I was a member of the pre-selection committee which approved Jo Goodhew’s application to seek the National Party candidacy of what was then the Aoraki electorate.
Our confidence in her was rewarded when she won the seat from Labour, held it and what became the Rangitata seat when boundaries changed.
She did that by listening to and working tirelessly for her constituents as the best MPs do.
She also served as a whip and Minister.
Yesterday she delivered her valedictory statement.
To the many peoples, all voices, all mountains, all rivers, thank you for coming to support this auspicious occasion. Welcome, welcome. I begin this, my last speech in the House as MP for Rangitata, with pride, having been part of something very special for 12 years, and still with the passion for the things that I care about. As such, today I have some stories to tell, some messages I want to record in Hansard one last time, and, of course, some thankyous to deliver.
I leave here having been part of the huge class of ’05, 12 years the parochial MP, first for Aoraki then for Rangitata, 5 years a Minister, and one of the renowned East Coast blondes. I arrived in this place determined to be a fantastic electorate MP. I would later realise that I was up to the task of being a Minister, but I never wanted to be PM. I am a team player and I relished being part of such a wonderfully strong and talented National Party team.
My maiden speech recorded that water was a major issue in my then seat of Aoraki. That speech also recorded my huge respect for and support of volunteers—more on both soon. I was elected 17 September 2005, having campaigned for 10 months and knocked on 12,500 doors across the seat. Delegates questioned me before my selection, and they did not hold back, even asking: “Who will cook for your husband and children?”. I was not long into my time as MP before our teenage daughters asked me to stop cooking meals at the weekends to leave for sitting days; they informed me that they preferred their father’s cooking. You know, it took me a while to get over that, but I did.
Later in the campaign I had help out door knocking from two fabulous women, Anne Steele and Robyn Hewson. They got me out of bed when I was almost too tired to go out and keep going. It has been the commitment of tireless volunteers just like these two women that has kept me going through the tough times and encouraged me when the going got rough.
The 2005 effort paid off, and on election night we recorded a 13,000 swing in the candidate results. I have always thought that timing is everything, and whilst the swing back to National was strong that year, I would spend my first 3 years as an MP as an Opposition backbencher. I was disappointed at the time, but, on reflection, it is actually the best way to start a political career. Campaigning and being seen does bring challenges. Our Ford Falcon was sign-written and also had my photo on it. Supportive up until then, this was a step too far for our teenage daughters. How embarrassing to be taken to rowing in that—that is, until one of their friends dubbed it “the Jo-inator”. Apparently it was suddenly quite cool. Huge boundary changes made 2008 another tough campaign. When 80 percent of the territory and 40 percent of the people change, you have a lot more work to do. I was welcomed by the people of mid-Canterbury, and I thank them for that.
Some MPs get to experience a local issue that makes people take to the streets against the Government. In my case, it was the statutory management of Hubbard Managed Funds and Aorangi Securities and the later failure of South Canterbury Finance (SCF). The taxpayers of New Zealand shouldered the burden of paying out SCF investors, but the people in the electorate took the issues personally. I got through that by hearing everyone out, respecting their strongly held views even when not agreeing with them, and not hiding away. I was certainly the stronger for that experience.
There have been many amazing opportunities afforded to me as an MP and a Minister, and I will share some of them because they have a wider message. Like most MPs I have opened a few conferences and buildings. I have opened quite a few dementia units, including one in a prison. I am not sure how I feel about having my name on the outside of dementia units. Dementia touches almost every New Zealander in one way or another, and it robs people of precious years. New Zealand needs to acknowledge, plan for, and learn to deal with this as respectfully and sensitively as possible.
I opened, on behalf of the then Minister, both the Timaru and Ashburton Ministry of Social Development (MSD) Community Link offices. The Ashburton site would, on 1 September 2014, become the scene of tragedy when my constituents Peg Noble and Leigh Cleveland were, quite literally, gunned down doing their jobs. I would return to that site as Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector to open Ashburton Community House. Out of that tragedy a strong community, while still mourning, dusted itself off and combined its efforts to fund-raise and turn the building into a wonderful facility for the people. Out front stands a carving that marks the loss of Peg and Leigh.
