Quotes of the year

December 31, 2018

That’s creative thinking – if I had known that I probably would have joined them. –  Inspector John Kelly on the New Year revellers who built a large sandcastle in the middle of the Tairua estuary in an attempt to avoid the liquor ban.

Among western leftists, morality had become culture-specific. If imperialism’s victims asked for support, then they would be given it, unquestioningly. If not, then they would tend to their own political gardens exclusively.

The problem for western feminists is that, in spite of these cultural and political self-denying ordinances, the only garden currently showing unequivocal signs of flourishing, is their own. Across vast regions of the planet, not only are women’s rights not flourishing, they are being diminished. – Chris Trotter

Any family, in any part of the country, dealing with any one of those challenges, would find it difficult. But when you have all of those at once, it is incredibly difficult to see how a family could navigate their way through all of that on their own.

And you sure as heck, can’t have an official sitting in Wellington waving a magic wand, and fixing it for them. – Louise Upston

If I look at my colleagues, they get up and go to work every day because they care so much. . .Why would we do that if we didn’t care? Why would we do that if we didn’t care about individuals and actually want something better for their lives? Louise Upston

Men who have been inculcated into a culture of toxic masculinity need to regularly top up their King Dick Metre, which can only be fuelled by the disempowerment of someone else. And that someone else is very often a woman.

Their feelings of strength only come when someone else is in a position of weakness. They can only feel valid when they are able to invalidate someone else. They only feel like they have won when someone else has lost. – Kasey Edwards

Could you imagine a return to a world where the only people that gave dairy farmers grief were sheep farmers and bank managers?

Could you imagine the next time Fonterra was in the news, it was for a collaboration with Lynx in producing a deodorant that smelled of silage and cowshit, that dairy farmers could put on if they used too much soap in the shower?

Maybe we can hope that our on-farm processes continue to develop, along with scientific developments, adoption of best practices and consumer preferences, as opposed to at the whim of vote-hungry politicians, misinformed urban housewives and the combined armies of anaemic vegans, animal rights activists, goblins and orcs.

Maybe we could hope that we can reverse the trend that has seen rural folk and farmers become an ethnic minority in this country – a minority that is now seen by many New Zealanders as dirty, destructive and somehow freeloading on resources, with less credibility then prostitution. . .  –  Pete Fitzherbert

We welcome the government’s focus on tracking the number of children in persistent poverty and hardship. However, setting multiple arbitrary targets for reducing child hardship is easier than actually helping people extricate themselves from their predicaments. – Dr Oliver Hartwich

Good intentions are not enough. They’re not even a start, because there’s been a lot of money wasted and lives wrecked on the basis of good intentions expressed through public services. Bill English

 . . . the only reason we have a 37-year-old female Prime Minister is because a septuagenarian put her there. – Fran O’Sullivan

Peters’ inability to contain his bitterness suggests the coalition negotiations were a charade. His resentment towards National is deep-rooted, and since the election, the feeling is reciprocated. It is unlikely that National’s change of leader will diminish Peters’ toxicity.  – The Listener

It strikes me as rather unfair that while we’ve been up in arms over where the country’s burgeoning cow population does its business, our burgeoning human population has been fouling up the waterways with what comes out of our own backsides. We can’t berate dairy farmers for dirtying the rivers if we’re content for our biggest city to keep using its waterways as one giant long drop. – Nadine Higgins

Over-reacting about everything someone says or does, creating controversy over silly innocuous things such as what I choose to wear or not wear, is not moving us forward. It’s creating silly distractions from real issues.Jennifer Lawrence

The incident has also highlighted the danger of a government full of academics, health professionals, public servants, teachers and career politicians picking business winners.

