Tony Ryall’s valedictory

Health and States Services Minister and Bay of Plenty MP, Tony Ryall delivered his valedictory statement on Wednesday:

Thank you Mr Speaker. Can I start by acknowledging three very special people: my wife Kara, son Llewellyn, and daughter Maisie, who are with us here today. Thank you very much for the fantastic support and contribution that you have made to my career.

My wife will tell you that in 1997 when we got married, I told her that I was only going to do another 6 years in Parliament. I think I actually said six terms, but she is running that line. I would also like to acknowledge my parents, Malcolm and Lenore, who have come down from Whakatane today, my mother-in-law Pam, and the rest of the family who are here too. Can I say it has been an absolute privilege to work with a group of exceptional and highly talented people in the National Party over the last 24 years. Every one of those people has been an outstanding New Zealander, and it has just been the greatest honour to have any association with them over that time. I have to tell you, I think they are all looking absolutely fantastic this evening.

I was first elected in 1990—one of 32 new MPs who came to Parliament in that stage. That is actually bigger than some caucuses in Parliament. I must say, I am really surprised in the intervening years just how much I have forgotten, because actually I knew everything when I first came here in 1990. I had spent 14 months campaigning. I would like to acknowledge the support of my parents during all that period of time. I spent 14 months campaigning, and it was a fantastic opportunity to learn so much about the different communities in what was then the East Cape electorate. We spent a lot of time door-knocking to get known in those days, and you really have to take every opportunity. I was out door-knocking in, I think, Richard Street in Opotiki just opposite the high school. That was not the most salubrious part of my electorate. I am out there knocking on this door and then all of a sudden, along from the side of the house, comes this pit bull terrier. It looked at me, I looked at it, and it came for me. I got my clipboard and I tried to protect myself. It bit my leg. It hung on my hand. I had this dog like this, hanging off my arm, and I managed to get rid of it. I have got to say, it was really quite a worrying experience. I got back in my car and I drove back home to Whakatane. I rang up Ian McLean who is with us here today and who was my caretaker MP, and I said, “Oh, well, you know, I’ve had a very bad day. I’ve been bitten by a dog.” “Great!” “No, no,” I said. “I’ve been bitten by a dog.” He said, “Fantastic! Did you get a photo?” So I drove all the way back to Opotiki, had my hand re-bandaged, and had a nice picture in the paper. In fact, that story got on the front page of the Herald, which was no mean feat when you are a new candidate. I think they were somewhat attracted to my quote that the dog bit me, but if it had been the Labour candidate, it would have eaten her.

I have been supported locally in the National Party by a great team of people over the years. You know who you are and I am very grateful for all the support that you have given me. When I came to Parliament back then, David Lange and Robert Muldoon were still here. I had dinner with Sir Robert one night. I have got to tell you that after I struggled to make any conversation, we sat there and ate our dinner for 15 minutes in silence. Then he got up and he went: “Right, that was really good. Let’s do it again sometime.” But look, it has been fantastic. I have had tremendous satisfaction from the work that we have done in electorate. I just was reflecting today on some of the amazing things that people ask you to do. I remember just a few days before Christmas a lady rang me up and said: “My husband is stranded on a live sheep shipment in the Middle East and I can’t get him home for Christmas.” So you would ring your MP, and I rang Don McKinnon, and he got home for Christmas. That was fantastic. There is also the number of people you have assisted at their saddest time to get bodies back to New Zealand when their children have died overseas and the fantastic support that happens there. I am reflecting on how every year our family gets a Christmas card in an email from some guy that I helped 22 years ago. Every year, he sends a Christmas card. I have been reflecting for years on what I actually did to help him, but whatever it was, it has just been marvellous.

I would like to reflect on my electorate agents. I would like to acknowledge them—Pam Eglington, who was actually the best employment decision I ever made, because she is now my mother-in-law. Robyn, Pam, Jenny, Trish, Nigel, and Jackie have been fantastic in the work that we have done. We have had a lot of challenges in our area and a lot of natural disasters—floods, oil spills, kiwifruit collapses, Labour Governments. We have got through them all. I want to also acknowledge that the constituents have been fantastic. They have been kind and they have been incredibly generous to my family and me over all the years. Often you hear about people getting problems with constituents shouting and screaming at them. I have got to say that the people of the Bay of Plenty and the East Cape have just shown the greatest kindness and generosity to me and my family over time, and I would like to pay great tribute to the people of the Bay of Plenty. It has been a very fast-growing electorate in the western Bay of Plenty. For example, when I started as the MP for Papamoa—I came into my electorate in 1996—there were 6,000 people. Today there are 21,000. So it just goes to show if you get a good MP, lots of people shift to the area. I want to acknowledge Dame Jenny Shipley who, as Prime Minister, promoted me to Cabinet in 1997. It was my great privilege to play a part in delivering New Zealand’s first woman Prime Minister, and it was a great privilege. We were a group, as we were planning that, called the “Te Puke Bypass Committee”, as some will remember, and it is a great pleasure to me that we are now spending $400 million on the proper Te Puke bypass, and that will be opening shortly. Mrs Shipley gave me the fantastic opportunity to be a Minister. I have got to tell you that when you have a young baby at the time, your mind is sort of on everything. I remember pulling in at the Whakatane Airport one day, taking the baby out of the car, checking the luggage in, and getting stopped by a constituent. Then we flew off to Auckland. As we were flying, there was an announcement: “Ah, Mr Ryall, we’re just letting you know that your car keys are at Whakatane Airport. You left them in your car, running, with the driver’s door open.” So it always pays to have a sign-written car.

