Hekia Parata delivered her valedictory statement this week:
Hon HEKIA PARATA (National):
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Today is a day of thanks. My performance as a member of Parliament and as a Minister is a matter of public record and for others to judge. I am leaving with a great sense of gratitude for the immense privilege it has been to serve, in this way, in this time, my fellow New Zealanders and our country. I am leaving satisfied with what I have been able to contribute, proud of a number of achievements, stronger and more resilient than I ever imagined I would have to be. I am leaving with huge optimism for our future and the settled conviction that I was blessed to have been born to these Pacific isles a New Zealander—well, a Ngati Porou woman New Zealander, to be absolutely accurate. I guess I was just lucky.
We, all of us, are the sons and daughters, descendants, of adventurers, navigators, visionaries, risk-takers, brave and tenacious people, with imagination, grit, and hope, who crossed Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa, whether by whale, waka, ship, or plane, to make this place, Aotearoa New Zealand, their home. Ours is a small, smart, sassy nation, and all of us have a responsibility to our forebears and to those who come after us to make it even better.
I have enjoyed the great gift of being a part of this House of Representatives, and our Government, as we have taken up that responsibility. We have served 9 years as a National-led coalition Government to build a better New Zealand than we found it, and we have done that in many practical, significant, and measurable ways. All of those will be examined and judged over the coming weeks, and I trust that New Zealanders will value the unique blend of stability and competence, fresh ideas and the detail and experience to execute them that our team offers. I leave knowing that my place and those of my colleagues, who are also leaving, are filled by capable, energetic, and thoughtful people. We must constantly refresh if we are to stay relevant to New Zealand families, and I am proud that our caucus and new candidates reflect that challenge.
As our coalition separates for the battle ahead, I want to acknowledge our partners: United Future, ACT, and Te Pāti Maori, and to thank them for the support they have given me in the policy and legislative initiatives I have pursued. Ngā mihi.
To my parliamentary colleagues: thank you for being a part of the active democracy that New Zealand is and must always be, and for your commitment to making this the best country that it can possibly be. Tēnā koutou.
I found it extremely difficult preparing for this valedictory statement. It is a challenge to distil to a handful all the memories, to ensure all those who should be mentioned are, and that Hansard records a fitting end to my time here. The expectations feel very high. It reminds me of a time I was standing in the wings of the year 7 to 13—that would be form 1 to form 7—leadership conference in Taranaki, and I asked my 11-year-old introducer what he thought I should say. He looked up at me hopefully and asked: “Can you be funny?” In a nanosecond I could see he had written that possibility off and trudged on to the stage with me following in his wake—just so you know.
I am proud to be a member of the National Party, to have served in a National-led Government, and to make policy based on values of equal citizenship and equal opportunity, of individual freedom and choice, of personal accountability and responsibility, of competitive enterprise and rewards for achievement, and of limited Government and the challenge to create the conditions in our economy and our society so New Zealanders of whatever background have the opportunity to realise their potential. That is the essence of rangatiratanga, the kind I am interested in—the personal, practical, everyday kind where New Zealanders are self-determining, are in charge of their own lives, are able to make choices, and are able to live independent of the Government. I have always said I will leave the “tino” variety to iwi.
In my maiden speech almost 9 years ago I said that I wanted to contribute to developing quality citizenship for all New Zealanders, and a defining aspect of that would be the reduction of dependence on the State. I have been part of a Government that has, in response, focused on a strong and growing economy, the creation of new jobs, raising the level of qualifications and skills, finding new trade opportunities, investing in infrastructure, science, and innovation. None of that on its own sounds sexy or exciting, but unless we have those, we do not have the ingredients for the recipe of a sustainably better life. The other side of that is the social well-being and welfare of people. That is what our social investment approach led by the Prime Minister is about. To achieve equality of citizenship, there must be unequal resource and support for those most vulnerable, those least able to help themselves. We know better than ever who we need to help, and how we marshal the resources of the Government to do that. In turn we have seen a reduction in benefit dependence.