The idea that councils around the country would rail or truck their rubbish to Westport for incineration is one of those ludicrous ideas that only regional development officials would think is a flyer. – Martin van Beynen

Getting policy right matters. In the end, lots of money and good intentions is never enough. You’ve got to get the policy right. – Nicola Willis

So consumed are they with the grassy vistas opening up in front of them that they are oblivious to their drawing ever closer to journey’s end, namely the holding yards of the local freezing works. – John Armstrong

Businesses, by and large, are better at coping with bad news than they are at coping with uncertainty. You cannot plan for it or adapt to it. Hamish Rutherford

Feminism is about choice, the right to have one, the right to be equal. It is not about trampling men to death in the process. It is not about spending so much time telling girls that “they can do anything” that they become curious and confused as to why you keep telling them something they already knew.

Guess what? The girls we’re raising haven’t had it occur to them they can’t do anything. – Kate Hawkesby

I’m not sure what affordable means but I am sure I’m not alone in that. It’s bound to be a complicated formula with one of the variables being the price of avocados. I just hope it doesn’t add up to borrowing from KiwiBank to buy from KiwiBuild during the KiwiBubble resulting in KiwiBust.James Elliott

 If we believe that correcting harmful inequities lies in asserting an inherent malice and/or obsolescence in all people with a specific combination of age, gender and ethnicity then we have already lost the fight. The real enemy is the unchecked and uncontested power exercised through institutions, social norms and structures which privilege one group over another.    – Emma Espiner

A tagged tax has to be a tagged tax, otherwise it’s a rort. – Mike Hosking

While the Greens are dreaming of compost, wheelbarrows, chook poo and quinoa, the rest of us wouldn’t mind getting on with business. And that means we need water. – Mike Hosking

Certainly a rational person, and especially one convinced of the threat of global warming and the possibility of more droughts, would increase, not stop investment in irrigation?

That is not to argue that water quality and nitrate leaching are not problems – they are. But to stop irrigation as a solution is to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The rational approach is to find ways of reducing nitrate leaching even under high-producing irrigated pastures. This requires more science, more evidence, more rational thinking. – Dr Doug Edmeades

Businesses — it doesn’t matter what they are — require reliable steady staff; not rocket scientists but reliable steady staff. Unless we have those types of people available our whole economy has an issue. – Andre de Bruin

There’s power in love. There’s power in love to help and heal when nothing else can. There’s power in love to lift up and liberate when nothing else will. There’s power in love to show us the way to live. – Michael Bruce Curry

The well-being of all communities can be enhanced by enabling greater levels of social solidarity, empowering people in their personal and community lives, enhancing social infrastructure and establishing opportunities for dignified work and alternative livelihoods. – Tracey McIntosh

Tough on crime is popular with the insular and ignorant when it comes to justice policy, while restorative approaches with enduring outcomes that help people stay away from jail because they offend less are not popular, not sexy and seen as “soft on crime”. Chester Borrows

Everyone can do something amazing once. You’ve got to back it up and do it again – Rowland Smith

The money spent on eliminating risk in one area means less available to fix problems in other areas. In other words, the consequence of lowering risk in one sphere can hinder minimising risk in another one. Chew carefully on that one. – Martin van Beynen

That’s what the call for diversity means. An endless slicing and dicing of society into every thinner minority groups with everyone scrambling for quotas and box ticking.

It’s a bureaucratic nightmare. It’s also a complete denial of individuality. You are not important. All that matters is what boxes you tick. It’s the boxes that define you, not what you do, what you think or what you produce. – Rodney Hide

We went to do a story about an American billionaire buying up wineries in Wairarapa. Local wine makers were going broke and in stepped the American billionaire. I went down with a TV crew expecting locals to be up in arms about the ‘foreigner’ buying up the land. But I couldn’t find one voice raised against him.

There is one thing worse than a foreign buyer, they told me, and that’s not having a buyer at all. – Guyon Espiner

It feels like a Dear Winston moment really – Mike Jaspers

We grow up thinking the world is fair, but it’s not, so you’re not always going to get the results you’re looking for. The challenge is to pick yourself up again when you have those days.Joe Schmidt

I believe rugby is similar to society, where it is about interdependence and us trying to help each other. Imagine if everyone in life became the best version of themselves and made life easier for those either side of them. – Joe Schmidt

The very premise of our system is we learn from our mistakes and wrongs and are given freedom to make amends.Mike Hosking

Grown-ups know that being short $60 a week is not what ails and troubles our most vulnerable children. Proper parenting can’t be bought for $60 a week. – Rodney Hide.

