Word of the day

06/05/2022

Maw-worm  – any of several parasitic worms which infest the mammalian stomach and intestines, especially a nematode;  one who insists that they have done nothing wrong, despite evidence to the contrary; a hypocrite.


Sowell says

06/05/2022


Rural round-up

06/05/2022

Farmer feedback reshaping HWEN :

DairyNZ and Beef + Lamb NZ (B+LNZ) say they are taking farmer feedback on board and working to improve the agricultural emissions pricing options, including driving down administration costs.

Recently, roadshows were held across the country on the two options developed by the Primary Sector Climate Action Partnership, He Waka Eke Noa (HWEN), as alternatives to the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

DairyNZ chair Jim van der Poel says the Government has made it clear that the sector need to deliver a credible alternative otherwise the agriculture sector will go into the ETS.

“But that’s not the only reason we need to act,” he says. . .

Landscape like the moon – Sally Rae:

Leo Edginton reckons he landed on the moon this week.

Mr Edginton (39), one of the country’s top dog triallists, is competing at the South Island sheep dog trial championships which being are held amid the vast, rocky landscape of Earnscleugh Station, near Alexandra.

It was a far cry from his home at Mangaheia Station, a large sheep and beef property at Tolaga Bay, on the North Island’s East Coast.

With six dogs qualified for the championships — Larry, Kim, Bully, Robert, Deano and Bert, a mix of both heading dogs and huntaways — it was the most of any competitor. And he has seven qualified for the New Zealand championships in three weeks’ time. . .

Twenty years of forest restoration undone by poor fencing – Diane McCarthy:

One man’s work to restore native bush on Karaponga Reserve over the past 20 years is being undone by inadequate fencing.

Retired dairy farmers Steve and Lesley McCann have taken enormous pleasure in the recovery of native wildlife on and around their McIvor Road property, next door to the reserve.

Even finding the occasional gigantic centipede in the bathtub is a small price to pay.

The McCanns see it as a sign of the resurgence of native biodiversity, due to pest control and planting. . . 

Farmers keen to embrace diverse uses of drones in rural setting – Sally Murphy:

Growing interest among farmers in using drones has led a Southland catchment group to organise a field day to showcase the technology.

Otago South River Care is holding a field day today and tomorrow on a farm in Balclutha with over 80 people expected to attend.

Group co-ordinator Rebecca Begg said catchment group members often talk about innovation on farms and drones keep coming up as something farmers want to try.

“Many are interested but aren’t ready to take the leap yet, so we want to show them what’s available and get some of the technology down to the South Island as most of it is based in the North Island.” . . 

Ready. Set. Rockit – bold new campaign inspires courage  :

As millions of freshly harvested New Zealand-grown Rockit™ apples begin arriving into ports around the world, a bold new brand campaign kicks off harnessing the spirit of bravery.

From artists to fitness instructors to musicians to aspiring basketball players, relatable individuals feature in the compelling campaign, which encourages Rockit’s global consumers to push their limits and go further than they’ve ever gone before (whatever that might look like to them) and “Ready. Set. Rockit.”

With the creative heft of agency Special driving the interpretations of courage that run through this year’s campaign, Rockit’s CEO Mark O’Donnell says the message is bound to inspire. “We love the idea that any challenge – no matter how daunting – can be overcome by taking it just one small bite at a time,” says Mark. “The innovative campaign imagery showcases occasions where a little bit of bravery takes us into territory we’ve never known before – and we can overcome our fear, seize the moment, and really rock it.” . . 

Wattie’s record tomato harvest in 50 years:

Today Wattie’s marks the end of its tomato harvest season with some of the highest yielding tomato paddocks in the company’s 50-year history.

This season, Wattie’s have hit a new record with a crop of 140 metric tons per hectare. That is the equivalent of 5.6kg per plant or 14kg of tomatoes for every square metre and approximately a 5% increase on the highest yield previously achieved.

More impressive is that this is 40% higher than Wattie’s 5-year average yield. Twenty years ago, the 5-year average tomato harvest was 80 metric tons per hectare.

The tomato harvest season started in mid-February and since then, has been going 24 hours a day. Over this time, Wattie’s has harvested and processed 39,000 metric tons of field tomatoes. . . 