The binary nature of politics is that if you have not done absolutely everything, you are accused of not having done anything. Not true. We have done much, and there is much more to do, but in doing so we have to keep in mind the hard work of New Zealanders represented in their taxes and savings. I know that when promises are made to spend more it is not the “Government’s money” as so many assert. It is the teachers, and nurses, and policemen, the builders, the plumbers, the electricians, the businesses, small and big. It is my whānau, planting seedlings on eroding hillsides in drenching rain, or collecting hives in blistering heat, or fixing potholes and slips and drains, as logging truck drivers loop tediously along State Highway 35. That is whose money it is; not the Government’s. That is who we have to account to, and I have never lost sight of that as we have sought to make the best decisions with their money.
In my maiden speech I also said that I wanted to “join the crusade for literacy and numeracy and for a good-quality education for every New Zealand student.” I said that “We must adopt an uncompromising attitude that failure is not an option. All our other aspirations for economic growth, raised standards of living, and national confidence and pride will flow from getting these basics right.” And, of course, I had the tremendous opportunity as Minister of Education to carry out my 6-year crusade.
I came from a modest background. We did not own the home we grew up in. We never owned a car all the time we were growing up. With the change in our family circumstances, we were so grateful for a State house and my mother for the DPB, as it was then known. We worked before- and after-school jobs to support our family, and through it all we knew that getting a good education was the answer to a better life. Every opportunity I have had has arisen out of having that education, and hard work. That is why I have been so focused on rewiring our education system to make sure that every one of our young people gets the opportunity of the best education possible.
But before that, I held portfolios or associate responsibilities for Women’s Affairs, Ethnic Affairs, Energy and Resources, the Community and Voluntary Sector, and ACC. I learnt something from all of these, but Energy and Resources was the portfolio I learnt the most in, in understanding what a rich set of resources we have around and in our country. It was also the portfolio that got me pretty much excommunicated from my tuakana iwi, Te Whānau-a-Apanui, for proceeding with the approval for exploration for oil and gas in the Raukūmara basin—somewhat awkward, given that we have a home there and we would have to drive past garages and fences saying bilingually just what an egg I was.
It was also during my stewardship that the Māui Gas pipeline went down, taking with it all the hot water in hotels and motels from Taupō North, turning off milking sheds, factories, and businesses across the same vast area. I learnt there was a protocol for the priority of who got reconnected first as the line became restored, and I was lobbied and lobbied. But in that process, I learnt that Sanitarium, Chelsea, and Fonterra were the necessary trifecta for half the country getting a good start to the day. And, of course, Orion energy made sure that it could restore power safely and methodically across Christchurch. One of the privileges one has as a Minister is to meet outstanding New Zealanders, and to see the skills and knowledge, ingenuity and good humour they bring to their everyday work, and most particularly in a crisis.
And then, I got Education. This was my dream job and the reason I ran for Parliament. When the then Prime Minister rang to tell me, I practically perforated his ear drum I was so excited. Apparently that has not often been the response to being offered the education portfolio. In addition, I was given the Pacific Island Affairs portfolio, and what an honour that was. Back when I was training to be a diplomat in our Ministry of Foreign Affairs—I know, when people think of me the first word that springs to mind is “diplomatic”—back then in the 1980s I was arguing for a more Pacific-centred policy, for New Zealand to see itself as part of the Pacific, not just on the other side of it.
I loved my time in the portfolio, meeting Pacific people, who were working so hard, who were committed to their children doing well, singing in church the way we did growing up, and producing some of the best sports men and women and increasingly excelling across the health sector in particular. I also learnt from this, together with the Ethnic Affairs portfolio, how real and alive the diverse cultures are that make up our communities and the richness this adds to all our lives. I think they also have more hui and longer hui than the Māori people do—just saying.
I want to thank our former Prime Minister the Rt Hon Sir John Key for his leadership. He brought a clinical set of decision-making tools to the job, together with a whole-hearted embrace of this country, a confidence about our place in the world, and an unshakeable optimism about what was possible. As a boss, he appointed you to a role, gave you general guidance, and trusted you to get on with it. That was at times both scary and exhilarating—probably for him as well as me. I want to record my thanks for his unflagging support.
