Quotes of the year

December 31, 2013

“It was probably a classic example of me probably being too much army, and not enough prince. . . “ Prince Harry.

. . . Whether it is in sport, business, agriculture, the arts, science and the creative industries, or in international fora such as peacekeeping, New Zealanders have repeatedly shown their talent, tenacity, flair and commitment.

That legacy of the new way of doing things was well put by New Zealander and Saatchi and Saatchi worldwide chief executive Kevin Roberts a few years ago when he said: “We were the last to be discovered and the first to see the light. This makes us one of the great experimental cultures. We try things first. Whether it’s votes for women, the welfare state or the market economy, powered flight, nuclear physics, anti-nuclearism, biculturalism. First-isms. The New in New Zealand is our reason to exist.” Lt Gen The Rt Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae.

”I like to cook meat, except for chicken. To me chicken’s like a ladies’ meat, so it’s more of a vegetable.” Jonny Trevathan, Master Chef entrant.

By 1984 the economy was in a mess, and I hope history will record more positively the decisive actions of both the Lange-Douglas Labour Government and the Bolger-Richardson National Government that followed. The resilience of the New Zealand economy during the recent global downturn owes much to the courage of those Cabinets, at least in their early years, putting New Zealand’s very real needs ahead of political considerations in pursuing necessary reform. – Lockwood Smith

As a former Commonwealth Scholar in Science, I have often regretted that I never got involved in that area during my time here. Science and technology have been so crucial to the advancement of human well-being, yet scientists are a rare breed in politics. Internationally, there is something of a disconnect between the two. In politics, for example, green is the claimed colour of sustainability. Yet in science, the very reason we perceive plants to be green is that they reflect green light. They cannot use it. It is red and blue light that sustain most of our living world. Lockwood Smith

Some commentators assess members on how successfully they play the political game. But to me what sets a member of Parliament apart is how much they care about the impact of the State on an ordinary person, and how far they are prepared to go in representing people whose lives can be so knocked around by the actions of the State. Lockwood Smith

This House, in so many ways, has become a place of political parties rather than a House of Representatives. I am not for one moment trying to make a case for the old system, but I do believe there will come a time when we will need to re-examine that balance of accountabilities. Representation is enhanced when members have to help ordinary people in their local communities, many of whom may never have voted for them. Lockwood Smith.

We aren’t scientists we are farmers, we choose not to debate the science but work hard to deal with changing weather patterns. Bruce Wills.

Anyway, credit where credit is due. The Labour Party has finally adopted one of the very sensible policies of the National Government, and that is the mixed-ownership model. That is right. These days, the Labour Party is 51 percent owned by Labour and 49 percent owned by the Greens. Yes, these two parties have come together in this happy little place, where fruit meets loop. John Key.

. . . Kids who read stay out of jail (unless they grow up to be financial investment directors). Reading gives them words. Words give them the ability to express and clarify themselves to others. How many young guys end up in strife because they don’t have the vocab to explain what they’re doing, and so they move from incoherence to frustration to violence?

Reading helps young people come to terms with themselves and their issues. . .  David Hill

“Oh my god, another cross to bear,” Tim Shadbolt on being told  he was the most trusted mayor in the country in a Readers Digest poll.

. . . The response that students gave to Christchurch is phenomenal, and it only was thanks to a really strong team of people who all were able to bring their individual skills to something.  . . .  just like young people right around New Zealand – all specialising in different areas, focusing on what they’re good at, being willing to be wrong, being willing to ask for help and fundamentally believing that change is possible, that you can look at things in a different way, no matter what level of society you’re on.  It’s our philosophy – the skill of the unskilled.  I sit at a lot of conferences, and I’m the only one without a PhD, but we say, ‘What about this idea?  What about this idea?  Where are we going?  Are we fundamentally doing things that are right and taking our country and world in a good direction?’ . . .Sam Johnson

. . . You know, Christchurch is still in a position that it’s hard there for a lot of people, but it’s also— the group of people that I am with every day through Volunteer Army Foundation, the Ministry of Awesome, we are— we love Christchurch, and you couldn’t pay us to move anywhere else, because of the innovation, the excitement.  You know, population numbers are up in Christchurch, and we are going to be a— it’s a strong place to be. . .  Sam Johnson

. . . I focus on doing things that I love.  I focus on surrounding myself with people much more intelligent than myself and people who can really make things happen, building strong teams.  I think that’s the philosophy we take in Christchurch.  We specialise in different areas with what we’re good at and focus on that. Sam Johnson

One witness was asked to identify an accused by describing the man’s tattoos. I applauded his response. “I can’t really describe his tattoos. They were a load of rubbish. They looked like the graffiti on a public dunny wall.” District Court Judge Russell Callander

“You’ve got to have a reason for getting up in the morning and I firmly believe retirement has killed more farmers than farming.” – Ted Ford

A Government should not be relied upon to create jobs. To bolster our economy and growth, we need the private sector to be creating jobs in the tradeables sector.

Whether they are high-earning export roles, or an entry level company, it is the job of entrepreneurs. Government’s role is to put in place the right conditions for economic growth, so companies can feel comfortable about expanding, growing, or just starting out in the business world.

Local government also has a role, through having plans for economic growth and development that encourage businesses and don’t stifle their creativity. Eric Roy

Politics is a two-stage process: first you’re sworn in, then, inevitably, eventually, you’re sworn at. Denis Welch.

There is rarely any danger of overestimating Labour Party stupidity. Having described myself recently as ‘a sentimental socialist’, I’m inclined to think that sentiment may be the main, and possibly the only reason for my ongoing belief in an organism genetically predisposed to push the self-destruct button when faced with the slightest glimmer of electoral success. . .   Brian Edwards.

. . . within 48 hours it looks very much to us as if it is just another David, another day, and another step to the left, as we see the disloyalty in the Labour caucus slowly beginning to foment. Gerry Brownlee.

But now, of course, under the new leader of the Labour Party, the pledge card, like his CV, will be a living document—kind of like the Treaty but without the principles.Bill English

“We were given opportunities in Mangere. Education unlocks opportunities you would not otherwise have.” – Sam Lotu-Iiga MP

The big, bad thing is that large parts of the Left have never faced up to the failure of socialism. The nicer Leftists, often very belatedly, deplored Stalin and Mao – the purges, the Gulags, the famines, the invasions. The more intelligent ones detected certain (let us put it gently) problems with state ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange. Yet when, in 1989, the Berlin Wall was knocked down by the citizens in whose name it had been erected, few could admit that this was a defeat for socialism as fundamental as that of Nazism in 1945. . . Charles Moore

Arts degrees are awesome. And they help you find meaning where there is none. And let me assure you, there is none. Don’t go looking for it. Searching for meaning is like searching for a rhyme scheme in a cookbook: you won’t find it and you’ll bugger up your soufflé. Tim Minchin

We must think critically, and not just about the ideas of others. Be hard on your beliefs. Take them out onto the verandah and beat them with a cricket bat.
Be intellectually rigorous. Identify your biases, your prejudices, your privilege.

