National MP for Auckland Central Nikki Kaye delivered her valedictory statement this week:
Hon NIKKI KAYE (National—Auckland Central): Why is it through the toughest moments of our lives we learn the most, we feel the most, we have the greatest power to contribute and experience beauty? Through COVID, we saw this. Through fear, desperation, and hardship, heroes emerged. Teachers taught children from their living rooms while supporting their own families. Nurses, doctors, and checkout operators had the courage to turn up even when they were petrified. The lesson is: character and courage emerge out of trauma and hardship. The question for any generation of political leaders is: have we had the courage and character to step up and solve the hard economic and social issues of our time? I hope that I’ve done my bit to step up. I hope that I stepped up as the member of Parliament for Auckland Central and as a Cabinet Minister.
Twelve years ago, winning the seat and becoming the first National Auckland Central MP in our country’s history was one of the best nights of my life but also challenging, in breaking up with my boyfriend of five years. In that week, I learnt that not everybody wants to be the spouse of an MP but also that the life of a good MP comes with duty, responsibility, and extraordinary sacrifice. Many in this Chamber know the price of power, as do their families. I want to take a moment to thank my family, who are here: mum, Neil, Sue—I’m not going to name everybody else, because they’re quite a large family. Thank you for all that you have done in my life. As I said the other day, I have spent most of my adult life in this place serving New Zealand. That means that I have been an absent auntie, sister, and daughter at times, but I am coming home. You know I can’t cook, clean, or drive very well, so please be patient with me. I still want to change the world, so I’m going to pull that card if things cut up rough.
It is the toughest moments of my personal life that have helped me be able to be a better member of Parliament and Cabinet Minister. Through my parents breaking up young, a stepbrother being charged with murder, and being diagnosed with breast cancer at 36, I have learnt that when your world breaks and shatters, you can be your most powerful. Random strangers in the role reach out and pick you up. Thank you to the many New Zealanders who, through their messages, picked me up. My ability to help people in Auckland Central for 12 years to reach into their hearts and homes comes from this experience. Good Ministers come from all walks of life—they can be teachers, doctors, solo mums—but they all must have good judgment, a capacity to solve problems, and a perseverance for people and policy which means they deliver.
Four terms in Auckland Central—beating Judith, our current Prime Minister, and Helen—was won through hard work and knocking on doors, a clarity of purpose in projects in the electorate, and a core group of dedicated and passionate volunteers, who I wish to acknowledge this evening. Paul Beattie, my electorate chair of more than a decade, thank you. You and Donna have been loyal rocks through many a storm; Katie and Evan, my spiritual mentors. Chris, thank you for your blue-green vision. Brad, Annie, Helen, Josh, Hamish, Tim, Jonathan, Jessie, Jim, Jan, Sheeran, and Barry—each of you have given so much. Thank you. Michelle, while I had no knowledge or involvement relating to COVID data, what occurred was unacceptable, and you have taken responsibility and apologised. I still recognise that some people make terrible mistakes, but still she has given decades of political and charitable service to our nation. To Judy Wrightson: you have been a bright light and a crucial cog in our victory.
In my maiden speech, when I first came to Parliament, I said “I believe in freedom, hard work, determination, courage, an ability to question and challenge, and a commitment to help those most in need.” I also talked about the importance of our environment, being the greatest asset that we have as a country. I told my electorate I would be a liberal who fought for freedom, a blue-green who would fight for the environment, and someone who would continue to fight for those disadvantaged while persevering for a more modern and dynamic country. My office has served not just my constituents but thousands of businesses and community organisations. As a constituency MP, I have enjoyed the many wins where you can fundamentally change the course of people’s lives with a letter or a phone call.
There have also been heartbreaking moments where you can’t make change. Many people in this Chamber know those moments—the moments such as explaining to a man dying of cancer, and to his wife, that Pharmac was not going to fund a lifesaving drug. It is out of these moments of sadness that you fight harder in the caucus room.
