365 daysof gratitude


Bill English began his valedictory statement by saying:

The library tells me I’ve spoken 1,000 times in the House; answered or asked 2,000 questions and answers; I suspect probably about 10,000 interjections, 23 of which were witty. Enough of the numbers, the strongest feeling I have today, in this last speech, is gratitude. That is, gratitude for the opportunities that I’ve had, for the many people I’ve served with, but, most importantly, for the many moments of connection and witness to the lives of others, which I believe is the deepest privilege of public life: to see the joy of their achievement, to see the courage in their suffering, and to be grateful for the strength and the wisdom given to me by so many. . . 

I became National’s electorate chair for Otago about the time Bill first entered parliament, and he was one of “my” MPs when I was the party’s southern regional chair.

Tonight I am grateful that we have people who are willing to represent us and serve us; people who work to make life better for individuals and the country; people who care, know that caring in itself isn’t enough and work hard to make a positive difference.

I am especially grateful for the pleasure and privilege of working, albeit in a very small way, with and for Bill.

New Zealand by James K. Baxter



Bill English brought his valedictory speech to an end with a reference to James K. Baxter’s poem New Zealand.

These unshaped islands, on the sawyer’s bench,
Wait for the chisel of the mind, . . . 

You can read the whole poem at the Poetry Foundation.

Bill English’s valedictory


Compassion, conviction, humour, intellect, passion . . .

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH (National): The library tells me I’ve spoken 1,000 times in the House; answered or asked 2,000 questions and answers; I suspect probably about 10,000 interjections, 23 of which were witty. Enough of the numbers, the strongest feeling I have today, in this last speech, is gratitude. That is, gratitude for the opportunities that I’ve had, for the many people I’ve served with, but, most importantly, for the many moments of connection and witness to the lives of others, which I believe is the deepest privilege of public life: to see the joy of their achievement, to see the courage in their suffering, and to be grateful for the strength and the wisdom given to me by so many.

I can say, today, that it almost didn’t happen. When I was the National Party candidate in 1990 for the Wallace electorate, and not really that well organised, I had a brilliant plan to lodge my nomination form at the electoral office at 4 o’clock; one hour—a whole hour—before the deadline at 5 o’clock in Gore. About 11 o’clock in the morning I visited the Christie household—Richard and Julie—to get them to sign my nomination form. On the way out, one of them casually mentioned that they’d heard on the radio the deadline was midday. I whipped round to the electoral office. A very stern lady said to me, “Yes, it’s midday, and there are no exceptions.” I then found myself stranded in Gore with enough signatures but not the deposit. I had no cheque book and no card. I stood paralysed in the middle of the street, and then had a brainwave and ran into my bank, the trusty Savings Bank. I walked up to the cashier and I said, “Give me $200 cash. Now!” She started asking a few awkward questions that I couldn’t really deal with, like “Do you have a cheque or a withdrawal form?” I said, “No.” and she went off and got the manager.

As it turned out, the manager was a member of the National Party—as many of them were—and he said, “Look, just give him the bloody money. We’ll sort it out later.” I got round to the electoral office, literally, at 11.55 a.m. If the manager had followed the rules, if any number of other things would have happened, the new MP for the Wallace electorate would have been Dougal Soper, Labour, because I wouldn’t have appeared on the ballot. And I would have spent the rest of my life driving trucks in the outback of Australia.

I know I’m meant to be here, because a year or two after that—my large rural electorate used to have a lot single-track gravel roads. One day I was on the back road from Dipton to Mossburn doing 120 kilometres an hour because I was late, as always. I came over the brow of a hill and right in front of me was a farm truck. I want to thank Mike Heenan, our near neighbour, because we both pulled the steering wheel the right way. I ended up with a car that was a write-off, but still alive. I could take you through all of my accidents, because there were a number of others. All I can say is that some of the political accidents I ran into were also from going too fast, that’s for sure.

When I first came here, Sir Robin Gray, who was the member for Clutha at that stage, said to me, “Never forget where you come from.” Well, you could never forget where Sir Robin came from because he had a very thick Scottish accent—that was he was from. Of course, where we come from is principally our families. My background, which I brought to politics, was rural and Catholic, and in some respects, an interesting mix that gave me as much familiarity with binder twine as with the beatitudes, a love of shearing as well as a love of Latin.

And then I married into the Scanlon family. Well, we had some things in common: faith and family. But they have a completely different tradition of New Zealand: migrants from Samoa and Italy, and a totally different world in which they lived, which we just called “town”—which was a generic word for anything bigger than Dipton. But there’s not much that happened in these two families that didn’t happen to every New Zealander, because Mervyn and Nora English, who passed away, and George and Jean Scanlon, who are here today, between them raised 25 children. Can I say, I am pleased you did not all accept the invitation. My children have 66 cousins, so far. I remember the discussion with the officials when we were arranging the swearing-in, when I became Prime Minister. They said, “Well, you can have the large one with the officials and the important people, and we’ll put out a whole lot of chairs, and fill the room, or you can have the small family one.” I said, “Well, I think we’ll have the large family one, thank you.”, and 80 of them showed up on the day.

