Chris Finlayson, one of the most erudite and eloquent MPs I’ve had the privilege of knowing, delivered his valedictory statement today.
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (National): Mr Speaker, I have to say, I’m delighted to be leaving. In fact, I would have gone sooner, but I stayed on a few more months for a few reasons. First, Jim Bolger advised me not to go straight after the new Government was formed but to wait until about October, and I always follow the advice of Jim Bolger. I have to say, secondly, I’ve really enjoyed the camaraderie of the caucus, especially getting to know and work with the 2017 intake. Thirdly, I’ve been very keen to progress reform of the law of contempt, a hugely important topic I had spent many, many years trying to advance, and it’s one of the ironies of politics that I succeeded in Opposition. The recent debate over suppression orders shows why the bill is so very important. It’s now in the Justice Committee, in safe hands, and so I don’t need to stay until the bill is enacted. Finally, I became increasingly irritated by journalists asking me when I intended to go, and I started serious planning after Lloyd Burr was posted to London.
There are two parts to my speech. The first are acknowledgments of people I need to thank and, secondly, there’s the inevitable lecture.
Could I begin with the acknowledgments. In no particular hierarchy or order, I want first to acknowledge my opponents. The Labour opponents that I had in Mana and Rongotai, Winnie Laban, Annette King, and Paul Eagle and their spouses, are very, very nice people. I really enjoyed their company. The campaigns were pleasant and issues-focused.
I especially acknowledge Annette’s husband Ray, who would sit through campaign meetings in Island Bay with a beatific smile on his face as Paul Tolich, Ken Findlay, and the rest of the Island Bay Labour gang yelled at me. I once told Ken Findlay in 2014 to sit down and shut up—I always had a special rapport with constituents. After that meeting, he accused me of being a CIA agent. A few days later, I was appointed Minister in charge of the GCSB and the SIS, so perhaps dear old Ken wasn’t totally deluded.
One person at those meetings who always asked tough questions but was always very pleasant and courteous was Peter Conway. I think of Peter and his family a lot. He was a fine man. I also acknowledge Paul Swain, Rick Barker, and Fran Wilde, former Labour MPs who were great Treaty negotiators and whom I regard as good friends.
I have to say I have great respect for social democracy, though I prefer liberal conservatism. But I still admire the courage of the 1984-87 Labour Government in the economics area, even if the Labour Party doesn’t. The changes they made were essential and overdue.
Can I say something about the Greens—far from me politically in many areas, but we always got on well. Kennedy Graham is someone I regard as a good friend, a man of principle and courage, and someone who still has a lot to contribute, and I hope that party can look beyond divisions of the past and use his talents. I also acknowledge James Shaw and, particularly, Teall Crossen, who was the Green candidate in Rongotai in 2017. I think she has a great future, or perhaps she had a great future till I started praising her.
I know my colleagues very well. By now, my colleagues will be whispering to one another that I’ve gone troppo. Well, fear not, because I now turn to talk about New Zealand First. The most I can say to them is: thank you very much for not choosing the National Party in 2017. As is well-known, I think we dodged a bullet. That decision lays the foundations for a National Government in 2020. It’s very hard to say much about their candidates in Rongotai, as I’m sure Mr Eagle would agree. They tended to wear black shirts and rage at me over the foreshore and seabed and Treaty settlements—very strange people.
Can I acknowledge the staff in Parliament. I especially acknowledge Jim Robb, who worked so hard on development of the new building, sadly shouldered for reasons I still don’t fully understand.
I had a ministerial suite in Bowen House for about eight years. I did not want to move to the Beehive, but Mr Brownlee offered me Murray McCully’s seat if I agreed to speak to my colleagues from time to time. It was my staff who made me move. I tried to organise an exorcism of the suite, given that McCully had been there for eight years, but was told the incense would set off smoke alarms.
Bowen House is past its use-by date, and the annexe should proceed. The real reason for the delay has never been made clear.
