Regions lose with central control

August 2, 2019

The government is centralising vocational education, merging 16 technology institutes and polytechnics into one:

Former Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce warns of the risks in this move:

. .  .Leaving aside the issue of transferring the control of hundreds and hundreds of millions of assets out of regional New Zealand to Wellington, there are huge risks in the proposal. Across the Tasman, New South Wales has just done something similar, merging its 16-odd TAFEs (polytechs) into one NSW-wide TAFE, and it is a cautionary tale. The merged entity lost $30 million in its first year, blowing out to $240m in its second. It’s now in the process of further reform.

Yes, many New Zealand polytechnics are currently struggling, but that’s not unique to this country. When employment is high, vocationally-minded people tend to get into work ahead of going to polytech, and roll numbers drop. It’s been made worse here by the sudden squeeze on international enrolments caused by government immigration policy which is contributing to a perfect storm of red ink.

Interestingly however, well-run polytechnics like SIT in Southland, Otago, and the Eastern Institute of Technology in the North Island, have continued to perform and make surpluses. A few board overhauls and the odd regional merger, plus a bit more tuition funding, would do wonders for the others and retain their local focus – and be much less risky.

The government’s prescription is radical surgery when much less drastic medicine could solve the problems at a much lower cost in both money and jobs:

The Government’s polytechnic and industry announcement today will cost thousands of jobs and may be the death knell for some polytechnics, National’s spokesperson for Tertiary Education Dr Shane Reti says.

“Moving apprentices back to polytechnics and creating one mega polytechnic will cost at least 1300 jobs in industry and probably as much again in polytechnics.

“Employers are telling us they will cease to employ apprentices next year if apprentices go back to polytechnics. This is a big step backwards especially when our construction sector is crying out for apprentices.

“The Government has brutally dismissed the concerns of industry and businesses who raised serious issues with polytechnic training. Industry understands the needs of industry best and who will be the best fit for them, but Mr Hipkins is blatantly ignoring them.

“Now the Minister is turning his axe to polytechnics. Under these reforms well performing polytechnics from the Southern Institute of Technology to Otago Polytechnic will lose the very essence of their successful and innovative local decision making.

“The reforms dissolve polytechnics into hollow and meaningless ‘legacy’ polytechnics. This ideology will destroy tradition, decimate organisational knowledge and the final indignity will be the mega polytechnic spending community gifted cash and assets.

“This is devastating for polytechnics and their staff and students.

“Every aspect of the vocational education sector is under attack. Apprentices are being sent back to polytechnics, polytechnics are being amalgamated into legacy campuses, jobs are being lost, cash and community assets will be ring-fenced and regional autonomy is being stripped away.

“These reforms will be disastrous for regional education and apprenticeships. Mr Hipkins is pushing ahead with ideology over what is best for students and regional New Zealand.

“National will empower the regions to make decisions around what they teach, where they teach and how they teach. We will return polytechnic assets taken by Labour and give them back to communities. We will return apprentices to industry.

“National supports apprentices and regional polytechnics and we will fight for their voice and autonomy in these ideological educational reforms.”

Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt said the city will fight to save The Southern Institute of Technology:

Invercargill leaders have vowed to fight a Government decision to centralise the Southern Institute of Technology [SIT] with 15 other polytechnics and training institutes nationwide.

Mayor Tim Shadbolt said he was in “absolute disbelief they could do such a terrible thing to our city” and said legal action would be taken against the decision.

“They have really ripped the heart out of Invercargill with this announcement.”

The proposal also threatens the future of Telford Farm Training Institute:

Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker said the announcement was incredibly disappointing and raised uncertainty for Telford’s future.

“Today’s announcement of the Government’s reform of vocational education through the centralisation of polytechs is another blow to rural and regional New Zealand. 

“It is the people in regions who know the needs of their people best, not a long list of public servants in Wellington.”

Community assets would be taken away, decision-making powers would be lost and as a result, Telford would be disadvantaged, he said.

“Telford’s long-term proposal was turned down because of this reform which will now cause further damage to Clutha-Southland and its workforce.”

“This creates further uncertainty for staff and students at Telford who have already been through enough.” . . 

Successful organisations like SIT and Otago Polytech could have been used as a model for other institutions that were floundering.

Instead the successful are being sacrificed because of others’ failures and the regions lose autonomy to central control.


It’s only words

May 31, 2019

Has any government not put money into policies which aim to improve wellbeing?

I can’t think of a single one that hasn’t put considerable amounts into   health, education, welfare, infrastructure . . . any and all of the areas that impact on and contribute to wellbeing.

Just two years ago, then Finance Minister Steven Joyce said:

. . .This budget is about delivering more of the public services, the infrastructure, the resilience, and the incomes that New Zealanders need to get ahead and to provide for their families.

This budget is about the opportunity we have to build on the platform we have all created and deliver greater prosperity for New Zealanders. . .

This Government is focused on helping our most vulnerable people lead more successful lives. . . 

Initiatives included helping people move from benefits to work, improving safety of victims of family violence, investment in social housing, funding for caregiver support and social initiatives aimed at tackling long-term issues for the most vulnerable.

It included measures to help children get a better start in live and there was a significant increase in mental health funding..

Social investment is about tackling our most challenging social issues. The combination of these new initiatives and the Government’s decisions about family incomes will allow us to make serious headway with some of the longer-term challenges faced by the most vulnerable New Zealanders. . . 

