Three MPs have entered the race to be the next National Party leader.
Who are they and what do they stand for?
Some of the answers to those questions are in their maiden speeches.
I am posting each of them this morning, in alphabetical order.
AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) : It is with a great deal of respect that I rise to present my maiden speech in this Chamber, and I offer my congratulations to you, sir, on your election. I stand before this House as the representative for the newly formed Canterbury seat of Selwyn, and I am conscious of the great debt that I owe to the people of my electorate for the faith they have shown in me. I would like to begin today by pledging to them my commitment to work in their interests and for their advancement for the time I am here.
I would also like to pay a personal tribute to the Prime Minister, the Hon John Key. Our Prime Minister is a man of great honour and real charisma, and a man with a heartfelt empathy for the people of New Zealand. He has been an inspiration to me, my electorate, and all New Zealand, and I am especially honoured to be serving in his Government.
We seem to raise strong politicians on the Canterbury plains. I come from the same part of the country as the great Sir John Hall, a farmer, and former Premier of New Zealand, who in the 1870s formed and maintained a Government in a period of great change and instability. Sir John is particularly to be remembered for one of his final acts of public life, which was to successfully shepherd the women’s suffrage bill into the House in 1890.
In the passage of time we seem to have lost sight of the enormous contribution Sir John made, and, as a woman now representing his home area, I take a moment to acknowledge his legacy. As a farmer, he and his brothers formed one of the first large-scale sheep runs in the South Island, which later became Terrace Station. As a politician for the original Selwyn seat, he was respected for his integrity and huge contribution to the developing nation’s landscape. Sir John was a staunch conservative who felt that women would bring more decorum and civilised behaviour to politics, and who would be least likely to countenance official extravagance. Women, he noted, “instinctively possess a far keener insight into character than men, and the result of giving them a vote would be that a candidate’s chance at election would depend more on his character, for trustworthiness, for ability and for straightforwardness than on mere professions made on the hustings.” He said: “A clever ready-tongued political adventurer may cajole a set of dull-witted men, but if he has to pose before a number of women they will see right through his real character. It will be of no use trying to get around them with blarney and humbug; they will soon discover whether he is the unselfish patriot he professes to be or a selfish hypocrite who wishes to make use of the people for his own benefit. Women’s intellect would be a surer guide in cases of this kind”, Sir John said, “than that of the majority of men.”
One hundred and fifteen years since that pivotal moment in our history, I am extremely proud to represent the new Selwyn electorate, and I wish to acknowledge the many notable members of this House from the area who have come before me, including two former Prime Ministers: the Rt Hon Sidney Holland and the Rt Hon Jenny Shipley. I come to this House as a commercial lawyer and a Canterbury sheep farmer and, based on that, just last week in Wellington someone called me a “typical Nat”. Well, I make no apology for that side of my background. I am extremely proud of what I have worked very hard to achieve. But for those who are looking to stereotype me, it is worth pointing out that I also grew up in a sole parent household, always short of money, with my mother putting herself through a degree with two preschoolers underfoot, to eventually become a psychologist bonded to the Education Department. Her job, working with some of the most unfortunate families, meant we grew up all over the place—Ngāruawāhia, Hamilton, Wellington, and eventually Auckland.
Compared with many Kiwi kids, though, I was fortunate, because I came from a family of self-starters who believed that anything was possible if one worked hard enough. One of my grandfathers was an engineer and an inventor, who started a factory in his Wellington garage that employed many people for decades. My other grandfather is a well-respected accountant in Motueka, who again built his business from the ground up—a business that has strong roots in the agricultural and farming communities in the Tasman region. For myself, it was while I was at Canterbury University and met my husband that I began my relationship with the farming and rural sectors.
Back in Sir John Hall’s day, New Zealand was a young country, building its fortunes on the sheep’s back—an agricultural economy with a bright future. Today agriculture is still the backbone of our export-based economy. It was our past, and it remains our future. It is the primary sector that will help us as a country find our way through these troubled financial times. However, the farming sector is under threat from all sides, and the threats that face the rural sector in New Zealand are serious, and will need commitment and innovation to find solutions. At this time, we need the rural sector more than ever. We need to treasure our rural communities, not trash them.
Something that worries me is how many New Zealanders have lost touch with the land. Most Kiwi kids do not visit farms any more. They do not see lambs in the spring, and they do not grow up knowing that farmers care about their land—its health and its future. It is not in farmers’ interests to pillage nature. Farmers farm for future generations, and they farm for the prosperity of all New Zealand. Environmentally, we must find a workable balance between the needs of the environment and those of the rural sector and other stakeholders. But when we talk about sustainability, as we must, let us not forget the need to also be economically sustainable in the international marketplace. Although the issues we face will be challenging, and at times contentious, I am confident that if all sides can approach the issues collaboratively, solutions can be found and implemented.
We must also remember that the plight of agriculture is not just about the success of our economy. The world has a massively expanding population, and UN predictions are that feeding those people will be one of the biggest challenges in years to come. We cannot afford to let our agriculture industry in New Zealand shrink, where we have the proven capability to produce some of the best, and most environmentally sound, foodstuffs in the world.
The management of water, and in particular the need for large-scale water storage facilities in Canterbury, is one of the most difficult but also most important issues facing my electorate. Water is life, and nowhere is that more true than on the farm. In rural homes throughout the country, the amount of rain that has fallen, and the forecasts from the rain radar, are not just small talk. They can make the difference each year between survival and foreclosure. To resolve the matter we must look for the optimal solution, and then ensure that the law enables it to be achieved. Decisions should not be driven by who got in first, or which option is most expedient under the Resource Management Act. Rather, a macro-analysis of long-term outcomes and community needs must be the central consideration. We as politicians must ensure that the law supports rather than hinders such an approach.