So stop beating yourself up for buying too many books or for having a to-read list that you could never get through in three lifetimes. All those books you haven’t read are indeed a sign of your ignorance. But if you know how ignorant you are, you’re way ahead of the vast majority of other people. – Jessica Stillman

Feminism has descended into a cauldron of cattiness; of nasty factionalism. It doesn’t empower. It  scrutinises and judges groups within groups. Like extreme left or right politics, the creed is hardest on those most like it – those who should know better but fail. – Lindsay Mitchell

Regional development is about more than funding a few projects; it’s about allowing people to make a living. – Paul Goldsmith

This image of Anglo-Saxon culture isn’t grounded in the up-to-date distinct cultural traditions or practices of the United Kingdom. It is a cover of a misremembered song, played by a drunk who forgot the words mid-song and so started humming. – Haimona Gray

Imagine the world today if William Wilberforce and Kate Sheppard had refused to engage with people whose views they found repugnant. If Martin Luther and Martin Luther King Jr had decided not to argue back. If Desmond Tutu and Te Whiti had seen no point in suffering the slings and arrows of their opponents because, hey, nothing’s gonna change.

The twist in this debate is that the Molyneuxs, Southerns and other so-called champions of free speech only win when their shouting drowns out other voices. Voices of conciliation and peace. Because regardless of the polarisation we see today, people can change. We can learn. And, even if we still disagree on some profound issues, we can find other things to agree on and other things to respect in each other. Tim Watkin

The day that this country’s dictated to by the social media trolls is the day that democracy dies. If we are to be spooked into compliance by what an anonymous moron threatens by the swipe of a cellphone screen then we’re little better than they are. – Barry Soper

It is unfortunate, but the world seems to have lost the ability to disagree well. Civility in our discussions and debates over contentious issues seems to have been lost. We are increasingly polarised in our views with recourse to extreme positions in order to ‘prove’ or force our point. However, the answer is not to avoid difficult and, at times, confronting conversations. Rather, community leaders, and universities in particular, play a vital role in leading our communities in those discussions, as difficult as they may be, applying the principles of informed discussion, compromise, enlightenment of the points of view of others, and if all else fails, respectful disagreement. – Chris Gallavin

But where is that line that we need to find as a Parliament between being culturally sensitive to people that may not see things in the way in which New Zealand’s own cultures have developed, and, on the other hand, being firm enough that, actually, no, these things, regardless of culture, are not right. Nick Smith

We have an education system that does not reward excellence and does not punish failure. Decades of bureaucratic hand-wringing has delivered a broken system that relies on the personal integrity and good intentions of those who choose teaching as a profession. – Damien Grant

After all, as long as we can discern the truth clearly, love it passionately, and defend it vigorously, we have nothing to fear from open debate; and if we can’t do those things, then why are we claiming to be a university at all? – Dr Jonathan Tracy

The answer to suffering, physical or mental, is affection and good care. This should come first and as far as possible from family and community, supported by institutions.

“Finishing people off” may suit our current individualistic, utilitarian, impatient culture, but it will degrade us all in the end. – Carolyn Moynihan

In a liberal, democratic society, there will always be speech in the public domain that some people find offensive, distasteful or unsavoury. Unless that speech is manifestly doing harm to others, there is no case to ban it, only a case for arguing strongly against it or ridiculing it. Recourse to suppression is redolent of authoritarianism, not democracy. – Chris Bishop

The irony is that although the elimination of subsidies started out as a kind of political punishment, it wound up becoming a long-term blessing for farmers. We went through a difficult period of adjustment but emerged from it stronger than ever. . .

 We became ruthlessly efficient, which is another way of saying that we became really good at what we do.