He concluded:

This budget is all about “Delivering for New Zealanders”.

It takes four significant steps to bring the benefits of a stronger economy to all New Zealanders. It makes a big investment in public services, it makes a record investment in new infrastructure, it improves the resilience of our country to future shocks, and it strengthens families by lifting their incomes.

It’s important that we remember that the only reason we get to have this conversation is because we have a strong and growing economy built on a strong economic plan.

We must maintain our focus on growing the economy and sticking to the plan.

It is only by doing that, that we can provide for the prosperity of all New Zealanders.

What a contrast between the former government’s careful management and understanding that economic growth is essential to support social initiatives and the current one which is very good at soft words that seek to disguise a slowing economy.

The debate continued and then-PM BIll English spoke:

. . .We are unashamedly addressing the hard core of New Zealand’s longest-run social problems, and in this Budget there are 14 initiatives that do that. I want to pay tribute to public servants who, I know, find it difficult to fit the model. It creates a lot of tension and sometimes a bit of frustration, but we are making some progress because what is the point of having a Government if it cannot deal with the most complex, the most vulnerable, . . 

The previous government called it social investment. Its words were backed up by policies that were working to improve lives and sustainably funded by a growing economy. .

This government calls it wellbeing and so far it’s only words. If it’s going to be more than words and to make a significant and positive difference it will have to do a lot better on delivering, not just on its promises but on economic growth too, than it has to date.

The projected surplus next year is only $1.4 billion. That’s a big number but not in the context of government spending.

Opposition leader Simon Bridges points out:

. . . The Prime Minister boasts in her press release that growth is forecast to average 2.6 per cent over the next four years, under the National Government growth was 4 per cent. This Government simply can’t be trusted with the economy. 

“NZ First has once again shown that it holds the purse strings with today’s announcements of a billion on rail that nobody wants and even more for forestry. That’s on top of Shane Jones’ billion dollar slush fund and the billion dollars already promised for trees. The cost of this coalition is not worth it for New Zealanders with what they’re getting in return, and it certainly isn’t improving anyone’s wellbeing.

“It’s no wonder Grant Robertson has had to drop his self-imposed debt target and increase the spending limit by $17 billion so he can fund the Government’s bad spending decisions. Surpluses are forecast to be billions of dollars lower than they were just a few months ago. . . 

Changing the language doesn’t change the fact that wellbeing can only be built on a strong and growing economic foundation.

 


Micro matters not minor matters

September 11, 2018

BusinessNZ says the Employment Relations Amendment Bill is harmful and oppressive:

None of the provisions that most concern business have been removed by the select committee considering the Bill. . .

55% of submissions were against the Bill and thousands of emails sent to Parliamentarians by concerned businesses. EMA, Business Central, the Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and Otago Southland Employers’ Association ran a high-profile campaign asking the Government to explain the reasoning for the Bill’s harmful provisions.

“Given current low levels of business confidence, especially among small business, it is unfortunate that the Government has neither listened nor explained its justification for the Bill.

Low business confidence is not political pique. It’s based on genuine concern about policy like this which will make it more difficult, and expensive, to run a business.

“Business cannot support this Bill and will be making our position clear as this Bill progresses through Parliament.

“BusinessNZ is also considering pursuing a claim to the International Labour Organisation or International Court of Justice on parts of the Bill which are contrary to international law.

“Business strongly objects to this Bill’s ability to harm employment relations, jobs and commercial value in New Zealand enterprises.”

The EMA is bitterly disappointed no heed was paid to concerns raised:

The EMA, along with its fellow regional associations, actively lobbied and campaigned for four key areas to be modified as it believed these will not deliver to the Government’s stated aims of a high wage and high performing economy, nor help businesses to be more productive. The joint Fix The Bill campaign resulted in at least 2254 emails being sent to Government MPs seeking clarification on how the changes will help their business succeed.

The four aspects of the Bill that were particularly worrying for business were:

– Employers with 20 employees or more will lose the right to include 90-day-trial periods in employment agreements. However, findings from a nationwide survey of employers found that the 90-day trial periods were useful for businesses of all sizes, to give prospective employees a chance.

A trial period is not just good for employers, it’s good for other employees. If a new worker isn’t up to scratch it impacts badly on workmates.

– Businesses will be forced to settle collective agreements, even if they don’t or can’t agree

And even if they can’t afford them.

– Allowing union representatives access to workplaces without permission

Any access, any time is not conducive to productivity.

– Not allowing businesses a choice to opt out of a multi-employer collective agreement (MECA)

This will not only means saddle businesses with agreements they can’t afford, it will stop a business offering staff better pay and conditions.

With more than 50% of New Zealand businesses employing fewer than 100 staff, the EMA is deeply worried the changes in the Bill combined with the raft of other legislation in the pipeline will unduly burden smaller operators.

Furthermore, despite rhetoric from Government that it is listening to business, this is a tangible example that ideology rather than solid public policy driving decisions and does not bode well for business going forward.

Throughout this process the EMA has been puzzled by how any of the proposed changes to the industrial relations framework will take the country forward in terms of the Government’s goal of developing a modern, nimble and high performing economy.

Taking industrial relations back to the 1970s will not take the country forward and it will harm rather than help the economy.

Steven Joyce writes:*

. . .Economic policy is in fact a three-legged stool, fiscal policy, monetary policy, and microeconomic policy. You can’t successfully operate an economy, especially a small one like New Zealand, without all three working together.

