National MP for Otaki Nathan Guy delivered his valedictory statement this week:
Hon NATHAN GUY (National—Ōtaki): Today is exactly one year to the day that I announced I was retiring from this place. I learnt politics as a teenager at home. My father, the late Malcolm Guy, was the Horowhenua county chairman and the first mayor of the district. Angry ratepayers would ring constantly. My father was at endless meetings or out on the farm, and it was my job, along with my mother and brother, to try and pacify these people, and that’s when I learnt about putting people first and hearing them out. I would write a summary in my father’s diary when he came home. Occasionally, I’d write “M-A-D” next to their name.
Fast forward to 2004: the National Party started ringing me. I was and still am happily married to Erica. We had our first child on the way, Henry, and the National Party said, “We want to rebuild and attract some young people, particularly some young farmers.” I said, “Thanks very much for the offer, but could you come back and see me in 10 or 15 years’ time?” They said, “No, we’d like you now, thanks very much.” We came down to Parliament here—I had to find a suit and a tie and things—and we had 45 minutes with Bill English. It was an amazing time. Bill summarised it quite nicely. He said, “You’ve got this triangle of conflicting things happening.” He looked at Erica and said, “Your family’s obviously very important.” He said, “You’ve got your political aspirations and your farming.” He said, “These three corners of this triangle won’t work. You have to remove yourself from one of those.” So I went home and told Dad that I was going to run for the National Party and, effectively, leave he and Mum to run the farm.
Two of us stood for selection late in 2004. It was a close match, and Henry arrived just a couple of days before the selection, so on the final selection night, Erica turned up with Henry in one of those baby capsules, passed him along the front of all these voting delegates—Henry, I owe you a lot, mate. The party hierarchy, they toned my expectations down. Darren Hughes—formidable MP, had a majority of 7,732. They said, “You won’t win. Just work hard for the party vote.”, and I thought, “Bugger them—I’m going to show them a thing or two.” So I worked really hard, and on election night I was devastated: we missed by 382 votes the most marginal seat in the whole country. But I worked hard from then on. There’s a saying in politics: you turn up to every cat burial and envelope opening, and I did that. In 2008, we had 500 people turn up to our campaign launch, which was huge in Levin—it was probably because John Key was there that attracted all those people—and as they say, the rest is history.
Can I acknowledge my Massey mates, who are here today, who turned up every term without fail during the election to support me and wave placards. I came up with this idea of a 1972 HQ Holden, three-on-the-tree, and I put a full graphic of myself down the side. It was a bit different: I was in jandals, shorts, hairy legs, all that stuff—short sleeves—and I had a cut-out that I would put in the driver’s window of muggins with thumbs up. It was a real head-turner and conversation starter, but it had a couple of faults. It loved petrol, and it had this wonky petrol gauge. Those of you that have driven HQ Holdens or Belmonts before, it sort of bangs around between quarter of a tank and E quite regularly. I was on State Highway 1 at that Ōtaki roundabout there—many of you would’ve been held up there in the past, but thankfully the National Government’s sorting that out for you. Anyway, the old Holden, it ran out of gas—State Highway 1, the middle of the roundabout. So I thought, “What do I do? I’d better get out and push.”, so I pushed. BP was right there, but there was about 300 millimetres’ difference between coming off the road up on to the forecourt of BP. I pushed this 1-tonne tank up on to the forecourt. I could see them running to get a camera to try and get a pic—fortunately, I was quicker than them.
Can I thank my loyal team in Ōtaki electorate and campaign chairs: Ted Cobb, the late Mike Gilbert, Bryan Milne, Grant Robertson, John Riding, Terry Wood, Shirley Sari, and Gavin Welsh, and in particular John Tanner, who was an amazing fundraiser. Thank you to your support of me and the party and the wonderful volunteers behind you.
I love rugby. I still do. I joined up with the Parliamentary Rugby Team. I heard there was a trip on to play the poms at Twickenham and also to get over and play the French in Paris. So what happened is we got out there. They were building the south stand. There was a massive crowd of about 10 guys in hard hats—they were spending most of the time laughing at the lords and commons and a few Kiwi guys running up and down. I managed to get the ball, and I ran over a couple of these rather large lords and made a couple of tackles. Then what happened: McCully reports back to the hierarchy that Guy has got enough mongrel to be a whip.