We also improved our ability to resist regulations that hurt agriculture. Subsidies empower politicians, who can threaten to cut off aid if farmers refuse to accept new forms of control. Without subsidies, we have more freedom to solve problems through creativity and innovation rather than the command-and-control impulses of government. – Craige Mackenzie

But as someone who’s spent a bit of time writing and talking about the important, and not so important, issues in life, there is one thing I know which will never change.

Truth always wins. If you report the facts you can never go wrong. – Peter Williams

We can’t prosper by taking in our own washing so, strutting it on the global stage has to be our modus operandi.And I mean strutting, not just selling low value stuff that rises or falls on the rise or fall of the NZ dollar. Strutting starts with the daring of the ambition and is sustained by the ability to execute.  Ruth Richardson

The frightening retreat from sane economics. Free trade is the path to growth, protectionism is the path to decline. Ruth  Richardson

This is an accidental government formed on the fly and governing on the fly.–  Ruth Richardson

Death of great science on the alter of doctrinal and PC positions doesn’t strike me as the smartest choice.  – Ruth Richardson

I’m satisfied within myself. I’ve got more to do with my life than look at that. Barbara Brinsley

Each of us has made different life choices and, actually, that gives women everywhere role models.

It’s legitimate to choose. We don’t have to be the same, we don’t have to judge each other, we make our own choices. – Dame Jenny Shipley

Every student who walks out of the gate to truant is already a statistic of the worst kind, highly likely to go to prison, highly likely to commit domestic violence or be a victim of domestic violence, be illiterate, be a rape victim, be a suicide victim, be unemployed for the majority of their life, have a major health problem or problems, die at an early age, have an addiction – drugs, gambling, alcohol or smoking. Virginia Crawford

I am Māori. Tuhinga o mua Ngāti Hāmua a Te Hika a Pāpāuma. Ko taku iwi Ngāti Kahungunua a Rangitāne. I am Scottish, I am English, I am a New Zealander. I am not defined by the colour of my skin. I am a victim. I did not choose to be a victim. – Maanki 

If we want to see fewer Māori in prison, our whānau broken apart because dad is in prison and mum is now in rangi (heaven), we must free ourselves and our whānau from the increasing level of domestic violence and abuse in our homes. The drugs must stop, the high level of drinking and violence among our own must be gone.

How many of our fathers are incarcerated, because their fathers taught them the only way to deal with anger was violence, to punch their way through a situation. How many of our whānau have lost a mother, a child, a brother from our people’s own hand. – Maanki

The blame needs to stop. It is not the police, the system, the state, the Government, the justice system or even the Pākehā who made a man beat his wife to death, to rape an innocent stranger, to murder their own child or to sexually abuse a daughter or son.

No, it was a choice, a choice made by a perpetrator. – Maanki

The Senate, collectively, could not find their own arses with a sextant and a well-thumbed copy of Gray’s Anatomy
Jack the Insider

Over the years I have come to the conclusion that God’s table is a smorgasbord of theological truths with some in conflict with others and some more important that others.    People are free to pick and choose from that smorgasbord and do so based on what is important to them. – The Veteran

But I can’t remember not having books. I’d go to the library every week, search every shelf with children’s books, then go home with a stack. . .   Every choice was my choice. Then I could control what went into my head by plugging into new worlds, learning new things and just imagining a different life. . .

When we only look to reinforce our taste and beliefs we lose the opportunity to browse and the opportunity for serendipity, and that’s unfortunate. – Maud Cahill

It was sort of total irritability associated with feeling hungry that would manifest as grumpiness. This void in my stomach would create a void in my sense of humour and my ability to tolerate things. – Simon Morton

This is a partnership designed by a drover’s dog and a clinical psychologist who have absolutely nothing in common except they both have experience dealing with rogue steers who don’t believe in being team players. – Clive Bibby  

I live down in the South Island, and there’s been a lot of farmers trying to curtsey. Most of the time they’re in gumboots. – Dame Lynda Topp