It was the Prime Minister in 2013 who encouraged me to look at something big for education. Of course, it was the then Minister of Finance, the right honourable Prime Minister today, who had to be persuaded to fund it. And that, folks, is how we got what I think will truly be transformational for our education system: communities of learning or kāhui ako that keep everything that is special and different about individual schools and early learning centres but systematically joins them in a collaboration centred on the child and their 18-year learning pathway. It cost a shipload of money—$359 million, the biggest single social investment initiative we have made as a Government. It puts the emphasis on the student and their learning and achievement, and it creates 6,000 new roles for teachers and leaders. I want to put on record here my appreciation of the leadership role that the Post Primary Teachers’ Association took in this initiative. To be clear, peace did not then break out; we did continue to argue and disagree about other things.
I also want to thank the many teachers and education leaders who not only have embraced this opportunity but every day bring care and commitment, capability and competence, fun and innovation to the children and young people in their centres and classrooms. We have some of the best educators and education practices in the world, and we see the value in that in the rising achievement of our young people. We have about 2,500 schools and over 5,000 early learning centres and just under a million young New Zealanders engaged in learning. My relentless expectation as Minister of Education was that every child in every classroom every day was learning and achieving. I appropriated from a speech I heard from the then Chief Review Officer, Dr Graham Stoop, a line that said: “The core business of a school is to cause learning to happen and to know that it did”—as simple and as complicated as that.
We have an education system with an architecture that is one of the best in the world. But, like my generation and smart phones, we use only a small amount of its potential. I saw my job as rewiring the system and leveraging that architecture to make sure that it serves every Kiwi kid, to push those who are doing well to do even better, and to pick up those that the system had been leaving behind. I am glad to say that we now have the data to know that all population groups have lifted, and, in particular, at senior secondary, Māori and Pasifika students are achieving at almost twice the rate from when we came into Government in 2008. That is real kids with real results able to make real choices about what is next for them. That is great for them and that is great for our country.
I had the privilege as Minister of Education to visit centres and schools up and down the country and to see the magic that so many of them create. Little Ōturu School in the Far North is developing natural cures for cellulitis and then selling them. Sylvia Park School is involving its whole community in art and sculpture and the living environment. A primary school in Māngere East is lifting numeracy through “Bobbie maths”, a culturally based team approach. Te Kura Māori a Rohe o Ngā Tapuwai is turning out ki-o-rahi exponents and top scholars. Tarawera High School in Kawerau, Tamatea High in Flaxmere, and Pātea High in Taranaki are achieving phenomenal results due to quality leadership. Tolaga Bay Area School is leading a whole of community inquiry based on the transit of Venus and an ongoing ecological project partnering with iwi and the wider community. Kaiti School is leading the way in teaching excellence. A little Nelson Lakes school is introducing ethics-based studies to 6-, 7-, and 8-year-olds. There are 23 Marlborough schools forming a community of learning. Haeata Community Campus, formed from 4 schools in Christchurch East, is leading a revolution in learning and lifting the community as it does so.
I have this brilliant idea—are there any other kinds—that I offer to the universe today: develop a weekly broadcast programme modelled on Country Calendar showing a different school, kura, or kāhui ako and see the stories unfold and the difference they are making—magic!
This is the fourth year that the Prime Minister’s Education Excellence Awards has been held. It is a way of showcasing and celebrating the best practice in our education system and, I hope, part of the way of changing the public conversation about education to a far more positive one. This is the second year of the Education Council, which is dedicated to growing and lifting the teaching profession. But a word of caution: no matter how much we invest to grow and develop the profession, they simply cannot and should not be expected to take up every latest demand. As I said earlier, the core business of schools is to cause learning to happen. It is not the job of schools to become the default for everything young people should learn. As Minister I was lobbied to have schools become social welfare hubs, health hubs, to provide financial literacy, sex education, and so on. Different schools can and do make decisions about how and what they operate. But schools are not our mothers and fathers; they are not our families or whānau. They cannot be everything to everybody and nor should they. Theirs is already a huge responsibility: to educate our kids.
I want to table for the House today, my calling card for this past term of Government—it is just sitting right there. It sets out the system changes that are under way. Helpfully, on the back are references to the relevant key papers. It provides a short summary and saves the House a fuller recitation. But small and colourful as this postcard is, it represents a lot of work by a lot of people.