Most of society’s arguments are kept alive by a failure to acknowledge nuance. We tend to generate false dichotomies, then try to argue one point using two entirely different sets of assumptions, like two tennis players trying to win a match by hitting beautifully executed shots from either end of separate tennis courts. Tim Minchin

Parliament applauded Eleanor Catton winning the Man Booker Prize for her book ‘The Luminaries’ when it resumed today.

Prime Minister John Key said the success should be celebrated by New Zealanders as much as they did sporting victories. Catton’s feat in becoming the youngest winner of the prize at 28, came as 16 year old Lorde topped the US charts with her music showing New Zealand was blessed with strong, creative young women. Parliament Today

“You guys have spent your careers trying to analyse what he says and you’ve got more sense out of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. He talks in riddles, he doesn’t stick to what he says, it’s a waste of time having discussions that are about a bottom line.

“There are no bottom lines with Winston Peters. He will do a deal with who he feels like doing a deal with.” John Key

Not so much a political honeymoon as a naughty weekend with the floating voters. – Vernon Small on David Cunliffe.

. . . Girls dress for other girls. They dress to fit in. They dress to be part of a group. They want to be respected and they want to be liked. They want to be beautiful. They dress to impress. They copy their celebrity idols. These might well be fashion crimes, but short skirts and cleavage don’t signal a willingness to be victimised.

New Zealand is internationally rated as one of the best countries to be a woman. This year, we celebrated 120 years of women winning the right to vote.

With that goes the right to not be abused. Judith Collins

. . . considering I’m probably in the 10% of New Zealanders who pay 70% of the tax, considering I’m a self-employed business owner with farming interests and considering I still bear the farming scars from some incredibly short-sighted, militant union behaviour in the 1970s and 80s, why would I vote Labour now?

There’s nothing for me in their policies of higher tax, greater environmental and economic handbrakes for farming and re-unionising the workforce. Farming Show host Jamie Mackay on Labour after its leader refused to appear on the show in case he was laughed at.

. . . For the farmer, the business person, the property owner, and the financial investor it’s all pretty straightforward. What’s in it for National’s electoral base is economic growth, low inflation, reduced taxation and a reasonable rate-of-return. What they’re not looking for is more economic regulation, higher taxes, rising prices or inflationary wage demands.

Getting the attention of those who feel that their stake in New Zealand society is much too meagre to matter is a considerably more daunting task. Chris Trotter

There is a saying that you do not beat New Zealand – you just get more points than them at the final whistle. – Sir Ian McGeechan

“I don’t really believe in Great — insert a country — Novels,” she said. “I don’t see how you can reconcile that with diversity, and I think the diversity is the most important thing in any national literature.” Eleanor Catton

I knew it would never be about zeroes. I’m not a spreadsheet with hair; will never be. I am an artist, an author, with a hunger for showing people what I can do and a talent for making people turn my name into a call while they’re waiting front row. It’s me. I’m here. – Lorde

Imagine if Nelson Mandela was as angry as John Minto when he got out of prison” – Josie Pagani on ‘The Huddle

Beyond the All Blacks being unbeaten for a whole season, and Emirates Team New Zealand coming second in a two-boat race, what put New Zealand on the world’s front pages in 2013 was a novel, a song and a film. – Hamish Keith

It’s one of the oldest cliches in politics – that perception is reality. In other words, if enough of us are convinced that what we think we see is real, then it may as well be real. Even if it’s not. Tim Watkins

I find it fascinating that if you dig a hole and plant a tree in it, you are a greenie; if you dig a big hole, take the gold out of the ground and plant a forest, suddenly you’re an eco-terrorist. There’s no consistency in that. – Colin Craig

“Tasmanian Devils are renowned for their big mouths, bad behaviour and noisiness, so they will fit in well with the nation’s politicians in the capital,” Nick Smith

I totally disagree with it. If you’re going to earn money, you earn it. You’re given it by your productivity.” – Sir John Walker on the living wage.

Science is not a bunch of facts. Scientists are not people trying to be prescriptive or authoritative. Science is simply the word we use to describe a method of organising our curiosity. It’s easier, at a dinner party, to say ”science” than to say ”the incremental acquisition of understanding through observation, humbled by an acute awareness of our tendency towards bias”. Douglas Adams said: ”I’d take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day.”

Science is not the opposite of art, nor the opposite of spirituality – whatever that is – and you don’t have to deny scientific knowledge in order to make beautiful things. On the contrary, great science writing is the art of communicating that ”awe of understanding”, so that we readers can revel in the beauty of a deeper knowledge of our world. Tim Minchin

. . . Remember the Government’s $30 million cash injection to secure the immediate future of Tiwai Point?  That helped to protect 3,200 jobs and the smelter’s $1.6 billion annual contribution to the Southland economy. Dairying doesn’t need such support, but in 2009, it injected over $700 million into the Southland economy and employed over 2,300 people.  Dairying may not be number one here but we’re a pretty important second that’s become more important over the past four years. . . Russell MacPherson

All of us pay for some of us to indulge romantic dreams about trains or to feed fanciful beliefs that the government owns these “assets which are valuable”

This stuff is not silver its rust… the best performers can’t perform without laws which force revenue into their pockets, the worst performers are a receivers dream.

Genuine concern for the poor would not see government owning commercial assets. Eye to the Long Run

. . . If from the time their children could read, parents had introduced them to newspapers, as certainly happened when I was young, rather than addiction to idiotic texting, they would, instead, be addicted to the world in all of its wide-ranging fascination and zaniness (the human factor), as delivered to us daily in the newspaper.

It’s a shame as nothing matches the daily newspaper for sheer stimulation, education, and entertainment value for money. Take a recent Dominion Post. First the pleasure of its crosswords and tussling over the wordgame, this after quickly scanning the front page for later reading. Each news item induced a full spectrum of emotions, from rage to delight, in the latter case from the splendid heading, “Mr Whippy frozen with fear by chainsaw wielding cross-dresser”. That alone was worth the price of the paper and was promptly dispatched to friends abroad. These texting obsessives don’t know what they’re missing. . .  –  Bob Jones

. . .  Seemingly the first duty on rising every morning for Remuerites is to go outside and rake up the $100 notes that have fallen like confetti on them overnight. It must be very tiresome.  . . Bob Jones

. . . But as you go through life when you run into a brick wall, you’ve just got to knock the bastard over. – Sir Peter Leitch.