New Zealand has the capacity to have a stronger democracy than other countries because of the accessibility and accountability that can exist in politicians in a small nation. I am proud of the people I have helped, from long-term rough sleepers to people who have been suicidal and families torn apart by immigration. However, there are constituents and cases that stick out. One involved me helping a young New Zealand girl stuck in Japan near a nuclear accident, post the tsunami. The short version is that it was some advocacy via Murray McCully and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. In a dramatic race against time, we got her and a young Australian girl in what, I think, was one of the last taxis to Tokyo.
I think that if New Zealanders knew more about the stories of politicians helping people, our democracy would be much stronger. Recent events are not a true reflection of the calibre of many of the parliamentarians that walk these halls.
As I have said, our environment is the greatest asset that we have as a country. Whether it has been my opposition to my own party’s proposals of mining on Great Barrier, which saw thousands of people marching down Queen Street, or progressing marine protection in the Hauraki Gulf, I have fought for my party and my country to do more for our environment inside and outside the caucus room. People still cross the street to thank me for stopping the mining of their baches in the Coromandel and on Great Barrier. Years later, it was a great moment to be able advocate and help secure a conservation park for the island, which will see Aucklanders enjoy this jewel for generations to come.
I want to acknowledge Izzy Fordham and Paul Downie for their work for the island. I’ve often said to people that being the MP for Great Barrier when things go wrong, there is no army of public servants, but there is the MP, the chair of the local board, and the community. The island is resilient and resourceful. I’m proud to have delivered investment in communications infrastructure, secured funding for the Aotea Learning Hub, and provided greater access to bursary payments for children off-island. I’ve also opposed marine dumping near the island, and I hope that the next MP can carry on the work done around marine protection.
I have loved the people of the Barrier for their authentic and pragmatic approach to solving issues. The island is one of my many families, my spiritual home, and where I will live for a large part of my life.
In central Auckland and the western bays, I have supported a number of projects, including securing over $150 million in the redevelopment of Freemans Bay School, Bayfield School, and Western Springs College. In transport, I advocated for the $300 million Victoria Park Tunnel—delivered under National—the urban cycleway investment, and, for many years, the approval of the City Rail Link, a game-changing artery for the beating heart of Auckland. Thank you to Steven Joyce, Simon Bridges, and the other transport Ministers for your work on these many projects.
I want to acknowledge City Missioners Chris Farrelly and Diane Robertson, and Moira from Lifewise. I’ve supported organisations such as the City Mission to secure additional wraparound support through the Housing First programme. I’ve also advocated for the National Government to provide significant funding for the Homeground project, which is being built at the moment, and which will see additional accommodation and services for vulnerable people who are homeless in Auckland.
I’ve been passionate about apartment law reform, and I’ve spent several years working with the legal and property professionals to develop a 30-page statute which is currently progressing through Parliament. It is essential that this unit titles bill passes if we want to prevent the next leaky buildings.
To the people of Waiheke—to the “Republic of Waiheke”—you’ve been about a quarter of my constituency cases. Thank you for your vocal and powerful force of nature. I’m proud to have secured over $40 million for the redevelopments of Te Huruhi Primary School and Waiheke High School. I’ve advocated for greater viability of ferry services, and I’ve helped retain funding for continued free travel, alongside Winston Peters, for oldies to go to Waiheke on their SuperGold card. I have petitioned Parliament to oppose the accommodation provider – targeted rate tax. I’ve fought for fairer ferry fares and greater accountability of services.
I want to now take this moment to acknowledge all of my electorate staff—Rita, Maggie, Amy, Sam, Alex, Elliot, Shelly, Angee, and Rochelle—for all of the work that you’ve done,
But to Maggie Bowman, thank you for the more than a decade of service that you have given to the people of Auckland Central. We have seen it all: P addicts, mental health incidents, we’ve been taped, we’ve had police incidence, we’ve had burglaries—Auckland Central is a hotbed for sometimes some of the hardest social issues in New Zealand. Thank you to Auckland Central. It’s been a privilege to be your MP.
