speaking next, hired me in 1980, when I was almost a 30-year-old. I am now 61; I have got to get out of here. Politics has been my life all of that time—nearly all of that time, actually; for 2 or 3 years in the early mid-1980s we lived in Britain. Anne wanted British midwifery training, the kids went to school there, and I went out to fund-raise as the local veterinarian. We lived on top of the Durham coalfield. The veterinary practice included pit villages, and when Margaret Thatcher and Arthur Scargill engaged in mortal combat, it was the little people and, of course, their pets who got it in the neck. I saw grinding poverty amongst plenty. I tried to join the British Labour Party—curiously, it said it was full.
Back home, David Lange had become the Prime Minister, and in 1985 I was appointed as the party’s marginal seats organiser. At the 1987 election Labour’s vote went down, but the number of Labour MPs went up. We had perfected the art of putting almost all of the party’s resources into just 15 percent of the seats. Voters in the other 85 percent were of no interest to us. It was a great tactical victory. But it meant that I voted against first past the post in 1992 and 1993, and I will do so again next month. First past the post and its lookalike, the supplementary-member representation system, reduce the value of most people’s votes. Under MMP all votes are equal.
The irony was that the 1987 victory exposed our deep divide. It cast the Labour Party into the role of opposition to the Labour Government. I was assigned to David Lange’s office to do the numbers, again and again. Then the party itself split asunder—do you remember this, Jim? You caused it! I had to ask every member in Sydenham to choose one path or the other.
I read my 1990 maiden speech recently; it had two clear threads: an abhorrence of poverty, and a commitment to sustainability. Those two threads persist. I cannot bear the unfairness of poverty and its sheer wastefulness. I am gripped still by the maxim I used back then: we do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.
Some people who were in the gallery then are back today, supporting me still, but now also coming to claim me. Anne is here. She is a good part of my decision to leave politics. Anne has lived many adventures of her own meantime, but she is ready for the next phase of her life and I have been invited along. I asked Phil and Annette to take me off the front bench 3 years ago, so I guess it has been pretty well signalled. Remarkably, my mum and dad are here too. They are down from Whangarei, where I was born and raised, still supporting me. Sister Vicki and Trevor are here; cousin Grant and Liz and all of their family are here. One of our sons, Tristan, is here; the other is in Australia, running his adventure tourism business. Tristan’s wife, Amanda, is at home looking after Cooper, their first child, our first grandchild, and mum and dad’s first great-grandchild. The wee fella turns 2 weeks old tomorrow.
About 15 years ago two young black men from a francophone nation in West Africa washed up on our shores at Port Chalmers as stowaways. After 2 days of negotiation, I dug them off the ship. They had run for their lives. It was a pretty high-profile event at the time—national telly and all that. John Banks, the noisiest shock jock of the lot, more or less declared an invasion. They lived with us for several years. Anne mothered them. They learnt English, they studied, they became friends, they became Kiwis, and then they became family. Each has produced a daughter since, and each daughter is a delight. One of them, Gloria, is in the gallery. She is nearly 3½ and she brought her mum, Marie-Paule, with her.
I am not sure whether I am the first veterinarian in this House or whether I am just the first veterinarian for a while, but while in Opposition I was materially involved in the passage of new and badly needed animal welfare legislation. The details of how that happened no longer matter really, except that I had good advice and good luck, and I am grateful to all who helped. It is coming up for review now, as it should. I have just one insight to humbly offer. It is that the architecture of the legislation and the development of codes are its strength. Issues keep changing. Today it is the egg industry; this time last year it was sow crates; tomorrow, mark my words, it will be heli-hunting. But through the continuous development of codes, the legislation will keep up.
The 9 years in Cabinet were rippers. We racked up huge hours. I thought I was privileged. I am sure that today’s Ministers feel the same way. We were incredibly well led. We knew what we wanted to do; our years in Opposition had not been wasted. And we had regained unity. Helen forged it, and it persists today as part of her enduring legacy. Something else is an enduring legacy of that Government: each year we paid down the Government’s debt until there was not any left, and each year unemployment fell until it was the lowest in the Western World, except for some months when South Korea’s was lower. So when the global economic crisis came, we had no public debt and we had the shortest dole queue in the world. That was not a bad starting point for a new Government—even more so when one recalls the endless pressure to cut taxes that we were under during that time. For 9 years this Chamber rang with the baying of the tax-cutters. When we finally did cut taxes in late 2008, it was the beginning of a vital economic stimulus that, had we listened in earlier years, we would not have been as able to afford.