I said that today was a day for thanks. I think we have a magnificent public service. I think it is the best in the world. It is probably one of the smallest, but certainly one that delivers above and beyond. Ahakoa he iti, he pounamu. Although small, it is of the quality of greenstone. Thanks to all those public servants who supported the work of my portfolios. The education portfolio is not the most popular, which I can testify to, but it is incredibly rewarding, and the work we did together has been some of the most satisfying of my professional life. I want to thank Peter Hughes, both for his leadership of the Ministry of Education and the education sector in Government, and for his full support of me and my work programme. He tells me with sincerity and good humour that he loved it—although not always in the moment. Thank you, Peter.
I want to thank Iona Holsted, first in her role as Chief Review Officer at the Education Review Office where she asked me what I was looking for and then with intelligence and conviction she over delivered—such a woman thing! Then as Secretary for Education she has gotten stuck in, bringing all her social policy background and grit to bear.
I want to thank Karen Poutasi, heading the New Zealand Qualifications Authority—and do not worry, I am not going to go through every principal in the country as well—and her board in particular for the strategic vision they have been working toward. Take notice: assessment on line, anyone, any time. In a truly student centred education system, the choice of what and when a student gets assessed will have profound changes, not least of which the manacle of timetabling that serves adults more than the students.
I just want to segue quickly to illustrate the powerful difference that the multiple vocational pathway choices young people have in our system today under our Government and how much more engaging this is for so many of them. I was visiting the Build a Bach project in New Plymouth and was talking to the students working on it. I asked one young guy what the key education thing he had learnt building the bach. He said: “I know why I have to be able to read now” and pointing to a stack of cans, he said: “cos that shit’s flammable, Miss. That means it burns.” But we need flexibility in timetabling to make more of this happen more easily for our students.
Peter, Iona, and Karen have been served by a leadership team of deputy secretaries, some of whom have gone on to serve elsewhere, who I am proud to have worked with. Every one of them unstintingly worked to meet really high expectations, and I want to thank them all, and their teams. I trust I will be forgiven for naming just two people for special reasons, but who exemplify the commitment that all have shown. I want to acknowledge Katrina Casey and Coralanne Child and their leadership in the Greater Christchurch, Selwyn, and Waimakariri education network over the past 5 years. Both had family or homes also affected by the earthquakes, and both led staff similarly affected. Day in and day out, at night, and on too many weekends they worked to restore, repair, redevelop, support, and sustain the people and the education system there, as many other public servants did also. They accompanied me when I met with every community—at least once—many multiple times, to explain, to listen, to apologise, and to deliver.
I completely accept that we got some things wrong. But there was not a manual for those circumstances. We did not have 5 years to think about it. We did the best we could. Thank you both and all those who worked with you. I know that we are about halfway through the billion dollar programme to repair and rebuild and build 115 new schools, and already the network is fulfilling its promise in the continued growth in learning and achievement.
I want to thank the ministry folk who staffed my office over the years and the advisors in my office who have organised me, prepped me, planned for me and around me, who repaid the high trust I placed in them many times over. Thank you for looking out for me and after me: Kararaina Cribb, Otene Wharerau, Hiria Parata, Julie Ash, Florence Faumauina, Charlotte Haycock, Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i, Ana Barbono, Nick Venter, Jasmine Higginson, and Brigitte Morten, with a special thanks for keeping me up on pop culture, trending Netflix series, fashion, latest diets, and Wellington on a Plate. Thanks too, to Geoff Short and Matt Sanders for their fountain of knowledge, incredible networks, and good advice.
I quickly turn to the National Party. I want to acknowledge former president Michelle Boag, who first recruited me in 2001 and has been a steadfast supporter of mine ever since. I want to acknowledge Patricia Morrison, who inducted me into the ways of the party and could not have been a better mentor, and to Peter Goodfellow and the board, our regional chairs, and those who are sitting behind me, which seems appropriate now because I have always felt the National Party behind me, and electorate committees, members, and volunteers who are the backbone of our Party—thank you all.
I have cause to be particularly grateful to those who have voted National, because they have put me in Parliament these past three terms of Government as a list member. Despite early mornings on Police Hill beside State Highway 1, hammering up hoardings, leafleting letter boxes, and generally throwing myself at the Mana electorate, I have not been able to uncouple it, first from Luamanuvao Winnie Laban, and now Kris Faafoi, both thoroughly lovely people with a peculiar political penchant. We have, however, won the party vote twice and are working very hard to keep that arrangement this September. It is here that I pay particular thanks to the Mana electorate team. A number of you are in the galleries today and you have my thanks for your support.
