Taranaki King Country MP Shane Ardern delivered his valedictory statement on Wednesday:
SHANE ARDERN (National – Taranaki – King Country): Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Prime Minister, Rt Hon John Key, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen—tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa. Prime Minister, after 16 years in Parliament there is quite a bit I could say, but I will not. Do not panic! I was elected to Parliament in 1998 as the result of a by-election following the former Prime Minister the Rt Hon John Key—another Freudian slip, Prime Minister. It was Jim Bolger, who had just been replaced by the very caucus that I was now a part of. What I found was that having been his electorate chair and expressing similar views to him was not career enhancing.
For the last time in this Parliament I wish to declare an interest in the dairy industry. I am the son a sharemilker. I worked my way through the industry and bought our first farm at the age of 23. To those who have experienced my determination and unflinching support for the farming community, my late parents, Olive and Noel Ardern, and their employer, the late Tom Hargraves, are responsible for who I am. I am a farmer, came in as a farmer, leave as a farmer, am—although it does not sit comfortably with many in this place—proud to be a farmer, and I am prouder still to have represented a rural farming electorate.
I know that being a working farmer has served me well as an MP, so it will come as no surprise that I am going to talk about agriculture. On my arrival one of the most important pieces of legislation was the deregulation of the dairy industry and the debate on what structure should replace the dairy board. This was a contentious issue not just for Parliament but among farmers and the wider financial community. The result was the formation of Fonterra*, , and, despite its many critics to this day, name me one other industry that has performed as well, for as long, and currently is the only opportunity for New Zealand exporters to be truly of an international scale. As the weeks of prolonged caucus debate went on, with economic commentators claiming that the sky would fall if Fonterra was allowed to be formed, I was concerned that the formation would not happen and we would be left with a fragmented industry.
You only have to look at other industries that have not taken this step to see how damaging to the sector and the New Zealand economy this would have been.
As I was driving to the airport at 5.40 a.m. on a cold Tuesday Taranaki morning preparing for another caucus debate on the issue, I came across this young mother driving an old * Ferguson tractor with a child in a backpack and another child sitting on her knee, with a transport tray loaded with bobby calves, making her way to the farm gate. I realised that it was her that I was fighting for, and it steeled my resolve against those bureaucrats, those economic commentators, economists, and politicians who thought otherwise, because her efforts could reach their maximum opportunity only with the formation of a focused marketing structure that was internationally competitive so that we could capture the highest world market prices.
I told her story to my caucus colleagues because she epitomised the 11,000 other dairy farmers. Despite adverse conditions and personal demands, what I saw was one gutsy young New Zealander out there making it happen. For her sake, I have no regrets at maintaining a non-negotiable position on the type of industry structure that will give the highest returns possible to the farm gate and to *“ “New Zealand Inc.” I know it has not always been career enhancing, but if I had my time again, I would not change my stance.
My biggest regret is not being able to see the same structural change in the meat and wool industry. The question is: was I wrong? If Fonterra had not been formed, could members of this House guarantee that our economy would be growing as well as it is today? The answer is no, they could not. So stop criticising the primary industries, and, instead of looking for alternatives that do not exist, celebrate that we are world leaders in agriculture.
Why is it that we unite and support our international sporting teams, but when it comes to primary industries, we think that any small provincial structure will succeed? Support the industries that support you. Some in this House today will remember when Myrtle* the “Fergie”* ” came to Parliament. Eric, you should have bought a “Fergie”, mate. I was happy to become known as the “Tractor Man” when I took the old “Fergie” up the steps of Parliament in protest at the proposed introduction of a methane tax, commonly known as the “Fart Tax”. Some considered that this was the wrong thing to do, but nobody and nothing was put at risk, and that was subsequently proven in court. All I am going to say is that the tax did not happen, it has not happened, and it should not happen.
If anyone thinks I was dangerous then, be warned; I will be a lot worse when I am not constrained by parliamentary considerations—and the old “Fergie” is still around.
The only time that I doubted I may have gone too far was when I was chairing a select committee and I was greeted once by a leading trade unionist as “Comrade”. The other good thing that came out of that, of course, was that it really brassed off Hone. He still has not got over it.
I want to say to this Parliament that Fonterra earns the money that gives us the ability to have a first-class* social system. It allows us the luxury of enormous investment in environmental sustainability and conservation. Internationally, our farmers are known as one of the lowest carbon producers with the highest food safety standards and the most sustainable farming practices.
If members are honestly concerned with the environment, then work with the farmers and approach this with an open mind. If you really care about the future of New Zealand, I beg you to spend time on farms speaking with farmers and observing what they do. Look at the money that Fonterra spends on research and investment in environmental issues, despite Fonterra remaining, by international standards, a small farmer cooperative. For example, in the last 5 years 23,000 kilometres of riparian margin planting and fencing of waterways have been completed. That is further than New Zealand to London. It is a long fence.
Members have an opportunity to play an important role in keeping New Zealand’s economy growing, with the triple bottom line* of social, environmental, and economic benefits. To tax, restrict, and punish farmers while turning your heads away from the pollution of the cities is hypocritical and does nothing for the future of New Zealand. Abraham Lincoln once said that you cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
Over the 16 years I have established my role as representing farmers, I have served as chair of the Primary Production Committee* and chair of Ag Caucus. I have represented Parliament overseas as the New Zealand delegate on the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association* and I have served on many other select committees as chair and member. Some of you may not know this, and it will come as a shock, but I was proud when the Hon Bill English appointed me as spokesman for conservation. There are some environmentalists who have not yet recovered. Fish and Game* should be grateful to have Nick Smith as its Minister.
