National MP for Botany Christopher Luxon delivered his maiden speech yesterday:
E te mana whakawā. E nga mana, E ngā reo, E nga mataawaka.
Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tatou katoa e tau nei.
Mr Speaker, I rise today mindful of the privilege and responsibility it is to serve in this House of Representatives, and also as the last of the new intake of MPs in the 53rd Parliament to give their maiden speech. And while some time has passed, I want to congratulate all my parliamentary colleagues for their election success. I also want to acknowledge the work that all the parliamentary staff do to ensure this House and our democracy functions well for New Zealanders.
I am honoured to be the member for Botany. Because it is one of the most diverse communities in the country and is full of hard-working, determined and aspirational people. I want to thank the people of Botany for their trust. I will work hard for you.
Politics, contrary to what people say, is actually the ultimate team sport so I want to thank my tremendous team of local volunteers and supporters, many of whom are here today. In particular, the incredible Katja Kershaw, Lisa Ambridge, Jake O’Flaherty, Graeme Rayner, our Executive Committee and our outstanding Campaign Team.
To my children, William and Olivia, thank you for being so supportive, understanding and encouraging as I take on this new challenge. Our future is in great hands with your generation coming through.
And most of all, thank you to my wife Amanda. She is my best friend. We met when we were 15 and she is the most extraordinary person I know – strong, wise, smart, and funny.
Mr Speaker, MPs in this House represent different communities, and all of them together make up Aotearoa New Zealand. Botany makes a special contribution to our Kiwi mosaic.
From our mana whenua with their long connection to our land and sea; to the northern suburbs of coastal Cockle Bay, Shelley Park and Botany Downs; to the converted farmland and home to New Zealanders in Dannemora, Sommerville, Shamrock Park and East Tamaki Heights; to Flat Bush and Chapel Downs – some of the fastest growing residential areas in the country; and our proud Pasifika community in the southwest in Rongomai and Clover Park.
Botany’s diversity makes it special. Over half its population was born overseas and New Zealand is a much richer place economically, socially and culturally because of these communities. But whether you have lived 40 years in Cockle Bay or four years in Flat Bush, Botany people have all worked incredibly hard to get to where they are. It is that desire to get ahead, for ourselves, our families and our community, and our country that unites us regardless of our age, ethnicity, language and faith.
But like most districts, Botany has its challenges. East Auckland is already bigger than Dunedin and Tauranga, yet it is chronically under-served by public services. On behalf of those who voted for me, and of those who didn’t, I am committed to solving these problems.
Mr Speaker, let me share a little of where I come from.
My ancestors came to New Zealand as Irish miners and hotel keepers; they came as Scottish stonemasons and bakers; and they came as English farmers, labourers and fishermen. They were new New Zealanders too.
I remember and honour in this special place, my late grandparents, Bert and Clare Turnbull, and Fred and Joan Luxon. I thank my brothers and all my family members for their love and support. Nothing is more precious than family.
From my father – Graham Luxon – I learned to set big goals and to work hard to achieve them; to have a positive attitude and to never let your circumstances define you. He left school and worked his way up from sales rep to General Manager. He’s a real life MacGyver and a very present father. His enthusiasm and positivity are truly infectious.
From my mother, Kathleen, I learned about people, perspectives, relationships and I inherited my sense of humour. Mum came to university the same year as I did, to do a Diploma in Social Work. She has become a highly respected psychotherapist and counsellor. She taught me to walk across the room, to engage with people different from me, to see both sides of an issue and, in doing so, to broaden my horizons.
Mr Speaker, it seems it has become acceptable to stereotype those who have a Christian faith in public life as being “extreme”, so I will say a little about my Christian faith. It has anchored me, given my life purpose and shaped my values, and it puts me in the context of something bigger than myself. My faith has a strong influence on who I am and how I relate to people. I see Jesus showing compassion, tolerance and care for others. He doesn’t judge, discriminate or reject people. He loves unconditionally.
Through history we have seen Christians making a huge difference by entering public life. Christian abolitionists fought against slavery. Others educated the poor and challenged the rich to share their wealth and help others less fortunate. The world is a better place for Christians like William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King and Kate Sheppard contributing to public life.
My faith is personal to me. It is not in itself a political agenda. I believe no religion should dictate to the state and no politician should use the political platform they have to force their beliefs on others. As MPs we serve the common cause of all New Zealanders – not one religion, not one group, and not one interest. A person should not be elected because of their faith and nor should they be rejected because of it. Democracy thrives on diverse thinking and different world views.
Mr Speaker, until now, my career has been in business.
My first job after leaving university was at the global multi-national, Unilever – a huge company that is bigger than many countries. I had amazing opportunities and a truly global business education. I spent 16 years overseas working in developed and developing countries, turning businesses around and working alongside some very smart people. I realised that down-to-earth Kiwis could be as good as the Oxbridge set from England, Ivy League educated Americans, and born-confident Australians.
I came home to New Zealand and had the great privilege of leading our most iconic company – Air New Zealand – for seven years. My team, many of whom are here today, turned a good New Zealand company into one that was truly world-class and globally acclaimed.
Over my career I have come to believe more and more strongly that successful businesses have a critical responsibility to engage on the economic, social and environmental issues a country faces. Making a difference to people’s daily lives is a shared responsibility for government, community and also business.
In my time, Air New Zealand employed 12,500 people. It was a cross-section of New Zealand life. As CEO, I had the opportunity to get things done and demonstrate that a business could do well by doing good.
For example, we decided that New Zealand’s shameful record of family violence was a workplace issue as well as a social issue. So we introduced a three-week paid family violence leave policy for victims.
The pay equity gap at Air New Zealand was reduced to zero and we introduced a 26-week paid parental leave policy. Senior Leadership Team positions held by women went from 16 per cent to 44 per cent.