Winston Churchill’s wisdom

06/05/2022


How free should free speech be?

06/05/2022

Don Brash asked how free should free speech really be:

A speech prepared for delivery at Massey University, 5 May 2022

Ladies and gentlemen

This was supposed to be the third speech in a series of speeches at New Zealand universities organised by the Free Speech Union. The second was a speech given last Thursday by well-known journalist and long-term editor of the Dominion newspaper Karl du Fresne, at Victoria University of Wellington. The first was supposed to have been at AUT in Auckland earlier last week.

But in one of life’s great ironies, AUT refused to allow the speech to take place on its campus – I say “ironies” because it was AUT History professor, Paul Moon, who took the initiative a few years ago to promote a strongly-worded statement in favour of free speech, and persuaded a wide range of well-known New Zealanders to put their names to it – New Zealanders as different as Dame Tariana Turia, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, Sir Bob Jones and Don Brash.

Another irony is that I have been allowed – or at time of drafting this speech I think I’ve been allowed – to talk about free speech at this Massey campus. As many of you will know, I think I was the first person to be abruptly de-platformed by a New Zealand university when your Vice Chancellor, Jan Thomas, announced with just one day’s notice that I would not be allowed to give a speech which I had been invited to give by the University’s Politics Club. It was to have been about my time as Leader of the National Party, obviously a very dangerous and threatening subject!

What triggered the formation of the Free Speech Union in 2018 (or rather, its predecessor the Free Speech Coalition) was the attempt by Phil Goff, the mayor of Auckland, to ban two Canadian speakers from speaking in that city. He made the ban – or purported to – on the grounds that the speakers promoted extreme right-wing views, and he decided that Aucklanders should not be exposed to such views.

I say “purported” to ban the Canadians: it turned out when the decision was challenged that he actually had no authority to prevent the Canadians from speaking, even in city-owned facilities. That power lay with Regional Facilities Auckland, the Auckland City-owned entity which operates various halls and theatres around the city. They banned the Canadians on so-called “security grounds”.

It was very soon after this decision that Jan Thomas wrote an article in the New Zealand Herald extolling the importance of free speech:

“The right to speak freely is a bedrock principle of democratic society. This includes the right to hold opinions and express one’s views without fear and the ability to freely communicate one’s ideas. History is littered with examples of tyrants who have sought to stymie this freedom of expression and, conversely, reveals the tragedy of those whose voices have been silenced under such oppression.”

But in the article she made a clear distinction between free speech, which she claimed to allow, and “hate speech”, which she clearly deplored – and she claimed “hate speech” was exemplified by the views expressed by Hobson’s Pledge, of which I was then (indeed still am) one of the two spokespeople.

And on 7 August 2018, the day before I was due to speak here, she issued a statement which made a very brief reference to security concerns but spoke at greater length about the possibility that I might say something with which she disagreed.

Her statement mentioned that I had been a supporter of the “right-wing” Canadian speakers Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux, though she should certainly have been aware that I was not a “supporter” of the two Canadians (about whom I knew almost nothing) but of their right to speak.

She went on to say in that press statement that she totally opposes hate speech and noted that my “leadership of Hobson’s Pledge and views [I and my supporters] espoused in relation to Maori wards on councils were clearly of concern to many staff, particularly Maori staff. Whether those views would have been repeated to students in the context of a discussion about the National Party may seem unlikely, but I have no way of knowing. In my opinion the views expressed by members of Hobson’s Pledge come dangerously close to hate speech. They are certainly not conducive with [sic] the University’s strategy of recognising the values of a Tiriti o Waitangi-led organisation”.

She admitted in a radio interview that, though she claimed to have made her decision on security grounds, she had not consulted either university security staff or the police before making the decision to ban me from speaking. And it is abundantly clear from the tone of her press statement that the real reason for the ban was that she didn’t like Hobson’s Pledge or our support for the citizens of Manawatu and Palmerston North in voting down the proposal to create racially-based wards in the two districts.

Moreover, what was revealed weeks later (thanks to a request by David Farrar under the Official Information Act for relevant email traffic about her decision) is that for several weeks prior to the Vice Chancellor announcing the ban she had been anguishing about how she could best achieve that objective. “Security concerns” were always an excuse, and a pathetic one at that.