As biosecurity spokesman, I am delighted that many of the policies I put before caucus have now become legislation. I came into this Parliament during the first MMP* Government and I have a concern about the unintended consequences of our electoral system. My electorate has changed over the 16 years as MMP has forced rural areas to become larger and harder to service. Rural New Zealand has been the biggest victim of the MMP system, and all parties should look to redress the imbalance. It is not fair and it is not right that the areas that produce the money have very little representation in Parliament. When I was in high school, five MPs used to represent the area that is now the Taranaki – King Country*. .
We are in danger of becoming a Parliament of professional politicians, and if that happens, then we forget that we are the people’s representatives. In order to be a worthy representative, to truly be a good MP, I believe you need to remain connected or, if you like, have a vested interest. It is my view that Parliament and the media have become childish around vested interests in business. As a farmer I am worried about the lack of representation of farmers in politics.
This is a message for farmers. If you are not happy with the direction that a Government is taking, then you should stand and be a representative. If you do not, if you stand back, then you are as guilty as those who are doing what you do not like. Farmers in the past have had the reputation of serving their communities, and you will fail if you use the excuse that farming has become more complex and you are too busy. If you do not get involved at all levels, then the price that is paid will be yours. To my own electorate, I am proud that I have increased my vote each election, despite many boundary changes, because at the end of the day it is the opinion of those you represent that is most important.
I thank the people of the Taranaki – King Country area for their loyal support. All MPs know that we cannot do the job without the hard work and support of dedicated people willing to go the extra mile. My thanks go to everyone who helps make this building work: the Clerk’s Office*, , select committee staff, report writers whom I have worked with, the Parliamentary Counsel Office*, , Parliamentary Library*, , Hansard, security, messengers, Bellamy’s*, , and the cleaners. To Instyle Taxis, Jane and Paul, thanks—thanks to all of you for your support. There are too many individuals to thank by name, but, in particular, I would like to single out a few: Leveson Gower, our new electorate chair, and his wife, Vicky, and son, Angus, who are here today; past chair Harry Bayliss and his wife, Helen, who are here today; and special mention must go to the late Matthew Hammond and his wife, Angela. Matthew was my electorate chair for 10 years, and, I might point out, a sheep and beef farmer. He said to me one night after an extremely frustrating meat and wool meeting: “Shane, if those meat and wool farmers want to go broke, then I guess you are just gonna have to give them the right to do so.” Matthew was my chair until a few weeks before he succumbed to cancer. Thanks to my electorate secretary, Helen Hoskin, and treasurer, Janette Brocklehurst, who previously worked for Roger Maxwell and then for me, and has continued in a voluntary role throughout my whole political career. As treasurer, Janette’s strength has always been to answer any suggestions from branch members that involved spending money with a no. The Hon Bill English could take lessons from her.
To my executive assistant, Kathy Ker, who was recommended to me by senior whip* John Carter as someone who may be able to keep me out of trouble—I suspect that in all her years, this is the only area where she has failed. Jokes aside, she is the one who watched my back and whom I trusted to ensure the work was done. The value of having someone who is loyal and brutally honest to the point where she has told me right up to, and including, the writing of this speech when she thinks I am a plonker has made it possible for me to be an effective MP as well as continue farming.
I have seen senior bureaucrats, Ministers, and other officials who have not seen things from my point of view walk away checking themselves bodily after an encounter with my executive assistant. By the way, she has been referred to on many occasions as the “Tractor Woman”. Thank you, Kathy. To my electorate staff, the first two, the late Maureen Wilkie and Ella Borrows; to those in between; and to my current agents Sharon, Claire, and Tracey, who are here today, I know that it is not easy looking after a large electorate. Thank you for your work.
To my wife, Cathy, and to my family—sons Jonathon and Cameron—all MPs know that when you make the decision to become a politician, then it has a significant impact on your family, and personal sacrifices will be made. Our occupation is not for everyone, and I am proud of my family, who have embraced farming—for all the good, the bad, and the challenges that it delivers. My family’s love and commitment to the land is best reflected in the words of Princess Te Pūea Herangi* when she said: “The land is our mother and our father. It is the loving parent who nourishes us, sustains us, and when we die it folds us in its arms.”
We are a typical farming family who know that we must leave the land in better condition than when we found it. Thank you Cathy, Jonathon and Cameron for your support over the years. I am returning home, you will see a lot more of me, and I love you. To those MPs who ventured into * Taranaki – King Country, friend and foe, I notice that not many of them return. But my good friend and colleague Gerry Brownlee is the exception, and Gerry, we still have those gumboots ready for your next visit.
To the Prime Minister, the Rt Hon John Key, thank you for being an exceptional leader. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a leader who plays golf with the President of the United States, who dines with the President of China, who stays with the Queen of England, and who knows all of the European leaders. As an export nation at the bottom of the South Pacific, that is a rare and wonderful thing. Our leader is exceptional.
To my parliamentary colleagues, thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today, and may you all enjoy the electoral success that you deserve. Might I add that it is often said that you make no friends in politics and that you do not meet many nice people. It is just not true. Some of the security staff, messengers, and other people in this place are wonderful people. I wish to share with you the following verse, which I quoted in my maiden speech: “Seek that which is most precious. If you bow down, let it be to a lofty mountain. Let nothing but the insurmountable turn you from your goal.” It has been a privilege and a pleasure to serve as a member of this House. Thank you members, thank you Mr Assistant Speaker. I am returning back home to the slopes of * Mount Taranaki, to the farm, to the land where I belong. Kia ora.
Shane might have been an MP but he never forgot he was a farmer – note the tractor climbing up the steps beside him.