Dr Jackie Blue delivered her valedictory speech on Wednesday.
Dr JACKIE BLUE (National) : When I completed my medical degree back in the early 1980s, neither I nor anyone around me could have predicted that I would end up in politics and then move on to be the Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner at the Human Rights Commission. But life is full of twists and turns and, most important, opportunities, though we may not recognise them as such at the time.
The opportunity to get involved with the National Party came in 2001. When advocating for breast physicians, a role that I had pioneered in New Zealand, I had a chance meeting with Bill and Mary English. I became actively involved in the party in 2002, after the general election. It was an exciting time to get involved. The party was regrouping and reviewing its constitution. After the encouragement of the National Party leader at the time, Dr Don Brash, I put my name forward as a candidate in the 2005 election. I was truly delighted when I was selected to stand in the Mt Roskill electorate.
With my health background, I joined National’s health team. Tony Ryall was the health spokesperson. Tony was, and is, a great mentor. I know many of our colleagues were very envious. Tony put the health team to work, giving us a range of health responsibilities. I had the access to medicines portfolio and, because of my background, breast cancer – related issues.
While I was a new MP in 2005, Herceptin became high-profile, with many countries funding a 12-month course for a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer. It was being used for treatment in metastatic breast cancer in New Zealand, but the trials were showing that it was reducing deaths in early stage, newly diagnosed breast cancer. I am grateful that Tony gave me the opportunity to advocate for 12-months’ Herceptin funding for women with breast cancer in New Zealand.
I was extraordinarily proud when John Key made this a National Party election promise in 2008. One of the most marvellous memories from my time in Parliament is of a meeting shortly after the November 2008 election, when I joined Tony, who was the new Minister of Health, and key officials from the Ministry of Health and Pharmac. The meeting was to work through the logistics of ensuring that the women who needed Herceptin had access to it by Christmas 2008. The timing was very tight, but it was a case of Yes, Minister at its very best. Everyone worked together to ensure that the policy rolled out smoothly. With the results of recent trials, time has proved that funding 12 months’ Herceptin was the right decision. Twelve months is considered to be the international gold standard. For Pharmac to continue to financially support a trial that offers a 9-week Herceptin course is, in my opinion, dubious and possibly unethical.
In my first term of Parliament Tony Ryall and I had the opportunity to advocate for enrolled nurses. This iconic nursing workforce had been increasingly marginalised. They had been forced out of acute hospital services, with their training limited to the very narrow scopes of long-term care and rehabilitation, as well as having undergone a name change to nurse assistant. The name change was detrimental. The nurses felt demeaned, undervalued, and demoted. A concerning consequence was that the numbers of students in training dropped significantly. There were reports that it had caused a loss of confidence and confusion with the public and prospective employers.
The New Zealand Nurses Organisation took the case to the Regulations Review Committee, which did support that the enrolled nurse name should be retained. In late September 2008 the Government moved a motion in Parliament that required the Nursing Council to change the name. Expanding the role and training of enrolled nurses became a 2008 election commitment for the National Party, and when Tony Ryall became the Minister of Health he set about implementing that policy.
I really connected with the enrolled nurses’ story. They had faced ignorance and prejudice. Their battles had been my battles when I was establishing breast physicians in New Zealand. Regrettably, the number of breast physicians in New Zealand has not grown as it should, and it is my sincere hope that this will change as professional colleges accept the huge contribution that breast physicians bring to the multidisciplinary breast cancer team.
Early in 2008 I met with a group of refugee and migrant doctors who were meeting regularly at the Auckland Regional Migrant Service, or ARMS, in Mount Roskill. The group had been struggling to get registration with the New Zealand Medical Council. They were frustrated that we did not have a bridging programme like Australia had. Over several years they had made successive approaches to health Ministers without getting any traction. They were meeting regularly at the Auckland Regional Migrant Service to study and to support each other, and I would like to acknowledge the amazing support that Dr Mary Dawson and Anna Fyfe-Rahal from the service have been providing to this group. Without their support and encouragement, I am quite sure that this group would have disbanded long ago.
My heart went out to these doctors. After the election I re-established contact with the group and began to meet with them each month. I went back to Tony Ryall and I said that we simply had to do something for them. Tony was very supportive and agreed that I could start investigating options, and I began discussions with the Ministry of Health and the Medical Council. However, when Professor Des Gorman, chair of Health Workforce New Zealand, got involved in the latter part of 2009, the project developed a momentum all of its own. The NZREX preparation placement programme began in 2011 and has been hugely successful, with 33 out of 38 migrant doctors passing the Medical Council registration exam. This programme has been truly life changing for those doctors and their families.
The public would be very interested to know that our Parliament exists in an alternative reality. This parallel Parliament is full of cross-party committees and friendship groups. It is a place I have inhabited since I have been an MP. It is a happy place. It is a place where MPs work collaboratively towards common objectives. I have found it immensely satisfying and stimulating. I recall a retired senior National Minister telling me that one of the most satisfying times of his career was when, as a result of a crisis, Government and Opposition MPs worked together to broker a solution. Of course, I knew exactly what he was talking about because this is my experience in the cross-party groups. The thing is, you do not need to wait for a crisis. The chance already exists.
