Thank you Mr Speaker, thank you very much indeed for the call to give my Valedictory statement.
Because it’s a privilege that is given to retirees. 15 minutes of uninterrupted discourse, where the opportunity is given to say it, the way it really is, the way I see it, and I intend to do that now.
If we glance overseas, back to Westminster, where our Parliamentary system began, before it was improved by the New Zealand system, we see that the Parliamentary media over there have adopted the sobriquet of “Pale, Male, and Stale” for those that Mr Cameron has decided should no longer hold their Cabinet Warrants. How cruel, how cruel is that to sensitive people? Well, if you can’t take the heat, don’t stand in the kitchen. This is politics 101 after all. Mind you, all jokes aside, I have always thought the members of the media try to see in others that which they least like about themselves. Let’s think about that for a moment. Every day at quarter to two as we come to the House I have in my dairy ‘available to media’. I approach the milieu of people and cameras and microphones. Sometimes they say, “G’Day Chris”, that’s it! There have been perhaps three times when I have had that wonderful surround sound of microphones and cameras, very exciting, unfortunately it was always over a tragic association with Pike River rather than the sort of fun our Minister have.
Does the Westminsterial sobriquet apply over here? Are retirees Pale Male and Stale on this side of the world? On this side of the house? I don’t think so Mr Speaker, Oh No! I don’t think so! Well not yet at any rate, but, as my old friend Roy Hodgson in Rūnanga used to say, a good old coal miner, ‘Hang on, let’s have a think about that.’ So I’ve given it a bit of thought.
Well Pale, OK I certainly do not have a ruddy or dark complexion, but roseate enough on a frosty morning not to be described as pale.
Male? I make no apology for being a male. I hope I’m seen as a considerate, compassionate and communicable male; I make no apology for that. If I have faults, and I’m sure I do, well I don’t think I can blame my gender for my behaviour without it being a cop-out. There ain’t nothing wrong in being a bloke if you behave yourself properly! I am pleased nonetheless that our new National Candidate for West Coast Tasman is Maureen Pugh, thereby enhancing the opportunity for gender balance in the party.
Stale? Don’t think so. I have achieved more for the electorate in the last year in the cumulative improvement in West Coast Tasman health infrastructure than ever before – and haven’t we had such a wonderful Minister of Health! I have contributed as much on an annual basis to Select Committee work, in the last year as in any other, and have spoken more frequently in the Chamber. I had a speech that went trending on Twitter, Lianne Dalziel had to say it was trending and not trendy, and it was viral on Internet in the opinion of TV3– and this was after I had announced my retirement. So Stale? No.
So, if that is the successful rebuttal of the Westminsterial criticism of gentlemen of European ancestry of a certain age and career achievement, if I have successfully rebutted that, why the hell am I retiring? That’s a good question but here is the answer because it is a question that does require answering.
When I joined the National Party, signed up by Keith Holyoake, who said “Be careful when you sign that membership form, you may end up in Parliament” – that was in Kaikohe circa 1968, I actually made a commitment to work to support the Party – not to seek to support myself, but to support the Party. I am now 69 years old, and while so many people say I don’t look it, well I am.
Well I don’t know of any other, National MP’s, who are 69 years old, but as we sign up to three year brackets of tenure, would you really want to still be trundling around Parliament at 72? You’d need quite an ego if you thought you couldn’t be replaced effectively by a younger person. I guess the only other extenuating circumstance would be if your were a party leader if you had a Scottish mother from the Isle of Skye, but even then you’d be pushing it.
I guess Mr Speaker, this is the reality. Keeping a balance of diversity, age, gender, and ethnicity in a caucus is a long game, not short one. And haven’t we all benefited from the inclusion of people of diversity and different ethnicity in this Parliament? And I’ve got one sitting right here, Kanwal Bakshi, who makes a huge contribution and National has certainly changed under the John key leadership. Each of us has to think now, about the future of our Party, and the part we want to play. With my own retirement and the retirements of colleagues from National now, the real effect will be first in 2017 when National will have an incredibly fresh team, all with at least three years’ experience as MP’s youthful yet mature, vigorous and energetic, may I say, multi-shaded, gender-balanced and fresh. That’s the way it will be on this side of the House. I have no wish to be Partisan, but hey, consideration should be given to how we will look as a Party in comparison with one another in three years’ time, or indeed in six years’ time, because you have to plan that far out for refreshment and strength, Should some of Parliaments older incumbents cling to the backs of their seats, and some of us to have a tendency to do that. Speaking entirely for myself, I wish to be part of a refreshment process rather than a stagnation process within the Party – and should people not, which will occur that people don’t and allow replacements come in, I think that the best way to do that is to retire at my present stage.
So while I am not personally seeking re-election, I am of course, still steeped in the process of the election cycle. The political messages thought that are put out by all parties have a different emphasis, if one is thinking as a voter rather than one to be voted for. It gives you a different slant on things. It’s interesting to see the way parties want to differentiate from one another. One of my regular phone callers on the Coast brought this to my attention when he asked “ What about those parties that want to bring back Smacking – is it ‘cos they want us all to smack kids, or do they have a secret dream of being smacked themselves if only the law allowed it? You just don’t know nowadays do you?” He does has a point.