This is the most appalling situation. That a university Vice Chancellor, and particularly one who pretends to believe in free speech, could behave in this way ought to fill all those who value free speech with horror.

Universities should be bastions of free speech. The petition which Paul Moon launched more than a year prior to my being banned at this university made some very basic points:

“Freedom of speech underpins our way of life in New Zealand as a liberal democracy. It enables religious observance, individual development, societal change, science, reason and progress in all spheres of life. In particular, the free exchange of ideas is a cornerstone of academe…

“Individuals, not any institution or group, should make their own judgments about ideas and should express these judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas they oppose, without discrimination or intimidation.

“We must ensure that our higher learning establishments are places where intellectual rigour prevails over emotional blackmail and where academic freedom, built on free expression, is maintained and protected. We must fight for each other’s right to express opinions, even if we do not agree with them.”

Voltaire’s famous line comes to mind: “I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.”

What is alarming is how far New Zealand universities seem to have fallen short of that standard in recent years. The Free Speech Union commissioned Curia Market Research to send a questionnaire to just about every academic in the country, with respondents asked to rank, on a scale of one to 10, how free they feel to exercise academic freedom in various ways, with 10 being a perception of being totally free.

The good news is that most academics still feel free to engage in research of their choice and to criticize the Government.

The bad news, and it is very bad news, is that nearly half of those who replied to the survey rated their freedom to debate or discuss issues related to the Treaty of Waitangi, or sex and gender, at five or lower.

The problem was well illustrated by the reaction to the famous – or infamous, depending on your point of view – letter to the Listener by the seven professors from the University of Auckland, a letter in which they asserted that although indigenous knowledge may play some role in the preservation of local practices and policy, “it falls far short of what can be defined as science itself”.

The Vice Chancellor of the University of Auckland felt the need to apologise to university staff; the Royal Society initiated action to expel three of the seven who were members of the Society; and some 2,000 academic staff from around the country signed a petition deploring the letter. Only when eminent international scientists like Richard Dawkins climbed in and pointed out that the seven professors were only stating what was almost universally accepted by scientists around the world did the Royal Society back off, though not before making New Zealand the laughing stock of scientists everywhere.

In theory, free speech is one of those fundamental rights which is protected in the Bill of Rights Act 1990. Section 14 of that Act provides that “everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form.”

That sounds pretty unambiguous. But that piece of law is qualified by another, namely Section 61 of the Human Rights Act of 1993, which states:

“It shall be unlawful for any person –

(a) To publish or distribute written matter which is threatening, abusive, or insulting, or to broadcast by means of radio or television or other electronic communication words which are threatening, abusive, or insulting; or

(b) To use in any public place…., or within the hearing of persons in any such public place, or at any meeting to which the public are invited or have access, words which are threatening, abusive or insulting.”

By international standards, New Zealand has traditionally stacked up reasonably well. Certainly there are plenty of countries where speaking out of turn, by criticising the government or speaking in a disrespectful way of the nationally-approved deity can get you imprisoned or killed. Even suggesting that Muslims are free to vote for a non-Muslim as Governor of Jakarta can get you jailed in Indonesia, as the former Governor of Jakarta discovered to his cost.

In the United States, where free speech is specifically protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution, there have been a depressing number of cases where speakers have been de-platformed for views which students and some staff regard as unfashionable.

A few years ago, there was the celebrated case when Charles Murray was unable to speak at Middlebury College, with the female host of his lecture suffering injury as she tried to extract him from the melee of rowdy students. And Charles Murray’s offence? Though he is an anti-Trump Republican, and the author of such notable works as Human Accomplishment and Coming Apart, he is still blamed for what is seen as an unforgivable sin, namely suggesting in a book he co-wrote with Richard Herrnstein more than 20 years ago that some races might be slightly brighter, on average, than other races.

At about the same time, Berkeley’s KPFA Radio cancelled a planned interview with Richard Dawkins. The interview had been planned to discuss Dawkins’ book The Selfish Gene, which had been named the most influential science book of all time by the Royal Society a week earlier. The interview was cancelled because of Dawkins’ alleged attacks on Islam – which Dawkins strenuously denied.