Rural round-up

June 18, 2013

Address to New Zealand National Fieldays – Tim Groser:

This arresting phrase – ‘Agriculture: New Zealand’s Silicon Valley’ – is not mine. It is Sir Graeme Harrison’s and I can’t improve on it. Sir Graeme, you will recall, is the founder and Chairman of ANZCO Foods, one of New Zealand’s largest exporters.

I like the phrase for three complementary reasons:

· First, it conveys a real sense of optimism – and we have every reason in this country to be optimistic about our future in the first quarter of the 21st Century.

· Second, it captures the reality that agriculture will be as important to New Zealand’s future as it has been to our past.

· Third, it also captures a more subtle idea about our agriculture future. Yes – agriculture will continue to be the economic backbone of our country’s export future. But it will be a vastly more sophisticated agriculture with innovation at its centre. . .

Major New Zealand presence at the International Maritime Organisation:

New Zealand has stepped up its engagement with the International Maritime Organization, with the appointment this week of the Rt Hon Sir Lockwood Smith as New Zealand’s first Permanent Representative.

The Director of Maritime New Zealand, Keith Manch, also participated in the first-ever Symposium on the Future of Ship Safety, held at IMO headquarters in London.

Sir Lockwood, New Zealand High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, presented his credentials to the IMO’s Secretary-General, Koji Sekimizu, today (London time). . .

Winter shearing has payoffs – Jill Galloway:

Sheep might want their wool on their backs for the cold winter months, but farmers say they shear in winter to get heavier lambs and better wool.

However, many urban people see shorn sheep in the winter and are sure they must be feeling the cold.

Shearers have been working at David and Helen Worsfold’s farm near Kiwitea, in Manawatu. He said 700 of his ewes were being shorn with a “cover comb”. . .

Beekeepers Assn turns 100:

The National Beekeepers Association is 100 this year. And the centenary is being celebrated at the association’s annual conference in Ashburton this week.

The national president, Barry Foster, says the industry has had its ups and downs since regional groups of beekeepers formed the national body in 1913. . .

Farmer uses IRB to save stock – Thomas Mead:

A Dunedin farmer was forced to mount an aquatic rescue mission this afternoon to save a herd of cows stuck on his flooded farm.

In a change from the normal four-wheel-drive, farmer Chris Ryalls used an inflatable rescue boat to move around 20 heifers and their calves away from the deep water.

The nearby Taieri River hit record levels following torrential downpours in the region and left much of his Outram farm submerged. . .

Allan Scott Pinot Noir – The Perfect Dinner Guest This Winter

The table is set, the logs are on the fire and delicious, rustic aromas fill the air – so complete the scene and take your annual seasonal soirée to the next level with Allan Scott Pinot Noir, the ultimate dinner guest!

Boasting rich Marlborough dark cherry and raspberry notes with hints of wild herbs, Allan Scott The Hounds Marlborough Pinot Noir 2011 offers a soft and well balanced palate with subtle oak influences – the perfect indulgence for elegant winter dining. . .


Lockwood Smith’s valedictory speech

February 17, 2013

Former speaker, Minister and MP for Kaipara, and Rodney Lockwood Smith delivered his valedictory speech on Wednesday.

I think it deserves to be appreciated in full, though have taken the liberty of highlighting some of the highlights.

Dr The Rt Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National) : Mr Speaker, may I first congratulate you on your election as Speaker. To me, the Speaker’s role is more than one of just presiding over this House. The Speaker has a responsibility for the quality of our parliamentary democracy. I found it both challenging and rewarding, and I wish you all the very best.

I came into this House at the snap election of 1984. They were extraordinary times. It was only 11 years after Britain had joined the EEC, and, having lost the opportunity for further growth in those high-value markets, New Zealand was struggling to find a way forward. During the 4 years prior, I had been a marketing and product development manager with the New Zealand Dairy Board and knew the impossibly high tariffs we faced for primary produce in the developed markets of the world. As we struggled with the challenges of establishing new markets in developing countries, New Zealand sought to broaden its industrial base and pursued a protectionist path involving subsidies, import licensing, and high levels of Government intervention. By 1984 the economy was in a mess, and I hope history will record more positively the decisive actions of both the Lange-Douglas Labour Government and the Bolger-Richardson National Government that followed. The resilience of the New Zealand economy during the recent global downturn owes much to the courage of those Cabinets, at least in their early years, putting New Zealand’s very real needs ahead of political considerations in pursuing necessary reform.

Twenty-eight and a half years is quite a long time—long enough for me to see 288 members arrive in this place and 263 leave. So many things we rely on today did not even exist then. It is not just the iPads and smartphones; personal computers were in their infancy, as were, I must say, some of our current colleagues. There were no emails, and most members shared a secretary using an electric typewriter. I might also add that there were no such things as electorate offices or electorate agents; that work being carried out unpaid by members’ own families. I had not been a political junkie prior to coming here. In fact, I had been a member of the National Party for only 3 years. I remember during my first days in the House being somewhat surprised by the careless use of facts and figures, and stunned by the scant relationship between what I knew was going on and what I read and saw in the media.

Over the years there have been both personal highlights and regrets. Special highlights include addressing the Anzac Day service at Chunuk Bair, Gallipoli, in 1999. Even the hardest heart could not fail to be moved by the thousands of mainly young faces streaming tears as they struggled with the enormity of the sacrifices made in that special place. A standing ovation from a full ministerial conference of the World Trade Organization at Geneva in 1998 was also special. Whether it was because I spoke for only 3 minutes when most Ministers read interminable speeches written by officials or whether it was what I said, I will never know. But it was the only standing ovation I ever saw accorded a fellow trade Minister, and it stood me in good stead as I went on to chair the APEC trade Ministers forum in 1999. And, of course, the most special highlight was to finally marry the love of my university days, Alexandra, in the Legislative Council Chamber in 2009. We had been apart for 20 years and re-met purely by chance.

Regrets that have lingered include my voting against the Homosexual Law Reform Bill in 1986. I faced the classic dilemma of voting according to my own judgement or the opinion of those I had been elected to represent. As a new member I opted for the latter, and I have always regretted it. Edmund Burke was right. As a former Commonwealth Scholar in Science, I have often regretted that I never got involved in that area during my time here. Science and technology have been so crucial to the advancement of human well-being, yet scientists are a rare breed in politics. Internationally, there is something of a disconnect between the two. In politics, for example, green is the claimed colour of sustainability. Yet in science, the very reason we perceive plants to be green is that they reflect green light. They cannot use it. It is red and blue light that sustain most of our living world. [Interruption] It is true!