Microeconomics is everything that operates at the firm level in the economy – all the regulations and policy settings that impact directly on businesses. These are things like employment law, immigration settings, competition law, resource allocation, innovation settings, tax policy and the government’s investment in infrastructure.

It is microeconomics that drives much of firms’ actual operating conditions. Along with interest rates and exchanges rates, it is access to capital, skilled people, resources, markets, the necessary infrastructure and importantly the consistency of those settings, that tell the owners of businesses that it is a good time to invest and grow their business.

If you start playing with those settings in an arbitrary way while ignoring the economic consequences of those changes, then firms will simply stop investing. They’ll either wait until there is more certainty, or not invest at all. . .

Microeconomic matters, including employment relations legislation, are not minor matters.

They have a huge influence on the business environment and economy.

Any changes which add to the complexities and risk of employing people will have the opposite affect from the government’s stated aim of developing a modern, nimble and high performing economy.

But this legislation shows that this aim comes a very poor second to Labour’s need to pay back unions for their financial and personal support.

The legislation will be good for unions but not the whose interests they purport to represent nor for the businesses which employ them.

* Hat tip: Kiwiblog


In fiscal hole and still digging

August 10, 2018

Economist Cameron Bagrie has found a hole in the fiscal bucket:

Steven Joyce is going to be proved right. There is a fiscal hole and a softening economy is making it wider.

I don’t like the term fiscal hole. Good policy should dominate over strict debt targets and economic cycles come and go which are often beyond government control.

But the Labour-led Government’s fiscal hole is looking deeper by the day – and bigger than the $11.7 billion of additional borrowing that Joyce identified. . .

Growth is weaker, the Government is already borrowing creatively to the tune of $6.4 billion via Crown entities (keeping it out of core government net debt metrics) and spending demands are headed one way.

That combination will pressure its fiscal position.  . .

The lack of money left in the kitty post the 2018-Budget raised issues of credibility, but the fiscal parameters were technically achievable.

It wasn’t going to be easy, but it was possible, so the Government was given the benefit of the doubt.

Giving them the benefit of the doubt was a mistake given their record, policies and the knowledge that coalition partners would add to costs.

But the picture is changing and the Government’s ambitions are looking more and more like pipe dreams.

So, what has changed?

Budget spending and investment demands needed funding, whilst at the same time sticking to the narrative of hitting debt objectives and being fiscally responsible.

The result was crown entities borrowing an additional $6.4 billion between 2017 and 2022.

That is an accounting fudge to get it out of the core Government debt figures.

Just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Public sector pay and spending demands are only heading one way.

Few bemoan the need to pay teachers and nurses more but that money needs to come from somewhere.

The realities of a coalition Government meant more needed to be spent. Spending allocations in the 2019 and subsequent Budgets were increased by $525 million to $2.4b per year.

That looked fine against a backdrop of solid projections for growth. But it was a risky strategy with the economy late cycle as opposed to early cycle.

The government can’t be held responsible for external problems but they can be blamed for not taking a more prudent approach given clouds gathering on the economic horizon.

They can also be blamed for wasting money on fripperies like fee-free tertiary education and good looking horses without leaving enough for necessities like improved pay and conditions for nurses and teachers.

They’ve dug the hole and there is nothing in their performance that could give any confidence in their ability to get out of it especially as they are still digging.


Pressure proves Steven Joyce right

July 25, 2018

Labour is under pressure to increase its self-imposed debt limit to address wage claims and social spending requests.

That pressure proves former Finance Minister Steven Joyce was right when he said Labour’s pre-election budget had several billion dollar holes in it.

Those holes were where the money for pay increases for health professionals, teachers, police and other public servants should have been.

The pay offer to nurses sounds generous, but as they keep saying they don’t just want more pay, they want better conditions.

. . . Some nurses have talked about being rostered on for three days a week, but working on average 80-86 hours a fortnight.

Being called back in on days off is a regular occurrence, and rosters often have blank spaces left while managers look for nurses to fill the gaps.

The most recent pay offer brought forward $38 million of new funding to provide immediate relief for staffing and workload issues, but was seemingly viewed as being too little, too late.

The strike vote shows the depths of anger in the rank-and-file – if it was underestimated beforehand, it cannot be now.

Striking nurses have two demands – to be paid more, and to be valued. . . 

Teachers who are poised to strike too are also wanting not just more pay but better support.

. . .They are negotiating on teacher and principal pay, but also on workload and things like special education needs co-ordinators.

“There’s a real depth of feeling out there. The whole issue around workload is very, very significant and that’s come through very, very strongly.” . .

While the public isn’t enamoured of strikes, nurses and teachers do have widespread sympathy and have valid questions about why there’s no more money for them.

Labour set its debt target to show that it could be fiscally responsible but the government it leads has already failed at that.

Billions have been wasted on fripperies leaving holes where funds for better pay and conditions for nurses and teachers should be.

And every time they say there’s no more money, they’ll be asked: how can there be enough for fee-free tertiary education and the regional slush fund but not enough for health and education professionals?

Just like Labour of old and previous governments it’s led, this one is making a fuss about how much they spend with little or no attention to how well they’re spending.

It’s quantity over quality, what they spend not what it achieves, and with every mis-spent cent they’re proving the former Finance Minister right.

 


Almost spent the lot

June 25, 2018

Nurses and health boards are continuing to negotiate improved pay and conditions in an effort to avoid strikes.