But what I learnt from these families is the grit and the effort that it takes to start in a new country; the pride of hard-earned achievement. I want to thank them all for their constant support, when I know there must have been times when they saw me on TV and weren’t quite so happy with what was said. But I do like to think that when I was at my best, I represented the best of them.

Of course every family has its secrets. I was always pretty interested in politics, and I can recall, in 1987, in the Wairarapa seat—Reg Boorman held it by one vote, on a recount. I found out that just on 7 o’clock, one of my sisters who lived in the electorate went in and voted Labour for the first time in her life. For those of you who knew my mother, you would know that to tell her would have been to destroy her. So we never did tell her. Now I’ve got it off my chest.

So that was my background with the families, but also from Dipton, or, to be more correct, for those who might be tuned in from Dipton, Dipton West. You won’t all be—

Hon Members: Ha, ha!

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, there is a sign that says Dipton West. When I was being brought up, the town people lived in Dipton and the real country people were Dipton West. That’s how it was. In my world, Sir Brian Talboys loomed large as the member for Wallace, followed by Derek Angus. At quite a young age I decided that I wanted his job. Unfortunately, I never grew up to be six foot four and as eloquent and as charming as Sir Brian, but I certainly enjoyed his company because he lived in Winton the rest of his life, after he retired from politics.

But I have to say I never tired of representing the electorate. I never tired of its shifting beauty of the landscape. I must have flown from Wellington to Invercargill and back a thousand times, literally, as I counted up a marvellous display of the vibrancy of our landscape. You looked out the window and it was never the same, through that thousand trips. I always admired the laconic determination of the people who make that place such a productive part of New Zealand.

So some of my views about politics were formed by events prior to coming to politics. I was farming, and I remember going to a large protest meeting in Lumsden, which was addressed by now Sir Roger Douglas. I was hoping, a couple of years later, when I found myself by myself in his office on a Sunday morning, eating Kentucky Fried Chicken, giving him advice as a Treasury official on the flat-tax package, that he wouldn’t recognise me—and I don’t think that he did.

But the lesson from that time, which was a time of severe impact on my community—the lesson I learnt was that New Zealand should never get into that situation where the only choice, and it was the only choice, was massive disruptive and damaging restructuring. I’m pleased that years later, when I had the opportunity as a policy maker, we acted in a way that meant we could avoid that kind of disruption.

The other lesson was that to achieve that, let people see what actually happens. If you’re a small, open economy they need to be able to see the prices. I was farming. We were getting wool and meat subsidies—supplementary minimum prices—that enabled us to pay then 20 percent interest rates. It was all quite misleading. It’s better to back people; that they can make the changes that they need to make. And if I can point to a contrast in my time, when the first freezing works closed in Southland, Ocean Beach, it was a massively difficult and disruptive event. A couple of thousand people were out of work. The last one that closed, in Mataura—I can remember working with Tracy Hicks, the Mayor of Gore, to get ourselves set up to deal with the fallout and there was none. People went and found jobs. This was in the 2000s. Our community had become resilient and capable and able to deal with the pressures and changes, and I’m proud of them for that.

Of course I had, in that community, my own National Party volunteers and I want to thank my four electorate chairs who are here today: Graham Drummond, Ailsa Smaill, Kate Hazlett, and Nigel Moore. We all know, as MPs, that our volunteers are the beating heart of political activism, and in the National Party the electorate chairs do the meetings and the miles, in a large rural electorate. I want to register my appreciation for them.

I also want to thank the National Party: its recent presidents Judy Kirk and Peter Goodfellow and Greg Hamilton who, along with Steven Joyce, rebuilt what was a shattered organisation in the early 2000s into the successful, well-organised, and functioning political body that it is now. I thank also the thousands of volunteers, particularly those who showed up at the 2017 election. It was a pleasure to show up in that campaign and find that after three terms in Government, when a party has usually run its course and lost its energy, that had not happened. That’s what leaves us with an Opposition of strength and spirit.

Can I, in that context, congratulate my successor Simon Bridges. Simon, you have my full support. You have the qualities to be a very effective political leader. I know that the discussions we had in our caucus, in the lead up to this changeover, have meant that you have the best possible start. One of the funny things about politics is that you get to know people without necessarily being their friends. I can still remember when in 1990 at our first caucus meeting, when we handed out the silver plates, a couple of senior members of my party leaving the caucus room and greeting each other outside the caucus room—and I just happened to see this in a moment—in a way that indicated to me, despite their long years of service together, they didn’t really know each other that well in a personal sense. I’ve been fortunate to have some real friends who’ve come through with me and that is Nick Smith, Roger Sowry, and Tony Ryall.

We all started together as part of an intake of 37—a colourful bunch, I have to say. We were kind of the secondary school students I suppose—certainly regarded that way. The four of us have had opposing views on everything from conscience issues to leadership coups. The real test, though, has been 27 years of family holidays together, where we’ve managed to create a tradition for ourselves and our families that keeps us bound, whatever our political views.

I can recall Nick in our 1990 caucus, which still included Rob Muldoon, giving a speech as part of his campaign against the—well, to shrink MPs’ superannuation. He’s not so sure about it now. But when he was 18 it all looked pretty straightforward—sorry, 25. When he sat down Rob Muldoon stood up and said, “Well, some doctors make you well, and some doctors make you sick.”

