Denise Lee’s maiden speech has been widely praised for good reason.
I think it is worth reading in full, but have bolded the part where she describes the sudden death of her son, the aftermath and how that influenced her.
Tena koutou katoa
E tau nei tetahi pirere no Tikapa Moana.
Na ka kopangia maitia e te aroha o Maungakiekie, Maungarei hoki
Ka irihia ki a wai a Tamaki Herenga Waka
Ka irihia ki a wai a te Manukanuka Hoturoa
Na ka ungia nei ahau, hei mangai, hei taringa, hei kanohi mo te hunga ra,
Aroha ki a ratou kei te Tupou o te Tini
Ka mihia ki a tatou
Kia ora mai tatou katoa
Greetings to you all
A bird (fledgling) from the Coromandel has alighted here
Enfolded by the mana of Maungakiekie & Maungarei
Christened with the sacred water of Tamaki
Christened with the sacred water of Manukau
Sent here as the mouthpiece, the ears & the eyes for the people there.
I acknowledge those who have gone before
I mihi to us
Mr Speaker, greetings to us all. And congratulations on your new role; you are one of seven members here in the 52nd parliament who sat with my father back in the 80s & 90s.
Many of us have had family precede us here, fathers, grandfathers, cousins, but unusually two of my colleague’s fathers taught me in primary school, one of them moving on to become an MP, the other, my favourite teacher of all time. Well, now he happens to be in the building because his son is about to deliver a maiden speech.
No matter where you are in NZ, we are all somehow connected, somehow local, we inevitably know each other.
I drove into the local petrol station after the election to return yet another hired trailer used for signs. The station attendant approached me and remarked “hey are you that lady from the signs, the one that won? I’ve been watching you. If you know how to back a trailer like that you deserved to win!” I laughed, introduced myself to Lester and he told me he was a regular middle New Zealander working hard to make a living, and now that I was elected, “Miss lady from the signs” he said, “please don’t forget about us.”
Pressing a little further about what he meant, I discovered it meant he felt okay about working hard as long as he had enough to take his family on a holiday. He didn’t want law makers to take away that opportunity. It wasn’t complicated. He was outgoing and optimistic and felt strongly that he wanted to keep more of what he earned so he could choose how to spend it.
Lester is indicative of many others in my electorate of Maungakiekie. I’m honoured to have been the Auckland city councillor for the hard-working area, and now their member of Parliament and I thank them for the faith they have placed in me to continue as an elected representative.
May I acknowledge the immediate and highly-regarded past member of Parliament the Honourable Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga who joins me here in support today. Faafetai lava Sam.
I have learnt a few things about Maungakiekie along the way.
When we’re told the Manukau harbour is the poor cousin to the Waitemata, we don’t accept it. We straddle both.
When we know we’ve got NZ’s largest regeneration project because some of our social indicators are poor, we embrace it. We stick together to face change.
When we’ve got the nation’s largest industrial area contributing to GDP, we value it. We punch above our weight.
We’re highly diverse in age, culture, and income. The level of investment and activity in our part of New Zealand is unprecedented. Between the scale of Housing NZ’s build in Oranga to Tamaki Redevelopment Company, to the AMETI transport project and the huge and long-planned for yet controversial East West Link, we are a very busy part of New Zealand.
Maungakiekie contains much life-blood of our nation.
While the scale of these projects value into the billions, the true value of any electorate is always back at the local level. Panmure, Ellerslie and Onehunga, the three main village centres (Mt Wellington let’s work on one), have a distinct community feel that is hard to find in a fast-paced busy city.
Intent on keeping and fostering that village feel, before I ran for office, among other things I co-created a charitable trust which brokered local residents and business owners to pull off social projects for good, a far cry from another former role I had working with high net worth clients at Morgan Stanley in Philadelphia.
We were highly motivated to model to our own city-kids the importance of service. Town clean-ups, small business make-overs, teen mum support, community gardens, we did it all.
We were organic, responsive, innovative and frugal, everything the local government-employed community staff weren’t and a big reason why I am thoroughly committed to the principle of allowing community to produce the answers.
When I was awarded a NZer of the Year local hero award, I had someone approach me after the medal ceremony and ask me “do you get this from your Dad?”
I come from a long line of civic duty family commitment. It appears there really is something in the blood. Grandad lied about his age to serve in World War 1 as a 16 year old alongside his five older brothers. He came back after being gassed in the trenches, built much of Paeroa, and became the Mayor.
His son, (my father) became the Mayor after him.
Provincial life was unhurried and at times quaint. I recall our girl’s Brownie pack having to parade past Dad standing in front of the council chambers, dressed in his mayoral chains as part of annual town commemorations.
Each year we were taught to acknowledge the Mayor with the usual two finger Brownie salute. I figure there’s no better time than my maiden speech in parliament to finally let Dad know, a mere 40 or so years later, that one parade my younger sister Angela and I decided, in jest, to momentarily turn the fingers around.
Lucky for us your dubious eyesight didn’t catch our slight of hand Dad. Even more lucky, our 75yr old head Brown Owl, well known for her paralysing death stare, didn’t either.
I was 11 when Dad went to parliament as the MP for Coromandel. I was fascinated right from the start, in a large part due to the interesting people politics attracted. Unlike today it was often the biggest, most dynamic membership-based show in town. Ross Miller, a long-term electorate Chairman for Dad, and an unfailing advocate for my own journey, is here today and will recall with clarity a certain Miss Elsie Wylde. This woman deserves to be immortalized in Hansard.