Late last year, Dr Dorian Abbot, an associate professor of geophysical sciences at the University of Chicago, was invited to give a lecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Writing in the Wall Street Journal in October, he explained that

“The lecture was canceled because I have openly advocated moral and philosophical views that are unpopular on university campuses. I believe that every individual should be treated as an individual worthy of dignity and respect. In an academic context that means evaluating people for positions based on their individual qualities, not on membership in favored or disfavored groups. It also means allowing them to present their ideas and perspectives freely, even when we disagree with them….”

It is surely a sad indictment on the US university scene that a university like MIT would cancel a lecture because the guest espoused views which, once upon a time, would have been regarded as absolutely unassailable.

In an attempt to push back against this cancel culture, the University of Chicago issued a very strong statement in 2014 and, quoting the university’s President, Hanna Holborn Gray, stated “education should not be intended to make people comfortable, it is meant to make them think. Universities should be expected to provide the conditions within which hard thought, and therefore strong disagreement, independent judgement, and the questioning of stubborn assumptions, can flourish in an environment of the greatest freedom.”

That is surely a standard to which our own universities should aspire.

As worrying as the trend in our universities is, the trend in our media is in many ways at least as troubling.

We’ve seen at least one of our main newspaper chains decline to carry any views which question the official narrative on the human influence on global warming, and it is almost impossible to read anything about the far-reaching constitutional changes which this Government is rushing through Parliament. As a result, most New Zealanders remain unaware that the Government is already implementing the radical recommendations of He Puapua.

When Judith Collins, then the Leader of the National Party, spoke about this document at National Party regional conferences last year, she was denounced as racist for daring to question the recommendations of that report, even though those recommendations, if implemented, would involve a complete re-write of the New Zealand constitution.

Far from its being racist to attack He Puapua, it is the He Puapua report itself which is racist. The Government makes no secret of the fact that it has consulted extensively on that document – but so far only with carefully selected Maori groups – leaving the great majority of the population completely in the dark about their ultimate intentions.

But the Government has already passed legislation under urgency designed to prevent ratepayers from expressing a view on the creation of Maori wards; is passing legislation which will enable Ngai Tahu to appoint voting members to the council of Environment Canterbury; is passing legislation which will split the entire health system into two, one for Maori New Zealanders and the other for all other New Zealanders; may yet pass legislation to give those on the Maori roll a disproportionate influence in voting for Rotorua councillors; is hell-bent on passing legislation against very strong opposition to hand over the country’s entire water infrastructure to boards on which tribes will have half of the votes; and much more.

What is alarming is that most New Zealanders remain completely unaware of these developments. Why? At least in part because the Government has handed out tens of millions of dollars to those media willing to sign up, quite literally, to promoting the Government’s interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi as a partnership. Not willing to sign up to that interpretation? Then no Government cash. This is the stuff of petty dictatorships and should be of grave concern to all New Zealanders. But precisely because getting that Government cash requires total acquiescence to the Government’s interpretation of the Treaty, we haven’t seen the media push back on the Government’s radical agenda.

I have sensed that the New Zealand Herald may be getting slightly bolder. Recently they carried an article describing the co-governance agenda, and a week or two earlier an article by Shane Jones attacking co-governance. They have given David Seymour a little coverage of his views on this issue.

But it’s little more than a year ago that Dr Michael Bassett was banned from the Herald. Dr Bassett – a man who had a distinguished career in Parliament, who is a noted historian, and who served for 10 years on the Waitangi Tribunal – had written an article which highlighted some of the benefits which Europeans had brought to New Zealand in the first half of the 19th century, not least in putting an end to cannibalism and the appalling bloodshed which was a consequence of the Musket Wars. The Herald advised him that they wouldn’t be publishing any more of his columns because apparently they “didn’t meet NZME’s standards”.

It will be clear that I place a very high value on free speech.

I agree with George Orwell when he said: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” Or as Elon Musk announced just days ago: “Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy.”

But should there be no limits at all on free speech, beyond the generally accepted prohibition on openly advocating violence against a person or persons?

