Invercargill MP and deputy speaker, Eric Roy delivered his valedictory statement on Wednesday:
ERIC ROY (Deputy Speaker – National): Can I begin with an immortal quote from * Ecclesiastes * 3 that says that there is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens; a time to be born, a time to die, and a time to uproot. And so it is that our family is in their season of uprooting and finding some new challenges.
I have often said that politics is a little bit like a crayfish pot. It takes a bit of energy to find the opening and to get in, but it is even harder to get out, and it is somewhat more difficult to get out undamaged. Whether I am undamaged or not is for others to choose, but certainly for myself I can report I have learnt a lot, I have grown a lot, and I have made some really great friends.
The year 2014 is a significant and pivotal year in our family, but in life’s calendar there have been other pivotal years. I guess this started in another very pivotal year, 1972. Four things happened that were kind of loosely connected: I got married, the * Norm Kirk Government swept to power, I bought a tractor—a David Brown 990, white model—and I joined the National Party. The connection was that the tractor salesman was incensed that Labour had the right, after 4 years of National Government, to assume the Treasury benches. He was able to persuade me, with my new responsibilities of a David Brown 990, white model, and a new wife, that I should join the National Party. Little did I know that that would set me on a course where I actually ended up here. I can now report that the David Brown is, to give it a technical term, * munted and the membership of the National Party has been an interesting ride, but the real winner of that year was certainly the marriage.
You just stand here in your valedictory and you have got an absolute montage of thoughts about what you could do. I thought I might give out a few awards. I will say that these are rhetorical and not material. My first award goes to Elizabeth, who has been my most valued and energetic supporter. Elizabeth has a saying that behind every great man there is a great behind. I am not one to disagree with Elizabeth. At this time I would also certainly like to thank my parliamentary team of Susie, Michelle, Patty, and Pauline. I need to also acknowledge my business managers Felicity, Steven, and Terry, who run our * Te Ānau operation and who have uncomplainingly kept things on an even keel. I could spend some 10 minutes naming, identifying, and extolling a number of people who have assisted me, suffice to say in the confines of time I just want to acknowledge people in a variety of communities, committees, and roles who have been generous in their support, help, and advice and who have been very beneficial to my time here.
It used to be that 21 years was the age of majority, and you got the key to the door. I joined the party in 1972. Twenty-one years later in 1993 I had the key to the door and I came to Parliament. Since then I have represented two electorates, had two terms on the list. I have been in Parliament, out of Parliament, back in Parliament. I have been in Government, out of Government, and back in Government. It is 21 years since 1993. I have got the key to the door; I am leaving. One should not try to interpret any reason for that; it is just a time to uproot and take some new challenges. It may have a lot to do that I want to leave this place before I am subsumed into the fourth stage of manhood. If you are not familiar with that, stage one you believe in * Santa Claus, stage two you do not believe in Santa Claus, stage three you are Santa Claus, and stage four you look like Santa Claus.
But it is great that with my maiden speech there were three generations of Roys in the gallery; today there are three generations of Roys again, but they are different generations. It is good to be able to do this amongst family and friends. Each one of us comes to Parliament representing a kind of matrix of various things that we have been involved with. Certainly for me, there was a variety of community groups and activities across a wide range of organisations, a background in agriculture and farming, a strong sense of Christian values that were steeped in Presbyterianism, and a love of the outdoors. Many people know I have got a bit of a passion for hunting. It was not very long until Bill English gave me the brand that this was the Christian who kills.
If I was to give an award for the most hectic time in Parliament, it would certainly be in my first term of 1993 to 1996. Inside a year, because of a transgression of John “Hone” Carter I was a junior whip. As we neared the first * MMP election, with the advent of opportunities that might persist in places other than the various parties that exist, we had the formation of a number of parties and erosion out of our backbench—the formation of United Future, the * Right of Centre Party, and also the * Conservatives. I ended up as a junior whip with a backbench of 13 people to run the select committees. It was at that time that as a systems person I created a number of mechanisms to actually know where people were and what they were doing. That certainly stood as a mechanism that whips used for some time—I am not sure if it is still used. I also had to have an overlay of Cabinet committees and the agendas of when various Ministers were involved in those committees so that I could pull people out and man select committees. Over that period of about 18 months when I had those numbers to work with we never lost a vote in a select committee. It is interesting that during that time we lost five votes in the House. I think in a way we think that the world will fall down when that happens. I would predict that under MMP that will happen again. We ought not to get too serious about that sort of thing happening.
Why I say it was so hectic is that while I was busy as whip I was also a select committee chair. I ran the Primary Production Committee largely just with myself on one side. The biggest thing we did in that time was a total rewrite of the * Fisheries Act. This was a paradigm shift away from the old to a new sustainable process, giving property rights, quota management, and a whole lot of issues that had never been done anywhere else in the world. Although I was not the architect of that bill, our committee was certainly tasked with making it work and making a number of substantial changes that we put into the bill. It was about 19 months’ work. And so it was that before we actually got there, I did something quite interesting. We were kind of bound up and could not find a way through the maze of submissions and advice and contradictions that were about. So as a committee we put out a position paper. I called in all the parties, who were highly polarised, and impressed upon them what * Chatham House Rules were. I then presented the position paper and threatened them with all kinds of things that probably did not exist in * Standing Orders if they broke ranks.