In the west food is produced by a few to feed the many and when people are relieved of the duties of working on farms and subsistence farming the job is handed to a few and people move to the cities and that is when they become disconnected. – Anna Jones

Class is a commodity that doesn’t seem to be in conspicuous supply in politics at the moment. – Chris Finlayson

New Zealand’s real problems are not identity politics, no matter what the left may think. They are that the welfare state has failed. Too many kids don’t get educated. Too many working aged adults are on welfare. Too many are in jail because there is too much crime and they’re never rehabilitated. Housing has gone from a commodity to a ponzi scheme. Our productivity growth is anaemic. With government’s and councils’ approach to regulation, it’s amazing anyone still does anything. Andrew Ketels

I certainly don’t celebrate diversity for its own sake. You have to distinguish pluralism from relativism. Relativism tends towards ‘anything goes’ and that can’t be right

Pluralism is the view that although some ways of living really are wrong, the list of possible good ways to live a flourishing human life and have a good society contains more than one item. – Julian Baggini

We didn’t need a tax on stones, there wasn’t a concern about ‘peak stone’ and we didn’t need to stage protests in front of the chieftains’ caves to argue for the use of bronze. It came down to developing the new technology, which had benefits over the old technology, and disseminating the knowledge. – Andrew Hoggard

I am the culmination of generous moment after generous moment, kind moment after kind moment and that is the glue that holds this country together. – Kurt Fearnley

It is a privilege for any mother to be able to propose a toast to her son on his 70th birthday. It means that you have lived long enough to see your child grow up. It is rather like – to use an analogy I am certain will find favour – planting a tree and being able to watch it grow. – Queen Elizabeth II

When I noticed that I was spending far more time scrolling through my email and Twitter than I was playing on the floor with my son, I realized that the problem wasn’t with screens warping his fragile mind. It was that I’d already allowed my phone to warp mine. So these days, my husband and I try not to use our phones at all in front of our son. Not because I think the devil lives in my iPhone, but because I think, to some extent, a small part of the devil lives in me. – EJ Dickson

The proper purpose of journalism remains as Kovach and Rosenstiel defined it – not to lead society toward the outcome that journalists think is correct, but to give ordinary people  the means to make their own decisions about what’s in their best interests.Karl du Fresne

I’m bloody angry at New Zealand for fighting over Santa and I want us to stop. This is not what Santa’s about. Santa is not about angst and Santa is not about Santa hate.

Santa is about hope, Santa is about dreams. Santa can come down the chimney even when you don’t have a chimney. Santa can come in the ranch slider, Santa can drink craft beer. Santa can drink strawberry-flavoured Lindauer for all I care. – Patrick Gower

The expectation that we rustics just need to lean on the gate chewing a straw and making obscure pronouncements about the weather in impenetrable accents for picturesque effect is entertaining until it dawns on you that your role apparently really is just to provide background local colour and not disturb the peace too much.  Rural places are workplaces — stuff happens down on the farm and that stuff can be noisy.  And not just on the farm — gravel quarries, jet-boat companies and the construction sites of all those new houses that didn’t used to be there. – Kate Scott

Rose-tinted nostalgia strikes us all from time to time, but when it comes with a side of imported urban world view where non-working weekends and the notion of property values is accorded more worth than building community resilience, I begin to feel resentful of the twittering worries of suburbia intruding on my bucolic peace with its soothing soundtrack of barking huntaways, topdressing planes and chainsaws –Kate Scott

I had a gentleman come to my office three years ago. He was a Labour candidate. He ran for the Labour Party. He was coming to see me because he’d been to see his own team—they wouldn’t help him with an issue, so he came to me. Did I say, “Oh, sorry, you’ve been a Labour candidate. I’m not going to assist you. I’m not going to help you.”? No, I didn’t. I actually helped him with his issue, because that’s my job as a member of Parliament. I don’t care whether you support New Zealand First, I don’t care whether you’re a supporter or member of the Labour Party, the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand, or the National Party—if you come and ask for help and support, you will get it. That’s my job.-  Mark Mitchell