Last-ditch talks between the nurses’ union and district health boards (DHBs) will continue on Monday in a bid to avoid planned strike action.

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) and DHBs’ negotiating teams attended mediation on Friday after nurses “strongly rejected” the DHBs’ latest offer on Monday.

The NZNO issued strike notice to the DHBs on Wednesday for July 5, with notice of a second 24-hour strike planned for July 12 likely to be issued next week. . . 

A survey sent to NZNO members on Monday to gauge their priorities for any revised deal had received close to 13,000 responses a day before it closed at 1pm on Thursday.

A message sent to union member’s said their feedback had helped negotiators be “very clear on what your priority issues are and what will be required on order to avert strike action and resolve this dispute”.

The three main priorities were remuneration, safe staffing and pay equity.

However, whether the first nationwide nurses’ strike since 1989 can be averted remains to be seen.

Nurses on Monday “strongly rejected” the DHBs’ latest collective offer, a $520 million package described by Health Minister David Clark as the best in a decade. . .

A $520 million package sounds generous but there would be $275 million more this year had they not wasted it on free fees for tertiary students, nearly $40 million of which will be spent on students who fail to complete their first year.

It would be difficult to find anyone who thinks spending millions on students who don’t need help is a greater priority than  improving pay and conditions for nurses.

Teachers are lining up for more pay and better conditions too and it would be equally difficult to find anyone who thinks that wouldn’t be a higher priority than fee-free tertiary study.

The free-fee policy is just one of several expensive policies. Another is the winter power payment for beneficiaries, some of which will go to wealthy retirees. These are extravagances that Labour and its coalition partners have put ahead of funding necessities.

Then-National Finance Minister Steven Joyce was laughed at when he said there was a big hole in Labour’s pre-election spending calculations and that they hadn’t factored in pay increases for public servants.

The trouble the government now has finding enough to satisfy nurses shows he was right.

Remember how Michael Cullen boasted they’d spent the lot after his last Budget in 2008?

The current government has almost spent the lot already if it wants to keep to the budgetary constraints it’s imposed upon itself to counter accusations it’s a poor manager of money.

Cullen left power with the new government facing a decade of deficits.

By contrast the current government came to power with forecasts of continuing strong surpluses.

They could have spent wisely, factoring in the need for fair increases to give nurses and teachers much better pay and conditions.

Instead they’ve wasted money on fripperies like the fee-free tertiary study and power payments for wealthy people and left far too little for basics like improved pay and conditions for nurses and teachers.


Steven Joyce’s valedictory

March 28, 2018

Steven Joyce delivered his valedictory speech yesterday evening.

I’ve heard him make many speeches which show his compassion, intelligence and wit.

He left his best for last.

 

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (National): I must say, preparing this valedictory statement is one of the hardest things I’ve done in this Parliament. It’s very hard to sum up the experiences of the last nearly a decade in one 20 minute speech. So what I’ve decided to do instead is table the 1,521 press releases I made as a Minister over that time. So, at the end of this speech, I thought I’d just do them one by one during the dinner break. Although perhaps the one that I really should table would be my academic record, given that we’ve had so much good discussion about it over the years.

I nearly didn’t actually end up being in this Parliament. Let me tell you a story. After the excitement that was the 2005 election campaign, which was my first as campaign chair, I decided that was me in politics—I can’t think possibly why—and that I’d go off and do something else. And it was.

Then, John Key—Sir John—became the leader of the National Party, and he rang me up and said, “Do you want to do a bit of sort of advisory work for me?”, and I said, “Yes, absolutely; that would be great. No trouble at all—I can fit that in.” Then he rang me up and said, “Would you like to run the 2008 campaign for me.”, and I said, “Gosh, I’ve got a few things on, but I’ll see if I can shift it around and sort of get three months to run the campaign.” Then, at the beginning of 2008, I got a call from him. He says, “Well, look, why don’t you come in and do some real work?”

I thought about it, and I thought, “Gosh, here I am: newly married, young daughter just born, lifestyle block, few directorships—the ultimate in perfect work-life balance. Do I really want to do this?”

Then Judy Kirk rang. Many of us on this side of the House know what it means to be “Judy-ed”. She fixes you with a stare and says, “Your country needs you to do this, Steven.” And I’d had that before, so I knew about that. So I nearly didn’t do it. I rang Judy back and said, “No; I can’t do it.” Then she rang again, and I said, “No; I can’t do it.”

Then my wife noticed that two weeks had passed and I hadn’t rung John. She said, “Well, that tells me that, actually, you probably do want to do this, because you haven’t actually rung the person that asked you and said no.” So she said, “You’d better go and do it.”, and so I did. I came into this House in the 2008 election.

Straight away, I was so privileged—and not many of us have had this privilege—to become a Minister immediately—before I became a parliamentarian, in fact, officially. I was named in the Ministry. I was given my office in the Beehive. And then somebody said to me, “Oh, there’s a space called ‘Parliament’ you have to go to as well”—where they ask you annoying questions and you have to be able to answer them. I said, “Gosh; that seems a bit inconvenient.”—but nevertheless.

So I got my office, and I went into my office on the fifth floor of the Beehive. Remember, I’d come from the private sector, and there was a sort of magnificently large office on the fifth floor of the Beehive. I was thinking to myself, “This looks extravagant.” I thought, “This smells a bit like the public service.” There were these chairs and these couches and this massive boardroom table, and I said to myself, “This is ridiculous. There is absolutely no way one Minister—lowly ranked—needs all this stuff.” Then I had my first officials meeting.

