Whanganui MP and Deputy Speaker Chester Borrows delivered his valedictory statement this week:
Hon CHESTER BORROWS (Deputy Speaker—National): Tēnā koe e Te Māngai o Te Whare Pāremata. Kia ora mai tātou, tēnā tātou katoa. When I came to National from Labour, it was out of spite, but, like any convert, I became more zealous than many born to it. Maybe that is why the worst insult you can offer me is to call me a Tory. I joined the party in 1987 after my party, Labour, had moved so far to the right it was unrecognisable and the National Party had moved almost equally to the left—they had swapped sides. I had recently had my hopes of farming dashed by pressures of Labour’s reforms in the banking industry and the removal of assistance for farmers, which had been put in place post the UK moving into the European Economic Community. I scurried off back to the police and found myself as a sole-charge country cop in Pātea.
The then Minister of Labour had recently decided unemployment was getting too expensive. Instead of continuing the Work for the Dole and Public Employment Project scheme, which kept a lot of our troubled unemployed busy through the day and too buggered to play up at night, Labour decided it would can the scheme and just pay out the benefit because it was too expensive to administer. I knew it would turn to custard on the first day. Black Power decided to have a big booze-up to celebrate, and that developed into a huge scrap that I had to deal with alone. As I walked up to the melee, I thought to myself “Where the hell are you now, Prebble?”, and I resolved, surrealistic as it may seem, to join the National Party and teach the Labour Party a lesson.
People join political parties for many different reasons!
A couple of weeks later, Neil Walker—who is somewhere in the gallery—knocked on my door while canvassing on behalf of Venn Young. I gave him $2 and joined the National Party, and I doubt that anybody in the Labour Party noticed. I do not want over-egg it, but I like to think that some of them have now. The funny thing is that for the next two elections I went into the booth and at the critical time I just could not tick the right box. Shamefully, some other third-party candidate got my squandered vote. I get accused of being in the wrong party by both parties.
It was quite a revelation to finally become an MP in 2005 and to see many of the faces from Lange’s Cabinet, and Labour candidates who in 1990 had campaigned solidly on Rogernomics, trying hard to extricate themselves from any connection whatsoever and swimming like crayfish backwards. In response to yet another assertion that National has only ever been interested in corruptly feathering the nests of its donors and does not care about the impoverished, I remember bellowing across the House in a general debate that Labour needs to keep its voters poor and pissed off so it will have someone to blame. My old mate Rajen Prasad was absolutely disgusted that I could say such a thing, but there it is—that is the House.
In the end, it seems to me that the right is about aspiration, accountability, and expectation and the left is about patronising, blaming, and excusing actions and behaviour. It is not what happens to us in life but it is how we respond to it.
Our “class of 2005” came into Parliament in Opposition, and we all agree that it was the best way to start a career in this place. Our seniors had long decided that they had been there long enough and had moved from grievance mode into looking like an alternative Government. I remember my daughter Katy sent me a note on the first day, wishing me all the best and advising me not to let the big kids push me around.
I worked with Simon Power in the Justice and Electoral, and Law and Order Committees. He told us one day—I cannot do a very good Simon Power imitation, but it was something like: “They are not your friends. Labour’s got our jobs. You new guys just don’t hate them enough.” Funnily enough, we soon learnt that he himself regarded all members pretty well and was well regarded by all members, and I sought to take a leaf out of his book. I recall a line from his valedictory when he said “I came here to do things, not to be things.”, and I resolved to try to do the same.
In Opposition, I was appointed the police and youth justice spokesman. Anne Tolley and I spent several months working on policies that we would introduce in Government. When we visited the youth residence at Rolleston we found that 80 percent of the youth were there for their third, fourth, or fifth sentences of the maximum 3 months. This allowed them to be released long enough to re-offend and create new victims, before being sentenced again on another short, pointless, custodial sentence. Our policies included expanding the sentences available to the Youth Court and allowing for drug and alcohol, literacy and numeracy, anti-violence, other supervision sentences—such as supervision with activity and military activity camps (MAC camps)—and special conditions, all to be bolted on to a sentence such as supervision with residence.