I have no doubt at all that we should be free to debate a very wide range of issues – what the Treaty of Waitangi really meant, whether transgender women should be allowed to compete in women’s sport, what constraints (if any) should be placed on a woman’s right to an abortion, whether euthanasia should be legal or not, what criteria should apply when determining New Zealand’s immigration policy, and so on.

I also believe we should be free to debate religious beliefs, and free of course to deny the existence of any supernatural Being, whatever called.

A few years ago, there were two speeches which triggered complaints to the Human Rights Commission.

One was by Muslim cleric Shaykh Mohammad Anwar Sahib, at the time the secretary of the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand. In his speech he said that “Jews are using everybody because their protocol is to rule the entire world.” He went on to say that “Jews are the enemy of the Muslim community”, and made offensive remarks about women. Then Ethnic Communities Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga responded quickly, reminding everybody that hate speech is prohibited in New Zealand under Section 61 of the Human Rights Act.

Should that kind of speech be allowed? Given the long and appallingly negative effects of anti-Semitism, for me it’s a line call. But on balance I think I would allow it, as long as I am allowed to argue publicly that people who hold such misogynist and anti-Jewish views should not be allowed to become permanent residents or citizens of New Zealand.

The second speech was by self-proclaimed Bishop Brian Tamaki. Quoting the Book of Leviticus, he stated that the Bible made it clear that gays, sinners and murderers were responsible for the then recent earthquakes. Again, I would allow such speech, as long as I am free to note that the guy is a nutter, and that the Book of Leviticus also bans the eating of meat containing blood and the wearing of any garments made of two types of fibre. No rational person takes such strictures as relevant today.

For me by far the most difficult area for those who believe strongly in free speech is the one created by the ability of social media to promote disinformation on a massive scale, sometimes funded on a large scale by hostile countries.

I think people should be free to choose whether or not to be vaccinated – provided they accept the consequences of their decision – but they should not be free to aggressively promote as factual that Bill Gates has somehow been able to incorporate some kind of tracking mechanism into the vaccine if, as a consequence of that view becoming widespread, a very large number of people refuse to get vaccinated and hundreds of thousands of people die as a result.

I think people should be free to prefer Donald Trump to Joe Biden, but after William Barr, the Attorney General appointed by President Trump, announced there was no basis for over-turning the 2020 election result; and after the US Supreme Court, heavily weighted towards a conservative view of the world, unanimously refused even to hear the case that the election might have been fraudulent, to spread the lie that Trump in fact really did win is incredibly dangerous for the peace and harmony of the United States.

In short, I have a very strong bias in favour of free speech. But I nevertheless believe that there are some limits, and I hope that Elon Musk recognizes them.


Simon Bridges’ valedictory statement

06/05/2022

Simon Bridges delivered his valedictory statement on Wednesday:

Hon SIMON BRIDGES (National—Tauranga): Thank you, Mr Speaker. It’s been a privilege to be an MP representing the people of Tauranga for several terms, to have been a committee chair, a senior Minister, a senior spokesperson, Leader of the National Party and an Opposition leader. There have been highs and lows, and even the lows have provided good material I wouldn’t want to be without. Look out for National Identity 2 a couple of months before the next election in all quality bookstores near you. I’ve enjoyed helping people with complex problems from surrogacy issues to acute health conditions, to injustices over housing, ACC, and much more. I still feel humbled when I meet the parents and their children, or people who have won against the odds in getting the treatment that they deserve, say, for that rare disease, because of my team and I.

I’ve enjoyed meeting with local businesses, churches, community outreaches and clubs. I remember running late for a meeting at the Menz Shed, on 17th Avenue, Tauranga, a while back. I raced in and asked all of the older men who were there to come together from building wooden toys, desks, bookshelves, and bird boxes for others. They did so, and then got out their packed lunches, and I ate some of what they had brought, while I also gave a little speech about Tauranga and the value of community. They were polite, but it was all a little odd. Then my phone went and Maree wanted to know why I wasn’t at the opening of the Tauranga men’s shelter, not the Menz Shed. You live and learn in this job. I’ve also enjoyed being involved in doing real stuff: building dams, geothermal plants, roads, train stations, ultra-fast broadband, electric charging networks, and much more. Leadership on all these things mattered, but the workers and designers are of much greater value than the ribbon cutter, at the start and end of it all.