They all came in the door—processed in the door. They all came in, and they sat down around the table, others sat in the chairs, and they stood along the walls, and I realised that I’d entered a particularly different world.

What I did learn quite quickly, though, is that officials have a meeting after the meeting when they go outside and discuss what they think the Minister meant. The good thing about learning that is, until they recognise you, you can sneak out through your senior private secretary’s door and contribute to that discussion: “I think he meant this.”—and people would say, “No, no, no, no.”

I was lucky enough to participate in a huge range of portfolios as a Minister. Building roads was something I enjoyed immensely as Minister of Transport. I know the Greens probably thought that I enjoyed the smell of fresh asphalt in the morning—it’s not completely true. But we did build some wonderful roads linking regional New Zealand with the main centres.

I think of one in particular, which was Waterview, which we inherited. I don’t know whether many people know this; that tunnel was only going to be two lanes in each direction. I looked at that and thought, “Well, I’m no transport engineer, but that feels like it’s going to be out of date pretty quickly.”, and it’s very hard to widen a tunnel. So I said to the officials, “Could you do it three lanes in each direction.”, and they said, “Well, anything’s possible, Minister.” I said, “It also looks too expensive, so is it possible that you could possibly reduce the price of it in the same process”—because three lanes in each direction was $3 billion; two lanes was $2.4 billion. They said, “Well, what do you want, Minister.” I said, “I want about $1 billion off it and I want it a lane wider in each direction.” They reminded me at the opening that that’s exactly what they gave us: $1.4 billion, three lanes in each direction. It was one of my proudest moments as a Minister.

But it was the big projects with the small projects. We did a wonderful one called Matahōrua Gorge, which is on the road between Napier and Gisborne. It’s 214-kilometres long, that road. This was 4.5 kilometres in the middle of it. It was a goat track that was dangerous. We were asked to widen it and completely rearrange the road. I went along to the sod-turning for it and also to the opening. It was one of the most wonderful experiences, because everybody who knew anything about that road had come out: the people that owned the land by the road, the iwi, and the council. They knew all the stories of all the problems that occurred with it, and they were so thrilled that we fixed that road. All we need is another 10 like that between Napier and Gisborne and we’ll be making real progress. So think about that, matua Shane, with your Regional Development (Provincial Growth) Fund.

So I’ve done countless pōwhiri, sod-turnings, and ribbon cuttings. I got a reputation as somebody who prioritised road investment over rail, which my Cabinet colleagues were always amused about, because we spent more on rail than any other Government in the last 50 years. They were critical, because they thought, well, obviously, I wasn’t selling that sufficiently. But, as I used to say at transport conferences, it’s clear that I love rail. I’m so pro-rail that I called by son “Thomas”.

The other big thing I was involved in initially was the ultrafast broadband network. There have been many favourable comparisons between the New Zealand experience and the Australian experience, including from the current Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, who shadowed Stephen Conroy during the setting up of that under the then Labour Government. Not many people know, though, that it was actually Australia that helped us most in our broadband network. They started a year before us, so soon after I got the job I thought, “Well, I’d better head over to the Australia and see what’s going on.” So I went over and met Stephen Conroy in Melbourne as the Minister in charge of their broadband network. I realised quite quickly that he had two problems: he was up against a deadline which he’d set way too early on and he’d, basically, made it that only Telstra could do it. As a result, Telstra just sat there waiting for Stephen Conroy to turn up with a big enough cheque.

So I came back from Australia absolutely determined that ours would be a contest where there are at least two players and we would not have any artificial deadlines. That upset both Bill and the Prime Minister who wanted to say when this thing was going to be started, and I couldn’t tell them, deliberately. But I tell you what: that one trip across the Tasman saved us billions and billions of dollars as a country. I’m absolutely confident about that. And now we have an ultrafast broadband network, fibre to the home to places like Mōkau, Kaitangata, and Naseby. Nobody else in the world has done that—nobody else. Yes; they’ve had fibre to the home, but nobody’s tried to get it to the Nasebys of the world. It’s fantastic.

I’m proud of all the portfolios I’ve been involved with. I’m proud of the science and the tech sector. It’s been one of the biggest thrills of my time in this place: to go around and see some of those amazing tech companies. They’re everywhere. We have hundreds of them, exploiting narrow, deep niches around the world—ADInstruments from Dunedin and Furnware from Hawke’s Bay, who make an ergonomically designed chair for school children which is scientifically proven to stop them fidgeting while they learn. They sell that all over the world. But, of course, the guy who has redefined what is able to be done with technology from a New Zealand base is Peter Beck—it’s great to see Peter here this evening—with Rocket Lab. That is truly amazing, and I know just enough about physics to know how difficult it is to do what Rocket Lab is doing—to actually get projector like that into space.