The day John Key announced these policies he made it clear that a MAC camp was not a boot camp with some grumpy old sergeant major screaming at young offenders but precisely aimed at the complex needs of kids who offend and had been labelled “ticking time bombs” by the Principal Youth Court Judge. The next day the Dominion Post had Tom Scott’s cartoon of John Key in a sergeant major’s uniform calling a kid a scumbag. It fitted the purpose of the media and the Opposition, and I see from this week that nothing changes. Nevertheless, these changes halved the number of youth being sent to the District Court for sentencing, and have been independently attributed to drastically reducing youth offending. Just because a programme uses military premises and role models does not make it a paragon of a failed system. Youth passing through MAC camps who did go on to reoffend did so less frequently and less severely, and wanted desperately to stay on rather than go back to their homes because, for the first time in their lives, people were invested in them, cared about them, and wanted them to succeed for no selfish reason. History has shown there has been a marked drop-off in the number of youth appearing before the courts, and a decline in offending, albeit serious offences are still committed by youth as they always have been, sadly.
One of my accomplishments was to convince our justice team that we could collect a DNA swab without a warrant in the same way that we collect fingerprints and photographs incidental to arrest. Previous to this time, we needed a separate warrant from a judge to be able to collect DNA. This simple change meant that any time an offender left skin, hair, semen, saliva, or blood at a crime scene, they could be identified. That ability has probably allowed for early identification and arrest, and prevented the victimisation of thousands of people.
I believe this Government has made some response for the inequities of our justice system so far, but that does not mean there is not stuff that we could do better. The first is to recognise who we are dealing with. I recall speaking at a Sensible Sentencing Trust conference once and having been challenged to put victims at the centre of the justice system. I responded that they were at the centre of the justice system and some of them were standing in the dock. That did not go down too well—but the truth hurts.
As Minister for Courts, Associate Minister of Justice, and Associate Minister for Social Development, I had the opportunity to apply myself in portfolios that I believed in, and had some experience with, prior to coming to Parliament. I think my Ministries’ greatest frustration was that I knew too much about the portfolios and was happy to turn up—in the Tony Ryall sense—unannounced, any time, anywhere. I was at a loose end in Christchurch once and wandered into the District Court and sat in the back row of the public gallery to have a listen. I had trouble hearing proceedings so I leaned back and closed my eyes, trying to concentrate on what was being said. A big burley policewoman tapped me on the shoulder and told me I could not sleep there. I told her to make it interesting and I would do my best to stay awake. A few minutes later, I had a nervous little court manager sitting beside me.
We expanded audio-visual links quite rapidly, which saved a lot of prisoner movements and the threat of violence that accompanies the cramped transport and accommodation of prisoners to court appearances. I have a vision for Skype-type courts, as it seems wrong to me that we can communicate across the planet on Skype, but not within a courtroom in the same country, or even city. For administrative hearings or standard tariff guilty pleas, why can a lawyer and their client not appear by Skype from the lawyer’s office?
I also initiated a trial in the North Shore District Court to place the defendant alongside their counsel, just a couple of metres in front of the judge. This was to get around the ridiculous situation where the alleged offender is 10 to 15 metres away from his counsel and the judge, and not even part of the conversation in a hearing that, for those few minutes, is all about him. It also took account of the fact that the most frequently asked question at the end of any court case in this country is: “What the hell just happened?”. It does not look remotely like justice to me. The trouble is, much of our business in courts is conducted in a foreign language to those appearing before it. Some judges and counsel are very good at using plain English and taking time to engage with defendants, but many are not. At the end of the North Shore District Court trial nobody except the now ex-Minister and the defendants liked the reconfiguration, so nothing happened, but I think we missed a chance that we should have taken to make justice a little more real.