In 1987 my life was to change for ever. Jim Bolger appointed me National’s spokesperson on education, and the Minister was none other than Prime Minister David Lange. He was a formidable parliamentarian with a great sense of humour. I still remember the Tuesday when I came into this House after tripping and landing on my face when vaulting over a gate on the farm. Lots of skin was missing. David Lange called out across the House in his booming voice: “Huh! He’s been visiting kindergartens again.” I had to either bury myself in education work or my political career would not have been long. We took a pretty bold education policy to the election in 1990. Under David Lange and Phil Goff, Labour had initiated much-needed administrative reform. We carried that on, but my focus was on learning and achievement. Starting with the youngest, we brought in the first ever early childhood curriculum, Te Whāriki, which remains essentially unchanged today. Believing parents had to be more involved in the education of their children, and with research showing the first 3 years to be so important, I introduced a whole new concept called Parents as First Teachers. I am told the programme recently celebrated its 20th year in operation.

In the school sector we funded the first kura kaupapa Māori and introduced the first ever national curriculum. It brought the teaching of physics and chemistry down into primary level and introduced a whole new concept, technology, designed to help integrate learning. In hindsight I think it was asking the impossible of teachers. With a new curriculum, professional development is so important, and we simply did not have enough money to fund it adequately. At the tertiary level, polytechnics were liberated from the shackles of central bureaucracy, and private training establishments, including the first Māori tertiary institutions, were funded on an equitable basis for the first time.

And, yes, I confess to being the architect of both the student loans scheme and means-tested student allowances. Although the former, I would argue, was good policy—made less good by some later changes—the latter I was never happy with. It was so transparently unfair where students whose parents were unable to, shall we say, camouflage their incomes were pinged and all were means-tested up to an age when young people simply are not dependent on their parents at all. We did it because of the fiscal position at the time, and in tertiary participation New Zealand was languishing at the bottom of the OECD. Although the schemes were not popular, they were part of a package that over 5 or 6 years took our participation rate closer to the top. In other words, they did give many more students an opportunity. By the late 1980s, apprenticeship numbers were also in serious decline. We developed a new industry skills training strategy, establishing industry training organisations and putting industries themselves in charge of the kinds of skills and qualifications needed. Implementation saw a significant turn-round in the numbers involved in industry training, and industry training organisations are still with us today.

To me, though, the most significant development was the Qualifications Framework. Over the years I had watched academic learning and skills training follow their separate courses with little linkage between the two. From my time at Massey University, as both a student and a lecturer, I had seen the synergy result from bringing together theoretical and applied learning. I really believed that if we could break down that old divide, not just between the qualifications but also between the institutions delivering the courses, we could facilitate the learning of so many more students. I dreamed of a seamless education system where students could pursue their learning via a multitude of pathways, their hunger for greater theoretical knowledge driven from the challenges experienced in developing their skills in practical areas of interest. I think it is fair to say that the Qualifications Framework is now well embedded into our senior secondary, tertiary, and industry training systems. But to me it is only starting to deliver its full potential. With the explosion in knowledge, I wanted to see motivated students well into their first tertiary qualification or part way through an apprenticeship-type programme before they completed their secondary years, and it is great that is starting to happen.

After almost 6 years of ongoing reform, one could almost hear the sigh of relief from the sector when I moved on to agriculture and deputy finance roles. However, just as in education, some institutional arrangements in agriculture were also overdue for reform. It was obvious that the producer boards could not continue as they were. I well remember the first meeting I had with dairy farmers in Whangarei, when I outlined the principles of reform that were to lead ultimately to the formation of Fonterra. Fortunately my own involvement with the Dairy Board prior to entering Parliament gave me some credibility, but it would be fair to say the Northland dairy farmers were not convinced. Although I might have initiated the producer board reforms, I give full credit to my successors John Luxton and Jim Sutton for carrying those reforms through. Being deputy finance Minister included the privilege of working with Sir William Birch. I learnt more from working with Bill about to be an effective Minister than from almost any other source. He had the political instinct to know what was possible, a remarkable commitment to getting on top of detail, and the ability to mould officials from disparate Government agencies into a cohesive force to make things happen.

But some of my most interesting years followed my appointment as international trade Minister in 1996. I was fortunate that my predecessors Mike Moore and Philip Burdon had built bipartisan support for trade liberalisation. Strategically, we approached it at a number of levels. Regionally, we wanted to get ASEAN, the Association of South-east Asian Nations, linked up to CER in a free-trade deal. I still remember the day in Singapore when George Yeo, the Singapore trade Minister, and I, the main promoters of the concept, obtained the agreement for the establishment of a working group to scope the benefits and challenges of such a deal. It was the day Beryl called me to tell me my mother had been found on the floor of our home with a brain haemorrhage. But I could not leave Singapore until I was satisfied the ASEAN Free Trade Area CER concept was safely under way. In 1999 New Zealand chaired APEC. One of our key goals was to try and get APEC trade Ministers and leaders to agree to the abolition of export subsidies for the next trade round at the World Trade Organization (WTO). In the build-up, I visited all APEC trade Ministers. Amazingly, we achieved that agreement at APEC, but, sadly, 13 years later the WTO has made very little progress.

At the same time I was actually working on an even more exciting project. Based on the belief in the power of trade and economic integration to bring stability and sustained peace, a project code named P5 aimed to link the Americas across the Pacific into South-east Asia via Australia and New Zealand. To me, it was important for the sustained economic stability of the Asia-Pacific region, and a chance to bring some real momentum to APEC’s flagging Bogor goals of free and open trade. It was not originally my idea. The concept was suggested by US trade ambassador Charlene Barshefsky. But because of my particular involvement with APEC trade Ministers at the time, it was decided that I should promote it. It was called P5 because it involved five countries: the United States, Chile, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand. I had obtained the support of four of those.

While President Bill Clinton was in New Zealand with APEC leaders in 1999, the question was put to him at a meeting with Cabinet Ministers in Christchurch as to whether he would endorse the project. He responded very positively, saying that he would return to Washington to sort out what was needed to do it and get back to us. After a few weeks of hearing nothing, I went to Washington to meet with President Clinton’s chief of staff. I was told that time had run out in that presidential term and that Congress could only cope with one major trade issue at a time anyhow. Then it was permanent most favoured nation treatment for China, China having just acceded to the WTO. Having been the first trade Minister in the world to sign China up to the WTO, I could hardly complain about that. Hopefully, the loss of P5 has been more than compensated for by New Zealand being the first developed country to negotiate a free-trade agreement with China, something that may not have happened had New Zealand not played such a prominent role in China’s WTO accession.

With P5 going nowhere at the time, I decided to try and start somewhere and initiated a free-trade agreement with Singapore. George Yeo and I both realised there were no real trade benefits in such an agreement. The idea was to create a 21st century model that other countries could then be encouraged to join. The last Labour Government completed that Singapore trade deal, and through it has been born the Trans-Pacific Partnership, now achieving exactly what I had once envisaged with P5. My trade Minister’s life ended with chairing one of the four main working groups at the WTO as it attempted to launch in Seattle what has become known as the Doha round. That too was an amazing experience, for all the wrong reasons. Massive protests by the anti-trade movement meant dodging tear gas just to get to the conference centre. Despite working 48 hours non-stop in the green room towards the end of negotiations, it was an abject failure, yet interestingly not for the reasons shown in the movie Battle in Seattle; that was pure fiction.