All in all I held 14 portfolios and several associateships as well. I do not know of anyone else to have held as many, but then again I have not particularly looked. Of course, there is no time to dwell on them or even to list them. Statistics was tiny; health was not. Science was exciting; commerce was a little less so. Transport is full of characters, but fisheries has a whole lot more than that. I inherited a mess from Max Bradford in energy; and being the last to touch science, tertiary education, and economic development on this side, I earnestly hope that no one across the way thinks that they inherited a mess from me. In all of those portfolios a lot was done. I was an activist Minister. I am a restless person. The Government was a restless Government. We were criticised sometimes for having too many strategies to implement, and I just say to that, better too many than too few.
Valedictories are supposed to be about the past, but my head lives pretty well constantly in the future. So let me give one portfolio, climate change, a little bit more attention, because the world’s response to it has barely begun. There are three key problems. The first is that the global addiction to cheap oil persists. It is an astonishing fuel, but they are not making it any more. The second is that climate change is the only area of politics where, when the proof of the need to act finally arrives, the ability to act will have long since gone. The third is that we do not have governance structures that are equal to the task. Disturbingly, we may even have discovered the limits of nation-State democracies as an idea. In New Zealand we have an opportunity, and in my view an obligation, to contribute to agricultural greenhouse gas mitigation because we can, and because success increases agricultural productivity. I commend the current Government’s commitment to continuing and expanding that science, and I wish all involved in it success and patience in equal measure.
Of course, one way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is to run out of cheap oil. Inevitably we will. That requires a public-policy response. Sure, the market will play its part: when a tank of gas costs $300, not $100, behaviour will change all right. But the market alone cannot deliver that transition. Governments need to help. Most Governments have started. We have just stopped, with fuel efficiency standards scrapped, the biofuels sales obligation scrapped, curtailed sustainability measures in general—indeed the very word has been scrubbed off documents in a frenzied cleansing of the lexicon. This is unfortunate, expensive behaviour. I spoke with a New Zealand biofuels company recently, just by way of example, that is pulling out of here and investing instead in Thailand and in the US. We need to be smarter than that.
That leads me to sustainable development in general. I view it as a uniting idea, capable of creating wealth, creating ecological room, creating economic diversification and, as important, resonating strongly with the Kiwi ethos. Certainly cows and tourism alone are not a future, precisely because those activities are not scalable. There are now three dairy cows for every one that existed when I was in rural practice. If three dairy cows are not a limit, four will be, or eight, or some such number. Tourism is similarly not scalable in New Zealand; the Galapagos effect will see to that at some point. I define sustainability very simply: if we cannot do it forever, then sooner or later we cannot do it at all. Mining national parks is a case in point; so is an energy strategy based on offshore oil and gas production; so is getting rid of public debt by selling public assets. These are all things that can be done but once. They are unsustainable by definition.
Sustainable development is very strongly associated with technology—all sorts of technologies—but also with design, with intellectual property, and in some cases with different and new business models. Whether it is applied to a further advance in some primary product or whether it is headed in the direction of clean energy, weightless exports, the creative sector, or whatever we want to call it, sustainable development demands high skills. It is a hi-tech, high-skills future.
Here is another observation. There is a strong association between private sector research and development investment and exporting. An association is not a cause, and not all exporters research. But nearly all research-intensive companies export. Look more closely and see those same companies are likely to be developing sustainably, and usually very quickly. So policies such as cancelling the research and development tax credit make no sense to me. The Government said it could not afford it, and that is fair enough. But the very next year it lowered the company tax rate from 30c to 28c, and that cost even more. We must, in New Zealand, pay more attention to those firms that owe their existence not to local domestic demand but to some technology or some clever entrepreneur, or to both. Their sandpit is global, not local. They usually export; they usually grow quickly; they usually pay high wages. They are the game-changers. Not all firms are equal.