We had the opportunity to make big changes while I had the three hats of Courts and youth justice policy and practice, and so constructed the Youth Crime Action Plan, which built a framework of policy and precedents for engaging with troubled youth for the next ten years. It recognised that we needed to work across agencies: in this case Justice, Police, Corrections, Ministry of Social Development, Te Puni Kōkiri, Health, and Education. We have a plan and the test has been to see it implemented across portfolios, but these things need to be driven. It is very easy to wait Ministers out and then revert to business as usual within agencies, and that is a shame. Trying to get agencies to stop thinking in silos and pretending that whatever great initiative they have should not have to come from their budgets was tricky. People just pay tax. Politicians and bureaucrats divide it up into various buckets and guard them with their lives.
It is always important to see the irony and humour in any situation, and in politics it is the same. Having a sense of humour is key to not taking oneself too seriously. One of the debates I got stuck into early on was to run the conservative line on anti-smacking—the repeal of section 59. I drafted an amendment with the help of the Law Commission, which, on the face of it, looked like a pretty ugly amendment because it virtually prescribed a method for smacking your kids—but at least it would have been clear. It all ended when I heard on the radio that John Key had done a deal with Helen Clark. I was told to withdraw my Supplementary Order Paper (SOP), but that did not stop Rodney Hide crossing out my name and writing his, so I had to vote against my own SOP on the same day that I withdrew it.
Later on, John Boscawen came in to Parliament with the untimely departure of David Garrett—and I do not know if his demise was more ironic or humorous, but it was bloody funny at the time—and he promptly printed off my amendment, crossed out Hide’s name, and wrote his name on it, and I had the happy joy of voting against my handiwork for a second time. In hindsight, the changes are working well and parents are much better at finding other ways of correcting their children than with violence. Fewer children are assaulted, although our serious child assault statistics remain appalling. Sometimes Parliament has to take the lead.
Around that time, I was involved with raising some money for a local wildlife reserve at Lake Rotokare. I got John Key, Bill English, and Nick Smith to paint a painting—under close supervision in my office. They were going to sign it themselves and everything. So they dutifully did exactly what they had to do, and while we chatting away, John, for some reason, loaded up his brush with some bright red paint and drew a diagonal line from one corner to the other and then just put two sploshes of paint in each corner. I said “What the hell did you do that for?” and he said—I do not “do” John Key very well—”I think it looks pretty good, actually.” I told him he taken it from dark corner of the lounge to back of the dunny door. When it came to the auction, my very clever masterpiece, which I had sweated over for hours, sold for $530 and his went for $2,300. What the hell do I know about art?
Chester is a very good artist.
I think one of the most enjoyable parts of being an MP is to see ourselves grow and our views change with more information and opportunity to rub shoulders with a different set of acquaintances. In 2014 I voted against gay marriage for reasons which were more legalistic than anything moral or principled. I thought the real debate was about gay adoption and that we should have debated that—I would have happily voted for gay adoption. Good parenting has got nothing to do with gender. But I have since been privileged to officiate as a celebrant at the wedding of a gay couple and recognise that people who love each other and form families are the backbone of a strong society. We should encourage them regardless. My view is that sometimes you just have to grow up, and I think I have—a bit.
I am proud of some of the achievements, such as securing integration of Wanganui Collegiate School, as failure to do so would have cost the city dearly. Working with Chris Finlayson, Maggie Barry, Nicola Williams, and Greg Anderson in securing the money to strengthen and renovate the Sarjeant Gallery is another project. Finally, seeing the Normanby alignment completed and opened was another, and smaller wins on behalf of constituents fighting against bureaucracy are just as rewarding.
Working with constituents is always rewarding, but sometimes challenging. I have enjoyed cutting through red tape, which has opened the doors for people needing surgery and for businesses wanting to expand and employ more staff. I worked to get some compensation by way of ex gratia payment from Cabinet for the Berryman family, after several attempts before that had proven unsuccessful, and also for a police officer devastated by post-traumatic stress disorder.
I think of the battles that my Whanganui-based executive assistant (EA), Viv Chapman, has led on my behalf with Immigration, ACC, and the Ministry of Health, and getting in up to her elbows and knees in the lives of people to help get an operation, a visa to reunite a family, to make life better for an older person, or to get a house for a young mum who has just run up against a brick wall. We really do make a difference. Viv is also just as likely to turn up with a trailer load of firewood for a client. Viv, like rust, never sleeps.