I proudly presented New Zealand’s seventh Commission for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) report to the UN in 2012. I was questioned for 4½ hours by a 25-person committee, dedicated to pushing New Zealand to do more in this space. The committee was certain that New Zealand would be better off with gender quotas. I still totally disagree with that approach, and, for myself, I would be absolutely mortified if I suspected I was ever chosen for a role because I was anything other than the equal to the male candidate, or even better.
New Zealand has more to do in this space, but much to be proud of. I think there are a number of ways we can move the dial for women and girls, including one that I think we can do for ourselves. The female of the species is wired differently to the male, so we need to recognise what in that creates hurdles for us in achieving equality of outcomes. Some of the hurdles are literally innate—not put there by others. Before I get shouted at for blaming the victim, hear me out. We need to understand and confront our own unconscious bias, make it conscious, and then deal with it. When I automatically think to myself that I do not have all the skills required to apply for the job, I need to recognise that neither does the guy next door, but he will apply, intending to learn on the job. When the performance review rolls around, I should not take the oft times approach and expect that my skills and value will have been recognised already, instead I need to do what guys do and describe my value to the organisation on a regular basis so that there is no doubt. Sometimes we need an internal rewire to compete on an equal footing. It is only one of a number of fronts we should tackle, but it is an important one.
I wish the media focused on attitudes, intentions, and results instead of labels when it comes to bridging the gender divide. Who gives a continental whether I label myself a feminist or not? Let deeds speak for the determination to shift the dial towards equality. Prime Minister Bill English has been the driving force behind the social investment approach. We know women are grossly over-represented in domestic violence statistics. Women and girls who do not achieve in education will likely become part of a low-income family. Teen pregnancy can lead to poor outcomes for that woman, and the child or children. So who cares if Bill English labels himself a feminist? Under his and Paula Bennett’s watch, teen pregnancies dropped by 57 percent. The approach is to get in early and help women to change their path and achieve their potential.
To all of those out there who cry poverty, and how much better off these families would be with more money, I say “We the Government—the first time in 43 years—we raised the benefits.” But a dysfunctional family with an extra $50 in their hand a week will still be a dysfunctional family. They need so much more than money. That is where the social investment approach comes in.
I was patron of Goodhew Class SO 3/14 LSV course at Burnham Military Camp. You know, I was moved to tears by the stories the participants told me about how their lives were changed by that experience. I know there are others in this debating chamber who have been patrons as well. That course, however, was only the start for them. Without employers willing to take them on afterwards, without training for them to go to, a golden opportunity could well have been lost.
As Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector for 5 years I had innumerable chances to recognise and thank New Zealanders for their efforts to enrich our communities and help others less fortunate than themselves to achieve community goals and projects—our largest workforce. I am proud to have, amongst other things, developed the Government Position Statement on Social Enterprise, and then launched a cross-agency working group to further promote it. Social enterprise allows social or environmental objectives to be achieved using a social enterprise or business approach. It is not a new approach, but there are many more examples of it today. I ask you to think of Pomegranate Kitchen, Eat My Lunch, Wilding & Co, Kilmarnock, and Patu Aotearoa and think of businesses that are literally making a huge difference.
The more social enterprises that flourish here in New Zealand, the more social and environmental objectives will be achieved without the Government getting involved, and certainly not getting in the way. Discerning spenders want to support those approaches to achieve outcomes they believe in.
As senior citizens Minister I had enormous frustration when hearing older New Zealanders described as a looming natural disaster—a grey or silver tsunami, or even a landslide at times. This characterisation diminishes older New Zealanders. We often speak of young people fulfilling their potential. Well, it is time we did more to encourage older people to fulfil their potential across their whole life.
