ALASTAIR SCOTT (National—Wairarapa): Thank you, Mr Speaker. In preparing for this speech, I did some research on other valedictory speeches. Most give thanks to their supporters. Some talk about what they’ve achieved. Others talk about what they’ve not achieved and wish they had. Some talk about what should be done in the future. But all of them will talk, at some point, about their favourite subject, and that is themselves, so I will do the same.
It has been a pleasure and a privilege to have been the member of Parliament for the Wairarapa for the past six years. In fact, it is a privilege to give a valedictory speech. Some of us who arrive here don’t get that opportunity, so I’m grateful to be able to sign off with this speech today. Six years has flown by. This experience has been like no other. Today marks the end of my parliamentary career. For me, it is a time to move on to the next challenge and adventure. Reflecting on the time I’ve been here, I realised that I’ve learnt quite a lot. For example, I’m more convinced now that the democratic process is a good one.
Like all democracies, the system is run by the people. As politicians, we think we run the place, but the system, thankfully, ensures that we do not. I’ve learnt that it doesn’t matter if you have a good idea that might change the world. On their own, good ideas don’t count. There must be support with numbers to get the idea across the line. There needs to be a pressure to squeeze that idea towards its destination. Of course, I’ve had at least 101 very, very good ideas, but don’t worry, I won’t go through them all. Most of them, unfortunately, did not have the support of the numbers, either in caucus or in the general public. So the idea fails, at least for the moment. This is the nature of democracy—slow moving and frustrating for me at times, but democracy ensures that my crazy ideas are not instituted simply because I sit in this place as a member of Parliament.
So what ideas have I failed to move forward? The elephants, for me at least, that should be addressed, but are difficult to change—ideas that I’ve discussed with various Ministers in the previous Government. That is not a criticism of the previous Government, but more an understanding of the way the system works. In fact, the National Ministers mostly agreed with me, but as one Minister said, “Alastair, you’re absolutely right. I agree with you, but in reality, I’m only middle management, and you are a junior’s assistant.” In fact, middle management or not, a previous Prime Minister said the same thing: “Look, Alistair. I just won’t be hard to get this past the kitchen Cabinet.”
So what were those elephants that I couldn’t get movement on? Remembering these issues are not new; they are just the ones that are important to me. The first is abatement rates and our welfare system. Of course, we need a system to support those that find themselves in difficult situations. My elephant relates to tax credits that support working families, but, in fact, penalise those same families when they earn an extra dollar. The abatement rates that are so punitive that it is no wonder that some choose not to work, or restrict themselves, at least. The effective tax rate for some people can be as high as 100 percent. That is, for every dollar earned, the tax man takes the entire dollar. For me, that is not right or fair.
The second elephant is similar, but more specific, and that is the Income Related Rent Subsidy. I see in recent weeks, the Minister of Finance has discussed the issue with the Wellington City Council. The intention might be good. However, the subsidy is an incentive not to work. The more the tenant earns, the more rent the tenant must pay. Again, this is an abatement issue. The housing allowances also create problems. These subsidies encourage people to stay at home, not to work, not to relocate, and not to get ahead. It is a bad policy. A universal basic income could be part of the solution. After all, we already have a universal basic income for those over 65, without the punitive abatement rates. My last elephant is the huge underutilised State-owned asset of 65,000 houses managed by an agency that doesn’t know if it’s a landlord or a social welfare provider, an asset that could do so much better for the people that live in them, and for the landlord—don’t forget, the taxpayer.
What else have I learnt? I think that the bills in the ballot should be given more attention by the Government of the day. There are some good ideas and policies sitting in there that don’t get any attention until they’re drawn. This, to me, is a wasted opportunity. Of course, there are a couple that I would like to mention today, and, yes, they are my bills.
First, there is my drug driving bill that was drawn and rejected by the Parliament. It is unfortunate that it was not at least sent to a select committee at the time, but that is politics. I am pleased to say that the issue will be dealt with by a National Government as a road safety priority.
Another is the issue of child sex offenders, the ones that are on the Child Sex Offender Register that unfortunately are able to travel overseas without Customs being able to alert police when those registered offenders leave New Zealand for a foreign country. The registered offender is supposed to tell the police of their international travel plans. Yeah, right! As if they’re going to do that. There is no automatic check at the border so, unfortunately, the recipient country is unaware of who the nice man from New Zealand is, and is unaware of his history. To me, that is a no-brainer that should be combined with Greg O’Connor’s member’s bill dealing with a similar issue.
The last of my bills in the ballot relates to company directors and when a company may be trading insolvently. This has become more important since COVID-19, and I acknowledge the changes the Government has made in this regard. However, it’s a temporary fix, and while it is a complex part of the law, it needs to be clarified to give confidence to directors so that they can continue to act in the best interests of the company, rather than taking the easy, personally safer pathway to resign and liquidate the company. The changes made in Australia two years ago have been positive. I’m sure there are many other good ideas in that ballot box that a Government of the day can pick up and should pick up.
When I arrived, I had been told that a select committee is the place where the Government is held to account, where Ministers are brought in and questioned by the members to satisfy themselves that the Minister is doing his or her job. I had done this sort of thing before, sitting at boardroom tables and questioning the CEO and questioning the status quo. It must have been my first opportunity to question the Minister of Finance. I’d been given a few patsy questions to ask, but I wanted to ask some proper questions, the ones that were really on my mind at the time. So I did, and I thought I’d done a pretty good job. The Minister had to finally answer a couple of tough questions. Later that evening, Todd McClay and then David Bennett pulled me aside. “Mate, what were you doing?”, they said. “We’re in Government, not Opposition. It’s the Opposition’s job to rip into the Minister. We’re here to make him look good.” So that was something else I learnt.
We are certainly living in different times to when I arrived in 2014. Then the economy was strong and Kiwis were returning home, creating higher demand for housing and kept Aucklanders flocking to provincial New Zealand. Today, we are in an economic crisis. COVID-19 has resulted in greater quantitative easing across the globe. Our own Reserve Bank is starting to print New Zealand dollars. Modern monetary theory is in full swing, as deficits balloon to stimulate and try to give confidence to slowing economies. The way we deal with this crisis will have long-term consequences for all of us. It is important that the stimulus packages are not directed to unproductive work schemes that simply postpone the inevitable and waste real money. We cannot simply print money and spend it to solve the problem. Eventually, international markets will judge the management of any economy and ruthlessly punish countries that print and spend where no productive output is created. It is important that we make sound economic judgments for every dollar that we invest.
There are many sensible opportunities that can be taken to catch up on infrastructure spending that has not occurred, to change the funding model of local government so that they might create better value, and to rip up the Resource Management Act (RMA) that puts a handbrake on projects that could and should be delivered by the private sector, and it is good to hear Judith Collins announce a rewrite of the RMA so that New Zealanders can be relieved of the colossal burden that the RMA has put across every household and business while also rewriting the legislation that protects the environment that is so important to us all. If we want the New Zealand waka to travel effectively and efficiently, we should not drag the anchor and anchor rope behind it. We should do everything we can to allow people to operate with the least amount of resistance, the least amount of bureaucracy. We can trust people to build businesses and support their communities themselves without a nanny State. We do not need the State to own and control so much of the economy. Governments from both sides have proven to be poor landlords, poor property developers, poor farmers, poor IT developers, and poor managers of buildings and infrastructure projects. The less interference a Government has in our lives the better off we will all be.
One of the pleasures of this job is to meet young people who come to Parliament on school trips. They think we’re some sort of special group of people, and of course some of us think we are more special than others, but I let the kids know that we MPs are the same as them. We come from various backgrounds, like them, and we get nervous about certain aspects of our day, like them. And, of course, we have good days and bad days, just like them. I ask them a question. I ask: what is the most important thing you can do to achieve your goals? Some kids say it is to do your best, to work hard, to be determined, to study, to do your homework—all those things that we get told at school. And those things are all fine, but it’s not what makes the difference, in my view. I say to them that the most important thing is to take a risk, to consider options and then give it a go, give it a real crack, go to where it feels uncomfortable, take the risk that you might fail, and then roll the dice. Opportunities are there to be grabbed. Life is short. We need to back ourselves and take those risks.
We’re an unusual bunch of people here in Parliament. Although we are here as a House of Representatives, we are not your typical bunch. We are extroverts. We like to hear the sound of our own voices. We love to be heard, and of course we all know what is best for ourselves and for others! We’re always right, and we will stand here for days arguing about how right we think we are. And we are all here to make a difference and to contribute to this place and to our communities by being here. The flip side, and another reality, and potentially a surprise to some of us, is that we are not indispensable. Parliament will work just fine once we are gone. When we leave, the system’s wheels will continue to spin. Usually they spin faster as we learn and progress as a country, and so I am satisfied with my time spent here as a member of Parliament, having an opportunity that most don’t get and saying what I’ve wanted to say in the time that I’ve been here.
Some friends said I was mad going into politics—it was a thankless task and I would not have the patience—and they were generally right. However, I would not change a thing. I have had some many, many wonderful experiences and have met some great people along the way. There are many people who have backed me. I know and appreciate that I could not have done or been here without the help and support of those people: my party supporters in the Wairarapa, my staff here and in the electorate, my friends, and especially my family. I thank them all, and to you, the members to Parliament, I wish you all the best for the job you have ahead. Thank you.