In my time in Parliament, I’ve also fought for freedom. I’ve always tried to be a strong advocate for freedom and personal liberty. I feel proud to have followed a line of inspirational and liberal Nats, from Katherine Rich to Simon Power, Jim McLay, Marilyn Waring, to Chris Finlayson. I’ve helped keep the flame alive in our caucus, alongside my friend Amy Adams. It has been through conscience issues, in working in a collaborative way across the House with people from different political parties, that I have fought the cause. I voted and worked with parliamentarians from different political parties to help support legislation to enable people to marry who they love. Thank you, Louisa Wall, for your mahi on this issue. Through my work as Minister for Youth, I supported funding for organisations, such as Rainbow Youth, to get their first contract to prevent bullying of young people. I’ve also worked with colleagues to enable changes to decriminalise abortion and to pass the end of life choice legislation. I know that as Amy and I leave the liberal wing of the National Party, it will burn brightly with colleagues such as Nicola, Chris, and Erica fighting for freedom.
The National Party has been a strong force in New Zealand politics because of its values of freedom and personal responsibility—a place where social conservatives and social liberals can work for the common good. As a party, we are at our best when there is balance. That is when we are truly representative of this great nation.
One of the worst things that you can do when you get that call to become a Cabinet Minister is to have your battery run out. This is what happened to me, but I called John Key back.
It was a baptism of fire as a new Minister, dealing with our largest food safety scare in our nation’s history within a few months of being sworn in. When I found out from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), at 5 o’clock in Canterbury, about the potential presence of botulinum in milk powder, I thought that I would be a very short-serving Minister. It was a very scary time. Alongside my colleagues, I had to envisage the possibility of babies dying at home and abroad and a destruction to our economy. In those weeks, I saw the very best of Steven Joyce. I saw the very best of Bill English, of Tim Groser, of Nathan Guy, and of John Key. It was a challenging situation. I acknowledge all the MPI officials for their work. Miriam Dean, thank you for your stunning independent review. Thank you, Nathan, for all that you did. As Minister, I went on to deliver food safety legislative reform.
However, the scare did see me have dinner with the PM and the President of China. I remember feeling enormous pride, John, in watching you as a Prime Minister of a small nation have a genuine and warm relationship of respect with the President of China. It is a testament to you.
As Minister for ACC, I was proud to have overseen significant levy cuts, in part due to the good work of Nick Smith. I succeeded in proposing ACC legislation designed to enable greater stability and certainty around ACC levies, which I hope has provided benefits to many small businesses.
But it has been the civil defence portfolio that kept me awake at nights, from floods, to cyclones, to earthquakes. I remember receiving a phone call around an earthquake in the Kermadecs. It is in those moments, as Minister of Civil Defence, that you wait to find out whether a wave is coming towards New Zealand. It was then very important to me, when I experienced that, to push for an early warning system. I fought hard to secure funding for the cell alert system, which, in my view, will highly likely save thousands of lives in the future of our country. Thank you to Sarah Stuart-Black and all of the civil defence staff for the work that you do.
But my love and passion has been in education. I became Associate Minister to Hekia Parata, who I believe is one of the greatest serving Ministers of education in our nation’s history. Hekia, you achieved so much. You oversaw a huge lift in achievement for Māori and Pasifika students. You had an absolute commitment to excellence. As Associate Minister, I helped to try and improve school infrastructure. We did condition assessments of schools right across New Zealand. We took the school infrastructure budget from $3.5 billion to $5 billion. It was a testament to John and Hekia’s leadership that in the middle of the global financial crisis, we secured $200 million to connect all schools in New Zealand to uncapped fast internet connections. This was about unlimited learning. This was about ensuring that young people were not disadvantaged by geography in this country.
