Hon Kate Wilkinson delivered her valedictory speech yesterday:
Hon KATE WILKINSON (National – Waimakariri): When I first entered this House 9 years ago I was a list member of Parliament in a Labour-held safe seat. I leave this place as the electorate member of Parliament for Waimakariri in a National-held seat. This just goes to show that anything can happen and one should never ever take one’s electorates for granted. Now I will leave this place, never ever to suffer defeat as an electorate MP. I especially want to thank the 16,787 voters of Waimakariri—well, actually, one of them was me—who entrusted me with their electorate vote and with the responsibility of representing them in Parliament. What a tremendous honour and a privilege. Constituency work has always been, for me, the most satisfying aspect of the job. There is nothing better than seeing a constituent come into my office with a problem and leave without it. Of course, not all problems are able to be solved. To the 20,489 Waimakariri voters who had the common sense and wisdom to give National their party vote, well done, thank you, and long may that trend continue, and long may National be the party of choice for you. By the way, when I first stood, our party vote in Waimakariri was in deficit by 6,790 votes. We won the party vote that election by 81 votes, a good reflection that indeed every vote does count. In total that is a turn-round of about 20,000 party votes during my tenure. I have been an Opposition backbencher and a Government backbencher. I have been a list member of Parliament and an electorate member of Parliament, and I do not need to comment on which is better. I have been given the absolute privilege of being a Cabinet Minister. That is like being selected for the * All Black team. Not everyone gets to be an All Black, and not every All Black gets to play 100 test matches. So I feel very honoured and privileged to have been selected for the team and to have been able to play my part. Thanks, in particular, to our Prime Minister, the Rt Hon John Key. Without a doubt, he is one of the best Prime Ministers in New Zealand’s history. I will certainly take some reflected glory in having been selected as part of his Cabinet team for just over 4 years, and for his caucus team. For those who have not yet read the biography, I feature on pages 194 and 215.
Hon Member: It’s a good read.
Hon KATE WILKINSON: It is a good read. The stewardship and governance of New Zealand, shown especially by both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance, Bill English, throughout what has undoubtedly been some of our most challenging times has been outstanding, and I will always be proud of being part of that team. Special thanks must go to my electorate team over the years—my National Party volunteers, friends, and family, many of whom are here today and who have travelled so far just to be here.
[Continuation line: It is a bit embarrassing, really]
Hon KATE WILKINSON
It is a bit embarrassing, really. If they had not believed in me, supported me, befriended me, advised me, fed me, and looked after me, I would not have been here in the first place, I would not have been able to be here for 9 years, and my tenure here would not have been so fantastic. Thank you also to them and to the National Party for honouring me with this opportunity. To my class of 2005, thank you. To my caucus colleagues, it has been a fantastic journey together. Those remaining do have a huge responsibility to keep looking after our country, making sure it does not get into the wrong hands, protecting both our economy and our environment. I know that you will do this well. To my fellow valedictors, if that is a word, all the best with your post-parliamentary lives. To Natalie, Nat, Natto—she hates that—my executive assistant and then my senior private secretary, you are the best person I have ever worked with. You seemed to understand me, which was no mean feat. You held our team together in room 4.3. I will not embarrass you by tabling in the House your long-awaited reference from me, but here it is. Pick it up later over drinks. To all my team, who are all here except for ______,
[Ms Wilkinson, please supply name. Thank you.]
who I understand is, hopefully, watching this from Russia, thank you for all your support and friendship over the years. They say things happen in threes. Well, I was a member of Parliament in Canterbury. Under my watch the worst natural disaster, the earthquakes, happened. I was Minister of Conservation. Under my watch the worst environmental maritime disaster, the * Rena, happened. And I was Minister of Labour. Under my watch the worst workplace safety disaster, Pike River, happened. Can I say that at least as * Associate Minister of Immigration I did not let ** Mike Tyson into the country. Like every Canterbury member of Parliament, the earthquake events will always stand out for me. What a remarkable time to be a member of Parliament for an electorate and in a home town that was devastated by the earthquakes. I feel honoured to have helped our district in my capacity as MP through what has surely been its darkest time, from shovelling silt during those early days to informing residents of each and every new service and funding the National-led Government provided towards our recovery, as well as the hours and hours of work helping our residents navigate through the repair and rebuild of their homes. We have all learnt so much together, developing a new vocabulary along the way and learning about resilience and community, concepts we lived and which held us together so well. To the Hon Gerry Brownlee, Canterbury and Christchurch owe you a huge debt of gratitude. Your legacy will be remarkable. I have always believed that New Zealand is the best country in the world, and that was certainly borne out during my nearly 4 years as Minister of Conservation. What a fantastic portfolio to have had the privilege of holding. I remember to this day my very first kiwi release. To hold one of those iconic, beautiful birds was a treasure I shall always remember. On this first occasion I was given some very sage advice as I was holding the kiwi firmly, fondly, and possessively. I must admit that the advice was not that welcome. Basically, I was advised in no uncertain terms. They said: “Minister, the idea of a kiwi release is you actually let go of the kiwi and release it.” Thank you, Gavin. One of the absolute highlights, apart from naming one of our * kākāpō Jack—who, by the way, is now 3 years old, fit, well, and starting to boom—
Hon Members: Oh!