He didn’t just pick on Nick, though. One day I got in the lift and he knew my mother reasonably well—who was one of the few people that he was a bit scared of, I think. And he said to me, in his accent, “How’s your mother?” And I said, “She’s fine, Sir Robert.”, shaking in my shoes. And he replied, “Pity you weren’t.” So that was it.

Roger, I can remember standing in the House arguing against the bill that was going to allow for benefits to continue to be paid to paralympians. Don McKinnon, as Leader of the House, did a deal in the middle of the speech where we switched sides and we were now going to support the bill, and, without blinking, Roger changed his speech halfway through in support of the bill. Now, those of you who know Roger know he’s not usually that flexible and reasonable.

One of the most enjoyable nights I ever had in this House is with Tony Ryall, who, in the boredom of a long session of urgency, came in the door mimicking a certain MP and we had to guess who it was, which we did correctly, so he went back round and kept coming in and did a fantastic job, including, Mr Speaker, that kind of threatening bikie gang type thing that you used to do back in the early nineties. You’re such a grandfatherly sort these days.

Through the 1990s, actually, most of my focus was on health, where I’d become an under-secretary in 1993, which I regarded as very important, and, actually, involved through to the Minister in 1999—so six years. It was a tumultuous period as we moved to MMP, and I want to recognise the leadership of Jim Bolger through that time. It was about as tough a political environment as you could possibly have. He woke up one morning to find that a number of his MPs, including a Cabinet Minister, had gone off to found another party, rather surprising, and a bit of an indictment on the whips I suppose—and then followed by Jenny Shipley.

The strong impression I have from that time in my role was that that was when we were having the deinstitutionalisation—that ugly word—of our mental health and intellectually handicap children services. Gore Hospital still had a psychopaedic ward when I became the MP in 1990. I found myself, both as an MP—as all MPs did—but particularly as a Minister working with the abused and the traumatised, the victims and the perpetrators, including the families involved in a mass shooting at Raurimu, where a young man, who was part of our mental health services, shot six people up in Raurimu, and I had to visit his mother and him.

What I learnt from that is the Government can do harm, particularly to the most vulnerable if it’s not incredibly sensitive to their needs. I was proud of the new forms of health provision that were fostered then. Māori and Pacific providers took off. Some of them are here today, actually—people I worked with then, including Tariana Turia, before she got into politics. Now they have become—many of them—the basis of Whānau Ora. It gives one a great deal of satisfaction to think that something that happened 20 years previously turns out to be useful as a basis for further progress later.

Hospitals were a big issue—small, rural hospitals, which in the early 1990s still had surgeons in them. Some of you may remember the hands round the hospital protests in Balclutha, a town of 5,000 to 7,000 people marched against the closure of the hospital. I recall being under a bit of pressure in a Grey Power meeting in Gore, and I lost my cool and said, “We should bulldoze the bloody thing and build a new one.” And, actually, that’s what we did. I’m proud to say that in the South all of the small health services outside of Dunedin and Invercargill hospitals are in community ownership, and I have to say they’ve never been better run, more stable, and more secure for their communities. The idea that Government has to run everything to make it work is simply wrong, and, in small communities, it is almost certainly not the answer to have third-level managers running your services for you. If I had one shortfall on that, it’s that I didn’t manage to get the Queenstown hospital into that structure, because it would be a much better facility than it is today if it wasn’t in public ownership.

All of this now, of course, seems a long time ago, particularly to my children, who are sitting in the gallery. I realised a couple of years ago that they don’t know everything that happened. One day I was at home, I came down the stairs and into the kitchen and my kickboxing-trained son said to me, “Surely not.” I said, “What do you mean?” “Surely, you are not the skinny old white guy in that boxing fight on TV.” He had, coincidently, happened to turn on Sky TV and there was a rerun of the 2002 Fight for Life. And, for politicians who think no arguments have been had before, that was about raising money for youth suicide, which had affected my family very directly.

That was a fantastic experience. My coach was Chris Kenny, and, when I went out to his gym in Tītahi Bay, he was keen to get in the ring—and he wasn’t a young man; he was an older guy—and spar. I said to him one day, “Chis, why are you so keen to get in the ring?” He said, “Mate, it’s cos you’re a Tory and I want to hit you.”—which made you look a bit gentle, Mr Speaker. He did say to me, “I don’t think I’ve ever met a National voting person in my life.”—and I was it.

I did go out there one day and he had two of these young guys there for sparring. One of them hopped in the ring, and he was a very organised, clearly, expert fighter and gave me the odd pop here and there, pretty restrained. Then he hopped out and the next one hopped in and took to me—in a pretty devastating manner, actually. I said to him, at the end of a shortened round, “Mate, what’s going on?” He said, “Well, that’s my brother, and he’s in the Commonwealth Games team. I didn’t get in and I’m a bit hacked off about it.”

There were a couple of lessons out of that. I went home with a headache and a blood nose on my shirt that night. One was politicians get blamed for everything—that’s for sure. The second one, though, was it turned out—and I mean this in a reasonably serious way, actually—to be a great practice run for the 2002 election and the period beyond for me, because the composure that I learned under the tutelage of this hard-core Labour supporter about how to stay composed while you’re taking the punches made all the difference to the capacity to lead my party through a very difficult period. That’s just one of many examples of the way in which, I think, those of us in public life can be inspired unexpectedly.