In 2016, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. As I’ve said before, my world broke. I tried to resign. The only reason that I was able to become Minister of Education was that John Key, as I cried my eyes out, said, “You’re not fucking going anywhere.” I became the Minister of Education three months prior to the election period. I was proud to carry out Hekia’s work getting a Cabinet decision to scrap the decile system within two years. Many communities are stigmatised by the system. There is a poverty of expectation that must be removed.
I signed off the digital technologies curriculum as Minister, and in the last few years I’ve had the privilege to travel the country and work with Chris Hipkins on NCEA reform and the Tomorrow’s Schools Review. We do not agree with all of the proposals, but I acknowledge Minister Hipkins for trying to collaborate and compromise to get a better result. It was very touching that on the morning that it was reported that I was going to retire you told me not to do it. I think you learn in those moments that you can fight on policy and ideas but form friendships across the House. Thank you for what you do, Minister.
I now want to talk about being deputy leader of the party, and a few comments about leadership. I backed Amy for the leadership because I believed in her character and her work ethic. All leaders and Prime Ministers have a superpower, in my view—Helen Clark her intellect, John Key his confidence and his optimism, Jacinda her communication and charisma, Bill English his intellect and emotional intelligence, Simon Bridges his work ethic. I backed Todd for leadership because I believe in him and I believe in his capacity to set a vision for New Zealand that was blue-green, bold, fair, and outward-looking for our nation. It was a very short time in the role, but I still believe in you, Todd. Regardless of what the papers have written, I do not believe what occurred was predictable or preventable. It was a privilege to be your deputy leader and to the National Party. I expect that in time Todd will tell his story, but can I say this to Amelia, Bradley, Aimee, and Michelle: you can be very proud of your husband and father.
With heartbreak, though, comes opportunity. Judith, I hope that you become our next Prime Minister. You’re strong and you have huge conviction. We are facing the largest economic crisis of a generation. New Zealand needs a National Government, and I will campaign harder than anyone else for that to happen.
Now to the future. I may be off to be a hippie for a while, but I wanted to leave you with some thoughts. We must, as a nation, value education more. Last year we released an education discussion document. It talked about incentives for people to go into teaching, to stay in teaching, changes to teacher training, additional support for children with complex needs, and, of course, supporting children in their first 1,000 days of life. Recently I was the Lee Kuan Yew Fellow, and I reflected on the need for New Zealand to become lifelong learners. National has proposed education accounts as an option for more people to be upskilled throughout their life. COVID provides this burning platform for large-scale upskilling of the nation and a change in culture where we must value education more. We must continue to break down the barriers to online learning. Children in parts of New Zealand can have access to subjects, qualifications, and teachers like never before.
We must continue to tackle disadvantage. Bill English built the machine of social investment, but what we do around children with complex needs will mean that there are young people that are less truant, more people in work, and less people in prison.
We must continue to value our environment more, save our species, reduce emissions, improve our water. There is so much to do. I hope that one day we have an environmental party that will rust on with the left and the right in this Parliament.
It was a sad day when we lost the Māori Party. Dame Tariana Turia is someone that I admire greatly, and I hope that we continue to evolve our Treaty partnership. One of the reasons I progressed second language learning in schools was about ensuring that Te Reo thrives and other languages are supported for our heritage.
To the National Party: you are my family. I’m grateful to have always been blue. Past presidents, the board, the leaders of the party, and our members: I joined the party at 19 and I joined because I believe in equality of opportunity. You have given me so much opportunity. Thank you to my National friends and family.
To the parliamentarians: I’ve always said I believe there are two types of parliamentarians in this place. Those that are in it for themselves and those that are in it for the country. Be the latter. Be brave and have courage. Don’t leave anything in the tank. I’ve been fortunate to be supported by a number of strong, smart, and caring women: Jenny Shipley, Ruth Richardson, Katherine Rich, and Amy Adams. Each of you have been so generous with your time and wisdom in critical moments where I needed a dose of courage and compassion. To the parliamentarians: don’t be arrogant or entitled. This is public service. I have been proud to have been a public servant of New Zealand. I love our country and I hope to continue to contribute more in the future. Haere rā.