So I found myself suddenly as junior whip and then senior whip. I spent a huge amount of time in this House, understanding, debating—actually, just understanding how it works. It was interesting for me the cut and thrust of this place. It’s intimidating. It’s a bear pit—that’s its nickname—and it probably will never change. But, for me, that was my opportunity, ultimately, to pick up a ministerial warrant. Thank you very much, Prime Minister, for that opportunity.
I found myself as veterans’ affairs Minister in Gallipoli in 2012. I did a battlefield tour—incredibly emotional, understanding what happened to our soldiers over there was horrific. They landed at the wrong place—piss poor planning and execution. I saw the battles that they had—from one end of the tennis court to the other. Incredibly emotional.
Then, the next day, it was my turn to speak at Anzac Cove. That was incredibly emotional too: 6,000 people, most of them had stayed overnight; the gentle wave-wash of the surf at the beach; the birds, just coming into song. I looked across at the New Zealand Defence Force when the roll call was on, and the lady had tears streaming down her face. I thought, “Shivers; I’ve got to speak shortly.” So I got up. I got to a really emotional part in my speech. A tear came out of my eye, on to my nose, and dropped on to my speech. I thought, “Holy hell; I’m going to lose this.” But then I thought about those thousands of young Kiwi men that had lost their lives. I hardened up and battled on.
After that, I had the privilege of sharing a breakfast with Julia Gillard, the Australian Prime Minister at the time. Neither of us were into cold pastries or cold meat, so she ordered toast. I thought, “What are we going to put on this toast?” She said, “Don’t worry, Nathan. I’ve got it in hand.”, reached down—”Craft peanut butter. Vegemite.” We had a great discussion. The Anzac bond is incredibly strong.
Back home, we were into building roads. Steven Joyce was under way as transport Minister, announcing four lanes through the Kāpiti coast—wonderful, wonderful project. Every time I get on that road, I’m so excited. I had to bear the brunt of that in my electorate office, with people coming in in tears. They were angry about Steven’s road going through their living room. But, ultimately, it was the right decision, and I backed it all the way. It’s connected communities and proved a huge amount of economic growth for our region. The Hon Simon Bridges and I had a wonderful opportunity to cut the ribbon on that amazing piece of infrastructure.
Then Prince William arrived. He wasn’t married to Kate Middleton at the time. I got invited along—or probably, knowing me, invited myself—to Kāpiti Island. It was all going to be hush-hush. The public weren’t meant to know. Well, what had happened is a British media contingent of about 50 had turned up with all of their cameras and got on the launch, so the secret was out. There were hundreds of people lining the beach wanting to get a glimpse of the prince, and probably the Prime Minister. So we arrived in the bus there, drove on to the beach, and John said to Prince William, “Right, let’s go and meet these people.” The handshaking began.
I thought, “What do I do?” Never miss an opportunity, of course, as a local MP, so I carried on behind handshaking, until it got to a point when I think it was one of my constituents said, “Who on earth are you? Are you the security guy for the prince?” I thought, “Shivers; I’ve got some more work to do.”
Then we got on the launch. There were two young females, about 16, 17. We’re in the launch heading out and the police were trying to hold them back. They were yelling out “Prince William, please marry me.” They were out in the water there, and we carried on. And then, of course, the prince went bright red and the Prime Minister started giving the prince cheek. And of course, what I do I do? I joined in too, and then I suddenly thought, this is the guy that’s second in line to the throne. Pull yourself into line, Nathan. He’s an incredibly likeable gentleman.
We got on to the island and the prince was able to release a kiwi. Of course, Kāpiti Island is well known as a bird sanctuary, with kiwis at large over there. He’s holding this kiwi. Just at this point, the British media contingent obviously saw the money shot and their shutters on their camera went off at that point. It sounded like a rifle going around Kāpiti Island. This kiwi freaked. Feathers went everywhere. Fortunately, the prince had a reasonable hold on it and he turned to the British media and he said, “Told you I’d score a kiwi while I was here.”