Opposition was incredibly frustrating—a very frustrating 9 years—but the one thing I learnt there is that it is a great opportunity to listen, learn, travel the country, and find out about things that you did not really know about. Many people were very generous with their time and helping me in that role. In 2005 Dr Brash, who is here today, gave me a responsibility as being the health spokesperson. I will touch on that shortly. I have certainly appreciated the responsibility the Prime Minister has given me as the Minister for State Owned Enterprises, working with Bill in the mixed-ownership model programme. Bill commented to me the other day that in both my roles as Minister for State Owned Enterprises under Mrs Shipley and in this role, we have privatised or partially privatised $7.7 billion worth of assets. He thought that was more than Richard Prebble, but we are not going to tell anybody about that. The Prime Minister also gave me the job as Minister of Health. I have got to say this has been the best job in the Government. You work with quality people every day who are dedicated to the welfare of New Zealanders. I wake up most mornings and I turn to my wife and say: “Ugh, imagine being Minister of Education.” That is a really tough job. Look, I think many people underestimate the size of the health sector in New Zealand. It is 10 percent of GDP. For every $1 spent in New Zealand, 10c is spent in the health sector, not only in our $15 billion public health service with 75,000 staff but a very strong and dynamic private sector, with $1 billion in natural health products, $1 billion in health IT and devices, and some great New Zealand companies. I think it is this intersection of health and technology that is going to provide an opportunity to create untold wealth into the future and it is really important that New Zealand is part of that. I am very proud of our Government’s health plan that we are rolling out and continuing to do. I think the seminal decision was that we would stick with the structures that we inherited and really focus on results and improving performance.

I think over the last 6 years our doctors and nurses in the team have delivered exceptional results for New Zealanders across quality, productivity, and the financial domains within constrained funding—those six national health targets. You know, doctors and nurses are very competitive people, and no one likes being at the bottom of those national health targets. That has really driven much better performance—40,000 extra elective surgeries, quicker emergency departments, and much faster cancer treatment. Immunisation—I noted Dr Hutchison talked about the fact that in 10 of our 20 district health boards, the 2-year-old Māori immunisation rate is now higher than the Pākehā immunisation rate. No one would ever have thought that that was possible in New Zealand. There are shorter cardiac waits. Tobacco smoking—fantastic work that we have done there. I went to the World Health Assembly in Geneva—I have got to say, I have taken only two overseas trips, Prime Minister, as Minister of Health. I was there talking about this work that we are doing in smoke-free New Zealand by 2025, a programme that we have systematised across the whole country called ABC—ask if you are a smoker; if you are, it is a “b” for a brief conversation, because that is quite effective in getting people to quit; and, “c”, offer you cessation medicine—ABC. So I went to the World Health Assembly and I was giving a talk about this. I do not know how many people in this House have ever given a speech where you lose your audience—it had never happened to me before that time. Everyone from Africa started talking amongst themselves, and I thought “Oh my goodness, I have caused an international incident.” So I completed my contribution and I sat down next to a lady from Jamaica, and I said “Why was everyone from Africa sort of quite dislocated by my speech?” She said “Well, in Africa, they have ABC for HIV Aids—“a” for abstinence, “b” for being faithful, and “c”, if you cannot be faithful, use a condom.”, and they could not work out how that stopped smoking. So we have got a lot of acronyms in this area. It has been a fantastic portfolio and with the Prime Minister’s support we have achieved quite a lot. I think the decision that we made to fund 12 months’ * Herceptin for New Zealand women is something that has made a huge difference to the lives of so many people. I remember an experience I had at a cafe in Tauranga a couple of weeks after the 2005 election. I was standing in the line and this chap whom I had never met came up and gave me this big bear hug. I thought, well, this is very dislocating, in public. It turned out to be a guy who said that a month before the election, he had had to put his house on the market to get the money to buy Herceptin for his wife, and the day after the election he was able to take his house off the market—fantastic, that contribution. So we have done a lot. I must say I had a fantastic opportunity meeting a lot of people in the health service. It always pays to be very careful. Jo Goodhew, as the Associate Minister, is doing this hand hygiene thing. I was visiting an endoscopy suite a couple of years ago and I thought, well here is a great photo opportunity with the hand gel, which I did, and proceeded to rub my hands, to which every person in the endoscopy suite theatre gasped in horror. I thought “What is all the worry here?” Of course, it was lubricating gel. So we are going to get that prostate awareness programme started. I wanted to spend a little bit of time talking about what the next 10 years in this health area is going to be, because with chronic disease and ageing—the rate of population growth or ageing of people over the age of 80 is going to treble in the next 10 years. So everything is going to stop this—who is over 65 is just not the issue any more, because 65 is the new 45. I am trying to convince myself as I get there. I think there are five big mega trends and it is just the interaction between all of them is going to change health care completely. The first of the five is care closer to home. All this care is coming out of hospitals into communities, into people’s homes, pharmacists, general practitioners, home care workers, nutrition advisers—all these people are playing a greater role, and there is going to be this much greater responsibility that we are all going to have to take for our health care in something that they call self-care. It is a bit like Air New Zealand—it is getting us to do all the work and we like it. This is where we are going to have to take responsibility. Sir Ron Avery is developing a piece of technology the size of your wrist watch, with a beam that comes on your wrist and measures your temperature, your blood pressure, and your pulse, and that information is then transmitted to a device that can be monitored by your general practice.