I really do need to acknowledge the Public Service. There are so many people to thank: the Office of Treaty Settlements—Lil Anderson, and her wonderful team. I especially thank John Wood for his work on the Tūhoe and Whanganui River settlements. We did a lot of work in the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, and can I acknowledge Lewis Holden. We achieved a lot with very little money, and we reformed much of our cultural legislation. I need to mention Crown Law and especially Solicitors-General with whom I have served: David Collins, Michael Heron, and Una Jagose. I acknowledge the intelligence agencies and I acknowledge the excellent work of Ian Fletcher, Andrew Hampton, and Rebecca Kitteridge. I think those agencies are in very good heart because of their work.
Can I especially thank John Grant for the tremendous work that he did on Treaty settlements and reform of Te Ture Whenua. I am very disappointed that reform has stalled for the moment. The next National Government must urgently progress that reform.
Can I thank Lou Sanson, the Director-General of the Department of Conservation, without whose help Treaty settlements would never have been achieved. We’re so very lucky to have public servants of that calibre, and while I never worked with Brendan Boyle and Martyn Dunn, I particularly want to mention them as I have always admired them and the work they did in critical areas.
I’ve had wonderful staff over the years: the formidable Sarah Ferguson, who worked for Simon Power and Michael Cullen; Richard May; Ben Thomas; Lucy Askew Leah Walls; Hamish Juneau; Luke Redward; and Brayden Mazey—a very happy team, and they remain very good friends. I especially acknowledge James Christmas, who’s the brightest person I ever worked with and whose work on the intelligence reforms was simply outstanding.
Then, there’s my National Party family, but especially Judy Kirk, whose decency and warmth helped the National Party recover in 2002. I also acknowledge and thank those who tried to help me in my quixotic quests in Mana and Rongotai. Thank you to Bernie Poole, Ross Brown, Elizabeth Neilson, Michael Newman, David Ryan, and the late Patricia Morrison, and I especially acknowledge Glenda Hughes for her friendship and wise counsel for over a decade.
I need to say something about the media, because they are not the enemy and should never be referred to in that way. Their work is essential to our democracy. I promised Tova O’Brien I would say this: I especially acknowledge the young, clever, and classy TV3 team, Audrey Young, who’s the best bush lawyer in Wellington, and I’d better mention Claire Trevett and Barry Soper, otherwise they’ll get snarky.
I’ve almost forgiven Guyon Espiner, who taught me a very good lesson: do not appear on Morning Report just after you’ve woken up. I remember very well the morning he interviewed me and put a proposition to me from Metiria Turei, and I said, “Oh, well that’s what happens when one is dealing with a left-wing loon.” And he put another proposition to me, and I said, “Well, that’s what happens when one is dealing with a right-wing loon.”, and he said, “Well that commentator was John Key.” The message came down from the ninth floor that if I wanted to be Minister for Consumer Affairs I was on the right track.
I’ve worked with a number of wonderful, wonderful communities over the years. Just a few examples: the Jewish community, a welcoming, loving community who’ve contributed so much to our land. Sadly, even in this country, they are exposed too often to that incurable disease of anti-Semitism. I acknowledge members of the Assyrian Christian community, who, faced with the tragic destruction of Eastern Christianity in ancient lands, have come to our shores. I think we should try and bring in more of these people. They are hardworking and decent folk with much to offer New Zealand.
I’ve really enjoyed my time working with the Chatham Islands community. Peter Dunne and I got the new wharf, and Paul Eagle—he has to deliver the new runway. I acknowledge Alfred and Robin Priest in the gallery today and hope I shall be able to continue to work with the islands in the future. And then I also especially want to mention, of all the school communities I’ve dealt with, the Mount Cook school community, and I want to acknowledge Sandy McCallum, who, as Grant Robertson knows, is an excellent principal and is retiring after many, many years of superb leadership of that school. It’s a delightful multi-ethnic school, and I really enjoyed being part of that community over the years.
I need, as we all do, to acknowledge our friends from outside this place, who have been so good to us.
People like my golfing buddies: Ian Coe, David Cochrane, Charles Finny, Pat Walsh, Chris Baker, and a special mention of John Brocklesbury, whom I almost took out on Sunday afternoon with an appalling nine iron shot on the 14th at Heretaunga. John, my apologies for the twentieth time. There’s my great gym instructor, the son of Ngāti Raukawa ki Te Tonga, Karanama Peita. He is a tough and demanding physical coach and one needs that sort of discipline. There are my friends—well, I could—no, I won’t go there. There are friends in the arts, some of whom are no longer with us, people like Athol Mann and Denis Adam. And then there are those who have provided me with a politics-free zone—and every member of Parliament needs a politics-free zone—far, far too many to mention all by name. But I want to mention two people: my dear friend Maria De Lever of Island Bay, mother of five sons, helper to so many less fortunate in that suburb. I wanted her here tonight, but she promises me she’s watching. She’s recovering from a stroke. So I thank her for her kindness—and Sam Perry, lawyer, counsellor, friend, and first-class fellow.
I’ve worked for so many iwi over the years, so many people to mention: my old friend O’Regan’s sitting up there from Ngāi Tahu; Vanessa Eparaima from Ngāti Raukawa; the gentleman, kind Tiwha Bell from Maniapoto; the wise Tāmati Kruger from Tūhoe; Kirsti Luke from Tūhoe also of Ngāpuhi, who needs to go to Ngāpuhi to sort out of few of her cousins; and all of my wonderful colleagues in Taranaki. I especially mention my friends in Parihaka, who cannot be here tonight because of their commitment on the 18th of each month. People have said some nice things about me in recent days but these people are the ones who made the settlements happen. I also acknowledge John Key and Bill English, without whose active support nothing would have been achieved. I say to Andrew Little that this is the best job in Government. Don’t worry about setbacks. Just when it seems a negotiation has gone all wrong something very good can and invariably does happen. I mean who knows, Sonny Tau could decide to go and live in Iceland!
Lastly and most importantly, my family: I acknowledge my mother, who is Annette King’s second cousin, a great person. She developed an unfortunate tendency to send me texts during question time this year telling me not to look so stern and to smile more. After I threatened to put her in Sprott House, this aberrant behaviour ceased.
So that’s the nice warm stuff, and now for the inevitable lecture. Although I cannot wait to leave, I have great respect for the institution of Parliament. I think there are ways to improve our institution, and I outline a few of them now.
How long should the Parliamentary term be? I think it needs to be four years—three years is too short. A longer term will make for an effective Parliament. The proposal to lengthen the term failed in a referendum many years ago. It’s time to revisit the issue.
How long should MPs be permitted to serve? Imposition of term limits as a non-starter, but I think there should be a compulsory sabbatical after five three-year terms or four four-year terms—don’t look at me like that. A break would allow MPs to re-enter the real world and if they are odd enough to want to come back, well, they can do so.
How should parties be funded? A very important question, because generally I think our funding rules work well. But I have become concerned about funding of political parties by non-nationals. That’s why I think both major parties need to work together to review the rules relating to funding. I have a personal view that it should be illegal for non-nationals to donate to our political parties. Our political system belongs to New Zealanders, and I don’t like the idea of foreigners funding it. Similar concerns are now starting to be raised in other jurisdictions, and we need to work together, without recrimination, to ensure that our democracy remains our democracy.
How should MPs be paid? The key principle is that those in public life should have no say in what they are paid. This should be determined by an independent body. The principle has been undermined in recent times, and so I think all MPs are going to need to work together over the next year to establish the principles for remuneration once and for all, and then leave the issue to the remuneration authority. There will always be criticism of MP’s pay.
And then, finally, what’s the relationship between the courts and Parliament? One of the things that amazes me in this place is that there really is a lack of practical understanding of the separation of powers. For example, the Ministry of Justice constantly fails to recognise the judiciary as a separate branch of Government, and sometimes the courts overstep the mark with Parliament when they go too far with Parliamentary privilege, as they did—David Parker knows these things. We passed the Parliamentary Privilege Act. Now, Parliament must deal with the consequences of the prisoner voting case. Parliament could nullify the decision, as we did in 2014, or recognise the court’s jurisdiction, provided Parliament makes it clear that there is no jurisdiction to strike down legislation. This will be an intensely important issue for Parliament in 2019. I shall be watching it with great interest from the sidelines.
Finally, I want to address a few comments to my fellow National MPs—my friends and colleagues for many years, a diverse and a talented bunch, you lot. I’ve said quite a bit over recent times about John Key and Bill English, so my praise for those two great New Zealanders can be taken as read. I have no intention of saying any more nice things about Ian McKelvie. He’s had his quota. But I do want to say something about two MPs I greatly admire. First, Gerry Brownlee: when the history of the Key Government is written, his work rebuilding a shattered city will be regarded as that Government’s greatest achievement. I witnessed in Cabinet his absolute commitment to and compassion for his fellow Cantabrians. Sometimes I felt that his contribution has been taken for granted—well, not by me, because I think he’s a great New Zealander.
And secondly I want to acknowledge Nikki Kaye, who won Auckland Central in 2008 and has held it since then. Auckland Central is very like Rongotai, except Nikki wins Auckland Central. She was a Minister with a brilliant future and, as we know, was very unwell last year, but she fought that cancer and is doing a tremendous job in Opposition. I strongly support her bill on teaching foreign languages. She’s an example to all of us of grit, of courage, and of determination.
I could comment on others and my team, but it is time to stop, so let me say this: New Zealand needs a liberal conservative Government in 2020. Some say we have no friends; I think friendship’s overrated—just a joke. But I actually think we’re turning back into a two-party State. There will be much to do in the years to come, but can I ask my colleagues if they would mind attending to the following for me: reviewing the role of the State. I think the SOE model is past its use-by date; in particular, Landcorp needs to go and its farms need to be sold to iwi. In my nine years as Minister for Treaty of Waitangi negotiations, I regret to say—well, Ron Mark knows these things—I always found Landcorp difficult and uncooperative.
We need to continue to update our constitution. The Senior Courts Act is now law and soon we’re going to have a Parliament Act—I hope. Then we need to review the Treaty of Waitangi Act. There have been some complaints recently that insufficient attention is paid to the tribunal’s recommendations; it would help if they were more practical. The shares plus decision, for example, was described as incoherent and ignoring basic principles of company law. And finally, we need to pass the Te Ture Whenua Bill in the first 100 days of a new administration. The product of a careful review and many years’ consultation, it’s going to provide landowners with a world-class regime of registration and dispute resolution.
When I delivered my maiden speech from this very seat in November 2005, I said the liberal conservative was concerned to govern and the public good and the national interest, confident in the knowledge that this is a great country full of talented and decent people. Other countries have problems; New Zealand has a project—an exciting, sometimes difficult, but nevertheless achievable project. As I give my last speech in the House today in the same place where I started, I stand by those words. I’m very pleased to be going, but grateful I’ve had the opportunity to serve.
Members probably know the old wisecrack, “Some people please wherever they go; other people please whenever they go.”, and I’m sure many will be thinking the second part applies to me—although, I understand, not Mr Robertson. I have it on excellent authority that he’s distraught and is currently undergoing counselling.
In 2005, Michael Collins said in the Address in Reply debate that he wasn’t convinced of “this sort of Latinate habit of everyone kissing each other after every maiden speech”, and I agree. It’s a dreadful habit. I think the same principle applies to valedictories, so Mr Speaker, fellow members of the House, that’s all from me. If anyone needs a lawyer in the future, don’t bother me. All the best. Goodbye.
Claire Trevett took a farewell tour with him which you can read here.