I have to say, though, I was grateful for the opportunity to get up again in 2006 and join a fantastic team under John Key, along with my colleagues Steven Joyce, Gerry Brownlee—Murray McCully was there—Paula Bennett, and others. It was a pleasure to go to work every day. I must compliment John in his absence. As I’ve said before, he was almost as good as he said he was some days. But he did have a relentless optimism, which was not just in front of the TV camera—it was in dealing with every person, every day, on every detail, about every issue, and I think it had, in my view, an affect for New Zealand in raising its confidence about its ability to handle the world as it was. And, of course, the world as it was was pretty messy.

Can I also acknowledge the efforts of Gerry Brownlee through the Christchurch rebuild. As a finance Minister, the danger, of course, is an open cheque. Who knows what would happen? There was never a moment when I didn’t know that Gerry was getting a balance of what needed to happen with what it cost. But, more importantly—and I think this is a testament to his character—he never once mentioned his personal circumstances, which I discovered, years later, were very difficult. A remarkable tribute to a sense of selflessness that was required to do what he did.

I used to worry a bit when he argued with the engineers, I must say. They would say this—and here was the engineering report about the liquefaction—and Gerry would go, “No, that’s a load of rubbish—don’t believe that.” An excellent education at St Bede’s—I’m sure that’s what did it.

But that was in the financial crisis, and my job was to understand what was going on; to understand what the decision makers were doing—and, of course, it was a global crisis, so that meant global decision makers; and to help explain to New Zealanders how we were going to find our way through what looked to be very difficult circumstances. Now, of course, the main decision makers turned out to be Reserve Bank governors. Now, if there’s people put on earth to make finance Ministers look interesting and charismatic, it’s Reserve Bank governors. And I think Graeme Wheeler may be here today—he knows what I mean.

Now, that made monetary policy interesting. I won’t bore you with monetary policy, but there were a few interesting details. The staff who get you a cup of tea and look after you in the Bank of England are middle-aged men who wear pink jackets. It’s quite striking.

The other thing that’s striking is that the chief adviser on monetary policy to Ben Bernanke, who, basically, made the decisions that mattered, was Bill English—7 foot tall, not me. I did get a text from an American friend of mine, very excited to find out on the front page of the New York Times that the Federal Reserve Governor was listening to my advice.

Well, I met all these people, and occasionally I gave their advice. But one of the most touching moments was with Mario Draghi, the Governor of the European Central Bank—incredibly difficult political circumstances. We were scheduled for a 20-minute meeting that ran on to about an hour. One of his staff came in to stop it, and he felt like he had to explain, so he said, “This is the only person who’s come in here in the last six months who hasn’t tried to tell me what to do.” And I think that’s part of the New Zealand way of exerting influence: to listen, to engage, because in fact we don’t matter most of the time, but, in fact, people occasionally listen to us when we say something.

My job was to also raise debt. We were running up debt in New Zealand to pay to keep our benefit levels up, to keep our services running, and to rebuild Christchurch, and so I had to go out and tell our story. There was one moment, though, where I got a bit frustrated, so after about three nights on planes, talking to some 28-year-old in Boston, I think it was, who indicated he wasn’t particularly interested, really, I said to him, “Do you know where New Zealand is?” And he said, “Yeah. On our list it’s between Netherlands and Namibia.”—which is not actually correct. It’s between Netherlands and Nicaragua. But you don’t have to go that far to have a problem. I went to Australia as part of this, and I remember having a quite intense discussion with a group of people, all about the New Zealand economy. They were reasonably interested and quite engaged, and on the way out one of them patted me on the back and said, “Mate, it’s great to know things are going OK in Tasmania.”—a reminder of how small New Zealand is and how important it is that we have a positive story to tell to the world, because it is a financial reality that we borrow money from them, and we need that to keep ourselves going.

In all these endeavours I’ve been supported by excellent staff, capable and good-humoured, and any politician who’s worth their salt knows how important staff are. I’ve worked with dozens of people, but there were some who were core, particularly through that period—Eileen O’Leary, Craig Howie, Paul Dyer, Grant Fleming, Matt Burgess, Cam Burrows, and Grant Johnston—and before that, in Opposition, in the tough times, Tim Grafton, Sue Foley, Bevan Graham, and Jason Eade. I’ve always enjoyed working with the staff. I always think that the best way to get the best product, the best decisions, in politics is to be open to anyone telling you what they think, because anyone’s got something that you should listen to.

I’ve also worked with many excellent public servants. Sometimes they’re really useful. When I was Minister of Health my office got a panicked call from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, who told my receptionist, “The Minister’s kids are out on the roof of his house.” They were just over the fence from Bolton Street, where we were living, and my kids indeed had gone up, opened a window, climbed out onto the roof, and were sitting there sunning themselves while the public servants had their hearts in their mouths—and they all got back in safely. But they did a lot of other useful things, as well.

Hon Paula Bennett: The kids?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: Oh, no, not my kids. Actually, I’ve been looking at the Wellington rents lately, and all I want to say is it’s not always going to be free!