While all that was going on, I was also Minister of Tourism, and I am chuffed that the “100% Pure New Zealand” campaign that we initiated way back in 1999 still seems relevant today. It was always intended to have a wider application than simply our beautiful environment. And so as I reflect on those 9 years in Cabinet, I am reminded of a small verse my father once shared with me when I had to write an essay for homework, my first at secondary school, entitled “My Ambition”. Dad said his father had once quoted him the lines: “We’re here for a brief, brief space, but while I stay I should like, if I may, to brighten and better the place.” I just hope something in those 9 years might have helped do a little bit of that.

In a long political career, if there are successes, there are also some failures. I had a bill in the ballot for members’ bills for at least 6 years. The Land Transport (Left Hand Law) Amendment Bill languished forever whilst I watched new members have their bills drawn within weeks. I must have been jinxed. Not many would know that I put 7 years’ work into a project to redevelop New Zealand’s income tax, benefit, and tax credit systems. The work started on trying to find a way round the massive churning involved in employers deducting PAYE, only for the Government to pay it all back to some employees in family tax credits. My research unravelling that interface soon got into the challenging area of effective marginal tax rates. At the time, a single parent with three dependent children seeking to work their way off the domestic purposes benefit and trying to get from $10,000 of earned income a year to $25,000 would have had to work an extra 20 hours a week at, say, $15 an hour. The problem was the effective tax on that extra $15,000 of earned income was about $13,300, meaning that even though the parent was paid $15 an hour, their take-home pay would have been little over $1.50 an hour.

Things have improved somewhat since then, but high effective marginal tax rates still remain a significant disincentive for many people. I developed a model that completely integrated those three components—income tax, benefits, and family tax credits. It was a model that had tax-free zones for low-income earners only, managed and declining effective marginal tax rates until a flat top tax rate was reached, and all family configurations covered. I was invited to present the work to a round table of tax experts in Melbourne. The Centre for Independent Studies in Australia asked me to prepare a paper for them to publish. At the last minute it was pulled, for fear it might be seen as official National Party policy, and it was not. Seven years work and, even if I do say so myself, some pretty good ideas that could have perhaps gained me another PhD had it been done in a university environment, now no more than spam. I cannot even claim it made it to the trash bin of political history. But that is politics, where you take success and failure on the chin.

Another failure I am less proud of, though, was my failure to successfully help a former constituent with a grievance with the Commerce Commission, despite a 17-year battle on his behalf. It all related to Commerce Commission decision 172 to allow in 1986 the merger of Wrightson and Dalgety Crown Corporation, a merger the commission argued was only permitted because of the conditions it was imposing. The problem was not only could the conditions never be enforced under the law, but, as the Ombudsman subsequently pointed out, even the decision itself was unlawful. My deep concern over all the years has been that the Commerce Commission failed to acknowledge its stuff up and failed to advise my constituent that the conditions of the merger could never be enforced until it was too late for any legal remedy. What troubles me is not that an unlawful decision was made by an important Crown agency, as mistakes happen; it is the length that officials involved went to, spending tens of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars on Queen’s Counsel to argue that black was white, including the final advice from a Queen’s Counsel that the unlawful decision involving conditions that could never be enforced represented “best practice”. Three separate select committees in three Parliaments considered this case, all of them expressing serious concerns and two of them writing damning reports on the performance of the Commerce Commission. Yet my former constituent’s life remains in tatters. I can only apologise to him for my failure, a failure I feel very, very deeply.

Some commentators assess members on how successfully they play the political game. But to me what sets a member of Parliament apart is how much they care about the impact of the State on an ordinary person, and how far they are prepared to go in representing people whose lives can be so knocked around by the actions of the State. As I look to the future, this is something that troubles me. The introduction of MMP in 1996 changed this place. Some of it is for the better. There is no doubt we have a broader face of representation, and that is good. But like so many policy changes, it is the unexpected outcomes that need to be watched, and one of those outcomes has been a significant shift in the accountability of members. Obviously list members are very much accountable to their political parties, as they owe their place on the list to their party, but the pervasive power of the party vote has meant that all members are now totally accountable to their parties. This House, in so many ways, has become a place of political parties rather than a House of Representatives. I am not for one moment trying to make a case for the old system, but I do believe there will come a time when we will need to re-examine that balance of accountabilities. Representation is enhanced when members have to help ordinary people in their local communities, many of whom may never have voted for them.

My colleagues, with that off my mind, let me say goodbye. My sincere thanks go to the myriad of people who have helped me so much over the past three decades. I have had the privilege of working with some wonderful colleagues. To former Prime Minister Jim Bolger, my sincere thanks for backing me in such bold education reforms; likewise to Dame Jenny Shipley. The free rein given to me as trade Minister enabled me to pursue initiatives that trade Ministers from most other countries could not even dream of. To Mary Harris, the Clerk of the House, it has just been a privilege working with you. I also want to acknowledge the outstanding officials I worked with, particularly in the Ministry of Education, Treasury, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade; people whose commitment to providing sound advice and helping shape ideas into realities have been a special part of my time here. To those so often forgotten, Manfred the chef and his team at Bellamy’s, the messengers, security, and buildings, Chamber, and gallery staff—thank you. I say thank you to you all.

Hundreds of people helped me first over my 12 years as the member for Kaipara, and since 1996 likewise in Rodney. There are far too many to name, but let me just acknowledge my first electorate chairman in Kaipara, Ron McCallum, and in Rodney my long-serving loyal chair, June Levet. I also want to acknowledge long-time friend John Evans, who managed at least six election campaigns for me. Things would have been so much more difficult without loyal supporters like Richard and Patience Izard, who I lost to Louise Upston, and without faithful electorate agents like the inimitable Maggie Beaumont, who I finally lost to Nikki Kaye. To the self-appointed chair of my so-called fan club, Wendy Hawkings, my sincere thanks.

But standing head and shoulders above them all, despite her shortish stature, is Beryl Bright. I stole Beryl from Merv Wellington almost 27 years ago, and I am not sure he ever forgave me. She was my executive assistant in the early years, my senior parliamentary secretary in my 9 years as Minister, loyally stayed with me despite losing almost half her salary when I was back in Opposition, and has continued to look after me in my time as Speaker. Perhaps most special of all, though, Beryl helped shape the lives of so many young people who worked with me as a Minister—young people like Simon Tucker, newly appointed High Commissioner designate to Canada; Ben King, now foreign affairs adviser to the Prime Minister; and Matthew Hooton, commentator and founder of Exceltium. For all Beryl did, thank you seems such an inadequate word, but I say it from the bottom of my heart. She was wise, witty, loyal, and tough. Even my wife, Alexandra, quickly realised she first had to win over Beryl. But then Beryl was remarkably successful with marriages—six in addition to mine, I think, was the score amongst our staff.