So you can imagine this technology thing is going to change everything. That is my second point—that this anywhere, anytime use of innovative technology is going to change our health care. It is this device it is just going to help change everything over the next 5 years to 10 years. You are going to be able to plug your own personal ultrasound device into your cellphone. You can imagine beaming that message to your local general practitioner. These advances are incredible. Thirdly, intelligence and insight from big data—this work that we are doing, collecting information across Government departments, across patients, across people with all the privacy protections, is going to allow us to build a picture on how health care interventions change people’s lives, and the best place to do it. Fourth is personalised medicine. All this knowledge about your genome and your biomarkers is going to allow clinicians to develop very personalised therapies solely to you. They are going to be able to provide you with information about your risk factors into the future. These have huge ethical issues about whether we actually want to know these risks, but this personalised medicine is going to be amazing. I think the fifth big trend that is going to affect health care is that we are going to have this expanding role of non-physicians and payment that actually rewards the quality of care and the outcome that people provide. I would like to also just take a moment to thank the fantastic people who have supported me over the years. I would like to acknowledge my ministerial staff, in particular my head of filing, Peter McCardle. Thank you for the wonderful contribution they have all made. Officials at the Ministry of Health, the State Services Commission, Treasury’s State-owned enterprises unit, the travel office, the security guards, the Bellamy’s staff, the messengers and the gallery officers, the VIP drivers, the cleaners, the district health board staff and their chairs in particular. But I cannot finish off without acknowledging my three comrades, Bill, Nick, and Roger. You know, Parliament can be a very lonely place. It can be full of self-doubt and frustrated ambition. I think it is pretty unusual for any member of Parliament to have had three very close friends throughout their whole career. The relationship with those guys has been enduring and sustaining. They are extremely capable people who have continued to be friends over the last 25 years. Contrary to public opinion, we have never worked as a group. Frankly, we can never agree on anything. On any issue, it is always 2:2, and the two always varies. So it has been wonderful to have that association with them. It has just been the most fantastic association anyone could have in Parliament, and I have just really appreciated the support that those guys have given. Everybody else is going to be going off and I am going to be supporting the Prime Minister by campaigning as well, and I wish you all a lot of activity and all the best on our side for the work that you are going to do over the next period of time. You will all be going out—many of you may be doing rest home visits. I stopped those a few years ago. I remember going to one, and you spend a lot of time giving out your card, and, you know, shaking everyone’s hand. I had the name tag and I did all that, and as I left the day room I heard one of the ladies say “Was that the nice new young doctor?” Then I discovered that they all had voted 2 weeks earlier. So thank you very much, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to be here to thank my fantastic family for the contribution and support that they have made. It has just been marvellous. And thank you for the great privilege it has been to be here, to represent the National Party and the Bay of Plenty, and to have worked for New Zealand over the last 24 years.

 His colleagues paid tribute to him by emulating his sartorial style:

A colourful bunch I must say! Having a bit of fun in honour of Tony Ryall.

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