Hon KATE WILKINSON: Exactly. One of the highlights has to be taking Prince William to * Kāpiti Island. What a delightful young man. I would not mind hanging him up in my wardrobe. I have a photo hanging in pride of place on my wall of the prince flanked by the Prime Minister and me. I must admit there was a fleeting moment when I considered cropping the photo, but I did not. The trick, as we all know, with photos is to try to stand in the middle so there is no possibility of being cropped out. Sorry, Nathan. I also remember, when I was Minister of Conservation, having to do a media stand-up with my colleague Gerry Brownlee, who was then * Minister of Energy and Resources. There were some critics who said I was not even there, so I just want to put it on the record once and for all that I can assure them I was there; it is just that the camera lens maybe was not wide enough for the both of us. In my time as Minister of Labour there were good times and bad times. The ink on my warrant barely had time to dry when I was told that my 90-day trial bill would be one of the first in our term to go on the * Order Paper. It has now been in place for just on 6 years. The protections we built into the legislation worked, and in that time there has been no amendment needed apart from, of course, extending it from small businesses to all businesses. Indeed, that one piece of policy and legislation was credited with having provided 13,000 new jobs in its first year. We had finally caught up with what had happened in most jurisdictions throughout the world. It would be sad if ideology reversed all this. It has helped so many and hurt so few. Most memorable, sadly, was the Pike River mining tragedy. I cannot resile from the absolute fact that 29 men died under my watch. Although I was not personally responsible, I was the responsible Minister, and it happened under my watch. We all wish we could turn back the clock and prevent such a disaster and keep those men safe. We cannot, but I am proud of the setting up of the Royal commission inquiry and now implementing its recommendations, putting the spotlight on workplace safety. We often have a national culture of “she’ll be right”, but it too often is not right. We lose a worker about once a week and a farmer once a month, and a farmer is hurt about every 30 minutes. So often those deaths and injuries could have been avoided. We need to change that culture and simply look after our workmates. Governments can only do so much and can only be so effective. Workplaces and workmates can do more. The food safety portfolio is a fascinating one, although when I was first given the portfolio, a good friend of mine did comment that if the Prime Minister had looked inside my fridge, he would not have given me food safety. Anyway, it started for me with the folic acid debate—not the most memorable one for me. Throughout all the discussions as to how many slices of bread one would need to consume to get the daily intake of folic acid, it remarkably went unnoticed that, actually, I cannot even eat bread. However, the portfolio ended for me with a success, having negotiated with our Australian counterparts on a joint health claims standard. I even had the Australian Minister who chairs the forum make a special trip over here to see me, not particularly happy about trying to convince New Zealand to go with the Australians and not opt out of a joint standard. We won through in the end; otherwise it would had stifled innovation and cost our businesses millions, if not billions, of dollars. There are two lessons from that. Firstly, we have definitely not lost our sovereignty to Australia, and, secondly, if it is good news, it does not always get the good publicity it deserves. In fact, more column space was spent on my being mistakenly referred to as “**“ Kate Middleton” than on this food treaty success. Our work in select committees, as has been said, often goes unnoticed by the public. They do not often see the collaborative approach to make good law, whatever our respective ideologies and beliefs. My first success in a select committee was changing the word “the” to the word “a”, and one of my last successes was changing “can” to “may”. Words can, indeed, make a difference. Yet we still have some really, really stupid laws, or maybe it is just that we have enabled some of our laws to be interpreted stupidly. Why, for example, can I no longer use my business card in the regulated period? Apparently that is deemed electioneering. It is a business card, for goodness’ sake, and I am not even standing for re-election. Local successes are always the sweeter. I am particularly proud to have been instrumental in obtaining our health hub in * Rangiora, and thanks must go to the Hon Tony Ryall for his support for this and for making it happen.
[Continuation line: This is a milestone eagerly and long awaited]
Hon KATE WILKINSON
This is a milestone eagerly and long awaited by residents to supplement our world-class St John paramedic team serving residents after hours, an award-winning response model. It is so much more worthwhile and responsible to look pragmatically and objectively for solutions rather than negatively focusing on the problems. I always preferred to work hard behind the scenes and help solve problems in priority to trying to attract any headline. We all have a best-before date and a use-by date, although I believe that some do not recognise either. But I was reminded of that at a university club day I was attending, to help out and support our wonderful, energetic, and enthusiastic * Young Nats. A student coming up to our stand made the comment to me: “You look familiar. Do I know you?” Not being one to ever use the phrase “Don’t you know who I am?”, one of our helpful Young Nats started to say “Oh, she is a local MP. She is a Minister.”, etc., when the inquirer interrupted and said: “I know. You remind me of my grandmother.” That was a reality check. Still, the alternative to getting older is worse, but it does serve to remind us that this is not a job for life. It goes very quickly and we must make the most of each and every day. Most of us come to this place to make a difference, to make New Zealand a better place. Some do it better than others, some have different views on how to make that difference, some do it differently than others, and probably some do not make any difference at all. I hope in my small way that I have made some small difference to some people. It is a remarkable thing, though. As soon as I made the decision not to stand again, my bucket list magically got bigger and bigger. So now it is time to start emptying that bucket. A big job, I know, but I am up for it. Until 20 September I have a job to do, but then I am away to tick off the first agenda item on my bucket list. It will be the first time in 9 years that I have not had to ask the permission of our whips. Obviously, there will be some things I miss about this place, but there are also things I definitely will not miss. No longer will I have to ask for leave to go to the * Christchurch Show Day or to go on holiday. I will always cherish my time working with and for our residents of * Waimakariri as their MP. I have loved the job. I have valued the opportunity. I have been humbled by the privilege. But now it is time to step away and tread a different path, or, as my GPS frequently tells me, “route recalculation”. As some have been known to say, I have been around for over 30 million minutes so far—not all in this place, although nearly 5 million minutes have been spent here. It is time for me to use those remaining minutes differently. There are now more restaurants and bars in Christchurch than before the earthquakes—more than 120 news ones. I have not tried them all, so I can start working my way through them. Bucket list, here I come. In closing, can I say that in 2005 I was so excited to be here, and now, 9 years later, I am so excited to leave.