Bomber contacted me to invite me to write this end of year blog, reflecting on the last year and what did I think the main challenges would be for 2018.
So here I sit, with my completed four hours of Cabinet paper and briefing reading at my feet (one of the major changes in my world recently), hoping my memory will serve me well for the last 12 months.
Firstly I want to say that I enjoyed being an opposition MP. When I first got that job in 2011 some senior members of the National Government told me (nicely) that there was no point being here if you weren’t in Government. Well I didn’t agree with them then and I don’t agree with them now but I do see the difference.
So coming back to Parliament at the beginning of 2017 and getting stuck back in to being an Opposition MP was welcomed. Sure there were frustrations but I have a very practical personality so during the six years I spent on the opposition benches I have worked as collegially as I could with colleagues from all political parties. When New Zealand First returned in 2014 we set up a different way of working, we created hubs with an experience MP partnered with a new MP, a shared EA and a shared Researcher/Comms. I allocated myself Fletcher Tabuteau and our little team of four was a constant source of support and inspiration. There are always tough moments in this job and often they come when you are away from your usual support networks so having our “hub” made an enormous difference to both Fletcher and I. We were better MPs for it.
Then came August. Gosh that seems such a long time ago now. A few of us were rostered around to spend time on “the bus” touring New Zealand. Winston loves that sort of campaigning, he loves spending time with “real people”, outside the beltway. Those of us, when not rostered on, held the fort here in Parliament. The house rose and it was all on.
For weeks of the campaign New Zealand First was pulling very close to challenging the spot to be the second biggest party in the Parliament, it was well within sight. But then Andrew Little made a decision that changed everything and he deserves to be acknowledged for it. Not only did it change the face of their campaign, it changed the reporting of the election, it changed the voting patterns of Kiwis. Media reverted to First Past the Post style reporting and voters who might have previously split their vote (both to the Left and the Right) now gave their two ticks to their historical home. New Zealand First had to adapt as well.
We did adapt and came in, not where we had expected but holding the balance of responsibility. And only 7.2% of that balance. Now in the circumstances that 7.2% was worth more than its face value but as Winston has gone on record to say, we couldn’t be irresponsible with it either and hold the country to ransom.
We waited for the massive number of special votes to be counted. We set the ground rules with both National (we kept our word and talked with them first) and Labour on the Friday before the specials were announced. Confidentiality – both on our part and theirs – there would be no Dutch auction and policy would be key.
The 12 days of discussions with both of those parties were some of the most intense I have ever experienced. We, New Zealand First caucus, had all discussed prior to the talks starting that any historical grievances or pre conceived ideas had to be put to one side. We were talking policy and about our countries future, no petty politics could get in the way of our decision making. As one of the key players during those talks I know we kept this high standard, we never let it slip and I am proud of that, I always will be.
Then came the announcement. We picked change, we picked the Party with whom we had the greatest policy alignment. We didn’t get everything we wanted – you never do – but that doesn’t mean they are no longer our policies, it just means that in 2020 we will campaign again and ask New Zealand to give us a greater mandate.
In the last 7 weeks I have had to absorb millions of words. As the Minister for Children, Minister for Internal Affairs, Minister for Seniors and Associate Minister for Education. I am on the Cabinet Business Committee and the Cabinet Legislation Committee. I am in Cabinet. With our coalition partners I have worked on the “One Year Fees Free” Tertiary Policy, the Families Package Policy and am working on the recommendations around the Inquiry into Historical Abuse in State Care. I have implemented communication channels with the Government’s supply and confidence partners, the Green Party and have been New Zealand First’s spokesperson on a piece of legislation from the ACT Party.
I will confess I am hanging out for Chistmas Day. I have promised my husband and children I will turn my phone off.
What will 2018 bring? More of the same. There is so much to do and so little time, and what we do must be done well not just in haste. Our challenges are many. We have discovered large holes where there is no funding allocated to provide services required or announcements made by the previous government. Particularly in my role as Minister for Children and Associate Education with responsibility for those students with special needs. The care needed is so great yet no real budget was set. So that is a challenge but I believe we are up to it.
I live in a very blue part of New Zealand but even there people have been coming up to me, people I know who vote blue, to say that they feel hopeful about this new Government. I am glad, I am proud but I am also very aware that over the next few years we must deliver for New Zealand and New Zealanders. That is our biggest challenge and we accept it.