National MP David Carter delivered his valedictory statement:
Rt Hon DAVID CARTER (National): The fascinating thing about a political career is that as it starts you never know when it’s going to end. Not even Winston!
I arrived here in unusual circumstances. Ruth Richardson suddenly resigned as the MP for Selwyn in a way that was designed to cause the maximum disruption for the Bolger Government. The by-election was a baptism of fire and lasted three weeks. Media immediately coined it the “mother of all by-elections”. It was short, sharp, and profiled nationally every night because its result was critical due to the Government’s then one-seat majority. The only humour providing any relief to the tension was the last minute selection of the New Zealand First candidate, Sir Tim Shadbolt, who was not too ashamed to say he had never read a New Zealand First manifesto and he had no idea of New Zealand First policies. Some things never change!
I recall the day I came into the Chamber to be sworn in. It actually wasn’t this Chamber. It was the Chamber used while this building was being renovated, now select committees one and two in Bowen House. As I returned to my seat, Lianne Dalziel, who sat about there, interjected with that awful shriek that the lefties often manage, “You won’t be here for long!” Well, 26 years may not be long for Lianne, but it’s long enough for me. I do know what led to that comment. We were moving to MMP, unchartered territory. No one at that stage knew the new electorate boundaries and what the future would hold. Luck was on my side. I won Banks Peninsula in 1996. So what may well have been a short 26-month career, the time between the by-election and the first MMP election, has become the 26-year stint.
I came with one driving ambition that had gnawed at me since my days at Lincoln University. I wanted to be Minister of Agriculture. This country’s primary sector is New Zealand’s economic jewel. It is the very economic foundation that has made this country the country that it is today. I had personally farmed through Rogernomics in the mid-1980s and hold no grudges whatsoever to the then Labour Government for the pain the farming sector had to endure. It had to be done. Labour should be proud of this era of reform, not dismissive of it. The last three years under this Government have been difficult. This Government seems ignorant of the way the farming sector wants to—and is willing to—grapple with the ongoing challenges of water quality, climate change, and market access. So as an industry, we will meet those challenges. So for the next Government, work with the sector, not against it.
My first promotion was to junior whip, a fascinating role and a way to really understand and appreciate the ambitions of your own colleagues. Parliament is a tough environment, but your own caucus is an even tougher environment. It was during the voting on the 140 amendments to the Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Bill in 1998 that I realised how tenuous the National – New Zealand First coalition Government was. The level of cooperation from then New Zealand First whip, Ron Mark, was non-existent. We never knew whether we had their support on amendments or not, and their vote was critical. Little wonder that, only months later, the coalition imploded, delivering my next opportunity.
Under the Shipley Government, I was made Associate Minister of Agriculture. Nearly there—except she didn’t call it that. She appointed a Minister of Food, Fibre, Biosecurity and Border Control, and I was the Associate Minister for Food, Fibre, Biosecurity and Border Control—the first National Government ever without a Minister of Agriculture. No wonder farmers said we had deserted them. In hindsight, the electoral loss about a year later was inevitable.
The Opposition years were tough. I have a vivid memory of our first caucus after the 2002 election. We started the meeting in the caucus room with 39 people: the successful MPs, the retiring MPs, and those that had been beaten. As we farewelled those leaving one by one, our numbers finally dwindled to an Opposition of only 27 MPs. It was a slow, hard crawl back but we won under John Key in 2008 and I achieved my political ambition: Minister of Agriculture. I then proceeded to change the title: Minister for Primary Industries. No criticism this time. Farmers accepted it. They trusted me.
I came with a strong agenda and recall three things with some pride: water storage, getting science working to find solutions to greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, and improved biosecurity. I still can’t understand the resistance to water storage and irrigation. In any other developed nation, the vast resources of the Canterbury Plains and the Hawks Bay Plains would have been irrigated generations ago. Yes, I accept that irrigation brings intensification. But again, with science and with the will of modern farmers, we can find a way to mitigate environmental impacts of more intensive agriculture.
I championed the establishment of the Global Research Alliance (GRA), an international initiative that brought together agricultural scientists from then 30 different countries to seek ways of reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists working in collaboration will find solutions far more quickly than scientists working in isolation. Now over 60 countries are involved in the GRA. The only problem with the initiative: my then Cabinet colleague Tim Groser claimed all the credit and he had bugger all to do with it!
Biosecurity is critical to this country. Disease incursions will continue to occur. We can’t stop them all, but we can certainly tackle incursions better by establishing a good working relationship between Government and industry. Mycoplasma bovis has been a good example of this. The discovery of Psa in our kiwifruit industry in November 2010 could have been one of my darkest moments. But it’s actually one of my proudest. I got instant support from Cabinet for a $25 million spend matched dollar for dollar by industry, and so started the industry’s effort to find solutions—and look at the strength of the kiwifruit industry today.
I do recall my darkest day: Tuesday 22 February 2011; the day an earthquake destroyed my city of Christchurch. Within an hour I was in the basement of the Beehive, waiting for John Key as we were to travel down together by air force place. My phone went. It was Jaime Gilbert’s family to tell me that our friend Jaime was dead—crushed by falling masonry. The Prime Minister and I spent the day touring the devastation, standing for a long period of time in front of the smouldering CTV building, knowing there were people dead or dying in that ruin. But the toughest part: I didn’t get home till well after 9 o’clock that night to hug Heather and our four kids. They each had their own traumatic experiences of the day they wanted to share with me. I wanted to get home a lot earlier, guys; you wanted me home a lot earlier. I’m sorry, but it’s a cost of political life.