You have got to remember that in that environment there were sort of the eco-groups represented by * Greenpeace, commercial fishing on the other side, Māori customary, recreational. We put out what we thought were ways forward on deeming, setting of * total allowable commercial catch, and a whole lot of things that we just could not find our way through. Everybody held to the * Chatham House Rules, and on the basis of equal screaming we made some decisions that were put in the bill. The bill came back to the House about exactly the same time in the political cycle as we are now, as we were closing out for 1996. Then putting on my whip’s hat, I was able to persuade the House that a 550-page bill could be taken as one question in 15 minutes in the House in Committee and then dealt with forthwith in another 20 minutes in the third reading.
It is kind of interesting that 18 years on, those substantive things that were put in have not been changed, but of interest further is that last month a report on an audit of fishing systems in 53 different countries around the world was put out and New Zealand came out as best managed and most sustainable.
I cannot give myself an award, but I would certainly give myself a tick for what we did on fishing. That was quite an extraordinary period of time.
The following year the award for greatest adversary appeared. It occurred quite simply. One night I could not eat my tea and later that evening I was walking up Glenmore Street and I collapsed. Sometime later, and I am not sure when, a car picked me up and took me to my flat. That was Thursday night. It was Monday before I could get to the doctor. He pushed and prodded and then got me scanned forthwith, and they found that I had lumps inside me as big as footballs, as my entire lymph system had been taken over by an aggressive lymphoma. The oncologist informed me that I had a 20 percent chance of getting through it, which is a kind of code for “Are your insurance premiums up to date?”. They opened me up, then closed me up, and said that there was nothing they could do. So I went home and I was sitting there—this was Wednesday. So the award for the most surreal telephone conversation I have ever had in my life went something like this. Here I am, sitting at home internalising some reasonably significant issues. The phone goes—ring, ring. “Hello, this is Eric.” “This is Murray McCully.” I think, goodness me. The all-knowing black knight has heard about my predicament and he cares. “What’s on your mind, Murray?”. “Um, I have to give a speech in Invercargill on Friday. It’s July and I’ve got a very bad cold. I don’t think I should be going to Invercargill on Friday. Can you do it for me?”. “Murray—um, do you think I really should be doing this? I’m sorry to hear about your cold, but I’m dying of cancer.” There was a long pause, then “Ha, ha! I’ll send you the notes.”
Much is often said about the dog-eat-dog bear pit of this place. It is certainly my experience that there are genuine people in here, across the House, for whom I have a great deal of admiration. I will give you an example of that. When I was in this battle, the first two MPs through my door at my farm were Damien O’Connor and Jim Sutton. And afterwards there were numerous acts of kindness and areas of support that really were a big part of the fight that I was in—some of it more helpful than others. Some of it made me smile, like the wonderful words of support from H V Ross Robertson: “You’ll be right, mate. Big strong bloke like you, you’ll be right. But you are lucky. If it’s in your lymph, you’re buggered, you know.” So Ross gets the award for the best or worst backhanded compliment.
In order to truncate the whole story about the cancer, let me just say that it is a small part in a book that I have almost written, called Notes to the Grandchildren, which will be available at all good booksellers presently. There are two ongoing repercussions from this event of a brush with death, and they are not unique to me, but they have impacted me. One is that when you go through medical trauma, your senses kind of get mucked around emotionally. I do not understand it, but I knew it had happened to me when I found myself crying when Nemo got lost. The second one is that you have an increased sense of your own mortality and you are doing all this self-assessment and appraisal about what you are doing, how you are doing it, and where you are doing it, and whether it is the right thing, and that can be a bit of an insomniac or monkey on your back.
But after an absence from Parliament, I came back and was invited to take up a role as a presiding officer. It is quite a simple job, in principle: protecting the rights of the minority and ensuring the will of the majority, but, of course, it all takes place in an environment of wounding, damaging, getting credibility for yourself, and there are layers of passion and all sorts of things come in there. That is what makes it interesting. I think in a way, reflectively, there has been a bit of a change since MMP and the battle now is more party to party because, of course, that is the important vote, and we have changed some things we do. When I came in here, general debates were principally opportunities for individuals to raise matters of concern in their own electorate or elsewhere. It is now largely for most parties a themed debate, and I think we are not as well served by that. Is there an issue for change? I believe there is, and I have for some time, and I have an increasing feeling that we should do this and that is, make all third reading votes a personal vote. Note well that I am saying personal vote not free vote. I think increasingly there is some isolation and dislocation by members in this House from the actual meaning of voting and we see when a vote comes along, sometimes the groupings left and right advise the minor parties what they are doing. We are seeing increasing times when there is redress sought to either amend the vote or to record in the record of the House what actually was the intention. Even more recently we are seeing the veracity of proxies challenged by points of order or by interjection. I do not think that looks too credible in the eyes of the public. It is not what they expect from their representatives in the highest court of the land. I do realise that there would be a time factor involved in actually doing this. I think the Business Committee could think about how that might be done. One suggestion would be to have any third reading votes immediately after question time the following day, or even one more extended hour in a session of a Parliament would cover for any of that time that had been taken up in that personal vote situation.