And so, Alexandra, I likewise say thank you for sharing me with this place. Alexandra gave up so much of her own professional career so that we might be together again. As a professional counsellor, she taught me to find the good in all people. She made me a better person, which in turn enabled me to be a better Speaker. In recent years I have felt so guilty that she gave up her wonderful counselling job at King’s College to be with me, and yet has had me only part time. From now on it is full time, I promise.

My colleagues, I have said nothing about my time as Speaker. You have had to endure those 4 years and will make your own judgments. I just want to thank you for the tremendous courtesy and goodwill you have shown me. It has been a privilege to serve as your Speaker. With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, may I say to the Leader of the Opposition, David Shearer, that you have my respect for the integrity you have brought to a fiendishly difficult job. And finally, Prime Minister, you bring such extraordinary skills to this place. I want it known that never once in my 4 years as Speaker did you ever try to influence the way I was chairing this House or any decision I ever made. Listening to other Speakers around the Commonwealth, I am not sure many are quite so fortunate. For that and so many other things, I thank you.

My colleagues, we all come here with dreams to, as my father said, brighten and better the place. We do not always agree on how best to do it, but that makes for healthy debate. To you all, every success as you seek to make your dreams a reality. E koutou katoa e rapu nei kia whai kiko aua moemoeā, te tūmanako ia ka tutuki, ka angitu.

[To all of you seeking to make those dreams a reality, the burning desire is that they be achieved successfully.]

Maiden and valedictory speeches are often the only opportunity we get to understand what oativates MPs and it’s usually only the valedictories which enable us to appreciate what they’ve achieved.

Gilmore back

February 15, 2013

The Electoral Commission has declared Aaron Gilmore to be elected to Parliament from the New Zealand National Party list.

He fills a vacancy created by the resignation of former speaker Dr Lockwood Smith.

David Carter new speaker

January 31, 2013

Not surprisingly, Labour’s nomination of Trevor Mallard for speaker failed and National’s nomination, David Carter was successful.

He succeeds Lockwood Smith who has won admiration across the house and from outside it for his even handed approach to the role and for holding ministers to account in a way few if any of his predecessors did.

The speaker-elect is a successful farmer who has been a good minister and among his achievements was the merger of the Ministries of Fisheries and Agriculture and Forestry into the Ministry of Primary Industries.

Lockwood for London

December 19, 2012

It’s not news but now it’s official: Lockwood Smith has been nominated to be our next High Commissioner to the UK.

Prime Minister John Key today welcomed the nomination of Dr the Rt Hon Lockwood Smith as New Zealand’s next High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.

“Lockwood Smith has had a distinguished political career and his nomination is a mark of the high esteem in which he is held.

“Since 2008 he has held the role of Speaker of the House of Representatives, and was unanimously re-elected in 2011.

“The nomination of Parliament’s Speaker to the role of High Commissioner emphasises the importance of relationship between New Zealand and the United Kingdom,” says Mr Key.

Lockwood Smith has served as a Member of Parliament since 1984, when he was elected MP for Kaipara. In 1996, he became MP for Rodney, a role he held until 2011 when he went on the National Party List.

He has held a number of positions in National-led Governments, including Minister of Education, Agriculture, Trade and Deputy Finance Minister.

“I wish Lockwood and his wife, Alexandra, all the best for this new appointment,” says Mr Key.

Dr smith has been the best speaker in years, he leaves big shoes to fill but he’s earned this career move.

Precious only when it suits

November 30, 2012

Was it the influence of The Hobbit’s my precious that prompted Trevor Mallard to pretend preciousness over a perceived slight to Jacinda Ardern during Question Time yesterday?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: Actually, Limited Service Volunteer is making a difference, and we have seen the numbers—[Interruption] Well, if you want to listen to the answer, then just zip it, sweetie, I am getting there. So what it is is that actually what you have got is you have got a number of people who do fall out in the first few—

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think you heard what the Minister said.

Mr SPEAKER: I certainly did not hear what the Minister said, because the noise level was too high.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Well, we could hear it on this side, and I suggest that if you had listened you could have heard it. It was exceptionally offensive. [Interruption] . . .

It wasn’t the zip it but the sweetie to which he objected:

. . . Hon Trevor Mallard: No, no, no—she said “zip it, sweetie”. That’s what she said. [Interruption] . . .

. . . Mr Speaker, if that term was used to a member who was not a younger woman member—in that sort of approach—I think you would find it offensive. We certainly found it offensive here, and I ask you whether that term is something that is appropriate. “Zip it” might have been all right but—

Whatever it was Speaker Lockwood Smith took a far more sensible view:

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Look, there is a myth that there are certain terms that are ruled out in this House. It is a myth—there are none. Members should treat this place, this House, with respect and members should treat each other with courtesy. If members interject in a rude manner, they may get a less than perfect reaction from the Minister. The level of interjection was so high that I did not hear what the Minister had said. I accept my hearing is less than ideal. I fully accept that, and I apologise for it. But I believe that if we allow ourselves to get worked up over that, we are just being unnecessarily petty. The solution is simple: do not interject so much. It was not necessary. The member had asked a question and should be interested in the answer. It was difficult to hear the answer, so the Minister felt provoked and said something that was less than ideal, but under the circumstances I am not going to ask the Minister to withdraw and apologise for it.

Quite why sweetie is offensive escapes me but Mallard’s preciousness over this perceived slight contrasts sharply with what could be regarded as far more offensive behaviour at Labour’s conference which appears not to have raised any concern at all from him or his colleagues.

Equal Opportunities Commissioner, Judy McGregor, said:

“We produced sexy, big print bumper stickers which said A king for Miramar and Miramar needs a King. Annette was far too nice to let us use Miramar needs a King not a queen . . .

Keeping Stock asks, is it appropriate from someone whose work requires her to protect and promote equal opportunity?

. . . We accept that Dr McGregor’s comment was intended to be a joke. But so was John Key’s banter about Farming Show hot Jamie Mackay’s “gay red shirt”, and look at the furore over that. . .

If sweetie ranks as offensive on Labour’s preciousness meter and gay red shirt also provoked outrage then McGregor’s homophobic reference would be off the scale – if it came from the right.

But it came from the left and somehow slights, in jest or not, from the proponents of identity politics, don’t register at all.

Perhaps that’s because they’re precious only when it suits.

Peters posturing again

October 18, 2012

One of the worst behaved MPs is moving  a vote of confidence in one of the best speakers in years.

NZ First leader Winston Peters is putting up a motion of no confidence in parliament’s Speaker Lockwood Smith.