For those who would like to keep working—and I emphasise that; for those who would like to keep working—there could be flexible hours, mentoring or training roles, leave without pay for retirement travel, and then them going back to roles where they feel respected and valued. I am tired of hearing that the workforce is ageing and all will retire at once. To employers, I suggest they offer an alternative for those who want to stay in the workforce.
My food safety portfolio gave me the scariest moments. New Zealand has an enviable reputation for food safety technology and practices, but things can still go wrong. In late 2014 a threat to contaminate infant and other formulas with 1080 was received. A huge Police and Ministry for Primary Industries response commenced, called Operation Concorde.
When the Prime Minister, Nathan Guy, and I faced the cameras early in March, we knew significant protections were in place. When I was asked to give a message to mums and dads, I urged them to keep using the formula, even though I knew that if I was wrong, a child could die. There is no antidote or treatment if 1080 is consumed. Now, the Police got their man—amazing work. The whole supply chain is now better protected from threats of a similar nature, and consumers now know to check products they buy for tampering.
At Christmas 2015, frozen berries contaminated with hepatitis A hit the headlines. Now, tracing followed, and the recalling and additional testing of imported product, and my message on this front is simply that country-of-origin labelling (COOL) gives no assurance of food safety, or otherwise. Almost every single one of those frozen products was already labelled with its country of origin. It is not so long ago that New Zealand apples were also contaminated by a worker with hepatitis A. So the answer is health and food safety officials working closely to identify and trace food-borne illnesses fast. Excellent traceability systems on the part of producers are essential and COOLs are only a marketing tool that works when the origin has a great reputation, which is exactly what New Zealand has.
I worked hard to progress the National Environmental Standard for Plantation Forestry. The gestation was far too long, but worth the wait, I believe. This will reduce, by thousands, the numbers of consents required each year.
Back to water—New Zealand has certainly woken up to the value of water. At the heart of the issue is the need to look after our freshwater and use it wisely and efficiently. We have an abundance of freshwater. Now the focus is on repairing degradation that has happened over many decades and preventing further lessening of water quality.
The National Government is the first Government to have the intestinal fortitude to tackle thorny issues like allocation, reliability of supply, measuring quality, cleaning up poor-quality fresh water, requiring stock exclusion from waterways, and mapping a path to restore degraded waterways.
One last thought for the primary sector: it is high time New Zealanders woke up to the importance of genetically modified organisms and our future in the fields of health, plant, and animal genetics, and, through that, environmental protection. Gene editing can help us cure cancers, eradicate wilding pines as well as four-legged pests, develop grasses that assist us to reduce methane emissions, and so much more. The debate has to be less about fear of the unknown, and more about safe and proven science.
So what am I proud of? I absolutely loved the electorate work, and people tell me it showed. The people of the electorate encouraged me to connect, and I feel connected to them. I have relished meeting regularly with leaders, businesses, non-governmental organisations, schools, rest homes, and individual constituents, because I believe I needed to know them to represent them. I have shared their celebrations, their tribulations, sought solutions for them, listened to their stories, and advocated for them. What a privilege it has been.
I will proudly claim to have been part of the team that progressed the social investment approach. It was a team that was not afraid to measure the cost of unfulfilled human potential in not taking action. It was not afraid to insist on measuring whether actions taken really worked. In targeting where resources can effect the most change in lives, we get to do what we came here for: make a difference.
From the time I came to Parliament I have often held the aged-care responsibility. In the Opposition health team under Tony Ryall, I rose to his challenge. He exhorted every one of his health team to know their particular issue better than anyone else in this Parliament. I held forums across the country, inviting all stakeholders, and I asked what had been going well and what we could do better. In September 2007, the document discussing options was launched by leader John Key. Entitled Choice Not Chance for Older New Zealanders, there followed many hundreds of submissions. Then came the policy launch: more money for respite for exhausted family caregivers and unannounced spot audits in rest homes, eventually leading to all audits being put up online for the public to see. Over time there was extra money for dementia care, and that resulted in a 25 percent increase in the number of beds. A standardised assessment tool was implemented and accelerated.