The Prime Minister gave me my dream job as Minister for Primary Industries, the biggest Government regulator, and a massive economic footprint. I’d just got my feet under the desk and we had meat locked up on the wharves in China. Then we had the Fonterra botulism false alarm that the Hon Nikki Kaye just spoke about a couple of moments ago. Both of those incidents tested the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and tested me.
Then along came an idiot who sent a letter, a criminal blackmail hoax, where he wanted to contaminate infant formula with 1080. The Prime Minister stepped up an all of Government response and, at some point along the way, the Prime Minister said to me, “Nathan, you’re the lead on this one.” I thought, holy moly, here we go again. I was worried about an infant baby dying. I was worried about our international markets closing on us. MPI did a fantastic job. It’s one of my proudest moments that MPI stepped up, worked with the dairy industry. We set up a whole testing regime from cow to can, and the day that it became public, there were no border ramifications. Martin Dunne, I acknowledge you and the MPI team for the work that you did.
Erica knew that I had something on my plate for months. I wasn’t sleeping well, I was irritable, and I wouldn’t tell anything confidential to Erica. She nicknamed it “the bloody issue”. We were going away on summer holiday—Ōtama beach, a beautiful spot in Coromandel—and Martin Dunne said to me, “Well, how are we going to get hold of you if you need to front this thing?” And I said, “I dunno. There’s no cell phone tower out there. The signal’s crap.” He said, “Don’t worry, I’ll send a police car out to get you if you need to front.” So every day the sun went down, Martin, I thought, now I can have a beer; the cops haven’t arrived. I was loading the car up for camping and I’d done a pretty good job, ticked off everything. I put my suit bag across the top of it. Erica came out to check everything off. She said, “What’s that bloody suit doing coming away with us on our summer holiday?”, and I said, “It’s the bloody issue.” She slammed the boot on the car, and, of course, the day that that story broke, she duly texted me saying, “I see your bloody issue is in the media.” Can I congratulate the Government on stepping up with the M. bovis response. You’ve done the right thing. I salute you.
Things got a little bit interesting with fishing for me. Remember Snapper 1, which is the area Hauraki Coromandel. I let a discussion document go out, and it had one option there that said “reducing the bag limit from nine down to three.”, and all of those fishers wanted Guy on the hook. Ultimately, I made the right decision in the end for sustainability purposes, reducing that bag limit to seven. At the time, the Prime Minister was under the pump with GCSB, a law change, in here. He got about 50 submissions on his bill; we got about 50,000 on snapper. So the Prime Minister would come into the House when he was getting attacked from this side and he’d say, “No one cares about GCSB. They all care about snapper!” I was thinking “No, Prime Minister, no. Don’t drop me in it.” Anyway, David Shearer did that for us. Remember him? A nice guy. He came in with two dead snapper, standing here, and moments later he was burley bait. Fishing politics can be problematic.
I really enjoyed getting out and about and travelling with the Prime Minister. We went to various countries around the world. One of the ones that was a great highlight for me was travelling to Mexico, Columbia, Brazil, and Chile. I need to tell you this funny story. We were on this amazing farm in Chile and I decided I’d show off to the Prime Minister with an electric fence with a blade of grass—trying to get him to do it. Of course, he thought I was pretty mad. So in the end I grabbed hold of this electric fence; then he thought I was stupid, and said so to the media. But I did have, close by, seasoned journalist Barry Soper, who I managed to talk into grabbing the electric fence. I looked down: John Key and I had on good, rubber gumboots. I’d worn my woolly socks for insulation. Barry Soper had wet, leather shoes. So Barry dutifully obliged—got hold of this electric fence. For those of you that have burnt yourself, you know that it’s going to hurt, but it takes you a few seconds for your brain to tell you. Barry got hold of it and went: “It’s not turned—oh, shit!” Then for the rest of the trip, I said to Barry, “You’re looking a little bit pale.”
He got me back when we stopped at Easter Island for a bit of gas on the way home, and we went and had a look at the statues there—the moais. He got me to pose in front of one. He said, “Don’t smile. Just look normal.” And then he tweated it out and said, “This is where the Guys have come from. Look at their monobrows.” It was one-all, Barry, I think.