He is retaliating against being ordered out of the debating chamber on Tuesday when he tried to raise a point of order – a question about procedure.

Dr Smith refused to hear his point of order because he had called Prime Minister John Key to speak and there was a row over who had precedence.

Peters was out of parliament last term when the Speaker make his mark.
He has required higher standards of behaviour from MPs and better answers from Ministers and done more than any other speaker in at least a couple of decades to improve the reputation of parliament.
Unlike some speakers in recent memory, has been non-partisan about it.
This motion doesn’t stand a chance. It is nothing more than posturing by a publicity-seeker.


Paddock rules help in parliament?

October 10, 2012

RadioNZ National’s Country Life programme profiled Speaker Dr Lockwood Smith.

It shows him as a farmer rather than a politician, explains his preference for wearing stubbies and includes this insight into safety with bulls:

I never, even bulls that  I’ve known all their lives, that I’ve had at shows, I never take my eye off them. I never turn my back on them, I’m always, always watching them. . . .

Could this rule from the paddock be what helps him keep control in parliament?

Not the doing but catching and fixing

July 30, 2012

Andrea Vance thinks New Zealand’s halo is slipping:

Frequently topping global transparency indexes, the world believes Kiwis operate the world’s cleanest government. Its politicians are rated incorruptible: fraud, bribes and sleaze-free.

And yet, of late, domestic politics has been dominated by a series of grubby scandals. Take Taito Philip Field’s conviction in 2009 as the watershed. Since then MPs have been exposed for rorting their expenses to pay for blue movies and gluttony, golf clubs, flowers and massages, family holidays and bucketloads of booze. . .

She goes on to list various scandals, though misses two of the ones which best-fit the label corruption – Labour’s pledge card rort and Winston Peter’s dance around the truth of the donation from Owen Glenn.

However, bad as these are, it’s not the doing of dastardly deeds which puts a country’s reputation at risk. Even the best countries can’t claim a total absence of corruption from every citizen.

It’s the catching of the corrupt and fixing that really matter.

Our reputation is based on relatively few acts of corruption and a good record for catching the wrong-doers and making changes to close the loopholes through which they wriggled.

Fields was accused, tried, found guilty and imprisoned. Speaker Lockwood Smith has made MPs’ expenses public which has acted as a very effective restraint on their spending. . .

The halo is slipping, it’s not yet tarnished.

There is no room for complacency but our reputation for lack of corruption shouldn’t be threatened while those who do the catching and fixing keep ahead of those who do the doing.

Speakers lets sun shine on access

July 26, 2012

Proving once more that sunlight is a good disinfectant, Speaker Lockwood Smith has released a list of members of the public who hold access cards to Parliament:

Dr Smith said that members of the public were only given approved visitor status if they had been security cleared and agreed to their names being public.

“The benefit of being an approved visitor is that the person does not have to be security screened each time he or she comes to Parliament. Instead, an approved visitor can access the public areas of Parliament through a security cleared entrance”, said Dr Smith.

Name Organisation
Nicholas Albrecht Vector
Tim Clarke Russell McVeagh
Peter Conway Council of Trade Unions
Daniel Fielding Minter Ellison Rudd Watts
Charles Finny Saunders Unsworth
Helen Kelly Council of Trade Unions
Tony O’Brien Sky TV
Phil O’Reilly Business NZ
Leigh Pearson L.A. Pearson Limited
Barrie Saunders Saunders Unsworth
Mark Unsworth Saunders Unsworth
Jordan Williams Franks & Ogilvie
Rasik Ranchord Parliamentary Breakfast Group
 Philippa Falloon Former MP’s spouse
Lady Jane Kidd Former MP’s spouse

Is this a record?

March 1, 2012

Is this a record?

The 50th parliament sat for a couple of days last year. It is now coming to the end of its second week this year and Speaker Lockwood Smith has already ejected an MP from the House.

It comes as no surprise that the MP was Winston Peters who was not an MP in the previous parliament when the Speaker asserted his authority to clean up behaviour.

Peters has been testing the limits and learned today when he called Gerry Brownlee an illiterate woodwork teacher that this Speaker takes a much firmer line than his predecessors.

Woodhouse & Upston Nats new whips

December 20, 2011

Dunedin list MP Michael Woodhouse is National’s new senior Whip and Taupo MP Louise Upston is the new Junior Whip.

This makes Michael the highest ranked National MP ever to come from Dunedin.

There have been three previous National Party MPs in the city – the late Sir James Barnes served two terms from the      snap 1951 election until 1957, the late Richard Walls served one term in 1975-78, and Katherine Rich was a list MP from  1999 until 2008 when she retired from politics.

   Both Michael and Louise entered parliament in 2008.

Lockwood Smith has been elected unopposed as Speaker.

He is a candidate for the best Speaker in recent years, having done a lot to raise the standard of behaviour in parliament.

Some of his National party colleagues might think he went too far in holding ministers to account in a far stricter fashion than Labour ministers were held in the previous governments.

Speakers office running on less than 50% of previous term’s cost

October 7, 2011

The final speech by speaker Lockwood Smith looking back on the 49th parliament, is worth listening to.

It includes some statistics, the most impressive of which came during his tribute to his staff.  Dr Smith gave credit to his senior private secretary who managed to run the Speaker’s office on less than 50% of the cost of the previous term.

Other stats:

  • The house sat for 1650 hours, 150 more than the previous parliament.
  • A quarter of those were in urgency and Dr Smith said he hopes proposals for changes to Standing Orders adopted by the House will facilitate less reliance on urgency in future.
  • Only two Members Bills received royal assent. That was only one fewer than in the 48th parliament and he hopes that proposed changes will enable more of those Bills to be considered next term.
  • The Finance and expenditure select committee was the busiest, in terms of reports presented to the House, the Commerce select Committee was a close second.
  • There was a 40% increase in the number of written questions asked of Ministers.
  • In spite of 17 fewer sitting days more oral questions were asked and Dr Smith put that down to Question Time continuing even when the House was in urgency.

Dr Smith turned from statistics to reflections on some of the memorable moments of the term.

Among these was a speech by Tau Henare who interjected with a mention of Linda Lovelace about which Dr Smith said: “you my colleagues seemed to understand what that meant, I had no idea what he was . . . on about.”

He finished by wishing his colleagues well, thanked them for treating him with courtesy and concluded with “Go the mighty All Blacks.”

Dr Smith has gained respect from across the House and outside it for the  improved behaviour in the House and his even-handed treatment of MPs. This was not always appreciated by Ministers who are held to a higher standard than those in previous administrations.

Speaker refers Leigh case to Privileges Committee

September 27, 2011

Speaker Lockwood Smith has referred the Erin Leigh case to the Privileges Committee.

The Supreme court ruled that advice from officials to ministers was not covered by absolute privilege, Dr Smith said the issue raised serious matters which he would refer to the privileges committee for consideration.