I have had a number of run-ins with my former colleagues, you will be surprised to know—
Hon Members.: Ha, ha!
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: My colleagues in the Police, rather, over the years. I have had a few run-ins with you lot too, actually. It all started with the Police when I went from policeman to defence counsel. I was congratulated by my new colleagues for stepping into the light; the others thought I had gone to the dark side. Anyway, I picked up my fair share of speeding tickets, but when I became a member of Parliament, with my name and face all over my car, I became a real target.
The most high-profile incident, of course, was when I apparently ran over the toes of the aptly named Ms Treadwell—she did not, did she—when I had Minister Paula Bennett in the car. Thankfully, the matter was recorded in vivid technicolour by the media, and it is the first and only time I will say: “Thank God for the media.” I was tempted to quip that she should never had got between Paula Bennett and a shoe shop, but that was inappropriate and was not true. I was more annoyed than worried about the prosecution, but to have the Police running around soliciting Crown prosecutors on the Thursday and Friday before the Monday trial was a bit over the top. I am grateful for the support, though, that I had from MPs across the House and from my caucus who paid over half the bill.
I recall another case when a young mum was suffering from a condition that meant that she desperately needed gastric bypass surgery. She was 205 kilograms, 25 years old, and had been told that if she did not have surgery quickly, she would pass away. I lobbied the district health board (DHB) for surgery but it refused. I gave the matter some publicity and eventually the Korean Government stepped up and offered to fly her to Korea for the surgery that she needed. She had the surgery and returned with no ill effects, and she has now lost her weight, maintains good health, and has had two new children since the operation. I only wish the Whanganui DHB could take credit for that.
I got a scathing email from someone calling on me to stop helping people out who should be helping themselves. No doubt, this guy is built like a Norwegian racing sardine. He said the woman just needed to eat less and exercise more, so I responded with a one-word email: “Idiot”. My wife, Ella, absolutely bollocked me and said: “What the hell are you going to do if this turns up on the front page of the Dominion?”. I said: “Look, there are idiots out there and we have a duty to tell them before they start playing with matches and running with scissors.”
Finally, I want to say thanks to all those whom I have been privileged to work with in Parliament, in Government, and in caucus. I want to thank you, Mr Speaker—David—for making this role fun. I do not think anyone comes into Parliament aspiring to be the Deputy Speaker. It is generally offered as a compromise or tarted up as a compliment in lieu of the job you really wanted. But thanks for your leadership and friendship, and the leadership and friendship of your team—and friends—Roland, Lisa, and Oliver.
Thanks to Sir John Key and the Rt Hon Bill English for their leadership in standards and discipline, which has kept our party on a straight course and heading into another election in good nick—confident but not cocky. Thanks for the opportunities given and the team spirit generated from that strong leadership.
Thanks to my caucus mates, especially the “class of ’05”, for the fun we have had and the gains we have made. I am relying on classmates to delete certain video clips of certain re-enactments—Coleman. At class drinks on a Wednesday night, it will be straight home for me from now on. I especially want to single out in the House my cousins Chris Finlayson and Annette King. I was absolutely convinced I was the favourite cousin of both of them until recently, but I am prepared to concede it is a three-way tie.
To my electorate team chairs like Neil Walker, Gerard Langford, David Bennett, the late Paul Mitchell, Jan Bullen, and Katrina Warren, and all the campaigners, confidants, supporters, and donors—many, many thanks for your care, love, support, and wise counsel.
To all my staff who have become friends over many years—Viv Chapman, Sue Turahui, Marie Stowe, and Kath Weir in the electorate offices; EAs Kristy Ortel, Kate Pullar, Hannah Hammad, Carla Hemmes, Vasoula Kappatos, Orphee Mickalad, and Rob Webb; my senior private secretary, “Captain” Marie Morgan; Frances Kerei, Oliver Searle, Richard Beresford, Lo’l Vole, Casey Freeman, Rachel Sutherland, Amy Smith, Logan Morton, Michael Warren, and Rachel Crawley—it has been magic working with you. The fact that the old ministerial office still gets together and has breakfast once a month—or about once a month—is a huge compliment. Thanks so much.
