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Valedictory Statement

Wednesday 19 March 2008 Hansard source (external site)

YatesDIANNE YATES (Labour) Link to this

Tēnā koe, Madam Speaker. On my greetings cards is the following quote: “Let us not take for granted that life exists more fully in what is commonly thought big than in what is commonly thought small.” I take this opportunity in my valedictory speech to thank all those who have assisted me in a variety of ways, big and small. I note some of the momentous political and social changes that have occurred in this country in the nearly 15 years I have been in this House—9 under Labour leadership. I note, in particular, changes in our form of democracy, access to Parliament, and the ability for ordinary New Zealanders to be heard. As a former teacher and manager, I will tick the boxes on my report card against the promises made in my maiden speech, my personal key performance indicators. I will make reference to how the voice of ordinary people can be heard in this country.

As the Minister of Internal Affairs says in his letter to new New Zealand citizens when they take the oath of allegiance: “We treasure our peaceful lifestyle, our freedom, democracy, and access to justice.” After the election at the end of 1993 I took part in a vote that was one of the most important votes taken in New Zealand: the vote for the leadership of the parliamentary Labour Party. Contrary to what members might have read in the papers at the time, I voted after a very intense meeting with my local Hamilton Labour electorate committee, whose advice I followed. I am pleased to say that I voted for the Rt Hon Helen Clark—a vote that I believe was not only well considered and wise but also one that has resulted in one of the finest leaders this country has known.

As chair of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee, I have been very well aware of the reputation of our Prime Minister not only in New Zealand but also internationally, where she is regarded with respect as a leader with high credibility and integrity. New Zealand punches above its weight on the international scene, largely because of the quality of Helen Clark’s leadership. In a recent British newspaper, in an article on women in leadership, there was praise of Helen Clark. The article stated: “Such women have won power because they have come to stand for change.”

In my first week in Parliament I responded to a call from a young Hamilton mother, a nurse, who had been to register the birth of her baby. She called in distress to say that although there was a space on the birth certificate for the father’s occupation, there was no space for the mother’s occupation. There was an amendment to the Births, Deaths, and Marriages Registration Act going through the House at the time. By the end of that evening, after I had taken procedural advice from the Rt Hon David Lange, there was a promise of a new regulation to come into force in order to include the mother’s occupation on birth certificates. It was a small thing for the country, but a big thing for that mother, and it is an illustration of how ordinary Kiwis can make changes and how accessible members of Parliament in New Zealand can, and should, be.

I am proud to be a life member of the New Zealand Labour Party and to have been on the New Zealand Council of the Labour Party. I have also been a member of the Women’s Electoral Lobby and the Electoral Reform Coalition. As a long-time advocate of proportional representation, I am pleased to see the increased breadth of representation in this House—not only more political parties but also more women, more Māori, more Pacific Islanders, and more Asians; a wider representation of today’s New Zealand. I am pleased that the person who will take my place, coming from Labour’s list, is of Samoan descent, and I wish Su’a William Sio the very best in his political career.

I commend the Speaker and Clerk of the House for introducing technology that allows submitters to select committees to access videoconference facilities. This allows those people who cannot travel to Wellington to make oral submissions. However, I am not sure that proportional representation has improved debate in the House. We seem to get, as we were warned from Europe, more positional papers and speeches from parties, rather than debate. I do miss actually, physically voting in the lobbies. We miss Braybrooke with an “e”, do we not? In 1994, during the nearly 500 amendments at the Committee stage of the Maritime Transport Bill, we all got to know one another rather well over fish and chips.

In my maiden speech early in 1994 I talked about three main issues: firstly, education, care, and the well-being of children; secondly, domestic violence; and, thirdly, cloning and the need for a legal framework around reproductive technologies as they apply to humans. It has taken some time for me to become a member of, and chair of, the Education and Science Committee, and I am pleased that the latter has finally happened in the last few weeks before my retirement. I am also pleased that this committee has completed an inquiry into the achievement of our schoolchildren and made practical recommendations. I acknowledge in particular the Wilf Malcolm Institute of Education at the University of Waikato for its contribution to this inquiry into educational research, teaching, and learning in New Zealand schools through the Te Kōtahitanga programme. I look forward to further implementation of its findings and teaching methodology, and to improved outcomes for all our children.

I am also pleased at the tremendous strides that have been taken by the Labour-led Government on the extension of workplace skill training and the reintroduction of apprenticeships through the Modern Apprenticeships scheme, which has resulted in over 14,000 apprentices. I look forward to even further developments through Schools Plus, Gateway, and similar programmes.

A radio journalist asked me recently what had been the most important changes in Hamilton in the time I had been in Parliament, and I replied: “Improvements in education and science.” When I compare the learning environment in schools in 1993 with those in 2008, I find that there have been tremendous changes, from buildings, to paintwork, to Project Energise to combat obesity in children, to reduced staff ratios, to teaching methodologies and measurement, to the removal of interest on student loans, to 20 free hours’ early childhood education, and the new curriculum. I am proud that the Labour-led Government has upheld the Labour tradition of enabling young New Zealanders to achieve to the best of their abilities.

I am also proud of the Waikato Innovation Park and the fact that this is the most successful of the major regional initiatives of the Labour-led Government. I am pleased to have been in at the ground level, literally, with the Prime Minister at the turning of the first sod to begin this ongoing endeavour to boost innovation and the commercial application of invention. I welcome the pledge last week of $700 million of innovation money for pastoral and food sectors.

Last month I attended the launch of Unreasonable Force: New Zealand’s Journey Towards Banning the Physical Punishment of Children. I am proud to be included amongst those acknowledged in that book, along with fellow MPs Lynne Pillay and Sue Bradford. The book also acknowledged my former university colleagues Drs James and Jane Ritchie, as well as many children’s lobby groups such as EPOCH, ECPAT, Save the Children, and Barnardos. I am pleased that in my so-called retirement I will be able to continue to be involved with such organisations, which aim to improve the life and well-being of children both in New Zealand and overseas.

I honour those who have worked at a number of levels to improve the care and protection of children in our society and who work towards better ways of caring for each other in our families and communities, as our Governor-General exhorted us to do in his Waitangi Day speech this year. I particularly thank those who have been brave enough to come forward and to have stood strong in the light of extreme public scrutiny when their abuse cases have been tested at law. I thank the Labour-led Government for the appointments of the Commissioner for Children in 1989 and the Families Commissioner in 2003 and for the role these organisations play.

Researchers at the University of Waikato, Hilary Lapsley, Neville Robertson, and Ruth Busch, compiled the Protection from Family Violence report for the Victims Task Force in 1992. This led to 1995 legislation. The legislation was but a start, and present Government initiatives continue to get the message out to New Zealanders that violence is not the way to solve problems and that it is “OK to ask for help”. I thank the Hamilton Abuse Intervention Project team in Hamilton for its tireless work in trialling programmes and for working to prevent domestic violence.

Amelia Carter was my intern in 2001. It was Amelia who alerted me to the problems of date rape for young women and who drafted my member’s bill, which spelt out the meaning of consent and was incorporated into the Crimes Act. Once again, this is an illustration of how ordinary New Zealanders can access and change laws. I commend Dr Stephen Levine and his team for initiating the University of Victoria intern programme.

In February 1997, Dolly the cloned sheep was born in Edinburgh. In the same month I made my introductory speech on the Human Assisted Reproductive Technology Bill. Even the Speaker looked up in surprise when I announced that all we really need is eight men with strong sperm counts to maintain the gene pool in New Zealand. I will not announce the names of those members who came up to me in the lobby afterwards to volunteer. This Human Assisted Reproductive Technology Bill was in the too-hard basket for a long time, but I am pleased to say that New Zealand in 2004 joined the list of countries that put legal and regulatory frameworks and bans around the cloning of human beings. I thank the people at AgResearch in Hamilton, lawyer Anne Todd-Lambie, law drafter Debbie Angus, and all those who assisted with this legislation. I can now look back on those three issues I raised in my maiden speech with satisfaction.

As scientific breakthroughs do not happen in isolation, nor do changes in the law, and as both often take many years, I am pleased to have promoted my reproductive technology legislation, paid parental leave, and the repeal of section 59 of the Crimes Act years before laws on these matters were enacted, as well as liquor labelling. I hope that in doing so I have helped to move the public debate towards acceptance of these ideas, and note—as Mike Moore used to say—“It is wrong to be right too soon.”

Having been here almost 15 years I have accumulated a long list of people I want to thank, and I know I will miss some of them. Firstly, I thank those MPs who were my mentors and inspiration, former members for Hamilton East Dr Anthony (Rufus) Rogers, who in his 90s still takes an interest in politics, and Bill Dillon, who sadly succumbed to cancer. I thank my buddy MP when I first came into Parliament, the Hon Koro Wētere, and the two people who sat beside me through the Committee process of bills and encouraged me to take spontaneous calls, the Hon Judith Tizard and Richard Northey. I thank my Hamilton West running mate, Martin Gallagher, for support. I am sure he will make a great job of chairing the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee. I look forward to the report on the inquiry into New Zealand’s relationship with the Pacific. I am also hopeful that we too may have a Latin American foundation similar to the Asia New Zealand Foundation, in order to encourage and build on New Zealand’s trade and cultural relationships with Central and South American countries.

There is still work to be done on some issues that I have been involved with through select committee inquiries, such as adoption, laws around retention of identity, collective human rights issues around hate speech, and the use of genetic information in health and life insurance. Much of the background information, discussion, and research on these is parked in that wonderfully helpful institution the Parliamentary Library.

I wish long and successful political careers to my successor and candidate for Hamilton East, Sue Moroney, and to our Hamilton-based Minister, the Hon Nanaia Mahuta. I thank my Waikato colleagues for teamwork on local issues, especially regarding funding for the fencing of the Mount Maungatautari ecological island. I have enjoyed constructive relationships with my caucus colleagues, select committee members, and coalition and Opposition members. I especially mention my first benchmate Jill White and fellow “Paint Strippers” Jill Pettis and Judy Keall. If there were ever an Oscar for interjections, then it should go to Jill Pettis.

The staff in Parliament—the messengers, Bellamy’s, the cleaners, the librarians, the Clerk’s Office, the committee clerks, Parliamentary Service, the researchers, the post office, the travel office, and the receptionists—have all made my life so much easier and have done so with good grace and at times immense patience. I must not forget also some of the best therapists in the business, the Status Taxis drivers, as well as my present landlady Anne, and Nikita, Sasha, and Andrew.

My assistants here in Parliament, Helen Toner, Adrienne Rehioui, Pauline Scott, Carol Rawson, Janina Pawlak, and Chris McAvoy, have shown amazing devotion to duty and an ability to handle someone with a mercurial temperament. I can say that Helen Toner’s “Thank you for sharing that with me.” reply to a distraught member of Parliament was always a great reality check, as was the advice of former Speaker and Labour whip the Rt Hon Jonathan Hunt, to take a long walk along Lambton Quay whenever I got wrought up over an issue. This usually had a very calming effect and helped increase Kirkcaldie’s profits no end.

My out-of-Parliament staff have made tremendous efforts for both me and my Hamilton East constituents. Nothing has ever been too much trouble to Maureen Mildon, Jill Hobden, Pauline Matenga, Kevin Pryor, and a large team of volunteers. I thank them for their patience, persistence, and work well beyond the call of duty.

I would not have endured Parliament without the unfailing support of the Hamilton East Labour electorate committee and its chairs Shane Vugler, Maryanne Hills, Howard Ennis, Dr Robert Welch, Andrea Bather, and Rosemary Allbrook. I have had such an amazing team of people to work with and for.

I thank my family for instilling in me a strong social conscience, sense of public duty, and sense of what is just and fair, and the Labour Party for ensuring that I never lose that conscience. I have been a constituent MP under first past the post and MMP, and a list MP, but I have always retained an office in Hamilton East. I thank the voters in Hamilton East for their confidence and support. I assure them that I have endeavoured to serve them and the interests of the wider community to the best of my ability.

In referring back to my opening remarks I say that I have always tried to ensure that those with small voices are heard, whether they are our children, young mothers with babies, those on low incomes, new immigrants, students, or superannuitants. When I have been asked to speak of differences between parties I have always taken the stance that I believe in Labour principles and that true human rights and responsibilities are about putting “us” and “we” before “my” and “me”. Thank you, Madam Speaker.

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