At the tender age of 80 she would fill every room with her presence, boom out interjections, always be right with political predictions and should anyone dare to object, she would loudly and publicly remind them she taught both them and their children at school, recalling their lack of academic abilities.
I’d like to say it was her political discourse that grabbed my attention most but in all honesty it was hard to go past the time she ate beetroot at a pot luck event and without knowing it, the beetroot juice slipped from the corners of her mouth and down her deeply ingrained wrinkles, producing a tributary stream effect. Thoroughly memorable.
Although I had observed and participated in politics, studied it, sat at the feet of political icons like Rob Eady and enjoyed party membership life, at some point it needed to become my own journey. And that it did, in the form of the unexpected, the inexplicable and as official records still record today, the unexplainable.
One night I awoke as a young parent and decided to check on my two year old son Riley only to discover he had died in his sleep.
What ensued was a series of random interactions with a cold-hearted function-driven system. The failure of police inquest officers, pathologists and coroners to sensitively inform and communicate their process to two shell-shocked parents still mystifies me today.
Loss comes in all forms, not just death, but loss of careers, loss of confidence, loss of relationships and marriage, my own succumbing to the high percentage of those that end upon the death of a child.
With all our collective legislative wisdom, there shouldn’t also have to be loss of faith in a system supposedly designed to protect those that need it at precisely the time when they most need it.
Trying to keep up with where Riley’s body had gone, what they were doing to it, what they were retaining from it, receiving an abruptly-worded police letter informing us of our Coroner’s court hearing date, it was all too much.
No explanations, no ‘frequently asked questions’ brochure, just a summons. You’ll understand I thought we were being put on trial for the death of our son.
Walking through the valley of the shadow of death, trying to understand the legalities and desperately wanting to just stay away from the world to get on with grieving, my sense of indignance grew. I was the one who asked to meet with the police, the pathologists and others to get a handle on who else may have to face what we did.
This indignance formed a seed that merged into a big part of the driving force that sees me standing here today. I’m subsequently relieved the coronial system has improved for people, the 2006 Coroners Act and later reviews better protect the interest of grieving families.
Politics really did become personal for me then. A flick of the pen, wording of an amendment, an exchange in the debating chamber – parliament’s processes affect everyday lives.
I’ve had the pleasure of being in Auckland Council’s cabinet as Deputy Chair for Planning, covering Auckland’s housing, transport, and infrastructure. $45 billion dollars of assets to make the eyes water, but what is reality for residents? Fixing the broken curb so car tyres don’t get scraped, speeding up consents so the house extension can just get built, and going to the park expecting to see the lawns have been mowed.
The settings are wider here, but however you measure it, the expectation is that we will make a difference in the everyday lives of New Zealanders. We will foster the right economy for jobs and income, which in turn fosters hope and the fruition of dreams.
I am immensely proud to stand with the National party who have overseen substantial growth in their recent term of government, despite international trends to the contrary. 10,000 new jobs each month for the last 18 months is extraordinary.
I am surrounded by a host of incredible supporters who appear to have decided I am a good investment of their time, energy, and unfailing commitment.
I can only hope I return the favour. To the National party, thank you for backing me to back Lester and backing people to choose their own future.
What I most appreciate about you and our leader the Rt Hon Bill English, is the relentless commitment to the politics of hope. It should always outweigh the politics of fear, even when the latter sells more media space.
To my core local volunteer team, you’re everything I would wish for. As chance would have it, we’re dominated by females.
Dr Lee Mathias, how you have the time to run boards, a business and back women like me, I do not know. Sue White, politics is obviously in your blood too, but for all the right reasons. Your friendship and that of your talented daughter Ainsley I hold dear.
Louise Millar, my Chair, our kids went to school together, you always say yes, and no one can sport a pair of red bands in the city like you do. Josh Beddell, the lone male voice, we all know you love it.
To my personal friends outside of politics, let’s keep it that way. You don’t like the policy detail and I like the escape. You also remind me this place is a bubble, so if I ever get out of touch, pop me.
And to my funny, often irreverent, and close-knit family, I adore you. My two sisters Rochelle and Angela and your clans, we have many more adventures ahead and I am proud of our strong and fun-filled bond.
Remember the time we ran around the Beehive as teenagers and I fell on Robert Muldoon when he opened his secret private elevator door? It’s time for the next generation of kids to let loose on parliamentary security.
Mum and Dad your rock solid presence and commitment to our family is a very large reason I am here today. In an age of transience and relativity you have been present for us and stuck to your convictions, the greatest and most admirable of which is that you love and serve others before yourself.
When we’ve hit hard times as a family, and there’s been plenty, you have adapted. I cannot thank you enough for the way in which your character has forged our family destiny and that you have supported me in the pursuit of mine.
And finally to my own precious children, my son Riley who as the good book says ‘lives beyond the veil’, you are a gift.
My daughters Sydnee and Makenna, your world is not the one I grew up in. I spent weekends rat shooting at the Paeroa dump, you navigate the virtual world, streaming mass international content 24/7 under the watchful eye of the Google and Facebook empires.
It is your world that will rapidly change what we do here in these halls and I am proud to have two incredibly talented young women to guide me in how to think ahead. I love you.
In closing, I wish us all well Mr Speaker, God-speed to the 52nd Parliament of the world’s most attractive nation.