One of the mild frustrations of being a finance Minister is that you get involved in a whole lot of things that people don’t understand about, because it’s not of media interest or you’ve got the wrong label, and particularly that was the case for me. One of the areas where I spent an enormous amount of time, from which I’ve gained great satisfaction, is work with Māori and with the iwi leaders group. It was intense, and we developed, in what I think typifies New Zealand’s flexible constitutional development, a practical and pragmatic solution to the idea of Treaty partnership, without the courts and without too many academics. Actually, none have shown any interest whatsoever in this; even though they write books about it, they don’t know what’s actually happened. But 8.5, the Cabinet committee room, which the new Government will now be familiar with—the only other people who came in there, apart from us and the officials, were the iwi leaders group. It was the most efficient, focused, and accountable process I’ve been part of in Government in the whole 27 years, and it gives me great optimism, actually, for New Zealand.

In fact, when you look at events around the world, I’m increasingly of the view that New Zealand’s ability to deal with cultural difference is going to become a strategic advantage, not just to us but relative to the rest of the world. We see deep, sophisticated cultures such as Europe struggling with issues that we have grappled with intensively for 30 years, and I want to acknowledge the work of Sir Doug Graham and Chris Finlayson and Jim Bolger, in particular those three, around the settlements, and Chris’s extraordinary effort in recent years. I’ve been going to Waitangi for 27 years. I’ve seen the Governor-General spat on and the flag tramped on; felt the palpable threat of violence; seen the head-butting, some of it pre-emptive, and very impressive, I must say—I’m pleased I never had to learn how to do it quite like that—and the reason it’s manageable now is that much of the tension has been dealt with: not buried, but dealt with.

And I want to pay tribute to the iwi leaders. In, I think, another lesson, another inspiration, we were about to sign an agreement, and one of the kaumātua said he’d spent the night walking the street. I asked why, and he said it was because of the burden of responsibility of giving up the grievance and being accountable to future generations for that. And you realise the courage of these people, who, in a multi-generational context, made a decision that is good for them, but even better for New Zealand. I want to acknowledge that generation who made the settlements, but also the generation that’s come after them, who are such impressive, bicultural, bilingual, organised, focused people, most particularly with a strong sense of purpose. In that context, can I also acknowledge the Māori Party. We worked on some pretty tough issues for a long time. I think it was a political mistake on behalf of Māoridom to vote them out. They’ll learn, they’ll re-learn, and they’ll change again. I’m pretty sure of that. They don’t want to go back to the way it used to be—but Tariana Turia, Pita Sharples, and my friend Te Ururoa Flavell, who’s here today.

For those of you who may not have noticed, the other focus I developed as a finance Minister and would have put a lot of time into as a Prime Minister is social investment. Why does it matter? Well, I referred earlier to the harm I’d seen done in the 1990s by Government institutions to so many people, and we’re 20 years on, going 30 years on, going to have a royal commission into all of that, which will tell us what we already know. But the conclusion will be this: Government work looks after the weakest worst—it does the worst job for the weakest. I’ve never understood the argument that the structure of delivering a service matters more than the people to whom you deliver it. The core of my belief—and it comes from Catholic theology, and to some extent National Party principles—is the utter integrity of the individual person, their importance, and our obligation to them to ensure that they can realise their aspirations and their full humanity. Much of what Government does does not do that.

That’s a shame, because I’ve never met a person, in 27 years, who had no hope—never, not one, including the worst of our offenders, and I’ve met them. There’s always some hope. In fact, often that’s all they have. So that’s why I, in my small opportunity to do so, injected into the public service, at least, the word “customer”—mainly because they hate it. They don’t like that word. Who thinks they’re a customer of Government? Well, in the real world, they have choices, they have preferences, so why can’t someone with multiple disabilities have choices and have preferences? Why do they have to put up with what we give them or what some professional group says is the way the service should be, and that you can’t do something different because it might undermine the integrity of the service? Well, what about the integrity of the person? What about them? Actually, that’s who we are here for, and my sense of that over 27 years of public service is stronger than it’s ever been.

I used to tell this story, which I’ll tell again. It’s from the Auckland City Mission, who tracked 100 families. They interviewed them every couple of weeks for a year, and they created this case study. It was a solo mum with a child with disabilities, and everything she did in two weeks. She said at the end of it, “Absolutely stuffed. I’ve visited 23 agencies. There was one that treated me with respect, knew my story, helped me, gave me a cup of coffee—it was Instant Finance.” We’re getting outdone on compassion by the people who charge 37 percent a month. That’s telling, and if there’s anything I want to leave as a lesson here, it is the dangerous complacency of good intentions. There’s too much of it in New Zealand—that, somehow, if you say you mean well, that’s going to make a difference. Well, actually, it can cause damage because you’re not actually talking about what actually happened. The services we provide are not about us; they’re about those people. The only measure of it is whether it changes their lives—whether we reduce the misery—but we have system built, still, too much on servicing that misery.

Social investment will roll on because ideas are powerful. Knowledge is powerful—more powerful than Governments—and now people know it can be different, enough of them, and I want to complement those, particularly those brave public servants. We had a fantastic time doing some of the hardest stuff, because it’s hard to do, and I must say, if it was as easy as just giving money—I used to think of this as a Minister of Finance. If I believed every claim made to me and my predecessors about the benefit of the next $100 million, there’d be no problems in New Zealand—none. They would have all been gone 20 years ago. The fact is, most of those claims are wrong, because the people claiming it’ll make a difference have no idea and never go back and see whether it made that kind of difference. I think, as you can see, I’ve never quite lost my energy for that one, and the only regret I suppose I have after 27 years is that we were ready to some good stuff if we’d been re-elected. But that’s politics: you get great opportunities without having to earn them, and they can be taken away just as easily.