But sustainable development does not address the rich-poor gap. It is growing inexorably all around the developed world, for many reasons. One is the tension between global salaries and local wages. More than one labour market is at play. I think our approach to poverty—I hope our approach to poverty, I should say, perhaps—has just started to change. It has always been a social justice issue: poverty is unfair on the poor. I think it is now being viewed also as an issue of social dysfunction: poverty is bad for everyone. There are strong links between the rich-poor gap and many social ills: teenage pregnancy, obesity, violence—you name it. Research, including New Zealand research, especially out of the Dunedin and Christchurch longitudinal studies, is beginning to unravel some of the detail. Addressing poverty matters. In my view, we underuse and have underused the minimum wage as a tool. We were the first nation in the world to regulate a minimum wage, back in 1894. Since then it has variously risen above two-thirds of the average wage—if I recall correctly, back in Norman Kirk’s time—and fallen below the depths of irrelevancy on many occasions. Currently it is a bit below half the average wage. If we are to reap the benefits of a relatively flexible labour market, which is what we have, we should also provide a bunch of civilised minima that endure.
In New Zealand the debate is usually framed around the idea that raising the minimum wage will throw the low paid out of work altogether, and many crocodile tears are shed at that altar. But research suggests the opposite: that raising the minimum wage can stimulate local economies and reduce unemployment, although usually only slightly. The current chair of the Council of Economic Advisers to the US President, Professor Alan Krueger, is one such researcher. He is a mainstream empirical researcher who deals in the practical, not in the theoretical. I appreciate that this House is some distance away from doing for the low paid what we have already done for superannuitants—establishing an agreed floor—but I will leave folk with the idea, anyway.
The time has come to say thank you to Alicia, Michael, Ellie, David, Karen, Pene, Eric, Margaret, Les, Fiona, Don, and Natalie. What a wonderful mix of talent and commitment. Looking back at me is the Hon Stan Rodger, my mentor then and now. I say thanks to Stan. Over there are Mike Williams and Mike Smith, who have been my friends for ever. They are not even written into the speech, but they are great thinkers and great comrades. When we left Government in 2008 Keith Mason, who was my senior private secretary for most of those years, drew up a list of over 80 people who had worked in my office, and many of those people are here. I cannot name them all, but I thank them. If I think of the very many chief executives and senior officials with whom I have worked, the numbers just get bigger—much bigger. So I shall say that amongst them are some of the finest New Zealanders I have met. For all that the Public Service has driven me to distraction and despair, the Public Service has also filled me with uncomplicated respect. Thanks to those who work in this complex or who arrive at midnight to clean it. They are people who do their job well, and then somehow manage to do a little bit more. They are a great bunch. Thanks to my colleagues from across the political divide for their comradeship, engagement, and wit in the non-adversarial parts of this job, be that around the select committee table or around the world.
Over recent months many people in Dunedin have stopped to thank me for my efforts on their behalf over the years. All of them have it the wrong way round. Representing Dunedin North has been a privilege, pure and simple. It is an astonishing electorate in more ways than can be described. The Dunedin North Labour Party is one of the best organisations in the land. It has hundreds of clever, argumentative, wonderful people. It has depth, it has breadth, and it has fun. It is also a magnet for talent. I hope members will see what I mean should David Clark take his seat in this Chamber in a few weeks.
Here is a story to finish with. Long ago I was attacking a piece of rough ground next door with a big, self-propelling rotary hoe. Instead of selecting reverse gear, I dropped it into top gear. It went over the bank and down about 3 or 4 metres to the stream bed below, and I went with it. I do not know how, but I got to the stream bed first. I know this to be the case, because I remember very clearly the rotary hoe arriving shortly afterwards. Remarkably, I was not badly hurt. I reached up, I turned the machine off, and I collected my wits. On the opposite bank a fine old bloke called Jimmy Hannah, who is no longer with us, appeared above me. He had a heart of gold, a face like a raisin, and a way with words. He was a retired wharfie. He shouted “Are you OK, Pete?”. I said “Yeah, I think so.” He replied “Good-oh, I was just saying to her indoors ‘By jeez, I hope that’s not a by-election.’ ” That event did not end my political career, but this event does. It has been a hell of a ride. Thanks everybody for having me. I will see you around. Ka kite anō.