One of the greatest disciplines about being a presiding officer is curtailing response. Sometimes you people, as you get involved in debate—I am just dying to respond into a debate and I have not been able to do that. The other thing is: curtailing the desire to actually reposed with an interjection at times. That has been so hard. In an emergency I turn to my right-hand man, Roland Todd, and say “Roly, this is how it works” and tell him. Roland always had a three word response that never changed: “Is that so?”. Thank you, Roland.
The cruellest barb award goes to an occurrence that occurred outside Parliament. I was going to give a speech at a field day in Palmerston North, and the best app on my * BlackBerry could not find the memorial hall. I saw this guy in a dirty ute with a tweed jacket and I thought “He’s gotta be going there”. So I asked him where the memorial hall was, and he told me, and then I looked at my watch because I was the opening shot, and he said: “Look. There’s no need to worry. They’ve got a boring old fart from Wellington opening it up.” That is the cruellest barb—as old fart, yes, but boring?
Let me just conclude with a couple of issues that I think it would be remiss of me not to mention, because they are issues that I have as probably my greatest concerns. The first is the sort of ongoing inability of a number of New Zealand citizens to make sensible decisions in relation to their own conduct. I have made some comments about this in my maiden address. I can give you some examples. On 16 January this year in Golden Bay hundreds of people spent 3 nights trying to stop some pilot whales from beaching themselves. So inherently there is good in all of us. On 16 January this year, the same day, Mrs ** Pravit Singh in Papatoetoe was attacked by two assailants and in a crowd of hundreds of people she called for help. No one went.
Worse than that, when she escaped and started to flee, some of the onlookers herded her back to the assailants. There is something inherently wrong with a society that actually cannot make proper and sensible decisions.
It is my view that we have stepped away from reference points that enable us to actually do that. We used to be solidly grounded in Judaeo-Christian values and that kind of worked for us. We have never had the debate about what we put in their place if we actually want to move away from that. I do acknowledge that it is not the role of this Parliament in any way to be a faith promoter and that there should be that separation between religion and politics. This is where I think it does transcend that: when we deal with issues of conscience, how do we actually make those decisions? When we are on the big issues like euthanasia, trading in alcohol, abortion, or any of those issues, do we do it out of convenience, fairness, populism, or do we have a basis for choosing right and wrong, and what sort of a message are we actually sending to the wider community?
The last point that is a big concern to me would be the award for the biggest lesson that I have learnt. Let me reference it a wee bit for a start. Some of you will know that in 1967 I did some volunteer service. I went to Vanuatu and there I, interestingly, learnt about cargo cults. What are cargo cults? “Kago” in Bislama is “possessions”. A phone would be cargo—anything that you have. What happened was that as these people who had lived there and had lived idyllically for a long time were contaminated by a lot of people who came in with a whole lot of cargo, they got to thinking “How do we get this?”. During the Second World War was probably the advent of most of these. On the island of Tanna there is a cargo cult called the John Frum movement. One night in Tanna, as people were talking about how they could get the cargo, a man in a splendiferous uniform arrived and pulled a big scam. He said: “Give you money and I shall return with money for you, but these are the things you need to do to worship. I am John from America.”—hence the John Frum movement. He took their money and left. Four generations on, people on Tanna are still waiting.
We laugh and think that is kind of quaint, but in reality the biggest lesson for me is that cargo cults are very much a part of every part of society. Weekly I have people saying to me: “Why doesn’t the Government do this? Why don’t you do this?” People have an expectation that there is some other way that they can actually get cargo. I absolutely applaud what Paula Bennett is doing—showing people who have got into a dependency mould that there are other pathways.
Here is the real rub, though. As we get into the last 5 or 6 weeks before an election and parties are really, really keen to retain power or earn power, we could use the equity of this country to promise cargo that might be a reward in the ballot box. I think that we need to really ponder the motive of how we actually do all of those things coming up through the election. I will not be here so I just make that little call now.
In spite of much encouragement I have decided not to sing a waiata at this point. However, I have written a valedictory poem, which is quite short. It is called “October”, and with apologies to * A B Paterson:
There was movement up in Welly, for the word had passed around
That a new Parliament was under way,
They gathered from electorates, new faces to abound
And all the cracks had gathered to the fray.
All the tried and noted members from electorates near and far
Had gathered to the Parly for the fight,
For the members love hard talking where the nation’s fortunes lie
And the MPs sniff the battle with delight.
But in a quiet mountain valley, there’s a stream with crystal flow.
A man with fly rod ready, a trout to be his foe,
Recalled his journey forays in the days of Wellington,
He reflected for a moment and times in House and so
Of democracy and friendships, the privileged to serve,
Of bells and whips and caucus, select committees too,
While Standing Orders, Speakers’ rulings, points of order, “Order!”.
He clears his thought, a trout rises, solitude returns.
I bid you adieu.