I remember meeting Peter for the first time, and I wasn’t 100 percent convinced that he would get there. As politicians, we all know that you meet a lot of people with a lot of big plans, and here’s this guy wandering in the door, and he’s going to build rockets and send them into space. I actually think we used to joke about a parliamentarian here who wanted to set up a space industry in New Zealand, and I think possibly John Key replaced him in his electorate. Yet here we were, and I became convinced very quickly that Peter knew what he was doing. Actually, it’s an amazing story, and we haven’t got time to tell tonight, except that Peter came to see me and said, “Look, we’re nearly finished, Minister. Now we just need a regulatory system, and I need it in about six months.” I thought, “Oh, OK, what’s involved there?” He said, “Well, you’ve got to join two or three space treaties, probably pass a law, do a deal with the Americans,” and I thought, “Well, hell, we’d better get on with it.” I want to pay tribute to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) officials, who actually took that thing and absolutely ran with it. We didn’t quite meet Peter’s deadline, but then, neither did he! But we now have a fit for purpose space regulatory system. Again harking back to the Australians, I understand now they’re trying to work out how New Zealand did it in such a short space of time.

I’m looking forward to going finally to Māhia again. I actually was invited to open the rocket launching site in Māhia. It’s about 100 kilometres off the highway. You get about halfway down and you think you’ve gone in the wrong direction. But anyway, I got there. There were hundreds of people there that had come from all over the place to be at the launch, and I was asked to open it. The Māori trust that owned the land had a whole lot of people there, and there were a number of kuia sitting across the front. I wandered over to see them before we started, and I asked one of them, “Well, look, how do you feel about all this happening on your land?” She said, “Well, we’ve been thinking about diversifying out of beef and lamb for a while, but I must admit we hadn’t really thought of rockets.”

I’ve also been involved a lot in regional development, which is the new black, as Shane Jones knows. I will tell you this: most of the regions actually don’t want a huge amount from Wellington. They actually also don’t want to be told too often that they’re struggling by people who never go there. There are a couple that always do it tough, and actually the Far North is one of them. There’s some tough kids up there. One of the programmes we set up was a thing called Growing Regional Opportunities through Work (GROW) Kaikohe. Ben Dalton from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), who I understand is working for Shane now, went up there to run our regional development programme, and he set up GROW Kaikohe. He came back and told us about the great things that were being done with GROW Kaikohe. It’s basically a collection of about a hundred kids from the hardest parts of society—trying to get them into work, and, most importantly, keep them in work, which is actually the hardest part.

So I went to the graduation with Anne Tolley, but not before Ben had told me about this person called Jo who was running the show. Jo was going around and if necessary pulling these kids out of bed, kicking their bums, doing whatever it took to keep them in work through the year that they were involved in this programme. So I got to go and see this in action at the graduation. I met some of the kids, and there are some tough stories there about families that have been on drugs for a long time, families that were tied up in all the gangs, young mums of 16 and 17 with a couple of kids. I mean, these are the hardest edges of society. And I met the employers, who thought they were actually going to take on some people to work, but then realised quite early on that this was actually a community service that they were doing. They had to adjust their expectations, because they actually had to help these kids for six months or more before they actually got them into a situation where they could contribute to the company that they were working with.

And I met Jo, and she is the coolest person. She actually goes around and does exactly that. She’s effectively the wrangler, the mentor, the navigator in these kids’ lives, and she fixes all that up. And I said, “Well, where do you work? Where do you come from?” She’s actually been in a number of organisations—the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), NGOs—but to me the most important thing was that she was Jo, and that she was prepared to do that. So actually we don’t need to come up with hundreds more programmes, or for each politician to rebrand what’s being done, whether it’s in the Far North or Gisborne. We just need to find a hundred Jos. And I don’t care where they work; just find a hundred Jos, and put them with the kids, and let them get on with it.

I was also involved a lot with the tertiary sector—seven years, in fact, as tertiary education Minister, the longest record ever, apparently—and I think we enjoyed each other. The tertiary sector did some amazing things in terms of performance, whether it was in the provider-based area or the work-based area, and the tertiary education system also is involved in a thing called international education, which is hugely important for New Zealand’s future. I’ve had the privilege of going around to various countries and going to alumni functions and meeting some of the kids that have had their New Zealand education—not so young, some of them—and those people are huge ambassadors and advocates for this country. The countries they come from are hugely important for our prosperity for the rest of this century, if not beyond—places like Korea, Japan, China, South-east Asia, Latin America, and continental Europe—and these are the kids that are going to lead that relationship from their end over the next 50 years. I met a guy in Malaysia who was a deputy chief Minister of one of their provinces who came to Lincoln University in the 1970s on the Colombo Plan, and he still prioritises relationships with New Zealand today. So think of this: international education is the Colombo Plan on steroids. It is hugely important for New Zealand.

Of course, there were some non-portfolio things that I did as well. Some that I was handed, like Novopay, I don’t propose to spend a huge amount of time on this evening, but I would encourage you to read the book—the ministerial inquiry into Novopay. Any Minister who’s involved with ICT projects need to go and read that book. It’s well worth reading, because it’s a lesson. And it’s not a political partisan thing, because it went back over two Governments, but it’s a lesson in what not to do in ICT projects in Government.

Every now and then, of course, I’d get asked to stand in for the Prime Minister when it wasn’t possible for him to be somewhere—or he’d made arrangements, perhaps, to be somewhere else. So it was at Waitangi in 2016. I was asked to lead our team. We had the Iwi Chairs Forum at the Copthorne Hotel. It was a beautiful, sunny, peaceful day, and afterwards I wandered out with the team for what was going to be very quiet and low-key interview. There was nobody around—a couple of police officers, a bit of security: not as much as you’d hope for, in the end—and I was chatting away happily when I felt something hit my face. Whatever it was, it then ricocheted on to the TVNZ reporter’s chest, and then ricocheted down to the ground. I still didn’t know what it was, so we all looked down like this together—journalists, Ministers, pretty much everybody, except for Josie Butler. And we looked at it, and I said, “Gosh.” I thought to myself, “Well, what do you say in these situations?” So I said, “Good-oh,” and then I looked at my colleagues and said, “Well, let’s head off, then.”