So that is why it was a very proud day for me when the National Government announced that more than $2 billion over 5 years would recalibrate the pay rates for caregivers, so that their work was given the value it deserves.
Time is running out, so a couple of very brief messages: New Zealand, plant more trees—lots more; build more wonderful buildings using our timbers; use engineered timber to build tall, strong buildings. I was delighted to read page 3 of the Dominion Post today and to see Sir Bob Jones is leading the way, with a 12-storey timber building.
In the health sector, I am a strong believer of the quality and safety markers, and that it really matters. It does not just save money and resources; it saves lives. All practice should be best practice.
Thankyous: to former party president Judy Kirk, who believed I could win. Thank you, my friend. I thank president Peter Goodfellow and the board members, regional chair Roger Bridge, and former regional chairs Ailsa Smail and Kate Hazlett for their friendship and support. To my current and former electorate chairs, Allan Booth and Mark Oldfield, and campaign chairs, John Rushton and Mark Oldfield. You have had great committees doing a wonderful job for me. I thank you. I really appreciated the farewell party last weekend.
To former Prime Minister John Key: thank you for the opportunities you gave me, first as junior whip and then as Minister. I made the most of them and had an amazing time. I will always know I was part of a caucus led by an amazing Prime Minister, who helped New Zealand recover from huge adversity with his unfailing belief in New Zealand, New Zealanders, and a positive and exciting future.
To Prime Minister Bill English, who now gets the opportunity he undoubtedly earned, and is superbly equipped to accomplish: I wish Bill and all the candidates for this election well in the contest of ideas, so you can continue to deliver what we have started to achieve, and what we as a nation are capable of. I hope, come 23 September, that the people of Rangitata elect young and energetic Andrew Falloon.
To my “class of ’05” classmates—good buggers all—Wednesday nights after 10pm will never be the same. To friends who are here today: there will be more time for us now. Thank you for hanging in there.
An electorate MP struggles to be effective without great electorate agents: Don McCully, Janet Bates, and Robyn Hewson; then came Annette Ireton and Barb Aitken; now Alison Driscoll, Tracey Miron, and Robyn Hewson. Robyn still has my back, all those years after helping me door-knock. I have been blessed. Thank you all so much.
To the Wellington crew: first, Heather Henderson, then Elizabeth Neilson, Micheal Warren, Annette Ireton, Susan Palmer, and now Erin Taylor—what a time we have had. To my “SPS Supremo”—Rebecca Tane and the whole ministerial gonzo team that you knitted together: those 5 years were incredible. I learned so much from you all. Thank you. I am honoured that so many of you are here today.
If things are not going well at home, it is impossible to do your work well. Thanks to the incredible support of my husband Mark we have made the juggle work. To our daughters, Abi and Harriet in the gallery and Emily in London: thanks, guys, for cutting me enough slack to do my job, for making me so proud of you, and for making sure we kept talking to each other. Happy birthday, Harriet and Emily.
I grew up on a farm. Dad and I would drive round the sheep in the little truck, the radio always on the Parliament station. Maybe I was brainwashed there, or maybe it was just entertainment for us both. My mum and dad, Bruce and Winnie, have found a myriad of ways to support me. Dad just retired from the electorate executive at the last AGM. Mum and dad, I cannot thank you enough for all of the ways you and our extended family have helped me.
Once upon a time, an experienced MP warned me against telling anyone that my maiden name was McCully. It is OK, Murray. I have been my own person and I do not think it turned into a burden. But perhaps that is because I do not have scary nickname—that I am aware of.
People have asked me what I am going to miss. I will miss the people in this Parliament. No matter what your role is, I thank you for your cheery smiles, your warm greetings, your help, and your courtesy.
I finish with the whakataukī that has never been so true to me as now:
He aha te mea nui o te ao?
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.
[What is the most important thing in the world?
It is people, it is people, it is people.]
Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.