The other point he made Mr Speaker, and I am absolutely sure it will not cause any offence, is to ask why some parties insist on having Binding Referenda. He said “It sounds to him like the way people always try to tell us what we should and shouldn’t do with natural resources on the coast when they don’t even live here themselves.” And went on to say “The really strange part is that the parties that say we should have Binding referenda are always minority parties and by their own mandate they shouldn’t accept to be in Parliament cause they did not achieve majority support.” He has a point! He has a point, and I really look forward to continuing to benefit from West Coast wisdom, and the philosophical observations of people once outside and home again.
Mr Speaker I do not intend to speak any further on new and emergent parties that hope to hold us in thrall to their whims and wants – in my view MMP is a reality that I think would be a pity to lose, but as well as providing opportunities for new philosophies one of it’s vulnerabilities is that it can attract charlatans from time to time, but the electorate is, I trust developing a maturity in the way we use and view MMP.
So what Mr Speaker, have I been able to contribute and what have I gained from my nine years in this place?
For me the most significant part of the Parliamentary process, as a back-bencher, is the Select Committee system. This is our Second House, our Senate, our House of Lords, as this is where the public have a direct interface with the legislative process. This is where the public are asked what they think of the legislation being put forward. In my experience, the adversarial relationship between Parties and individual members is subsumed to less of a partisan system, where members each consider the evidence put before them in submissions from people, often based on a personal or observed experience. I have always been impressed by the sincerity and depth of explanation the public provide. Organisations too, be they Corporate bodies, commercial organisations, or community groups, come in with carefully prepared and sharply focussed submissions to argue a point. Each and every submission is considered, weighed, then reported back to the committee by the appointed officials who are assisting the committee.
I like to think my main opportunity to make a contribution has been through the Committee process, and I am extremely grateful for the appointments that I have had to those committees and have developed a deep appreciation of colleagues from all sides of the house in the way we have the capacity to work together through the committee system. It always a bit of a surprise when you come out of the committee system, I remember when we did the review of the – I won’t bother dealing with the individual acts – but some of the complex ones when we worked together very well as parties, we come out and suddenly you here people speaking as if they wanted nothing to do with it, and how dreadful it was. And I remember saying to a Minister once, “this wasn’t a reflection of the way they spoke in the committee”, and they said, “Chris, they’re not speaking to you in the committee, they’re speaking to their membership in the public and it’s not in their advantage to looks as if we all work together too easily.”
Representing people, be they individuals or entire electorates is a big privilege, and the West Coast Tasman electorate will always be special for me and it’s a delight to see people have actually come up from West Coast and Tasman to be with us today and ill think well give them a little clap as it’s a hell of a long way. Particularly nice to see three young Nat’s, there’s four young or more young Nat’s in the back, and they’ve been with me I think since third form and they’re at university now and doing very well.
The West Coast Tasman electorate will always be special to me. There were aspects of political opportunity that held special appeal for me when I first arrived in 2005, but I chose to concentrate my attention on serving the electorate, and have stuck with that prime intention. All politicians in my experience wish to achieve the best they can for the people they represent – each Party having separate ways of achieving that – and I have always been comfortable promoting the policies of National. There have been good times in the electorate, and times of awful tragedy – both the good times and the tragedies are part of the political journey as an MP, and it has been very pleasing to me Mr Speaker to have seen the level of agreement between parties in processing the Pike River Royal Commission recommendations towards workplace Health and Safety reform.
Mr Speaker it has been a great time to be in Parliament over the last nine years. New Zealand plays a significant part in world affairs as a small nation with a developed and still developing economy. People are not afraid of New Zealand. New Zealand views are listened to and sought. I think it fair to say that we have been well served by Foreign Ministers from all parties over the last few decades and we are regarded as a very responsible world citizen. I hope that the influence we have built up can be used in some of the complex and tragic dynastic problems that are occurring at the moment between governments to the detriment and horrifying physical cost to all their citizens.
Finally Mr Speaker, I looked up Valedictory in my Chambers dictionary – normally it is the final speech of a graduand leaving their place of learning – for me that’s a fit leaving here. Thanks directly to my National Colleagues, and to the Prime Minister and his staff for the leadership provided. There is no greater call than that your country needs you, and gosh, New Zealand does need John Key, thank goodness we have you as Prime Minister!
This is a dynamic place. It managed without me before I arrived, and it will manage without me after I’ve left. Well alright! You’re so kind. Members and staff will concentrate on themselves, the job in hand and their individual and collective Party aspirations as before and that is what should happen. I will be no more memorable than any other politician who has served here or moved on. I don’t expect the majority of you to remember me in any shape or form, BUT I will remember each of you, each and every one of you, and all the transactions we have engaged in, and I will treasure all the exchanges we have had, I promise you that, be it at Select Committee, in the Debating Chambers, in Copperfield’s, Bellamy’s, or the gym, on social occasions, on formal occasions, in private conversation, in private meetings or in public engagement, with Security Staff, Parliamentary Services Staff, the Travel Team, the media team, with Brent’s Messengers, the Clerk’s Office, IT Help services, bless them, the Comm’s Unit, Research, the Library, the exemplary In Style Taxi services headed up by Paul Rossiter, Air NZ Koru Club, the electorate teams, the Young Nats, my office staff past and present and, and bless them, those who have left us – the late Dan Strong, my electorate chair in Motueka, and late Margaret Dougan who supported me in Motueka. To the voters of West Coast Tasman and National who provided me with nine years of representation for the West Coast Tasman electorate, to my darling wife Elspeth and my family, I thank you and I thank each and everyone mentioned, no matter which Party you choose to belong to, or which path you choose to walk along. Thanks for nine unforgettable years! Thank you Mr Speaker.