As we walked away I said to Nathan Guy, standing next to me, under my breath, “Well, do you think the cameras picked that up?” He said, “Yeah, I think so. Keep walking.” I have to say it’s telling that two of my closest colleagues in caucus, Nathan Guy and Louise Upston, both of whom I otherwise admire and enjoy the company of, were flanking me that day, and neither stepped in front of the senior Minister to, as they say, take the bullet. What was left to do except tweet to John Oliver, to get it over with, and then go and open the new Waitangi museum—which is very impressive, by the way, but it didn’t make the news.

Can I say I hugely enjoyed working with and for John Key and Bill English. Everybody knows John was the front man, but he also has a very powerful intellect. He had a great capacity to get to the numb of an issue quickly, and a great ability to make the right decision, and I believe history will judge him very well. Bill was the engine room guy to the last eight years. He’s the quintessential compassionate conservative. We worked together in finance for eight years. He got fond of the idea of him loading the bullets and me firing. He developed almost infinite patience with all his colleagues, including me. He blossomed as leader, and it is one of my greatest regrets that he didn’t get to serve at least a full term as our Prime Minister. He would have been a superb Prime Minister—well, he was. He would have been a superb Prime Minister for longer. They both placed great trust in me, and I hope I successfully repaid that trust.

When John left, I inherited finance. I got the Treasury officials in—we knew each other—and they asked what I wanted to do in the Budget. I said, “Look, very straightforward: big infrastructure package, big public services, and a family incomes package. We’ve got four months; let’s get on with it.” They went, “Aw, Minister,” and I said, “Well, let’s give it a go.” I actually got to know them all very, very well over that period, and I’m very proud of that Budget. My proudest moment as Minister of Finance was watching the coverage on Budget night, and watching the families on TV talk about what that Budget meant for them. I’m proud that this Government that’s in place now picked up most of that—tweaked it a bit to make it look a bit more like their own, but certainly picked up what we did.

My other job—my weekend job, if you will—was as National Party campaign chair. That happened a bit by accident, too. It started off in 2005, when they quite literally couldn’t find anybody else. So I was the campaign chair, and with Don Brash as leader we went from 22 to 39 percent. It was a massive rollercoaster—red-blue billboards, taxathon ads, the Exclusive Brethren, American bagmen, the first online tax calculator—and ultimately it was close but no cigar.

We tried an interesting technique in that campaign: running our own positive and negative campaign, so as not to give Labour a look-in. We would do all the positive side, and then we’d attack ourselves! I think of a particular example—because there were many, and I was trying to work out which one was safe to say. We were in Hawke’s Bay. Don was doing this very impressive piece about our economic story and what we were going to do, and it had been set up for months in advance. Meanwhile in Tauranga our candidate, subsequent MP Bob Clarkson, was having some difficulties with the media. So we sent Tony Ryall, experienced MP, back to Tauranga to sit with Bob and help Bob with his interview, which was good, until Bob decided he had to stand up and rearrange himself in front of the camera. He actually declared, “Oh, look, I’ve just got to rearrange myself a bit here.”, and then he went outside, and Tony Ryall put his head in his hands on nationwide television. The media, of course, went to Don for his comments on this, and Don, bless his heart, was a master of the six-second soundbite—just not the one you want. He said, “Eh, I don’t think any of my candidates should be adjusting their testicles on national television.”, and that was that day!

So, weirdly, since 2005 I’ve chaired four more national campaigns. We’ve had “Choosing a brighter future”, “Building a brighter future”, “Working for New Zealand”, and “Delivering for New Zealanders”. We’ve had stop-go signs, rowers, “Laboureens”, teapot tapes, the moment of truth—or strewth—show me the money, dirty politics, runners, a few soundtracks, and the H-fee. Still, we had a reasonable run. The last four party vote results were the highest four party vote percentages that any New Zealand party has had so far in MMP.

I’ve had an amazing campaign team around me for all five elections. I can’t name them all, but I want to name Jo de Joux—unflappable Jo, absolutely crucial in all of them—Wayne Eagleson and Mark Textor; Murray McCully, in the early years, before he became a full-time gin sucker; two presidents, Judy Kirk and then Peter Goodfellow; the party board; the tireless Greg Hamilton; the senior leadership team; the MPs, the candidates, and the volunteers—just an amazing machine. There was never a plan to chair five election campaigns; I just kept being asked back, and today I’m hoping that we fix that, finally. We have a good team, though. I want to acknowledge Simon and Paula. They’ve already hit the ground running. We have a lot of strong campaigners coming through, both in the party and here in the Parliament. I’m confident that this party will acquit itself incredibly well in 2020, and, in my view, you will need to, because your country will need you.

There are a lot more people I would like to thank. I’d like to thank my political advisors over the years—in particular, Sir Kenneth Clark, Andrew Falloon, Chris Bishop, and Jo de Joux—two of them now MPs. I want to thank my media staff: Simon, Charlotte, Serene, Rachel—and Anita, who memorably left me after 3 years, cheerfully telling me as she left that she wanted to get out before it all turned to crap—slightly early, Ferg.