We worked hard to grow career pathways and internships for young Māori and Pasifika. We worked hard to champion and mainstream te reo and Tā Moko. We earned gender and Rainbow tick certifications.
Air New Zealand was also a foundation member of the Climate Leaders Coalition. 100 per cent of our company car fleet became fully electric – and that was over five years ago.
When the business delivered superior commercial returns we shared those profits with our employees through a Company Performance Bonus. The principle was simple: when Air New Zealand did well, all our staff should do well too.
Mr Speaker, I understand, of course, that a country is not a company. However, New Zealanders look to the Government to get things done. It’s not good enough saying you’re going to lower greenhouse gas emissions, but not do it. It’s not good enough saying you’re going to reduce child poverty but not actually do it. Talking about it gets you a headline but only doing it makes a difference. I have entered politics because I want to make a difference, to solve problems and to get things done.
Mr Speaker, New Zealand’s ability to become more prosperous and to enjoy a higher quality of life as a nation depends on the size and output of our economic engine. Just as growing Air New Zealand provided the opportunity for all staff to benefit, I believe that it’s growing New Zealand’s economy that will provide the opportunity for all New Zealanders to benefit.
However, I believe that right now, New Zealand’s economic engine needs major modifications and serious upgrading. We are underpowered because our economy for the last 30 years has been suffering from a productivity disease. Economic growth has largely been driven by having more people in the country and more people working harder.
We need to work smarter, not harder. We can do this by building and unleashing genuinely world-class export businesses, step-changing education and labour skills, and delivering infrastructure better. Improving productivity is the single biggest thing we can do to improve our standard of living.
Some Kiwi firms are succeeding internationally but, frankly, New Zealand needs many more of them. Only two of our Top 10 firms on the NZX compete in global markets at scale. Yet New Zealand has many opportunities on which it can build its future. We are well located to access the rapidly rising middle class and urbanising populations in the Americas, Asia and Australia. The question is: will we take advantage of and fully exploit and convert these opportunities, or will they just pass us by?
New Zealand has not invested in skills, R&D and innovation to nearly the same extent as the high-performing, small advanced economies of the world. New Zealand’s rapidly falling international performance in the basics of reading, maths and science is extremely concerning. I worry not because of a graph on a league table but because of the strong link between educational attainment and higher wages. Higher wages and greater job opportunities underpin the choices that New Zealand families have in how they live their lives.
Automation technologies, which span advanced robotics, machine learning and AI, will unleash unimaginable change in our society and our working lives. When I chaired the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council, we looked very closely at both the opportunities and challenges greater automation presents New Zealand. It has the potential to help us work smarter and seriously improve our competitiveness and productivity. However, we are not currently geared-up for it. We need to build a bold plan with real actions to harness the opportunities and to ensure that large parts of our society are not left behind. The urgency can’t be understated.
Let me also talk briefly about infrastructure, which is at a crisis point. The issues are multi-generational and systemic. We need to reset and develop a new model to power the country into the 2040s rather than continuing to Band-Aid and No.8 wire our current system.
Infrastructure is not just about dams and transmission lines and highways. It’s about nation building. It’s about how we see our future. We need an overarching vision, new funding and financing mechanisms, upgraded legislation, and better project management and execution. Investing in world-class infrastructure that effectively connects, transports and develops information and ideas, people and products, is critical to New Zealand’s creation of wealth and the distribution of prosperity.
Mr Speaker, I am a proud member of the National Party. I believe that positive, practical centre-right principles and policies are best to navigate the challenges and opportunities that New Zealand faces.
I’m proud to be here under the leadership of Judith Collins and, like my colleagues, have built my personal and professional life on National Party values of freedom and choice, rights and responsibilities, limited yet better government, competitive enterprise, and equal opportunity and citizenship.
I believe in tackling inequality and working to find that balance between encouraging and rewarding hard work and innovation, while always ensuring there is social mobility and a safety net. Every New Zealander who cares about other New Zealanders understands what this means.
No matter your situation, I believe in a New Zealand that backs Kiwis to work hard, to convert opportunities, to create prosperity for themselves, their families, their communities and our country. Because that is how we will make our country stronger.
But I also believe that governments must make powerful and targeted interventions on behalf of those with the most complex and challenged lives. With the right resources at the right time, in the right place, the State can help people make positive and sustained changes that enable them to rise up and realise their potential.
Mr Speaker, regardless of the different political views we hold in this House, New Zealanders can all agree that we are incredibly fortunate to live in this country.
I believe, more than ever, that if we make the right decisions, New Zealand has a great future ahead of us. We can do better, be more prosperous, and more ambitious – if we think strategically, solve problems, deliver results and get things done. I don’t want to settle for mediocrity and I don’t believe other New Zealanders want it either.
Like most New Zealanders, I have sat around the kitchen table talking to my kids about the subjects they’re choosing to study, or talking to Amanda about the care of elderly or sick friends. I understand that the choices that every New Zealand family has at such times are constrained by their circumstances. I’ve come to politics because I want those choices to be better for more New Zealand families. It’s by being more successful as a country that we can ensure that those kitchen table decisions include wider choices and better options for all New Zealanders.
The choices we all have, whether at the kitchen table or the boardroom table, are never made in isolation. The resilience and wealth of a student flat, a family home, a small business or a big corporate are all affected by how New Zealand is doing as a country. It’s my absolute belief that New Zealand can do better and when it does, New Zealanders will do better too.
We will ultimately get the country – the economy, society, and environment – we deserve, and I think we deserve the very best.
Mr Speaker, that’s the work that I am committing myself to today, and for as long as I am in this House, I intend to represent the people of Botany and to serve New Zealand to the very best of my ability. Thank you.