Those who may wish to time my speech will note that I am starting 10 minutes late! I have heard MPs say that from the age of 14 years they wanted to be Prime Minister. I must admit I never had any ambition to be a member of Parliament. My early ambitions were to be a New Zealand cricketer or an All Black. And with Dan Carter out, if Graham Henry is still looking for depth at first five-eighths, I would be happy to pick up the phone. I did not have, therefore, a searing ambition to be a member of Parliament. That might be because I went to a school called Seddon Tech, a school in those days—looking back now—for street kids, of whom not much was expected. But educational planners were wrong to set their sights for us so low, and some of our best teachers did not do so.
One of my classmates was Bruce McLaren, a polio victim, who at 15 years of age was building a racing car in the school’s engineering workshop. He went on to win the New Zealand Grand Prix—not in that particular car, I might say, although he did win the New Zealand hill climb championship in it, because it had only one gear and the car went 80 miles an hour in it. We did not know him as Bruce the famous racing car manufacturer; we knew him as just Bruce the kid with polio. I gained confidence from kids around me like Bruce, who showed that we could be anything and do anything we wanted to be or do. So I grew up with a conviction that one person could make a difference.
As Irish statesman Edmund Burke once observed: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men to do nothing.” Growing up in poorer working-class suburbs of Auckland I noticed that the power pylons were in Māngere, Ōtāhuhu, and Mount Roskill, not in Remuera, Epsom, or St Heliers. The sewage treatment plant was in Māngere, off Puketūtū Island in the Manukau Harbour, not on Brown’s Island, off St Heliers or Mission Bay beaches in the Waitematā Harbour, where it was actually originally planned to be. There were no Māori in the All Blacks teams to South Africa. The proliferation of nuclear weapons and New Zealand’s involvement in wars that were clearly not ours—and, in addition, in the case of Viet Nam, irrational in the context of the history of that country—were all carefully considered New Zealand Government policies.
My own philosophic development through this period was heavily influenced by my conversion to Catholicism as a teenager, and a resulting commitment to Christian teachings in support of social and economic justice. So I joined the Māngere Bridge branch of the Labour Party. On the first night they made me vice-president—at the first meeting I went to. I was appointed to be a delegate at the first meeting I went to of the Manukau Labour electorate committee and they made me president. I began to wonder whether at that rate I would end up in Wellington as the leader of the party by the end of the next week.
At the tender age of 27 I stood for, and was elected to, the Manukau City Council, together with my then socialist colleague Roger Douglas. We set about the public purchase of large tracts of land on which to develop our new city. The idea of selling public assets never occurred to either of us. We made the use of libraries and swimming pools free of charge. And later I was elected to the Auckland City Council and the Auckland Regional Authority, and president of the New Zealand Labour Party. To the extreme annoyance of many politicians on all sides of politics, who never forgave Time magazine, from completely out of left field the magazine selected me as “a New Zealand leader of the future”. Mike Moore, in particular, never forgot.
I worked with Norman Kirk, who was the greatest political orator I ever heard, and, later, Bill Rowling, when I was president of the New Zealand Labour Party. Bill was the most underrated politician I have ever known and one of the grittiest and most courageous politicians I ever met. I remember Bill and me looking at grim polling news over a beer in the lounge of his leader’s office in 1981. The poll trends indicated that if they continued like that until election day, Labour would get no votes whatsoever. We actually went on to win more votes than the Muldoon-led National Party, but still lost—an early cause of the electoral dissatisfaction that led to the change to MMP. My message to Phil Goff, therefore, is to hang in there—elections are not over until they are over!
To beat the National Party of the day, we had to catch and roll over the much-vaunted—justifiably in my view—political machine of Sir George Chapman, then the highly effective National Party president, and we did! By 1984 Labour had more than 100,000 party members. I will not ask how many party members parties have got these days, but I doubt whether it is mass membership like that.