I particularly want to single out Anna Lillis, who has doubled as both senior press secretary and political advisor for so long. Thanks, Anna, for your wise and steadying counsel. I want to thank my Senior Private Secretaries—in particular, Kathleen Lambert. Many people in this building will know Kathleen, who house-trained me over the first six years of my time as a Minister. Kathleen was and is an absolute machine. She is famous for her Tim Tam Tuesdays and her millions, literally millions, of post-it notes.

I could tell you a brief story: when I was offshore with Prime Minister John Key in China we were doing these big food and beverage dinners, which profiled New Zealand food and beverage to Chinese media, Chinese officials, Chinese businesses, and so on, and these were massive meals. I went along to the first one in Shanghai, and they had all this wonderful New Zealand produce. They started with salmon, as they often did, because we have wonderful New Zealand salmon. So we were all looking out and they were bringing out all the salmon, and I was thinking oh, this will be nice. This person came up to me and said, “Don’t worry about the salmon, Minister. You don’t have to eat it. It’s fine. We’ve got you something else.” I said, “Well, this is a bit weird. I quite like salmon. I don’t often get to eat it. I quite like the salmon.” “No, no, Minister you don’t have salmon.” So I said, “OK. Fine—I think.”

They brought me out a menu and a nice fresh green salad, and that was fine. I thought nothing more of it until we arrived at the next place on the tour and again it happened. And I said, “No, no, I really want the salmon.” I thought well, I’ll just give it a bit of a go, and they said, “No, no, Minister, you can’t have the salmon. Everybody else can have the salmon, but you can’t, because you don’t eat salmon.” But I’m saying no, I do. I really do. I eat salmon. I’m happy to eat salmon. Give me some salmon. No, Minister. I thought well, I’d better not make an international incident of it. I’ll just you know calmly—. Then we get to Beijing and it happened again, and it actually happened from then on. Whenever I went offshore and they were serving New Zealand salmon, for some reason I was always told I couldn’t have the salmon, and I didn’t know why.

I asked the officials and nobody knew, but obviously somebody had ticked the box at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) and said, “This guy when he goes overseas—whatever you do don’t give him salmon.” So I was telling the story in my office one day—a little bit later, sitting in my office—and Kathleen Lambert pricked her ears up, and she said, “Oh, I know why that is.” I said, “Why’s that?” She said, “We were having dinner in your office one night and you asked me what the fish of the day was and I said the salmon and you screwed up your nose at it, so I made a note: doesn’t eat salmon.”, and told MFAT accordingly.

I want to acknowledge my bench mate, Gerry Brownlee. We’ve been together, big guy, for six years. He’s a marvellous politician and a marvellous individual, and I’ve enjoyed working with him immensely, including through Christchurch, where he did the most amazing things, and I think history will record that very positively. I want to acknowledge all the officials that I’ve worked with, and I want to acknowledge Mike Hosking and Annette King, my compatriots in radio. We had a wonderful nine years—longest radio show I’ve ever done; notwithstanding I owned the company at one point—not that one. I want to thank the public of New Zealand. I’ve been humbled to have countless people come up to me on the streets, since I’ve retired, in pubs and in shops around New Zealand in the last couple of weeks and thank me for my service. It’s been very humbling. You are the reason I’ve been here, and the reason it’s actually quite hard to leave.

I want to thank my family, my parents Peter and Lorna, who can’t be here because Mum’s just got out of hospital. I want to thank Diane, my brothers Kevin, Rodney, and Brendan, who hopefully will no longer have to put up with being mistaken for me at the pub by people who are determined to tell me what I should be doing now. I want to thank my wife Suzanne for her unfailing support and confidence in me coming here, in being here, and confidence in my decision to leave here, and her willingness to shoulder all the responsibility in our family for so long.

I have two children: Thomas and Amelia. Amelia’s here today. They have known nothing about me except that I’ve been a Minister for their entire lives, which is strange, because I see myself as quite short term in politics. They know me as leaving at 5.20 every Monday morning before they wake up and coming back Thursday night after they’ve gone to sleep, or on Friday or on Saturday. Then on Saturday and Sunday afternoon, they were used to me sequestering myself outside and reading papers for four or five hours each afternoon at the weekend.

I have to confess that I’ve often worried about the example that I’ve been setting them. Of course parents travel for work. It’s just the relentless nature of the ministerial job, day and day out for years on end, and in my case nine. Then there were the particularly arduous times. During one such time in 2011, my then four-year-old daughter—there were friends around at the house and she wandered up to the TV and I had a video of the Rena on, and she turned around to everybody and said, “That’s where my daddy lives.” Tommy doesn’t say anything, literally. He’s what they call non-verbally autistic. He is 8 years old, doesn’t have any vocabulary at all, but I know he likes having his dad around. He tells me with this laugh and with his eyes, and now he’s going to have dad around some more.

We adults know that kids can be great observes and great levellers. When Amelia was four or five the teachers at her school asked her to tell them what her daddy did. “My daddy works at the Beehive,” she said confidently. “Fair enough,” said the teacher “And what does daddy do at the Beehive?” Amelia thought about it for a minute and then said, He does drawings, he drinks water, and he goes to the toilet.”—which seems like a reasonable summary to me. But not anymore, sweetheart. Not anymore.

Thank you very much everybody for being great to work with. Cheers.

 


%d bloggers like this: