It is nice to see that we are running a bit ahead of time. I am sure that there will be some considerable time taken with the valedictories.
Being a member of Parliament is a rare privilege, and I am deeply honoured to have had that privilege and been able to represent the people of the Coromandel and elsewhere. I am proud to have achieved the goals I set myself, which were to win back the Coromandel for National; to increase the majority in the Coromandel; to ensure that the people have had the help, support, and representation they need and which they had not had for a long time; and to advocate on some key issues within the caucus. I am pleased and proud to say that I achieved each of those goals.
Firstly, with the help of many others, we won back the Coromandel for National, and over the last 9 years have developed a healthy majority, being the 10th highest electorate majority in New Zealand. Secondly, and more important, people have had the help and support of me and a hard-working electorate office, so much so that regardless of ethnicity or voting preference people know that they can come to me for assistance and that we always do what we can. Lastly, but by no means least, I am sure that my colleagues can all rightfully say that I did not hold back when making my views known. I will always be a champion for the agricultural sector, but no one could do it better than my excellent colleague Shane Ardern with his trip up the parliamentary steps in Myrtle. Fantastic! It was a good one.
At the 2002 election I was the only one to win back a seat for National, and I entered Parliament alongside Prime Minister John Key, the Hon Judith Collins, Don Brash, and Brian Connell. I did enjoy Opposition—there is no doubt about that—but could not begin to imagine how New Zealand would survive without a National Government led by Prime Minister John Key. He is an extraordinary man with a great sense of humour and depth of intelligence, and he provides unparalleled leadership, the likes of which are rare. John is surrounded by an outstanding group of Ministers and backbenchers, whose depth of talent and capability ensures continuity for a sound Government well into the future.
Equally exceptional is Judith Collins. My special thanks go to Judith for her friendship and support, which have been invaluable. I have always appreciated and admired her leadership and her ability to deal with any situation with such remarkable clarity. Judith famously stated in this House that “all work is honourable”, and that set a whole new benchmark for the Opposition.
I acknowledge the huge sacrifice that every member of Parliament makes to be here—in particular, the burden now carried by Gerry Brownlee as he manages the herculean task of restoring Christchurch. We are mindful of the added personal sacrifice Gerry is making, and proud of the work that he is doing.
As someone who believes deeply in individual responsibility, hard work, honesty, and integrity, National was always the natural choice for me. I began life with two hard-working parents, who started married life in poor and humble beginnings. They managed what little money they had, and did all they could to ensure that their five children had a roof over their heads, sufficient clothing, and good food. Dad always had a garden, and still does to this day. They did not smoke, they had the occasional beer or wine, and they did not have pets, as that would mean another mouth to feed. Our lives were rich with love, laughter, energy, and games.
Like my parents and most of us here, I began my independent adult life from scratch. I am like the many people I have been elected to represent in the Coromandel, and see no reason why anyone else cannot do the same. People need to do only two things: work hard and take responsibility for themselves and their own decisions. I have little sympathy for whingers, bludgers, and people who hold out their hand with the expectation of getting something for nothing. I am appalled by the ignorance of those who expect either local government or central government to fund all manner of items on their wish list, with no understanding of how that wish list is funded.
Mr Speaker, you have said that what is most important is what one learns, and I thank you for your considered guidance and leadership. In answering your question, Mr Speaker, I have learnt heaps and, in this instance, particularly, discretion is, as they say, the better part of valour.
I will just touch on some of the highlights, such as Judith Collins consistently wiping the floor with the Opposition, and Gerry’s humour, ably supported by Paula and Chester and my back-row buddies Maurice and Simon Power. Paula’s gift of an orange scarf with black leopard print is a standout in my wardrobe—all that is lacking is the shoes. Being invited by Chris Finlayson to work on legislation in which I have a particular interest was a real bonus. Time spent enjoying the company of “Blondie”, also known as Katherine Rich, was also a highlight. I am sure that the purple cardy has worked wonders and continues to do so. Other highlights are holding portfolios in Opposition—mangroves and the Kōpū Bridge, to name but a few.
I have loved my time representing the Coromandel and its people, the many functions and events, and the thousands of miles travelled in my faithful purple Ford Falcon V8, affectionately dubbed “The Falcoon”. No other car could parallel a cruise in my “Falcoon”, particularly with me driving. My deepest thanks go to the people of the Coromandel for their generosity of spirit and support, and for making the Coromandel a wonderful, diverse place to be.
To my family I say that I could not have done this job without your love and support. I am looking forward to finally not feeling like a displaced person, and to being at home. To Barry Coleman and Marco Marinkovich I say thank you very much for being there for me. To my friends, electorate committees, and volunteers I say thank you for all your efforts and support. They will never be forgotten. Having a good team of people around you, who are equally passionate about the work involved, is essential. I say thank you to all those who generally assisted with hoarding sites, billboards, and scrutineering. To Ken Brokenshire I say keep up the good work. To Bob Clarkson I say that your work on housing and leaky homes was not in vain. My very special thanks go to my electorate and parliamentary staff for the last 9 years, particularly to Cherie and Justin, and a big hi to Cherhys.
My sincere thanks go to parliamentary staff at all levels for their hard work, and my condolences on the recent loss of two much-loved colleagues; I know they will be missed. I fully appreciate that this working environment is unique and not always easy, with so many demanding personalities. Parliamentary staff do a great job. I leave Kevin and Craig the big clock. If any of them are in the Coromandel, they should come to visit—that is a sincere offer.
To the National Party board members for the last 9 years I say thank you. We are fortunate to have had—and we continue to have—an excellent board. My special thanks go to Michelle Boag and Judy Kirk, who were there at the beginning of my foray into national politics. I have met many wonderful people involved in National over the years, and you could not meet a better bunch. I do hope that they call in for a cuppa if they are in the Coromandel. I shall have the privilege of being at home to make it.
Finally, to my National Party colleagues I say that I feel equally honoured and privileged to have worked with you all. You are an awesome group of people. I leave knowing that this wonderful country of New Zealand is in great hands, and will be for as long as National holds office.
E te Mana Whakawā, tēnā koe. E ngā whanaunga, e ngā hoa o te hunga kāinga i haere mai i tēnei rā ki te tautoko i ahau, tēnei te mihi aroha ki a koutou katoa. Ki aku hoa mahi o tēnei Whare, tēnā koutou. Ko Tongariro te maunga, ko Taupō te moana, ko Tūwharetoa te iwi, ko te Heuheu te tangata. Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tātou katoa.
[Greetings to you, Mr Speaker. Affectionate regards to all of you from home, the relatives and friends who came here to support me today. Greetings to my colleagues of this House. Greetings. Tongariro is the mountain, Taupō is the lake, Tūwharetoa is the tribe, and te Heuheu is the man. Greetings to you, greetings to you, and greetings to us all.]
The opportunity to serve in this House came through the National Party list with the first MMP election in 1996. Political parties were able to top up their lists with members who might bring different or specialist skills to complement those already in place. I think it fair to say that there were not many Māori involved with the party at the time. To that point my career had brought me into close contact with Government policy in a wide range of areas, including law reform, the arts, heritage, health, and Treaty of Waitangi claims. Although I had not contemplated a career in national politics, when an interest was indicated in my competing for a place on the list, the opportunity to contribute to decision making at the highest level was something I felt compelled to take. By our position as tangata whenua, Māori are born into politics, and I welcomed the challenge.
My upbringing revolved very much around notions of independence, and included a responsibility to contribute to the common cause—the greater good. My father-in-law, the late Sir Hepi te Heuheu, put it this way: “You’re a lawyer; I think you need to go and give them a hand.” My late mother, Te Uira Winnie Manunui, said: “Yes. Well, I was wondering what you were going to do next, and when.” I am by nature a person who seeks consensus to cement agreement, shares information to enhance understanding, and works to forge alliances—political or otherwise—to progress mutual benefits. As an aside, when on my first day in Parliament I bumped into New Zealand First MP John Delamere on the walkway, we exchanged the hongi and then, like two excited kids, we hugged each other. That interaction was caught on camera. The next day in my first caucus, a former colleague, who remains very close to me, said: “I saw you hugging the Opposition.”, which startled me somewhat. When I realised what he was referring to, I said: “He’s a relative!”. Back came the retort: “He’s the enemy!”. I considered that but only for a second, and replied: “The enemy he might be, but he’s a relative and I’ll hug him when I like.” Welcome to the world of politics! Thinking back on that incident reminds me of Graham Henry, All Blacks coach supremo, saying in the Air New Zealand ad: “We can’t have that kind of disruption in the team.”
I must say I have admired the willingness of the National Party to work in concert with leading Māori of other parties since 1996. I acknowledge in this context the leadership of the Hon Tau Henare, in his earlier guises, and that of the Hon Pita Sharples and the Hon Tariana Turia in this term, working with our Government in areas where Māori insights are either patently necessary or highly desirable. The opportunity to work alongside the Māori Party members has been one of the highlights of my time in the House. I began quietly building a bridge with them when they first arrived. It fits our Māori way, not least because many of us share kinship ties. For as many years as I can remember, Māori have worked together on the big issues, despite differing political and tribal affiliations. To my personal delight, we have seen a significant step in that direction here in Parliament in the current term. It is also good for the country that the Māori Party should work in coalition with others, for it represents our growing New Zealand way of respecting difference as a positive means of working together.
I pay tribute to our Prime Minister, the Rt Hon John Key, for his genuine respect for all people and cultures, and for seeking mutually beneficial ways to encourage increased respect. With such leadership in the House, the importance of building networks and relationships, and of providing insights oftentimes gained from working behind the scenes, is given more meaning. In that role I have endeavoured to support Māori development, and enhance Pākehā and others’ understanding of Māori endeavours. There have been some hiccups in advancing the way our cultures relate to one another but, looking back, I think good progress has been made in understanding our bicultural beginnings and providing a strong platform for our growing multicultural dimension.
The special place of Māori is an area that often gives vent to strong emotions that tend to cloud our thinking. Consequently, there remains a tendency to see any special attention to Māori as unwarranted, given the several cultural minorities in New Zealand today. But there are distinctions to be made. The first concerns the proprietary rights that flow from prior habitation. The second is that the Māori culture, unlike all others, survives only in New Zealand, but its survival remains tenuous, and the issue for Māori is not one of cultural tolerance but of cultural survival.
A landmark day for me was the day that John Key took over the leadership of our party. At his first-ever press conference in that role he was asked for comment, if I recall, about the place of Māori in New Zealand. His reply was: “Māori are tangata whenua of New Zealand.” I do not think I had heard a leader make that statement. Whether he appreciated fully the impact of the statement at the time, I was not certain, but I applauded him for it. Among other things it signalled a return to the place we had been in the 1990s, and from whence we had temporarily strayed when we came into Opposition. There is no turning back on this one.
I feel privileged that my work in the House has provided me with myriad opportunities to meet extensively with many New Zealanders in different walks and many places. I have sought to shed light on the Māori position in order to engender confidence in what we as a Government are endeavouring to achieve in supporting Māori independence, and what it is that Māori have to contribute to the betterment of our nation. Building and sustaining connections with representatives from overseas is also an area that has presented opportunities to promote better understandings. I have debated in a variety of situations our New Zealand approach to managing cultural difference. Our approach may not be perfect, but our insights have been received with considerable interest by overseas representatives, who have not always appreciated the soundness of our methodology, or who have sometimes confused our efforts with separatism. I think their understanding of the intelligent nuances in New Zealand’s management of these issues is important in building our global connections.
Particularly in my role as Minister of Pacific Island Affairs, I have also valued my association with the various Pacific communities. Their cultures too are in need of support. The role of the New Zealand Government, and indeed of the people of New Zealand, in supporting their initiatives and aspirations has long-term benefits for them, and for us, in identifying us as a leading Pacific nation—one that seeks to grow strong Pacific communities here, in the Pacific, and further afield. In any event, they are family.
In my maiden statement I disclosed a special interest in the settlement of Treaty of Waitangi claims. A significant reason for choosing what would become an extended stay in this House was my desire to support the National Government’s resolve to address the resolution of historical Treaty injustices. I remain admiring of the Rt Hon Jim Bolger and the Rt Hon Sir Douglas Graham, the founders of the settlement process. I acknowledge too the Hon Chris Finlayson as the current Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations, for in temperament, capacity, and all else, he follows well in their footsteps. Sixteen settlements concluded in this term is an outstanding result. The work in this area is, in every respect, about investing in the future. The spin-offs in Māori economic development have become self-evident. I am proud to have been in this House at this period in our history, when this Parliament, in my view, has done some of its best work in advancing the settlement process. I hope that New Zealanders are proud, as well.
The work of the House is never done, nor should it be. Over the years the National Party has worked to rid New Zealand of excessive controls that inhibit private enterprise. Going forward there will be a need to review the Māori Land Court’s role in the administration of Māori land. I think there are no businesses in the country that are so constrained by external control, nor do I know of any enterprise anywhere that would want to manage its business through the vagaries of judicial decision-making.
I was raised in the backblocks of Tūwharetoa in the middle of the North Island, observing leaders who were committed to the principle of autonomy in all matters, including land administration. Enterprising measures will eventually be developed to replace the outworn system of the Māori Land Court, so that Māori enterprise can blossom. I find that, 15 years on, the need to build bridges to enhance understanding, to grow relationships, and to forge and maintain economic and political alliances is even more critical than when I came in, given our country’s increasing diversity and the need to reconcile seemingly competing interests. Such approaches are important as well, for a small but feisty nation of people, working hard to find our way on the global stage. Our future well-being as a nation depends upon our ability to maintain strong relationships both at home and abroad.
I take this opportunity to share a vignette, which kind of departs a little bit from what I have been talking about, but I have to tell it anyway. Back in 1999, when New Zealand hosted APEC, President Clinton came to New Zealand to attend. I was part of the official welcoming party, along with the Hon Tau Henare and the Hon John Delamere. While waiting with the official party, dressed in our korowai, I asked my two colleagues: “Do you think we should hongi the President?”, to which, of course, they agreed. At that point I alerted Ambassador Beeman who at once gave me a startled look and said: “Just wait a minute. I’ll need to alert the President’s security.”, who were, of course, on Air Force One, which was at that moment getting ready to land. As he radioed Air Force One to alert the President’s security of our intention, we and the people from my office who were also standing watching this plane coming in noticed it doing another circle over the airport. Within minutes Ambassador Beeman came back and said: “That’s fine, but it was important that we let them know because we don’t want any security people suddenly jumping on you guys when you approach the President.” I hope that in future times when I am recalling my experiences in Parliament I will talk about my time here and the support for the Treaty negotiations, but I am likely to tell that story because it is the day that I kept the President of the United States waiting.
For 15 years I have had two families: the home family of Tūwharetoa and the family of National Party colleagues, both former and current, who have largely supported me in my endeavours and I think of them all and I have enjoyed their company, each and every one of them, for all of the 15 years. The first family have, of course, without reservation supported the need for me to be here, even when the second family has from time to time, I suspect, harboured doubts. None the less, I will miss this House. I had the great privilege of serving in Cabinet under the Rt Hon Jenny Shipley in the 1990s, and now under the Rt Hon John Key, and of having responsibility for a number of areas, all of which I appreciated immensely, and not least in this term, being the Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control, which was something completely different from what I had ever thought I might have responsibility for. In that role I was very proud to lead New Zealand’s delegation to overseas conferences and observe the huge respect with which New Zealand is held in matters of nuclear disarmament and arms proliferation.
I will always be grateful for the support I have had from all, including loyal staff over the many years, and particularly my current ministerial staff. To the many, many others who make the House of Representatives function well for our fellow New Zealanders, I acknowledge your dedication to this august place. I thank the National Party for the privilege they have afforded me of serving in this role. Judy Kirk in particular I mention. She was for some years my electorate agent in Taupō before she took over the role of president of the National Party. One day I was her boss; the next day she was mine. That is politics. More important, we remain friends.
Finally I acknowledge the unconditional support of Timi and our two sons, Tūirirangi and Manunui, and in his own little baby way, our mokopuna Rongomai-te-Ngangana te Heuheu. Now another bell is ringing, no less strident than the one to which we are accustomed in this House. It is a call from the hearth and it is time to go. Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tātou katoa. Kia ora.
Fifteen years ago, following the formation of the first National-led coalition under MMP, three members of Parliament were invited by Ngāti Hine to Ōtīria Marae. Each member was presented with a gift. Two of the gifts were weapons of war; one was a waka huia. The three members were the Rt Hon Winston Peters, the Hon Tau Henare, and myself. There is no prize for guessing who received the waka huia.
The kaumātua told me to fill this treasure box with those things I most valued from my parliamentary life. So what have they been? First and foremost, I have greatly valued the support of North Shore over five elections. North Shore is a vibrant place where people roll up their sleeves to achieve for their families and for their community. As their representative, I have listened to the voice of the Shore through clinics, through meetings, through coffees, and through catch-ups. I have carried their voice to this Chamber. It has been a great honour to serve the people of North Shore.
I came to Parliament believing in the power of ideas to improve peoples’ lives—here, those ideas could actually be actioned. Freedom of choice is a fundamental tenet of a free society. That has been at the heart of so many debates in this Chamber. I believed then, as I do now, that New Zealanders are best served by an open and free economy to enable them to take charge of their own lives. Ideas for change and their implementation can occur whether in Government or in Opposition. My Volunteers Employment Protection Amendment Bill, which had been a member’s bill, was subsequently implemented by a Labour Government. The 90-day bill reached a select committee, and was the precursor of Government bills in 2008 and 2010.
To have the opportunity in this fifth National-led Government, led by Prime Minister John Key, to be both the Minister of Defence and the Minister of Science and Innovation has been a great privilege. In the area of innovation, during our time in Opposition a North Shore group and I had prepared a blueprint to get our country moving. We believed that New Zealand had failed to take advantage of the 10 years of relative prosperity preceding 2008 to really lift our country. Yes, there had been some useful initiatives, but there had been no real sense of urgency. Other countries had not been so complacent: Finland, Denmark, Israel, and Singapore, and Queensland with its Smart State Strategy, just to name a few. As a result, they have achieved faster growth and greater confidence in their future.
So my focus as Minister of Science and Innovation has been pushing an agenda for growth. We have simplified the system and provided strategic direction. That is why the Ministry of Science and Innovation has been established. We have provided a long-term approach for Crown research institutes, and, crucially, this Government has connected science to a broader economic agenda. I believe the effects are starting to be seen. There is a greater sense of aspiration, particularly amongst younger science entrepreneurs. There has been an increase in total expenditure on science and innovation from 1.2 percent to 1.3 percent of GDP. Whilst that is a modest gain, it is a start, and in fact it has been achieved during a period of recession. This is actually an area of political consensus, but a committed national effort is required. That is the key lesson from the countries that I cited earlier, and it is the biggest opportunity that faces our nation.
The defence portfolio was likewise in need of reform. There had not been a white paper for 13 years. The last significant work had been the cross-party select committee report Inquiry into Defence Beyond 2000, on which myself and the Hon Derek Quigley had worked very closely together. The previous Government had implemented some of those changes, but new challenges emerged. The 2010 defence review and the capability plan launched this week provide a coherent Defence Force relevant to New Zealand’s needs and our place in the world. The most significant challenge in the next two decades is the changing balance of power in the Asia-Pacific region. I believe that as a small country we can make a vital contribution to enhance stability and prosperity within our region.
However, it is not reform that is the most testing part of defence. It is that we ask our young men and women to put their lives on the line in the service of our country. Over the last 3 years, nine young New Zealanders, including last week Lance Corporal Leon Smith, have died either in operations overseas or in fulfilling their roles within New Zealand. I know that their loss is keenly felt by all of us in this House and by all New Zealanders.
A valedictory is a time to reflect on lessons learned. The most important of those lessons is that trust and integrity are the guiding values for decision making. It is how we develop our party’s policy, it is how we debate our ideas in caucus and Cabinet, it how we serve the people, and it is the expectation that each of us should have of ourselves. These values are critical when making the hard decisions, some of which relate to New Zealand’s place in the world.
In Afghanistan we are part of a coalition of 49 nations. Virtually all of these nations share common democratic values and are the most internationally engaged nations in the world. These are the nations with which we have our strongest links. All of these nations have experienced acts of al-Qaeda terrorism. I remind this House and indeed the country that seven New Zealanders have been killed by acts of terrorism in the last decade. We have a common commitment to Afghanistan so that it can become a functioning member in the family of nations, rather than an outlaw State harbouring al-Qaeda as it was under the Taliban. On this I stand with the Prime Minister. We do not honour our fallen by running when the going gets tough. We do not honour our country by shirking from our responsibilities. And we do not honour each other when we resile from our principles.
We are all part of a team. The leader of our team, John Key, has the vision and sets the direction for our Government. I thank you, Prime Minister, for giving me the opportunity to serve in Cabinet. I also thank you—and I believe this will be shared by all of my colleagues—for allowing us such a large degree of autonomy to develop the direction in our portfolios. I believe that the freedom you have given each of us is one of the secrets of your success as leader. The Prime Minister’s sense of what New Zealanders expect from the Government, and my colleagues’ steady competence, have engendered confidence and stability in these difficult times, including dealing with the Canterbury earthquakes and the Pike River mine disaster.
MPs arrive in this Parliament as a group. In my case, it is the “class of ‘96”. There are now only three of us left out of 10—Gerry Brownlee, Georgina, and myself. On 27 November there will be only Gerry, but he is big enough to stand alone! I have appreciated working as a team with my fellow North Shore MPs: Murray McCully, who has been a friend since the age of 18, and Dr Jonathan Coleman. I wish my colleagues every success in the upcoming election, including a future colleague, Maggie Barry on the North Shore
The team, of course, extends well beyond parliamentarians, and I pay tribute to my parliamentary and ministerial office staff, who have put in so much hard work over the last few years. I also thank the many parliamentary staff whom we all depend on and who are always quick, I might add, with a cheery word—the messengers, security, receptionists, Bellamy’s, cleaners, Parliamentary Library staff, the travel office, and the VIP Transport Service.
I especially want to thank Adrienne Frew, who has worked with me for 10 years. She has been very efficient, and at times I think she has had quite a bit to put up with. I also acknowledge my ministerial adviser Stuart Boag. We have known each other for many, many years, and he has been invaluable as we have chewed over a wide range of political and defence issues. On this occasion I also acknowledge Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Rhys Jones and his predecessor the Governor-General, Lieutenant General Sir Jerry Matepārae. I also acknowledge Rear Admiral Jack Steer, who has been Vice Chief of Defence Force throughout this time, and the service chiefs, but especially the wider defence family, in which I believe that all of us in this House have so much pride. I acknowledge John McKinnon, Secretary of Defence. He has provided, as all senior civil servants do, wise counsel from time to time. It often goes like this, does it not: “What the Minister really meant to say was …”. I also acknowledge Dr Brook Barrington for his work on the defence review, and Des Ashton for some pretty difficult procurement issues.
I have been particularly fortunate in the last 3 years to work with a person of Sir Peter Gluckman’s stature in science and innovation and, in the ministry, with chief executives Dr Helen Anderson and Murray Bain. I say to Murray that he has a tremendous opportunity to lead real change in science and innovation.
The National Party in the North Shore has been one of my fundamental pillars of strength. There are too many to name—many of them are in the gallery—but from my electorate office I thank Joan Finlayson, Mel MacDonald, and the current team of Tracy Kirkley, Jane Taylor, and Sean Topham. I acknowledge longstanding friends—president of the party, Peter Goodfellow, Peter Kiely, and Andrew and Vicki Caisley. All have been my mentors. I also acknowledge members of the North Shore team specifically: Joan and the late Ross Finlayson, Terry Dunleavy—Terry has been known to test a few National Party leaders—Bob Keating, Barrie and Fay Mason, and Jean Allen. From the current executive team I thank Lorraine Campbell, Matt Kemp, Richard Gates, and, of course, Cam Calder, who is now here as a member of Parliament.
At this time, thanks must especially go to one’s own family—the Mapp and Hēnare whānau, particularly to my parents, Heather and Gordon, my sisters, Sheryl and Wendy, my brother-in-law, Chris, my late sister-in-law, Darlene, whom I miss greatly, and also, of course, especially to my wife, Denese. Denese has always provided her love and support, and her wise counsel—and in a typical Hēnare fashion, Tau—in a rather forthright fashion. I could not have entered political life without her support.
I say to all members of this House that I wish them well. I also acknowledge my colleague Allan Peachey for his decision today. As we who are giving valedictory addresses all know, it is a bittersweet moment in leaving, but the waka huia that I received some 15 years ago now brims with treasures that I will long remember. But it is a time for new beginnings, and I have often found that some of life’s greatest rewards come from making a fresh start. Thank you.
I have been surprised by some of the reaction I have had to my decision to retire. All sorts of motivations have been ascribed to my decision. One of my Cabinet colleagues, who is always concerned about how these sorts of things will look for the Government, was keen to spread the rumour that the real reason could be traced to the existence of a series of incriminating photographs. I was alarmed at the speed at which Murray McCully was able to invent such a scenario—well, maybe not. Some think it is unnatural that a politician might choose to leave politics well before they absolutely had to. As recently as last month a constituent wrote to me, angrily demanding my resignation. He will get pretty excited when he catches up with the news.
Although I prefer to focus on the past 3 years, there is no escaping the fact that I have been here for 12. I was elected to Parliament in late 1999 as a 28-year-old, following a very narrow victory in the great seat of Rangitīkei, by 289 votes. When I first came to this House I was encouraged to be partisan, an aggressive debater, and a contributor to the partisan approach, and told that the most important thing in Opposition was to hold the Government to account. I say thanks to Roger Sowry. That was a view that I passed on to others who came after me, and, on one level, it remains fundamentally correct.
I am not one of those who yearn for a question time devoid of robust exchanges, where members might acknowledge points made by their opposite number with a genteel “Well played, sir.” Question time is, for those who know how to use it, still the best opportunity to fulfil one of Parliament’s primary functions: scrutiny of the executive. But my perspective on politics changed dramatically in my third term in Opposition when I nearly went round the bend with the grinding negativity and lack of progress that can become so entrenched on the Opposition benches.
So I began to plan for Government, not knowing whether we would win, as a means of doing something constructive. With a few close colleagues I started to piece together what a justice and commerce agenda might just look like. Politicians must have a plan; a plan that is in place early, and one that they are prepared to lead. I believe that politics is 90 percent preparation and 10 percent execution.
At a day-to-day level politics, particularly at ministerial level, can quickly deteriorate to the daily management of tasks: dealing with papers, the media, Official Information Act requests, question time, written questions, and expectations from colleagues and your party—tasks that can become all consuming and tasks that, in the end, do not improve the lives of New Zealanders at all. That is not why we run the Parliament. We run to lead agendas, to improve the lot of our countrymen, to push change, and to execute on ideas.
People do not spend years getting elected, more years wanting to get into Cabinet, to then say: “Well, I’ve managed that week well. I’ve minimised risk, had no view, took no decisions, and stayed out of trouble. Well done me!”. Once in office you have to do something, and that is why having a plan matters.
Ideas also matter. In politics ideas matter more than the political players themselves because all of us will come and go, but the ideas will endure. Politicians should manage less, and lead more. I love the quote from the influential Republican media adviser Roger Ailes, who was moved to quip: “When I die I want to come back with real power. I want to come back as a member of a focus group.”
Actually, taking a position and selling it, persuading and debating, is what politics is all about. Yeah, it sounds idealistic and maybe it is, but I always told myself I would leave politics before the idealism left me. That does not mean that we should not be open to compromise where it improves the eventual decision in a more democratic way.
A formative experience in my last year in Opposition triggered a fundamental shift in the way that I viewed politics. As chair of the Privileges Committee in the last term of Parliament I had to chair the inquiry into the matter of certain donations to the New Zealand First Party. My view of politics and how best to participate in it was altered from that point on. This was a highly partisan issue, in front of a parliamentary committee that had a history of being above politics. I realised then that working with other political parties to reach consensus, where possible, was a legitimate way to advance legislation and to progress an agenda. Not everyone agrees with me on this approach, but I know I am right.
My experience has been that expanding the decision-making mandate without sacrificing the kernel of the idea has improved the quality of the legislative product immeasurably. That means not being afraid to back down, not being afraid to reconsider a position after listening to an alternative view, and at least, in one case, not being afraid to amend the bill on the floor of the House in response to high-quality debate. It may not have been understood by all, and you have to grit your teeth a bit through the inevitable “Government Back-down” headlines, but with the support of the Prime Minister, and the freedom he gave me to operate in that manner on many, many bills, it worked.
So much of Parliament’s time is spent attacking each other, trying to outmanoeuvre each other, and just plain loathing each other. It can be an incredible waste of energy and time, and whenever I was sitting in frustrating cross-party discussions, or in the House during a particularly rough debate, I was always reminded of Michael Corleone’s edict: “Never hate your enemies. It just clouds your judgment.” Good and meaningful policy is also informed and shaped by personal interactions.
To the day I die I will never forget sitting in the lounge of Gill and Lesley Elliott in Dunedin, listening to them describe to me their experiences of the justice system. It had a profound effect on me and the way that I viewed our legal system. Good, decent, kind people whose lives were destroyed by tragedy deserve our help, not a slow-motion replay of the horror that they went through. My interactions with the communities that deal with victims of sexual violence have similarly affected my view on how our justice system should operate. Likewise, the way our court system deals with children is unacceptable: long delays, barbaric practices, all in the name of tradition and precedent—all abject nonsense.
There is still so much for others to do and many problems remain deeply embedded in our country’s culture. What the hell is it about the psyche of this country that we feel the need to go home and hit someone, be it a partner, a child, or another family member? This is totally unjustifiable. It is wrong, and it is an indictment on us as a society. Our legal system needs to protect these people, and I hope I have made a small contribution to remedying these despicable acts of injustice and cowardice.
The decisions we face are often difficult, but that is why we are here. I was surprised to learn, when I became Minister of Justice, that many of my predecessors had delegated the royal prerogative of mercy applications to an Associate Minister. I have found this to be some of the most interesting and challenging work I have done as a Minister. However, I remain troubled by a number of these cases. Though I do not criticise those involved in the process at all, I think there is merit in reinforcing the independence of the advice from the Ministry of Justice and moving decision making to a separate independent body. Although the Peter Ellis matter was straightforward in the end—because appeal rights had not yet been exhausted; a basic requirement of the exercise of the prerogative of mercy—the wider case worried me, and continues to worry me.
It is our job to tackle the tough issues, the issues the public pays us to front up to and come to a view on. There are many, many debates that Parliament does not want to have, for fear of losing votes or not staying on message: abortion, adoption law, children’s rights, and sexual violence issues. I do not share this timid view. The truth is if we do not have those debates here, where will we have them?