The only positive outcome from the UN’s 2009 Copenhagen fiasco was the launch of New Zealand’s Global Research Alliance (GRA) to reduce methane and nitrous-oxide emissions, which account for 22 per cent of the world’s GHG total. More than 50 countries are now involved. If the GRA develops science to cut agricultural emissions by two-thirds it would be the equivalent of the US becoming a zero emitter. If it eliminated them, it would be like China going carbon zero. This would benefit the world at least 100 times more than New Zealand becoming net-zero domestically. – Matthew Hooton

No one bets on a horse with a dud jockey.  Simon Bridges

Ms Ardern promised to lead the most open and transparent Government New Zealand has seen. That doesn’t mean picking and choosing to be open and transparent when it benefits her. – Tova O’Brien

Shaw and his comrades have a vision of a different economic model, one that sane people have tunnelled under barbed wire fences to escape. Alas, the sacrifice required to achieve this gender-fluid post-colonial paradise requires a reversal of most of the economic gains of the last 50 years.Damien Grant

The less you trust people, the more distrustful they become and so the more law you need in order to trust them. A good society would not have too much law, because people would do the right thing he says. But in New Zealand we have a lot of law. – Professor Mark Henaghan

December 30 in history

December 30, 2018

39  Titus, Roman emperor was born  (d. 81).

1066 Granada massacre: A Muslim mob stormed the royal palace in Granada, crucified Jewish vizier Joseph ibn Naghrela and massacred most of the Jewish population of the city.

1460  Wars of the Roses: Battle of Wakefield.

1834 – Church Missionary Society printer William Colenso arrived in the Bay of Islands on the schooner Blackbird with New Zealand’s second printing press.

Colenso arrives with a printing press

1835 Charles Darwin left New Zealand after a nine day visit.

Charles Darwin leaves New Zealand after nine-day visit

1865 – Rudyard Kipling, English writer, Nobel laureate, was born (d. 1936).

1875 – A.H. (Sir Alfred Hamish) Reed, publisher, author, entrepreneur, and walker and mountaineer,  was born (d. 1975).

Alfred Hamish Reed, 1958

1916 The last coronation in Hungary was performed for King Charles IV and Queen Zita.

1919 – Lincoln’s Inn in London admitted its first female bar student.

1922  Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was formed.

1925 – Ian MacNaughton, Scottish actor, producer, and director, was born (d. 2002).

1924 Edwin Hubble announced the existence of other galaxies.

1927  The Ginza Line, the first subway line in Asia, opened in Tokyo, Japan.

1928 – Bo Diddley, American singer and musician, was born (d. 2008).

1931  Skeeter Davis, American singer, was born  (d. 2004) .

1937 –  Noel Paul Stookey, American folk singer (Peter, Paul & Mary), was born.

1939 – Glenda Adams, Australian author and academic, was born (d. 2007).

1940 California opened its first freeway the Arroyo Seco Parkway.

1942 – Michael Nesmith, American singer and musician (The Monkees) was born.

1944 King George II of Greece declared a regency, leaving the throne vacant.

1945  Davy Jones, English singer (The Monkees), was born (d. 2012).

1946 – Patti Smith, American singer-songwriter and poet, was born.

1947 King Michael of Romania was forced to abdicate by the Soviet-backed Communist government of Romania.

1947 Jeff Lynne, English musician (ELO), was born.

1948  The Cole Porter Broadway musical, Kiss Me, Kate (1,077 performances), opened at the New Century Theatre and was the first show to win the Best Musical Tony Award.

1950 Bjarne Stroustrup, Danish computer scientist, creator of C++, was born.

1953 The first ever NTSC colour television sets went on sale for about USD at $1,175 each from RCA.

1959 Tracey Ullman, English actress and singer, was born.

1961 – Bill English, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, was born.