The court ruling allowed Ms Leigh to sue for defamation. That doesn’t mean she was defamed but it leaves her free to take a case but unfortunately the cost of doing that has stopped her taking the matter any further.

I hope the Privileges Committee not only looks at the implications of the ruling but at the behaviour of the MPs and state servants which prompted the case.

A report on the court decision is here.

Kiwiblog has a Q&A from Ms Leigh.

Duncan Garner says she deserves an apology, and a payout to not only cover costs, but  to reflect damages.

Greens picking National win

July 22, 2011

The Green Party is picking a National win in November’s election.

Trans Tasman reports on the debate over the oath MPs must take and writes:

Green’s Kevin Hague, say they’re going to test Smith when the new Parliament is sworn in after the November general election.

Although Lockwood Smith has been a very good speaker, including raising the standard of answers required by Ministers which his colleagues don’t always appreciate, it is most unlikely that he’d remian in that office if Labour won the election.

Hague’s comments show he’s expecting a National win.

It must be tough for Labour when even their friends assume they’ll lose.

And the award for chronic entitilitis goes to . . .

December 23, 2010

 . . . Chris Carter and his partner who canned a taxpayer funded holiday  only after TV3 found out about it:

Mr Carter and his partner managed to book an international holiday using the MPs’ travel perk right before Parliament’s Speaker, Lockwood Smith, banned MPs from taking private travel with public money. . .

Carter and Mr Kaiser were booked to leave Auckland on December 29, flying business class via Singapore to Colombo and Sri Lanka.

The estimated cost of their flights is $13,902 – 90 percent picked up by the taxpayer.

The pair were planning on holidaying with British MP Ben Bradshaw and his partner but an hour after 3 News confronted Mr Kaiser, Mr Carter sent a text saying the trip was cancelled and he wasn’t going to front.

Well done TV3. Now could you follow up with some questions:

How much did cancelling the trip cost and who paid for it?

What do two professionals do with their money if they can’t afford to pay for their own flights?

What’s happened to the airpoints they’ve accrued on previous trips?

Which would cost more: a by-election or continuing to keep Carter in the lifestyle to which he’s become accustomed?

List still seen as second best

December 18, 2010

In spite of more than 14 years with MMP there’s still a perception that an electorate seat is better than a list one.

Electorate MPs do sometimes opt to seek a list place only, but usually only towards the end of their careers as Michael Cullen did and Lockwood Smith plans to.

It’s much more common for list MPs to try for an electorate seat – some more than once.

The Labour Party has today chosen list MP Phil Twyford as its next candidate in the Te Atatu electorate, replacing ousted MP Chris Carter.

Mr Twyford has saved himself from the embarrassment of missing out on his fourth hope for an electorate seat. He lost out on the Waitakere seat to Carmel Sepuloni. He was also earlier discouraged by the party hierarchy from putting his name forward in two seats – Mt Albert, now held by David Shearer, and Auckland Central, in which Jacinda Ardern will stand.

The question now is, will Chris Carter stay for the full term or will he go early and prompt another by-election?

Report confirms wisdom of decision to end travel perk

December 3, 2010

The independent investigation found no systemic abuse of the  MPs’ travel rebate by Pansy Wong and her husband Sammy.

Speaker Lockwood Smith said:

“The investigation, conducted for the Parliamentary Service by former senior public servant Hugh McPhail, looked into 13 international trips made by Pansy Wong and her husband together or separately since 2000. It found that one trip, a flight from Beijing to Lianyungang, China in December 2008, could have been in breach of the Speaker’s Directions.

“The report notes that while this trip was unplanned and inadvertent, it could be construed as having been for a private business purpose. It recommends that Pansy Wong and her husband should repay the travel rebate for that trip of $237.06 each.

“Otherwise, the report found no evidence that Pansy and Sammy Wong had not com plied with the Speaker’s Directions regarding private international travel,” Dr Smith said.

The investigation also looked at the use of the electorate office as the registered address for a ocmpany and found no evidence the office was ever used for private business purposes.

What looked like a large bomb has turned in to a small cracker albeit a  very costly one for Pansy who said:

“I apologise, and I will refund the level of rebate attributable to the section of the trip, which amounts to $237.06 each for my husband and myself,” Mrs Wong says.

“The experience of the past three weeks is not something that I would want to repeat.

“I am grateful for the support I have received from family, friends, supporters, and colleagues during this difficult period. . .

“While it is my hope to return to Cabinet, I understand that it has to be earned, and my energy and focus now will be used to serve the people of Botany and promoting the interests of ethnic communities across our country. I am looking forward to returning to Parliament.”

This episode was the last straw which showed up the faults in the travel rebate scheme.

MPs should be paid a reasonable a mount for the work they do, there should be an open and transparent process for paying work-related travel costs and private travel costs should be their business paid from their own funds.

UPDATE: Kiwiblog has more which shows the length the Wongs went to to comply with the rules and avoid any conflict of interest.

Some will take all they can

November 19, 2010

Speaker Lockwood Smith has put an end to subsidised travel for MPs – or at least those still in parliament.

But that still leaves the question of how to pay work related overseas travel costs for MPs:

Smith announced last night that he would ask the Parliamentary Service to come up with a replacement scheme to fund work-related travel.

“It’s important that MPs have some ability to travel overseas on legitimate party business.

“Not having access … would restrict the ability of members, especially Opposition members, from gaining important skills and knowledge overseas. The exposure is often valuable preparation for members who may eventually become ministers.”

Smith said the detail of the scheme would be decided later, but it would have to be for travel that was on parliamentary business only and be subject to an approval process with appropriate controls, transparency and accountability. It would also have to be simple to administer.

His instinct was that the new scheme would be run by the Parliamentary Service and that it would retain an element of personal contributions from MPs. “I’m not looking at a free scheme.”

Kiwiblog had a better idea:

Parliamentary Service should not be placed in a position where they have to judge whether a trip has enough “work” in it to qualify for a subsidised airfare.

The answer, as I have said before, is to fund international travel out of the leader’s budget. A party leader is far better positioned to decide whether a trip is worthwhile, and they will have an incentive not to say yes to the more dubious proposals, because the more they approve for travel, the less they have for other purposes (staff, policy, research, propaganda etc).

So it is vital that any money for travel not be ring-fenced. The moment you do that, you encourage people to come up with ways to use it all. It must be part of the “bulk” fund that goes to each parliamentary party. 

 He’s right, some people will always take everything they can and play the game to the limit of the rules.

It’s not fair to expect Parliamentary Services to make judgements on what fits the rules and what doesn’t. After the credit card fiascos I don’t have much confidence that they’d do it as it should be done anyway.

Far better to bulk fund it and let the leader decide who has a legitimate claim for public money and who should reach into their own pockets.

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