Chris Finlayson said there are two fundamental reasons for a valedictory: to say thank you and to give a lecture. The lecture first on two quick points: number one, the design of the emissions trading scheme. In hindsight, Parliament got it wrong in 2005 when it gave large emitters the opportunity to offset their emissions with the planting of pine forests. I know why we did it; we needed time for those emitters to find solutions. At the time, we thought that gave us a 30-year window to meet our international obligations. We ignored the fact that the majority of the sequestered carbon is released upon harvesting. Now in 2020, half that window of the 30-year opportunity has passed without any progress by emitters to reduce their emissions. In the meantime, valuable pastoral land was planted into forestry—a decision that won’t be for one rotation of pine planting; it’s more likely to be a permanent change of land use. In other words: we found a temporary solution that will have a long-term, permanent downside for New Zealand.
Number two: the continued lease of Bowen House. If common sense had prevailed, we’d be well on the way to finally being in our own fully owned parliamentary complex, rather than some MPs being housed over the road in a commercially leased Bowen House. To continue leasing Bowen House from an overseas investor is wrong and it’s expensive. To continue to use the vacant land behind this building for nothing more than car parking is wrong and an inefficient use of resources. During my time as Speaker, plans were developed for a modern, purpose-built office block immediately behind here and linking to this building, and I want to acknowledge the former Parliamentary Service officials who led this project: David Stevenson and Jim Robb.
My job was to get the political support necessary for the project to proceed. All political leaders, with the exception of the Rt Hon Winston Peters, agreed. It’s hard to see why they wouldn’t. The economics of this project were absolutely compelling. So in the 53rd Parliament, while MPs are decamped from Bowen House for its earthquake strengthening and double-desked somewhere in the library or in the basement of this building, don’t blame me. Instead, ask the question why the project didn’t proceed, and if it was nothing more than a personal vendetta against me by Mr Peters, that is shameful. What is beyond doubt is the greatest beneficiary of the decision to stop the project is the current owner of Bowen House.
Now for the thanks to the hundreds of people who have helped me through my time in Parliament. Over 26 years, there are a lot of them. I simply cannot mention them all. To those that make this building work: Parliamentary Service, security, the travel office, messengers, and VIP, that you so much. To the Inter-Parliamentary Relations team—and particularly you, Wendy Hart: the source of huge institutional knowledge on the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association—thank you.
To members of the National Party, thank you for your commitment to National and to me. To the various electorate chairs, campaign chairs, office holders of the Selwyn electorate, Port Hills electorate, and Banks Peninsula electorate, I owe you everything. To all my staff over the years, both in Christchurch and Wellington, I couldn’t have done it without you. I want to particularly note Marion Bishop in Christchurch, and, of course, the fearsome, legendary Lisa Kinloch here in Wellington. To all the staff of my ministerial office, we were a great team, but I particularly note Vanessa Rawson, Gavin Forrest, and Thomas Pryor. To Juliane Jutz for your assistance over the last three years, and particularly with the logistics of leaving Wellington and organising today. Roland Rodd: the glue of any Speaker’s office. To my political adviser, mentor, and friend, Roger Bridge: when I needed sound advice, you were there to provide it. Without it, I wouldn’t have survived 26 years in this place.
To Heather, I can’t really find the right words to say. I know my choice to enter politics was not where you thought our lives would head prior to that Selwyn by-election. I still remember the look on your face as I looked down at you from the stage at the West Melton hall on my selection night, having won selection. That look of apprehension, almost fear, is imprinted on my mind. You knew our lives had changed, but I hope for all the downsides there’s been some reward and achievement in watching me complete my political ambition. Thank you for on so many occasions being a solo mum. To Sophie, Laura, Isabella, and Morgan, I don’t think you’ve suffered too much without my daily guidance. In fact, I think you might have been better off without it. The irony of life is as I return home you embark on your own exciting lives, which I know will bring much pride to Heather and to me.
As I conclude, I want to make some comments on my almost five years as Speaker of this House. It was never a position I aspired to, but having been elected as Speaker, I realised the honour and the responsibility that this position holds in ensuring the democracy of our country. When I recall the other six Speakers that I’ve served under, all had their own individual style. I think the style of a Speaker is, in actual fact, a reflection of the personality of that person. The biggest challenge for any Speaker is moving from a career as a political operator to being truly a-political. The job is to be Parliament’s person and not influenced by earlier political loyalties.
Of critical importance to democracy is the opportunity for an Opposition to hold a Government to account. The allocation of supplementary questions at question time is a valuable resource—a chance to ask those searching, probing questions that if asked and answered, will actually ensure a sharper, more highly performing Government. So I certainly hope the Speaker of the 53rd Parliament will reconsider the recent practice of taking supplementary questions off an Opposition or ruling out questions on some spurious basis, just because the question may be an embarrassment to a Minister. Having said that, I certainly accept that every Speaker at some stage is accused of bias—it goes with the territory. Indeed, it did here last night. As I reflect on my time as Speaker, I can say without hesitation I did my best for our democracy. In hindsight, I think I was probably tougher on Government members than on Opposition MPs. As to any accusation of bias, my conscience is absolutely clear, and that’s the important thing.
So colleagues, I wish you all well as you embark on your election campaigns. This time I’m thrilled not to be part of it.