I could go on. The temptation of a valedictory is to give the policy speech that you thought you could have all given, summarising everything that you wanted to say, but I’m not going to do that. I just want to finish with a few remarks, particularly acknowledging my family who are here today. This has been our adventure—[Drinks water] excuse me; they told me not to do that—particularly 2017 and the campaign, where I discovered that our rule of having no politics at home hadn’t worked. That was our rule. We shifted the family to Wellington and made a couple of rules: no politics on Sunday, go home for tea every night—so I have not eaten in Bellamy’s for 20 years—and we don’t talk about politics when I get home because there’s plenty of other stuff to talk about. I discovered that, actually, they’d been reading the paper, surfing the internet, and had developed political views of their own—some of which are wrong. But it’s our togetherness that matters, and the great gift of me leaving politics will be that we can re-craft that sense of togetherness.

I want to just finish with a quote from James K. Baxter that I’ve always liked. It’s from his poem called “New Zealand”, where the first line is

“These unshaped islands, on the sawyer’s bench,
Wait for the chisel of the mind,”

On March 13, when I officially resign—it feels like you leave the building about six times when you’re going, six last times—it will be 10,000 days since I was elected, and I want to acknowledge my brother Conor, who pointed that out to me. Ten thousand days since I was elected, and I’m satisfied that, every day, I took my turn at the chisel.

Word of the day


Valedictory – expressing, relating to, or serving as a farewell; a farewell address or speech; of or relating to a valediction; of or relating to an occasion of leave-taking.

Bill English’s valedictory


Bill English will be delivering his valedictory speech at 4pm.

You can watch it live here.

Rural round-up


Big week for agri-food in the Manawatu – Kate Taylor:

New Zealand AgriFood Week is returning to Manawatu with a series of more than 10 events dedicated to developing, celebrating and showcasing the country’s food producing industries.

The week in association with ASB, is designed to help New Zealand agrifood businesses succeed through the development of innovation, investment and people. Project managed by Central Economic Development Agency (CEDA), the week will deliver a programme of events designed to connect, challenge and grow the agrifood industry.

This year’s theme is “Transforming Food Producers for the Future”. . . 

Top excavator operators do battle – Sonita Chandar:

Using a 12-tonne Hitachi excavator to pour a cup of tea, slam dunking a basketball and transporting an egg is no easy task but for New Zealand’s top excavator operators, it’s a piece of cake.

The boys and their toys will be back at Central Districts Field Days in Feilding to do battle for the Civil Contractor New Zealand’s (CCNZ’s) National Excavator Operator Competition title.

Ten of the country’s top excavator operators and will be taking on current titleholder Steve Galbraith, from Galbraith Earthmovers, Napier. Steve has won it for the last two years and is determined to make that three wins in a row. . . 

NZDIA Executive Chair announced as Dairy Woman of the Year finalist:

The New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards Executive Chair has been named as one of three finalists in the 2018 Fonterra Dairy Woman of the Year awards.

Rachel Baker farms in the Central Hawkes Bay with her husband and three children. She and her husband won the Manawatu Sharemilker of the Year title in 2009, and progressed to large scale sharemilking before purchasing a dairy support unit in 2017. . . 

After large New Zealand kiwi fruit, small Italian ones followed:

The contrast between the European and the New Zealand kiwi fruit season is large. New Zealand mostly harvested large sizes. The European kiwi fruit season is characterised by small sizes and a smaller volume. The harvest was particularly disappointing in Italy. Nele Moorthamers of Zespri talks about the challenges of this season, and the growth opportunities for the originally New Zealand company for kiwi fruit during the European season.
During the season, the Zespri kiwi fruit mostly comes from Italy and France.  . . 

Fleece patrol: how organic wool from Patagonia is creating sustainable luxury – Laura Hawkins:

With the power to salve the soul and sell stock, sustainability is luxury’s new holy grail. As we investigate in two special reports, it begins with the pioneers rethinking the production of raw materials. Part I explores how that means being able to trace one’s organic knit back to a happy Patagonian sheep, part II follows the same thread by investigating denim naturally dyed with Tennessee-grown indigo.

Renewable, warm, odour-resistant, non-flammable, hypoallergenic, elastic, soft, wrinkle-free: wool is a natural fibre with a lot going for it. Yet according to a 2017 report by the global non-profit organisation Textile Exchange, wool and down accounts for only 1.3 per cent of the world’s fibre production. This is partly due to a communication problem: ‘Over the last half a century, consumer messaging on wool has been confusing,’ says Alberto Rossi, business development manager of Organica, a new arm of French company Chargeurs Luxury Materials, one of the world’s leading suppliers of premium wool fibre. Cheap synthetic alternatives now have a 68.3 per cent share of the textiles market. . . 

NZ  outdoor recreation could be big business:

A New Zealand outdoor recreation advocacy says outdoor recreation is a very big contributor to the economy, but lacked appreciation by government.