Can I acknowledge my staff before I forgot and before I get closed down on time: Anne Rogers and Heather Shaw and Pauline Coupland for doing a huge amount of work for me in my electorate office, thank you; Tricia Benny and Sue Reid also. Sue followed me into the whip’s office. Lorraine Jones and Viviana Marsh for running my ministerial office. Nick Kirton, Phil Rennie, and Bill Delamere were the engine room. Thanks, fellas, for the long hours and strategic advice.
I also had the opportunity to travel down with Boris Johnson. You might have heard of him; he’s now the Prime Minister of the UK. We went down to have a look at Kaikōura and the earthquake damage. I was civil defence Minister at the time, and we got on the NH90 helicopter. We were taking off over Cook Strait nicely. Then he said to me, “What’s all that sort of vineyard over there?” And I said, “Well, foreign secretary, that’s the Marlborough area where we grow grapes.” He said, “Oh, god! Marlborough sauvignon blanc. I drink gallons of this stuff.” At this point in time, I thought, oh, shivers. I could feel the captain of the NH90 veering off thinking we’re going to need to stop and fill the NH90 with cases of wine, but we carried on.
Then we had a full pōwhiri, and I was rehearsing with Boris about the hongi, showing full respect. That all went very, very well. We got into the morning tea after that, and he stood up to speak and he said, “Oh, it was a bit like a Liverpool kiss.”, which is a head butt. I thought, “Oh no. Oh no. We’ve offended iwi. There was nervous laughter, and then applause. Everyone joined in with it.
I also had the opportunity to travel with Richie McCaw around farms when he was a pilot—or still is—dropping off food parcels to farming families that had been impacted by the earthquake.
Can I wish Tim Costley well. He’s going to be a great MP for Ōtaki.
We came home, Erica and I, from a fundraiser a Te Horo one night. There was this car sitting there—or a ute, actually—helping itself to our farm tank of petrol, and suddenly property rights came blaring into my head. So I backed up—this ute was high speeding it out—and I smacked into the side of this ute—got it on two wheels, actually, did a good job. And then a high-seed pursuit followed. We were heading along out to Foxton and Erica rang 111, and they said, “Can you tell us the speed that you’re doing.” I said, “Erica—no, no, no, no.”—no, no, no, no, no. Anyway, we were just 101 kilometres an hour, from memory. The police did the rest in Foxton.
Then I thought, “Shivers; I’ve smashed up the VIP self-drive. What do I do?”, and I thought. “Gosh, this’ll have to be reported through to the Minister of Police.” So I walked in the Cabinet—Judith Collins, Minister of Police at the time. I went up to her and I said, “Excuse me, Judith. Can I tell you an incident on the weekend.” She said, “Don’t worry; I’ve already heard about it. Well done, Nathan. One less crim on our streets.” I wish Judith all the best for this election campaign. She’ll be a fantastic Prime Minister.
Summary: in our lovely garden at home, we have a magnolia tree. It’s majestic and protected. My father rests underneath the magnolia tree, but he’s on my shoulder every day. When I’d be under the pump, he’d ring up and say, “Don’t let the bastards get you down.” I miss you dad. To my lovely mother, Betty—an amazing lady, recently awarded 50 years of voluntary service in the Horowhenua, happy always to be in the back row, and always puts others first—my success, mum, is your success.
To our children, Henry, Frankie, and Jeremy, I’m very proud of you. You’ve got a nice blend of Rawlings and Guy genes: dogged determination, that’s probably on your mother’s side; a bit of a good work ethic, maybe that’s mine; and, combined, a great fun spirit and outlook on life. It isn’t easy being a parent. I’m determined to do more and support you through your teenage years.
Erica, an amazing wife and business partner, an amazing mother, and the best political brain around, learnt from your days in agriculture journalism. We make a great team. We ran the New York Marathon together. Erica, you had a sore leg—you’re a gutsy girl to finish that. Thanks for always pushing me in the right direction.
I was looking in my office the other day—got boxes galore, cleaning it out—and I came across the article that the Manawatū Standard did in a long-form interview of me in August 2009. There’s a quote in there that I want to read out to you: “It’s easy to sit on the side lines and criticise. It’s a lot more difficult to stand up and be counted.” I won’t forget the last 15 years. I’m sure Parliament won’t miss my booming voice. Kia kaha, my friends and foes. Haere ra.