The year before, I moved from the city of my birth, Auckland, to my adopted city of Christchurch. The people of Sydenham, and now Wigram, have been both loyal and generous to me, through four political parties—which must be some kind of Guinness Book of Records record—and nine consecutive general elections. The greatest satisfaction I have had in politics is to be able to help thousands of individuals and hundreds of communities in ways that almost no other occupation can make possible.
But it gave me no satisfaction at all to see the Government we had all worked so hard to elect in 1984 sheet inequality into New Zealand in a way that I could never have envisaged. The gap between rich and poor widened by 127 percent in 6 years—or 14 percent a year—between 1984 and 1990, and in my view New Zealand has never recovered from that enormous chasm. GDP between 1984 and 1993 grew by half a percent a year on average, while the world economy was growing rapidly. Compare that to the Clark-led Government of 1999-2008, where in real terms New Zealand’s GDP grew by 36 percent—an average of 4 percent per year, or eight times the growth of the Rogernomics period. No one says change was not necessary, of course, but the scale, timing, and impact of the change were borne largely by poorer New Zealanders. We are still dealing with child poverty, the decline in core services like education, health care, and housing, and radical inequality. According to OECD figures, poverty in New Zealand is highest among children—around 15 percent of them. None of us in this House can be proud of that. The top 10 percent of households in New Zealand now own 500 times more than the bottom 10 percent. That is the kind of society that our ancestors left in droves.
Inequality affects everything about our lives, it is unfair, and it is avoidable. That is why I left the Labour Party in 1989 to form the NewLabour Party. I genuinely thought at the time—along, I must say, with almost all other commentators—that I was heading for personal political oblivion. Quite a few members of Parliament assured me with some enthusiasm that I was. But the lesson in that is that it is really worth sticking up for what you believe in.
The promises broken by successive Governments, both National and Labour, from 1984 to 1993 led to the dramatic changes that have taken place in Parliament under MMP. I remember that 93 percent of the population was against the sale of Telecom in 1990. I was in this House when Richard Prebble got up and said that the country was “lucky to have a Government of such courage that it would stand up to a lobby group like that”. It was no wonder that people rebelled against an electoral system that delivered such outcomes, and in choosing MMP they did, in my view, make the right decision.
Between 1853 and 1984, when I first came to the House, 1,102 MPs had been elected to the New Zealand House of Representatives. Of those 1,102, 25 were women. Currently, there are 38 women in this Parliament—more than were elected in a total of 131 years under first past the post. People would do well to think on those things when the referendum is held later this year. There are now more Māori, as well as Asian and Pacific, MPs. Parliament is now more like New Zealand, and if people do not like it they should look in the mirror, because they will see themselves reflected here. So MMP was the right choice for New Zealand.
I have no doubt that I also made the right decision in joining with others to form NewLabour when I did, then taking it into the Alliance with other parties, and, later, when the Alliance was set to become a threat to an enlightened Government rather than a supporter of it, forming the Progressives as a coalition partner for Labour. I have no regrets about any of that. In the same circumstances I would do exactly the same again today. There was no point being part of a party when I could not, in all honesty, ask my constituents at that time to vote for it. I ended up with a Labour electorate committee with 24 members, 23 of whom were unemployed. How can you ask people like that to commit themselves to putting you back into Parliament? And there is no point in asking your constituents for their vote if you do not intend to take on the opportunity and responsibility of being in Government, regardless of the risk of doing so that smaller parties face. Because only by sitting around the Cabinet table and helping to make the decisions can you make the greatest contribution to the well-being of those you claim to represent. As I have often said, one bad day in Government is better than a thousand good days in Opposition, and anyone who has been in both knows how true that is.
I pay tribute to Helen Clark, who had the clearest and most insightful understanding of anyone I have ever worked with in politics, and to the positive difference the Government she led made to this country.