My special thanks go to my dear friend and her whānau, who since we set out on this waka have been with me and mine all the way. Pania Tyson-Nathan, you are amazing. Whatever I have needed, whenever I have needed it, you have been there; Evan Nathan for your long, suffering support and assistance; Enoka Mareikura who, press ganged into my campaigns, became the handiest thing on a nail gun and the smoothest mover in human hoardings, to now being the father of a gorgeous wee girl; and Kaylim, who has practically grown up in the National Party, featuring in our pamphlets and singing for many of our suppers.
We have had fun and challenging times, but we have been dedicated and focused. I remember once when teams of us were out leafleting I got a call from Enoka saying: “Mum’s been bitten by a dog and we’re going to A & E.” I raced over to Kenepuru to see how she was. It was pretty bad. She had been stitched and had multiple shots and was on pain medication. Once I had established, however, that she had been sorted I was able to ask: “Um, did you manage to finish that street?” Sorry Parn!
To the three Dames and two Sirs who in different ways and at different times have offered me wisdom, encouragement, poetry, prayer, and love. Thank you Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi, Dame Jenny Shipley, Dame Karen Sewell, and Sir Brother Patrick Lynch—the other Sir, I will come back to. An excerpt from the poem “From Landfall in Unknown Seas” by Allen Curnow became a touchstone for me: Simply by sailing in a new direction you could enlarge the world. Thank you, Karen.
We have a brilliant caucus, with an extremely able Cabinet, led by a good man. To the Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Bill English, it has been a real honour to work with you and for you, to debate policy with you—some might say argue vociferously—to be prepped and on my mettle ready to make a Budget case when you were finance Minister. Thank you. I wish you every success in this election because apart from every other qualification you have for the job, you are the only Prime Minister who can shear a sheep, and where I come from, that counts.
To our Deputy Prime Minister, Paula Bennett, tēnā koe. You are a fierce and feisty warrior woman, whose hard work, strength, and sense of fun have been a model to us all. I salute you, and your mana wahine. Together, I think your leadership is awesome.
To the 2008ers, all 16 of us, it is been a blast. I could not have wished for a more diverse, smart, talented bunch of people to come into Parliament with.
Mr Speaker, to you and your colleagues, and all the people who make this place tick—my thanks. It is a veritable ecosystem that keeps the machinery going to ensure we have the active democracy we do.
A special shout out to the VIP drivers, who we often spend more time with than our families. Thank you.
To the press gallery, my apologies. I just could not shake the conviction that if I just explained why, you would all say: “Oh, now we get it. OK, we won’t report it the way we were going to.” And, sorry, to all my press secretaries, I just couldn’t get the knack of the sound bite either—self-evidently.
To my family: what a roller coaster ride we have had. Thanks to all my brothers and sisters and partners for always, always being there. To my two sisters, fabulous educators themselves, who have stood silently behind me and proudly for me, Apryll and Nori, thank you. To my nieces and nephews, apart from being great campaign “volunteers”, thank you for your wraparound love of your two cousins.
To Wira, my pragmatic, phlegmatic, soldier protector. Thanks for looking after our girls, thanks for tweeting right back at them, thanks for this decade doing this stuff. And to our daughters Rakaitemania and Mihimaraea who have grown up in this funny kind of life that is politics. You make me so proud. In this time you have gone from early primary school to completing university—or within one semester of—from young girls to gorgeous young women. It has not been easy, as everyone in this House knows more than anyone, to have a parent in politics. But you have understood the call to public service, and you have been unflinching in your love and support of me. I came here wanting to make a difference for our country and for a better future. I know you have understood that and been proud of me and my work, but I also know how glad you are that I am making this valedictory statement today. I love you always and forever.
And finally, I would like to thank the mums and dads, nannies and papas, the families, whānau, and aiga who care passionately about the well-being and education of their children and young people, and who wrote to me, meet with me, attended education events, who give up their time to coach, to support their schools, to be on the board, to encourage art and drama productions. Thank you all. Our children’s education is better for it.
I am speaking almost from where I started in this House—a full circle. I have loved my time here. I am humbled to have had the opportunity and honoured to be a participant in making our country better.
And to those who gave me advice, told me where to go, and how quickly I could get there—I am on my way.