Andi Cockroft, co-chairman of the Council of Outdoor Recreation said a recent study in the US showed the outdoor recreation industry’s contribution to the US’s GDP was larger than that of all mining, including the extraction of oil and gas.

“And the US study showed the industry is expanding. In 2016, it grew 3.8 percent, compared to the overall economy’s growth of 2.8 percent,” he said.. . . 

Young farmer focus: ‘Farming is not just a man’s world’ – Eleanor Durdy, 23:

Growing up on a farm was the greatest gift I have ever received. I learnt to drive before I could touch the pedals, ate mud for breakfast and played conkers without a hard hat.

I became the ‘roller girl’, changed my first oil filter and found a passion for farming.

But as a girl, I was not encouraged to become a farmer. “It is not very ladylike,” they said. “You need a back-up.” So that is what I did. . . 

Thursday’s quiz


You are invited to pose the questions.

Anyone who stumps everyone will win a virtual case of mixed stone fruit.

NZ’s first winter Olympian


The ODT writes about the first New Zealander to compete in the Winter Olympics:

Herbie Familton, who died in May 2002, aged 74, was one of three Kiwis who represented their country at the 1952 games in Oslo, Norway.

Despite having a broken thumb, Oamaru-born Herbert competed in the giant slalom and finished in 77th place, the highest finisher in the New Zealand team.

Selected as a travelling reserve, he replaced team captain Roy McKenzie, who was forced to withdraw through injury.

The 2m-long wooden skis he used at the Olympics were given to the North Otago Museum in 2002, probably by his family after he died, curator of collections Chloe Searle said. . . 

Herbie’s son, Herb Familton, who lives in Christchurch, said while his father did not speak of his Olympic experience often, it was clear he was proud of his achievement.

”He did talk about it a little bit, but not a lot. He talked about how good the Europeans were and that he did some training in Austria beforehand. He knew they would have to do well and perform well because the Europeans were pretty good. He always said he had beaten the Lebanese and the Australians, which gave him some great satisfaction.

”Skiing in New Zealand, particularly then, was a real novelty. People from overseas didn’t realise people could ski in New Zealand at all. From the games on, the ski industry in New Zealand developed quite a lot.”

Herb said his father, also a keen tennis player, would wear his New Zealand Olympic team blazer when he went to play tennis, a sport he played well into his 40s.

Herbert skied regularly until 2000, primarily at Coronet Peak, and also at Awakino Skifield near Kurow, which he helped develop. . . 

Herbie was also a musician who played in the Oamaru Operatic Society orchestra for years.

He used to come out to our farm to gather fire wood and delighted in blowing up stumps with explosives he’d mixed in a food processor at home.


Nats not Maori enough?


The leader and deputy leader of the National Party are Maori.

So is Labour’s deputy, the leader and deputy of New Zealand First, and one of the two contenders for the co-leader of the Green Party.

That ought to be something to celebrate.

It is except that several commentators don’t think National’s Simon Bridges and Paula Bennett are Maori enough.

 . . Bridges’ generational change then is about as solid as his claims to his Maori heritage and that of his deputy, neither of whom have made much of it in their rise up through the ranks; not altogether surprising considering their new leader is just three sixteenths Maori and Bennett’s grandmother was half-Maori. . . 

Funny how it’s only an issue when it’s the National Party.

That aside, the  furore illustrates one of the problems with identity politics – they divide rather than unite.

There is no single way to be a Maori, any other race or ethnicity, gender or any of the other groups people may or may not identify with.

There will be a lot of urban Maori whose experiences are similar to those of the National leadership duo, does that make them any less Maori?

Of course not.

Let’s celebrate that we’re in a country where race, gender and any of the other factors which separate and are used to discriminate against people in other countries simply don’t matter without nit-picking over what does or doesn’t constitute this or that identity.

Quote of the day


If youth is a defect, it is one that we outgrow too soon. – Robert Lowell who was born on this day in 1917.

March 1 in history


752 BC Romulus, first king of Rome celebrated the first Roman triumph after his victory over the Caeninenses.

86 BC  Lucius Cornelius Sulla, at the head of a Roman Republic army, entered Athens, removing the tyrant Aristion who was supported by troops of Mithridates VI of Pontus.

286  Roman Emperor Diocletian raised Maximian to the rank of Caesar.

293  Roman Emperors Diocletian and Maximian appointed Constantius Chlorus and Galerius as Caesares,  beginning the Tetrarchy.

317 Crispus and Constantine II, sons of Roman Emperor Constantine I, and Licinius Iunior, son of Emperor Licinius, were made Caesares.

1445  Sandro Botticelli, Italian painter, was born (d. 1510).

1449 Lorenzo de’ Medici, Italian statesman, was born (d. 1492).

1457 The Unitas Fratrum was established in the village of Kunvald, on the Bohemian-Moravian borderland. It is the second oldest Protestant denomination.

1562 – 23 Huguenots were massacred by Catholics in Wassy marking the start of the French Wars of Religion.

1565 The city of Rio de Janeiro was founded.

1628 Writs were issued by Charles I of England mandating that every county in England (not just seaport towns) pay ship tax by this date.