I’ve enjoyed the people and the drama. Those who’ve been grateful or even those who’ve been hateful—at least they felt something about me and politics. It’s not all about me! The times of tension, from revealing Grant’s “leaked budget” to “train wreck” media interviews—whether with John Campbell or Susie Ferguson or others—where the commentariat have confidently pronounced my career over many a time—many a time. Well, now it is, on my—actually, probably Natalie’s, Emlyn’s, Harry’s, and Jemima’s terms. This won’t be the longest valedictory; the really good stuff, as I say, is for the next book.

I do, though, want to offer some incredibly gratuitous advice. Fourteen points for the fourteen years I have spent in this place—a series of “and another” things I feel at some level I have in qualified terms the right to proffer. First, to new MPs: don’t breathe through your nose, or whatever it is that Holyoake is reported to have said. I reckon the motto of the bad guy in the Highlander movie is much better, when he said, “Excuse me, I’ve got something to say: it’s better to burn out than to fade away.” And that’s partly, maybe, why I’m going when I am.

Second, and again, to new MPs: don’t let anything ruin your sleep. It’s the most important thing, and nothing is worth it. The worst that you worry about happening rarely does happen and when it does, occasionally, who cares anyway. You’ll be fine. Many believe conspiracy theories are not what really happens these days. We can’t remotely control any of that, so they’ll probably think it’s all some elaborate hoax and not true anyway. And perspective is really important. As Natalie likes to tell me—and she wanted to take this out of the speech, by the way, but I haven’t—”Get a grip, get over yourself. Your country is smaller than Sydney, and no one knows where it is. Look at all the crazy shit Boris has gotten away with, and he’s still PM.” Like I say, who cares; you’ll be fine, anyway.

Third, to more senior MPS, I make this plea: please, please, let’s not be quite so poll and focus group driven. They will make you nice, and beige, and timid—in short, wishy washy. And as small as our remote little islands are, its five million people, 26 million sheep, 10 million cows, and 100 million or so native birds deserve better. You were elected for your values, principles, character, and judgments, and to be bold in pursuit of them. If the people wanted a robot, these days they could probably buy one on the internet. As I think John Howard once told me “Good policy is almost always good politics in the end.” And as maybe David Farrar or some other pollster once told me, “Polls and focus groups don’t, or at least shouldn’t, tell you what to do. They should only ever be an aid, helping you to decide how to get to where you think is right.” Let’s, more often, do what we think is right and lead the polls and the people to where they should go for New Zealand, not follow them to a place where the breadth of opinions—those we vocalise, anyway, in this House and the press gallery—become narrower and narrower, and beiger and beiger. Nice “Beige-land” rather than New Zealand: please, no way.

Fourth, and relatedly, let’s have less small-target, short-term political tactics and more large long-term strategies, please. Big, bold battles of ideas won’t actually hurt us. And the alternative, as we are seeing in Australia right now, is contests fought on personality and “competence” that I think is truly depressing. If that’s all this place is about, what’s the point? Play your politics in Opposition timid, and you’ll necessarily govern timid, as well. I say again “Be bold”.

One more related point—fifth—independent thought and differences of opinion are actually good. I’ve sometimes thought there are two perfect political jobs in this world: that of a backbench MP in the United Kingdom. There are hundreds of them, mostly with absolutely no chance of ever being a Minister let alone the PM. And do you know what they do? They speak their minds freely and cast their vote freely. They aren’t nice and beige and timid. The other is the United States senate where, again, somehow, the whip is more relaxed. So they don’t just believe in free speech, they even practise and vote on it.

Sixth: this point about independent thinking, by the way, also applies to the press. I love you all, and Claire Trevett you’re my favourite, although your story this last weekend certainly tested that favouritism. But I do despair how narrow the viewpoints are here, as opposed to in the UK, the United States, and even Australia. More viewpoints are tolerated, actually encouraged, in their deeper media environments. Our press gallery can hunt as a pack—OK, then there’s Barry—but basically, as a pack. And I say to you, if every one of you has the same basic position on a complex matter, you are probably all engaged in group thinking, quite probably wrong. Go spend some time in the provinces or one of our bigger cities that’s not this one to recalibrate, and get a fresh view.