Surely people do not run for Parliament claiming they want to make a difference, only to vote for the status quo. Otherwise, presumably they would be so satisfied with the way the country was running they would not feel the need to seek public office in the first place. Phrases such as “It wasn’t like that in my day”, “Precedent and tradition matter”, or my personal favourite, “It never did me any harm” to justify no change simply do not reflect the new reality of a fast-moving modern country.
I have a great deal of confidence in the New Zealand public’s high level of intelligence and engagement in discussing those issues at some point, whenever that may be, but I also have great confidence that Parliament is capable of rising to the challenge and dealing with those issues with dignity and distinction.
I have been privileged to serve with some wonderful people. Some have said that I am going too early; some have not. But I have loved every minute of it, and that is exactly the right time to go.
A few specific thanks are in order.
To the Prime Minister, whose confidence I have enjoyed and who has given me plenty of rope, some of which I have used. Of the 462 papers I took to Cabinet, on only one did you phone and say: “I can’t support this one, Simon.”, and I am extremely grateful for those that you did, Prime Minister. Thanks for everything, John. You have been great to work with.
To my friend Bill English. Loyalty in politics is sadly a rare commodity, but it matters in this game. Thanks. Your depth and breadth on policy matters, and personal grit, I greatly admire, even for a dour South Island social conservative.
My benchmate Gerry has the best instincts in the game, is often ahead of the pack, and has a wonderful self-deprecating humour. I have really enjoyed your company on the benches, Gerry. Nothing sums Gerry up more acutely than the time we went to get fish and chips for the caucus during urgency in the early hours of the morning in the year 2000—it must have been about 4 o’clock in the morning. He stormed into the fish and chip shop. There was this tiny little man behind the counter, and Gerry stormed up and said: “I want 42 pieces of fish, 40 scoops of chips, and 31 hotdogs.” Then he looked at me and he said: “And what do you want?”. [Interruption] Half true?
To the class of 1999: Tolley, Tisch, Heatley, and Hutch. We still have a drink every Tuesday the House sits, and you have provided me with a wealth of grounded opinions and reflections.
To my friend Chester Borrows, for your gentle common sense.
To my old political friend Katherine Rich, a great source of advice and wisdom. The “dark years”, as we called them, were better for a whisky and a chat about the day’s events. Katherine, you would have been a stunning Minister.
To my team in the Rangitikei: Bruce, Norma, Suze, Jacky, Sonia, Christine, Viv, Stuart, John O, Merv, Marion, Helen, and Di. Thank you for everything. Thank you for getting me here.
To the people of Rangitikei, I will always be grateful for your confidence in me.
To GJ. I would not be here if it were not for your help in 1999. Thanks very much. And, of course, the Mole. A plan conceived in a pub in Auckland in 1997 was executed. Thanks, Mole.
To Professor Margaret Clark, for first turning my mind to a political career, and for keeping me on my toes since then.
To Peta Bamber, who spent 5 years with me in Opposition—grim times; I do not know how you coped. Thank you.
Thanks to my seconded departmental private secretaries, who bought into the cause, and to Sarah, for keeping my whereabouts orderly. To my ministerial staff, the best in the Beehive. To the Pit: Stephen, Kate, Brent, and Rachael. They are simply the cleverest, hardest-working, fairest people I know in politics; utterly objective, scrupulously honest. You are all stars.
To Jemma, my senior private secretary, who has been with me for 7 years, and who is referred to in my office as “the left side”, as in “the left side of his brain”. Jemma, you have run my life for so long that you will be ready for something new outside of Parliament. I have never met anyone or worked with anyone as professionally competent as you are. Thank you for everything, and you can feel free to roll your eyes behind my back.
Finally, to my friends and family. Friends put up with so much when one is in politics. As my close friend James said to me when I told him I was retiring: “Thank God. You’ve become such a pain in the arse.” Well, I am keen to make up for it, and brothers, I thank you for your patience.
To my family. Thanks for your unstinting support, mum and dad, when I decided to get in, then out, of politics.
And to Lisa, Sam, and Harry. I think some of the best advice I got as a Minister was on the sports field sidelines on Saturday mornings, watching the boys’ sport, and that is where I intend to spend more time. Each day while I was shaving, I would look in the mirror and ask myself the same question: will those two boys be proud of what I do today? I hope you will be. Lisa, thank you for everything. Private life awaits. It will be fun; I guarantee it.
So, Mr Speaker, I bid you farewell and leave you with one thought. We all know that it is a privilege being a member of Parliament. But the most satisfaction should come from doing rather than being.