1633 Samuel de Champlain reclaimed his role as commander of New France on behalf of Cardinal Richelieu.

1692 Sarah GoodSarah Osborne and Tituba were brought before local magistrates in Salem Village, Massachusetts, beginning the Salem witch trials.

1810 Frédéric Chopin, Polish composer, was born (d. 1849).

1811 Leaders of the Mameluke dynasty were killed by Egyptian rulerMuhammad Ali.

1815 Napoleon returned to France from his banishment on Elba.

1840 Adolphe Thiers became Prime Minister of France.

1852 Archibald William Montgomerie, 13th Earl of Eglinton was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.

1862 British-born tenor, Charles Thatcher, gave his first New Zealand performance at Shadrach Jones’ Commercial Hotel in Dunedin.

Charles Thatcher gives first NZ performance

1870 Marshal F.S. López died during the Battle of Cerro Corá marking the end of the War of the Triple Alliance.

1872 Yellowstone National Park was established as the world’s first national park.

1873 E. Remington and Sons in Ilion, New York began production of the first practical typewriter.

1886 The Anglo-Chinese School, Singapore was founded by Bishop William Oldham.

1893 Nikola Tesla made the first public demonstration of radio in St. Louis, Missouri.

1896 Battle of Adowa: an Ethiopian army defeated an outnumbered Italian force, ending the First Italo–Ethiopian War.

1896 Henri Becquerel discovered radioactivity.

1904 Glenn Miller, American band leader, was born  (d. 1944).

1910 The worst avalanche in United States history buried a Great Northern Railway train in northeastern King County, Washington, killing 96 people.

1910 David Niven, English actor, was born (d. 1983).

1912 Albert Berry made the first parachute jump from a moving airplane.

1916 – The New Zealand Division was formed.

New Zealand Division formed

1917 Robert Lowell, American poet, was born (d. 1977).

1919 March 1st Movement began in Korea.

1922 Yitzhak Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, was born  (d. 1995).

1927 Harry Belafonte, American musician and activist, was born.

1932 The son of Charles Lindbergh, Charles Augustus Lindbergh III, was kidnapped.

1936 The Hoover Dam was completed.

1936 – A strike occurred aboard the S.S. California, leading to the demise of the International Seamen’s Union and the creation of the National Maritime Union.

1939 Japanese Imperial Army ammunition dump exploded at Hirakata, Osaka, killing 94.

1939 Trans-Canada Air Lines (forerunner of Air Canada) begins transcontinental operations (between Vancouver and Montreal).

1944 – Mike d’Abo, English singer (Manfred Mann), was born.

1944 Roger Daltrey, English musician (The Who), was born.

1946 The Bank of England was nationalised.

1947 The International Monetary Fund began financial operations.

1953 Joseph Stalin suffered a stroke and collapsed, he died four days later.

1954  Ron Howard, American actor and director, was born.

1954 Nuclear testing: The Castle Bravo, a 15-megaton hydrogen bomb, was detonated on Bikini Atoll resulting in the worst radioactive contamination ever caused by the United States.

1956  Dalia Grybauskaite, President of Lithuania, was born.

1956  The International Air Transport Association finalised a draft of theRadiotelephony spelling alphabet for the International Civil Aviation Organization.

1956 – Formation of the National People’s Army.

1961  President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps.

1961 – Uganda became self-governing and held its first elections.

1962 – Russell Coutts, New Zealand sailor, was born.

1964 Villarrica Volcano began a strombolian eruption causing lahas that destroy half of the town Coñaripe.

1966 – Venera 3 Soviet space probe crashed on Venus becoming the first spacecraft to land on another planet‘s surface.

1966 – The Ba’ath Party took power in Syria.

1973 Black September terrorists stormed the Saudi embassy in Khartoum, Sudan resulting in the 1973 Khartoum diplomatic assassinations.

1975 Colour television transmissions began in Australia.

1981  Bobby Sands began his hunger strike.

1992 Bosnia and Herzegovina declared its independence from Yugoslavia.

1995 Polish Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak resigned from parliament and was replaced by ex-communist Józef Oleksy.

2000 – Hans Blix assumed the position of Executive Chairman of UNMOVIC.

2002 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan: Operation Anaconda began in eastern Afghanistan.

2002 – The Envisat environmental satellite successfully reached an orbit 800 kilometers (500 miles) above the Earth on its 11th launch, carrying the heaviest payload to date at 8500 kilograms (9.5 tons).

2002 The peseta was discontinued as official currency of Spain and replaced with the euro (€).

2003 – The International Criminal Court held its inaugural session in The Hague.

2004 Mohammed Bahr al-Uloum becomes President of Iraq.

2005 Death penalty for juveniles revoked in United States of America.

2006 English-language Wikipedia reached its one millionth article,Jordanhill railway station.

2007 Tornadoes swarmed across the southern United States, killing at least 20.

2007 – “Squatters” were evicted from Ungdomshuset in Copenhagen, provoking the March 2007 Denmark Riots.

2008  Armenian police clashed with peaceful opposition rally protesting against allegedly fraudulent presidential elections 2008 killing at least 10 people.

2014 – At least 29 people were killed and 130 injured in a mass stabbingat Kunming Railway Station in China.

Sourced from NZ History Online & Wikipedia

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