To those who make this place tick in the Office of the Clerk—the Table Office, Hansard—Parliamentary Service, VIP Transport Service, and Ministerial Services, a big thanks. To security staff and Chamber security—thank you so much, especially to Jenny Ng who has been such an encouragement in respect of my painting.
I want to thank the media for generally being available. It is usually the other way around, but it is part of our job to get oxygen for the stories we want to get up—as you have been pretty obliging, I want to say thanks. There was the odd story I wish had not got up and got legs, but it was usually at times when I had opened my mouth to change feet, so no hard feelings. I think about the odd quip in select committees about policing in Wairoa; about health and safety, Mike; about depositions hearings, Simon; about the Rt Hon Winston Peters at other times. On occasions these stories have led me to apologise to the caucus for saying what I really thought. On other occasions we have ended up in a better space. I have often wondered why the media and politicians do not get on better than we do, bearing in mind we are equally hated, mistrusted, and misunderstood by the public. We hardly exist without the other and we eat each other’s lunches to survive.
I want to thank tangata whenua who have steered and guided me in many ways that have led to a far greater understanding of who I am as a Pākehā—actually, of who I am as Chester Borrows. I enjoy a warm friendship with iwi of the Taranaki and Whanganui, for which I am most grateful, and especially to Dame Tariana Turia, for her aroha, wise counsel, and the odd telling remark. From the time I turned up as 28-year-old still-wet-behind-the-ears policeman in Pātea, until today as a 60-year-old, you have walked alongside me, you have steered me generously, and I thank you so much for that. You have changed the way I am and will be forever.
I want to give a nod to the mayors and the councils of the electorates with whom I have always had a good working relationship. For a while the most frequently asked question I was asked as the member of Parliament for Whanganui was: “How do you get on with Michael Laws?”. I can honestly say that we got on very well and he helped me immensely. Michael tried very hard to keep the “h” out of Whanganui and when he could not, he got the “f” out of Whanganui. But I do miss the challenges and the conversations that we had and hope we can catch up soon. To the others: Mary Bourke, Ross Dunlop, Neil Volzke, Annette Main, and my old combatant Hamish McDouall—thanks for your collaboration and all that you do for our communities. To my successor, Hārete Hīpango, I wish you all the best in your new role as MP for Whanganui.
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Most importantly, I want to thank my wife, of whom I am very proud. She stood by and watched the germ of this dream through its execution and now completion. Ella has always encouraged me to have a crack at my next biggest ambition whatever it was—within the Police, farming, back to the Police, politics, the law, back to politics, and who knows what now, after completing some commissioned paintings and a few odd jobs around the house. Thanks for everything.
My kids, Abi, Katy, and Zac, and their partners, Mike, James, and Kristina, I am so grateful that you never got on the news for the wrong stuff—not like your father. In spite of all the missed events over the past 18 or so years, as I have either tried to get here or tried to stay here, we are still on good terms. I look forward to spending a lot more time with you, making up for lost opportunities.
To wider family and friends—I acknowledge that the public think that we live in a bubble without family members who get sick and need operations or die on waiting lists, and without friends who offend and go to jail or lose their jobs or lose their businesses, but we do not. I have lost my dad to cancer and I have lost my mum to dementia, and I miss them horribly. You friends have kept me real when many think that MPs have no tangible link with reality, and I apologise for neglecting you over the years and I look forward to re-acquaintance over a beer, the footy, at the beach, the pub, or at our place sometime soon.
Finally, in my maiden speech I quoted the scripture Micah 6:8, which says: “What does the Lord demand of you but that you love kindness, do justice, and walk humbly before your God.” It is for others to debate, or to pass judgment on, but I hope that I have lived up to that.
That is it. It is a privilege to give this valedictory; many do not get that opportunity. But the fish and chips are ordered and they will need to be wrapped in something. We all want to be remembered fondly, so I guess I will choose the manner to which I have become accustomed. As I said to my previous boss, Sir John Key: “I remain that loyal old Labrador you’ll never know whether to pat on the head or boot up the arse.”
Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tātou katoa.