My term as Minister of Agriculture as well as Minister for Economic Development, and many others—as Pete knows, too numerous to try to elucidate—demonstrated to me over and over again how the real strength of the New Zealand economy lies in innovation. Ernest Rutherford once said: “New Zealand doesn’t have much money so we have to think.” Our core industries—sectors like agriculture, horticulture, forestry, and fishing—are, contrary to urban mythology, all high-tech, science-based industries. Our food production ability and potential have never been more economically significant for New Zealand than they are today. Countries in our economic zone like India and China are the dynamic economic powerhouses of this century, and we are on the ground floor, ready to grow with them. They need high-quality food producers like New Zealand like they need no other partners.
I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to my wife, Carole, who has stood with me through 27 tumultuous years, and to my family and extended family—many of whom are here today—who know how much time, energy, and cost all this has taken and caused.
My extraordinary, long-serving electorate staff, who started this journey with me in 1983, are still with me. I do not know anyone in the House who has had the same electorate organiser for 27 years, but if there is someone I would like to know. In 1990 Jeanette Lawrence said to me that I was going to win Sydenham. I said: “Look, don’t delude yourself, Jeanette. No one has ever done this before and it can’t be done. I’ve booked a plane back to my manufacturing and engineering company on Monday, and we mustn’t fool ourselves.” She said: “I tell you, you’ll win by 4,007 votes.” I won by 4,003, and I swear to God she knew the four people who had not voted. Liz Maunsell, Shona Richards, Marty Braithwaite, and dozens of volunteers help 1,500 constituents every year, through my electorate office.
My parliamentary staff have worked tirelessly and well beyond what could reasonably have been expected. Sally Griffin, David Cuthbert, John and Josie Pagani, and Tony Simpson, you have all been valued colleagues.
I also pay tribute to parliamentary staff, the Speaker’s office and the Clerk’s Office, the VIP drivers, who will always be remembered by anyone who has held ministerial rank, and the messengers. My thanks for your unfailing courtesy and assistance over so many years.
And to my former NewLabour, Alliance, and Progressive Party colleagues who are present in Parliament today, my grateful thanks for your invaluable contribution throughout what has been a remarkable journey: Sandra Lee—who actually led the first Māori party in this Parliament—Matt Robson, John Wright, and Grant Gillon, not to mention Reg Boorman, my former Labour colleague, whom I once had to persuade not to engage in a fisticuffs bout with Richard Prebble at a particularly robust meeting of the Labour Party caucus in the Rogernomics era.
Also my Labour Party colleagues, particularly Phil Goff and Annette King. We have been on a long journey together, and, at the end, are now on the same side again. We have Kiwibank and Air New Zealand to remind us that publicly owned assets can be run successfully by high-quality Public Service and other appointees of the Government in the interests of all New Zealanders.
And as far as Kiwibank is concerned, I will always remember Annette King’s contribution at a particularly vital final Cabinet policy committee meeting, which I have never disclosed—and I will probably get hung for doing it, but, there we are, this is my only opportunity, I think. After months of exhaustive advocacy by me of the New Zealand Post business case for the bank—I had to knock down every objection, and they were multitudinous, one by one—Annette King finally turned to Michael Cullen, after 3 hours of this, and said these immortal words: “Michael, Jim’s beaten back every argument against the bank we’ve ever put up—for God’s sake give him the bloody bank!”. And Michael Cullen, in equally immortal words, said: “Oh, all right then.”!
Finally, I want to mention two areas that have been central concerns for me over many years in this Parliament where I hope that work will continue into the future: suicide prevention, and prevention of drug and alcohol abuse. These areas are sometimes sidelined because they are complex and hard to solve. They are not sexy in the same way as many other issues that we front. Progress is often frustrating. Yet they are indicators of a community in that to the extent that it does not address the needs of some of our most vulnerable citizens, nor has the will to make necessary changes, it fails in its responsibility to care for all of our citizens.
To those critics—who seem pretty voluminous these days—who constantly belittle and cynically demean political participation and representation in this Chamber, I can do no better than quote the words of former United States President Teddy Roosevelt, who said, in a speech on citizenship: “It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who knows at worst, if he fails, he at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall not be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
My task now is to do what I can to help my adopted, beleaguered, and loved city of Christchurch to recover from the disaster by which it has been struck. It has been a privilege to serve in this House, and I want to end by again thanking my constituents for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do so. Thank you, Mr Speaker.