That brings me to infrastructure. For too long, politicians have dodged the issue of infrastructure development. Time and time again, infrastructure has been shunted into the too-hard basket. Infrastructure requires long-term thinking, long-term funding, and long-term commitment. I have no doubt that short-term thinking has already cost this country considerably. We have to start thinking as a nation and not just as individuals. It really is a case of doing it for the greater good. And it is not just the economic cost. Communities suffer when schools, roads, libraries, broadband services, and the like do not keep pace with population growth. The lack of community infrastructure is a major issue for many parts of Selwyn. I do not want our communities to be nothing more than a place where people go to sleep. For communities to support their people, we must first support our communities. For New Zealand to succeed, we cannot keep saying no to infrastructure projects because they involve change. The process should instead focus on fairly balancing all competing interests, including wider public needs. To build New Zealand’s productivity we need to get innovative, take risks, and do it fast.
Fifteen years as a commercial lawyer has taught me that there are already hugely innovative and talented people in our business communities, but we are making it very hard for them to succeed locally and on a world stage. All over the country, these business people are telling me that one of the biggest challenges is getting a straight answer from central and local government. People are generally happy to work within the rules. They just want to be told definitively what the rules are. Businesses need to have certainty, and to be able to plan ahead, confident that the playing field will not change every few years. Being told by central or local government that the system means that it will take many months or years and often cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in consultant and legal fees to work out whether something can be done is not OK. It is a huge drain on business, and it is pouring productivity down the plughole.
Making laws that effect people’s lives is a very grave responsibility. When the law does put restrictions on people, we owe it to them to make the rules clear and concise, and not open to subjective interpretation leading to wide inconsistencies of result. An example is that of a farmer in my electorate, who was building two sheds that were exactly the same, a few paddocks apart on the same farm. One council, two building applications, and two different council officers were involved. The approval for the first shed took just a few weeks, and did not require anything further. The second identical shed took months, and required the furnishing of considerable further information and reports, and, of course, extra costs. That is not right.
Of course, we must have regulations, but let us think very carefully about what any restriction on people’s freedoms actually gives to society. If the benefit is minimal, and the compliance or productivity cost is high, let us not do it. Business in this country has often been demonised in recent years as large, heartless corporations making money off Kiwis for their international owners. But in reality, the face of New Zealand business is a couple of guys working in a workshop out at the back of town fixing cars, or a mum selling kids’ products on the Internet from home, or builders, sparkies, cleaners, lawn-mowing contractors, and painters. The productivity of this country is in their hands. They form the bulk of New Zealand businesses, and they will be very exposed in the coming economic storm. They are the infantry of our economy, and they are fighting on the front lines right now.
So are we sending in reinforcements, or will we abandon them? And it is the same in the social sector. We need some long-term thinking, focused on early intervention initiatives that can make a real difference. We have serious social issues to confront as a nation. While there are outstanding programmes in place, we need more. We need major attitudinal change right across this country. I believe that the key is fostering a strong sense of individual responsibility. As a parent, I can say that there is only one way to teach responsibility, and that is for there to be clear and consistent consequences for one’s actions. If 3-year-olds can get it, I think other Kiwis can too. That means that to be part of the very special community that is New Zealand, we expect people to take responsibility for themselves and their families. The State is here to help, but it is not its role to run our lives, tell us what to do, or tell us how to do it. The role of Government is not to wrap us in cotton wool to save us from ourselves.
I can assure people that I will stick up for the right of Kiwi kids to play on swings, see-saws, skateboards, and cycles; and to climb trees, and build tree houses without the need for a building consent.
I want to take the opportunity to publicly acknowledge my husband and my two wonderful children who are here today for their unending love and support, and for making sure that my feet stay firmly on the ground. Don, Thomas, and Lucy, you are the reason for everything I do, and I love you deeply. Thanks must also go to my wider family, my parents, my sister Belinda, particularly, and to my new Selwyn electorate family for all their tireless work supporting me over the previous year. There are simply too many of you to name, but you know who you are. My thanks also go to the National Party, its president Judy Kirk, and our regional chairman, Roger Bridge, and my caucus colleagues for your unfailing support and guidance.
I conclude by saying that in my view for most of the past decade New Zealand has been heading down a no-exit street—economically, socially, and psychologically. We have been penalising hard-working families, struggling to keep their heads above water, with higher costs and higher taxes. We have been strangling business with red tape, making it harder for them to hire staff, and miring them in a field of regulatory uncertainty. We have been downgrading the education system, creating meaningless qualifications, giving kids poor work habits, and loading teachers with responsibilities that should rest with families. For too long we have had a culture where the State thinks it knows what is right for every family, and for every business; a culture where every social problem is renamed a condition that people should not be held accountable for; a culture where violent offenders seem to have greater rights than their victims. Well, that is not OK with me. I have higher aspirations for this country, and I have a strong belief that we can achieve them.
I would like to finish with the words of Sir John Hall back in 1890: “We cannot afford as a nation for [our politicians] to stand aside from the work of the nation: we need all their spirit of duty, their patience, and their energy in combating the sorrow, and sin, and want that is around us.” Mr Speaker, I look forward to serving the people of Selwyn and Aotearoa, for as long as they allow me the privilege of representing them. I thank you.