Seven—while three people still like me in this room! While I’m on my friends in the press gallery, your most important job is to hold the powerful to account, and let me give you a clue: it’s the Government that has the power. Yes, the National Party has been relatively newsworthy in recent times, and you do tend to get better at holding to account the longer parties are in Government. But if the Government of the time is giving you your best talking points every single day you come to this place, maybe you’ve got the balance wrong. And, by the way, if they are good enough, they’ll more than withstand the pressure. If they are not, they will fall, over time, by the wayside. Just something to think about on your wander home this evening, he says with passive-aggressive tone.

Experts don’t know everything. When it comes to matters we must decide in government and politics. Yes, in many, maybe even most, fields experts can offer valuable, sometimes crucial, assistance, but it is entirely wrong, in my view, to think there is a podium of truth—some voices whose words are the definitive answer. We did away with that religious certainty centuries ago. I think they called it the Enlightenment. Politicians’ and journalists’ job, I might add, isn’t to slavishly follow experts. That’s an abdication of our responsibilities as elected officials, elected to weigh and—as I have said—bring our values and principles to bear on the issues at play. Nothing in politics and government comes down to the science says this: there are always wider social, economic, and normative implications as well, which we have a duty to have an opinion and a side on.

Nine, to MPs on select committees: spend less time arguing where the comma goes in a report no one will read, please, and more time debating from your principles and values for your electorates and communities.

Tenth, while on Parliament, both in terms of this House and its committees: I’ve already been a bit mean about the wishy-washiness, the beigeness, descending on politics. It’s right to say it hasn’t always been so, either in terms of the substance of debate or the characterfulness of how it was put across. When I first arrived, there were still Clarks and Cullens and Hydes and Peters as well as a host of others—including you, Mr Speaker—prepared to get up and go at it. I didn’t always agree with what was said. Sometimes MPs went too far. But they were bold and without fear or favour. They’d send shivers down your spine. Today, I fear they might be cancelled.

The reasons for our ever-growing tepidness are many: from MMP to the mainstream and social media environments. But some of your efforts, Mr Speaker, to turn this place into more of a school library than a debating chamber—respectfully—haven’t helped. My view is that over centuries, Parliaments that are in the same tradition as ours—among the roles they’ve fulfilled, such as the development of policy and laws—have also played some very primal ones that are still important, such as saying what needs to be said, or maybe what doesn’t. That lets off society’s steam like a pressure valve, at a difficult or delicate time. The jaw-jaw sometimes—even if it’s a bit hee-haw hee-haw in here—is better than war-war out there. And we’ve sadly seen little of that very recently. I suppose my point is that we over-sanitise this place at our and, more importantly, society’s peril.

Eleven: I’ve come to realise, I admit too late, that parliamentary reform to strengthen it against the executive is important. I say “too late” because the tragedy is that while in Government most—including me—don’t reform this place, because it suits our interests at the time. That was true for the last National Government and, respectfully, probably is for this Labour one too. I, in truth, don’t know exactly what the reforms should look like, but, when select committees are, in essence, majority rubber stamps for Government, where everything anyone outside the Government of the day says is voted down, it’s a bit hard to say they aren’t more executive- than Parliament-led—likewise, regarding the role of the Speaker, which is so important to the tone and function of this place. I don’t see it as a panacea, but a secret ballot for Speaker—as happens in most similar Parliaments today—could help wrest things away from the Government of the day.

Twelfth, in regard to the National Party, that I will have been a member of for 30 years this year: caucus colleagues—senior ones—would be wise to remember this one very important thing. As a party that believes it represents our entire nation, as is often said, National is and must be a very broad church of urban, provincial and rural and of liberal, centrist, and conservative. We must be scrupulous to allow all these views through without too much control, let alone censorship, and seek to keep the balance, the peace, among all those values and interests without letting one dominate the other. Despite what is sometimes said, I took great pains to ensure this while I was leader, and future leaders must continue to do so also. Give primacy to too narrow a spectrum through a belief that the prevailing views in central Wellington and Auckland make up New Zealand, and National will, over time, cease to be the strongest, most representative political movement we have.