The opportunity to chair three cross-party groups has been truly life changing for me. All three groups—the New Zealand Parliamentarians’ Group on Population and Development, or NZPPD, the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians, or CWP, and Parliamentarians for Global Action, or PGA—have a strong human rights focus. The New Zealand Parliamentarians’ Group on Population and Development, in particular, specifically focused on women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, domestic violence, and our overseas aid in Pacific countries. The Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians group is focused on improving the number of women in Pacific Parliaments. I co-chaired with Louisa Wall. The Parliamentarians for Global Action group has a strong focus on human rights, the rule of law, the International Criminal Court, gender, and democracy.
It has been the work of these committees that has left me utterly convinced that society must back its women and girls. Women make up one-half of the world’s human capital. No society can achieve its full potential when half the population is denied the opportunity to achieve theirs. Empowering and educating women and girls are fundamental to succeeding and prospering in the ever more competitive world. This is particularly true in developing countries, but it is also absolutely relevant in developed countries like New Zealand. As women progress, everyone in society progresses, including men and boys. Tapping into the potential of women and girls is not only the right thing; it is the smart thing. Sexual reproductive health and rights and education go hand in hand. When women have the opportunity to control their fertility and have access to reproductive health services they are more likely to stay in education, get employment, and provide for their families. Education leads to more choices and opportunities.
The cross-party groups that I am involved with are very excited about the Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration that our Government signed along with other Pacific Parliaments last year in Rarotonga at the Pacific Islands Forum. All leaders—and that includes Australia’s and New Zealand’s—have agreed to implement specific national policy actions to progress gender equality in the areas of Government programmes, decision making, economic empowerment, health, education, and ending violence against women. The leaders agreed that progress in these areas should be reported on at each forum leaders meeting by way of a performance-monitoring framework. We are all looking forward to having a robust measure by which we can track New Zealand’s progress in gender equality.
We are a House of Representatives, but, unfortunately, as it is, we do not truly represent all New Zealanders. If our Parliament perfectly represented our diverse society, we would have eight Pacific MPs; we have five. We would have three Indian MPs; we have two. We would have eight Asian MPs; we have three. We would have one Middle Eastern, Latin American, or African MP; we have none. We would have 18 Māori MPs. We are doing well in this area—we have 22. And, of course, 50 percent of our MPs would be women. The fact is that only 33 percent are women MPs. This is unacceptable in the 21st century. We can, and we must, do better.
I am very appreciative that Maggie Barry will be taking over my member’s bill, the Marriage (Court Consent to Marriage of Minors) Amendment Bill, which proposes to change the Marriage Act such that minors—16 and 17-year-olds—who wish to marry would need to get the consent of the Family Court. The current situation is that minors require only parental consent. This bill arose out of the concern that some minors, predominantly young girls, are being coerced into marriage. I was very grateful that Judith Collins came out in strong support of this bill. In December last year an inter-agency response for victims of forced marriage in New Zealand was agreed upon to enable agencies to work together to support these young, vulnerable victims.
On a personal note, I would like to thank Judith for the support she gave me when I made the decision to promote the Shine organisation helpline by going public with my own experience of domestic violence. Thank you, Judith. She was, and is, a tower of strength.
I have talked a lot about opportunity, and I am so grateful that I have had the most extraordinary opportunities as an MP. I am tremendously excited about my new role as Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner. I would like to acknowledge the former commissioner, Dr Judy McGregor. Her work in this area has been simply outstanding. Prime Minister, you will be pleased to know that the equal employment opportunities in the workplace policy fits perfectly with the Government’s Business Growth Agenda. There is strong, irrefutable evidence that it improves productivity and innovation. Our future workforce will be increasingly diverse, and the fact is that it is in our best interests to manage it well. Equal employment opportunities policy is mandated in the State sector, but it needs to become part of normal practice in the private sector. Indeed, many successful New Zealand businesses cite equal employment opportunities policy and practice as giving them the competitive edge.
There are many people to thank. My gratitude goes to my team in Mt Roskill, the northern region National Party, and all the volunteers. I would particularly like to make a special mention of Ram Rai and Jim Stephens. My sincere thanks go to my parliamentary staff, Denise Tustin and Kristin White, who have given me the most wonderful support. I would like to thank all the parliamentary staff who keep this place functioning, particularly the Parliamentary Library and the travel centre, which provide amazing service. I would like to thank my taxi drivers Stefan—also known as the “Silver Fox”—and Artur, who got me safely and on time to many engagements.
Thank you to the “class of 2005” MPs for the wonderful friendship and support you have given me. It is something I will always treasure. Thank you to my friends who have made the special journey here to Wellington—and, on a special note, thank you to Mark, Karen, Spencer, and Nicholas Withers. My heartfelt thanks go to my husband Dave Miller and my beautiful daughters Jess and Paddy, whom I am just so very proud of. I honestly could not have done any of this without you being solidly by my side.
My husband Dave has a building background, and each election year he was in charge of hoardings. Dave has become quite famous in the northern region. The hoardings structures he built were indestructible. No matter if an Opposition hoarding built our one out; Dave would just rebuild ours taller than before. They were creatively built, and absolutely straight, as Dave insisted on a spirit level. I am sure many should have had a resource consent. I have always said that if I could leave Parliament with my family, health, and reputation intact, I was doing all right. I like to think I have achieved that.
I would like to thank the Prime Minister for his leadership over the last 4 years, which have been extremely tough. The economic recovery has had to take centre stage. There has been no one better placed to lead this recovery than you, Prime Minister. I am very proud of the National Party. I am proud that the vision and values of this party were founded on a strong human rights framework. The right to be safe, to have equal opportunity, to be free, and have choice are all fundamental freedoms. They remain as true today as they did 75 years ago when the party was formed. I wish you all well. Thank you.