1965  Ferdinand Marcos became President of the Philippines.

1975 Tiger Woods, American golfer, was born.

1993  Israel and the Vatican established diplomatic relations.

2004 A fire in the República Cromagnon nightclub in Buenos Aires, Argentina killed 194.

2005  Tropical Storm Zeta formed in the open Atlantic Ocean.

2006  Madrid’s Barajas International Airport was bombed.

2006 Deposed President of Iraq Saddam Hussein, convicted of the executions of 148 Iraqi Shiites, was executed.

2009 – The last roll of Kodachrome film was developed by Dwayne’s Photo, the only remaining Kodachrome processor at the time, concluding the film’s 74-year run as a photography icon.

2011  – Owing to a change of time zone the day was skipped in Samoa and Tokelau.

2013 – More than 100 people were killed when anti-government forces attacked key buildings in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Sourced from NZ History Online, Te Ara, Encyclopedia of NZ & Wikipedia.

Sir Bill has earned his title

June 4, 2018

Former Prime Minister, long serving MP and genuinely good man, Bill English has more than earned the title conferred on him in the Queen’s Birthday honours.

Wallace, the electorate he first won, and Clutha Southland the biggest general electorate in the country, which it grew into under MMP were blue seats.

But it takes hard work, a genuine interest in people and the determination to make a positive difference for them to earn the loyalty and respect from constituents he did.

In the run up to the 2001 election and its aftermath he showed a lot more loyalty to his colleagues and some in the party than they did to him, but as he told us during the election campaign last year, he got back up again.

He did that through hard work, determination and focus not on ideology but on what was wrong and how to make it better.

Soon after he became Finance Minister he called a meeting of senior people from the welfare ministry.  One question he asked was who was responsible for getting people off benefits.

The answer was no one. Bill said that had to change and under his leadership of the social investment approach it did.

The way New Zealand came through the GFC, the focus on the quality of spending rather than the quantity, and the willingness to spend more upfront to reduce long term costs are a very positive reflection on him.

So is the very healthy state that his government left the books in.

The position of Finance Minister demands gravitas. When he became Prime Minister he showed his warmth and wit, and also,the strength of his family.

He isn’t only a good politician, he was an exemplary boss.

One way to judge a politician is by the way they treat their staff. Joanne Black wrote this of Bill:

On my worst day in the Beehive, I inadvertently emailed a sensitive document to someone outside the building with the same name as the intended recipient, who worked for another minister. The person who received it behaved honourably and nothing came of it, and the next day it became public anyway, as intended.

But I will never forget my torment when I realised there was nothing I could do that could fix my error. That was the only occasion I have ever deliberately banged my head against something – my desk, in this case. (It hurt, and it didn’t bring back the email. I do not recommend it.)

Key’s chief of staff, Wayne Eagleson, came in to work out what to do. I went to Bill’s office and waited for a meeting to end so I could tell him what I’d done. He listened, looked down at his papers and said, “Bugger.”

Although my actions must have disappointed him, he did not raise an eyebrow, much less his voice. You need to be more than just a decent person to succeed in politics.

A minister and a Prime Minister who were not only politically on top of their game, but also believed in public service and were calm and humane in that high-stakes environment, inspired great staff loyalty. . .

Another way to judge a politician is by the way they value volunteers.

The grapevine told Bill that I was facing a very difficult situation. He was Prime Minister at the time and there were several particularly challenging matters he was dealing with but on a morning when he had many much more important matters to deal with, he took the time to phone me.

When I thanked him, I said we were immensely grateful for the practical and moral support we were getting, that it really did help to know people cared and that friends all round the world were praying for us. He said, “I will be too,” and meant it.

He is a good man who served his people and his country well. He is no longer in politics but he will still be in service.

For all that and more he has earned his knighthood.

The full Honours List is here.

365 daysof gratitude

March 1, 2018

Bill English began his valedictory statement by saying:

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

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

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

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

New Zealand by James K. Baxter

March 1, 2018


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

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

You can read the whole poem at the Poetry Foundation.

Bill English’s valedictory

March 1, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hon Members: Ha, ha!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hon Paula Bennett: The kids?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill English’s valedictory

March 1, 2018

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

You can watch it live here.

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