Thirteen: they say politics is Hollywood for ugly people, and it’s true politics has, at some level, an attention-getting personality factor to it. David Seymour wasn’t on Dancing with the Stars for his great rhythm and sway, and I certainly wasn’t on celebrity bake-off for my baking skills. It’s far from all glamour and glitz, however, and I do think politics is getting harder.

Fourteen: John Key got rid of our perks, and maybe he was somewhat right to. But let’s be clear, while it’s not why I am leaving, that this job done well is tough and not actually that well-remunerated for what it entails. So on MPs’ pay, let’s all remember that we need the highest quality people here—not just the very wealthy, for whom money doesn’t matter, or those naïve enough, as I once was, to enter and crazy enough to stay in the game no matter what.

I don’t want to sound so negative. It’s been great. While there have been lows, as I say, there have also been highs, and it’s the little things that make it all worth it—like an email I received after my lonely vote just weeks ago on the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill. “Dear Simon. I have always thought you are one of the worst and most hopeless MPs in Parliament, but I do want to thank you for voting no on the conversion practices vote. For once in your career, you go it right. Yours faithfully.” High praise, and, like I say, it’s the little things that make it worth it!

I couldn’t have done this time in Parliament without the special people who’ve helped so much. It’s dangerous to name names, but I want to acknowledge my Tauranga staff over the years, Glenn Harris, Maree Brookes—the real MP for Tauranga—and Sonia Hoyes; electorate chairs the late Phil Simpson, Ron Scott, Rosemary Turner Waugh, and then Andrew von Dadelszen, Kenneth Brown, Sir Paul and Cheryl Adams, and many others. My key staff over the years in Wellington are too many amazing people to name, but I think of Cameron Oldfield, Jeanine Begg, Lucy Paul, Jamie Grey, Vanessa Rawson, Michael Fox, Kristy Martin, Stephanie Edridge, Rachel Morton, Mac Mckenna, Liam Kernaghan, and Finn Stitchbury. To everyone named and unnamed, thank you.

Of course, I thank my family: my mum, Ruth Bridges, and my inlaws Tom and Alicia, my many, many siblings, and most of all Natalie, Emlyn, Harry, and Jemima. I’ve spent as much time away as at home over the years, and oftentimes glued to a phone or to some other very important work. I hope now that I’m home more often, you don’t get sick of me—there’s a reasonably high chance of that.

I’m proud of my whakapapa. I’m proud to be the first Māori New Zealander to lead one of the two big parties—sorry, Winston. People sometimes can’t understand my conviction in conservative politics and how I reconcile it with my forebears and the prevailing views in Māori politics today. But the reason I have opposed and continue to oppose policies like Māori wards, health authorities, and the like is because while I deeply understand our country has quite a way to go on race, personally, I don’t want to be treated differently on the basis of it. I don’t want special help, because I’m not a victim. I am good enough in any room, whether this big one, our Cabinet, or commercial board rooms in the future, and so are all Māori.

I accept, as a conservative conviction politician, I’m somewhat out of favour these days—a young fogey, maybe. But politics ebbs and flows, and, as with other things, maybe views like mine will move back into vogue one day. Conservatism to me is simply an instinct or a disposition. While we shouldn’t be reactionary to changing times, we should carefully weigh the transaction costs of change. Like G.K. Chesterton said, there is usually a reason for the fence, and so before we tear it down, we want to think things through carefully.

I didn’t read other people’s valedictories before preparing these remarks. You can probably tell. The only thing I read in advance was my maiden speech from 2008. I liked it. It was a pretty good speech that may age better than this one. In it, I finished with something Tony Blair said in his valedictory to the House of Common. Seeing as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern worked for him and my boss for another day or two, Chris Luxon, likes his “third way”, I thought I’d quote it again: “to all my colleagues from different political parties. Some may belittle politics but we who are engaged in it know that it is where people stand tall. Although I know it has many harsh contentions, it is still the arena that sets the heart beating a little faster. If it is, on occasions, the place of low skulduggery, it is more often the place for the pursuit of noble causes.” To those who stay here as I move on, know, yes, I’ve seen the skulduggery but more often the noble causes. And I will continue watching, because I know that what you do matters. I see you standing tall, and I recognise your nobility. Keep firm hold of the baton I now let go from my grip, and run boldly and hard. Thank you.


%d bloggers like this: