It has been a privilege to be an MP representing the people of Tauranga for several terms, to have been a committee chair, a senior Minister, a senior spokesman and an opposition leader.
There have been highs and lows – and even the lows have provided good material I wouldn’t want to be without. Look out for National Identity II a couple of months before the next election in all quality book stores near you.
I’ve enjoyed helping people with complex problems from surrogacy issues to acute health conditions to injustices over housing, ACC, and much more. I still feel humbled when I meet parents and their children, or people who’ve won against the odds in getting the treatment they deserve for their rare disease, because of my team and I.
I’ve enjoyed meeting with local businesses, churches, community outreaches and clubs. I remember running late for a meeting at the Men’s Shed, on 17th Avenue, Tauranga a while back. I raced in and asked all the older men to come together from building wooden toys, desks, bookshelves and bird boxes for others. They did so and then got out their packed lunches and I ate some of what they had brought while I also gave a little speech about Tauranga and the value of community. They were polite but it was all a bit odd. Then my phone went and Maree wanted to know why I wasn’t at the opening of the Men’s shelter – not – the – Men’s – Shed. You live and learn.
I’ve also enjoyed being involved in doing real stuff; building dams, geothermal plants, roads, train stations, UFB, electric charging networks, and much more. Leadership on all these things mattered but the workers and designers are of much greater value than the ribbon cutter at the start or end of it all.
And I’ve enjoyed the people – and the drama. Those who’ve been grateful, even those who’ve been hateful (at least they felt something about me and politics), the times of tension from revealing Grant’s “leaked” Budget, to “trainwreck” media interviews whether with John Campbell or Susie Ferguson or others where the commentariat have confidently pronounced my career over many a time.
Many – a – time!
Well now it is, on my – actually probably Natalie’s, Emlyn, Harry and Jemima’s – terms.
This won’t be the longest valedictory. The really good stuff as I say is for the next book.
I do though want to offer some gratuitous advice. 14 points for the 14 years I’ve spent in this place. A series of “and another thing”s I feel at some level I have the right to proffer.
- To new MPs, don’t breath through your nose or whatever it is Holyoake is reported to have said. I reckon the motto of the bad guy in the Highlander movie is much better when he said, “excuse me I’ve got something to say, it’s better to burn out than to fade away.” Maybe that’s partly why I am going when I am.
- And again to new MPs, don’t let anything ruin your sleep. It’s the most important thing and nothing is worth it. The worst you worry about happening rarely does and when it does occasionally who cares anyway, you’ll be fine. Many believe conspiracy theories and not what really happens these days – we can’t remotely control that – so they’ll probably think it’s all some elaborate hoax and not true anyway.
And perspective is really important. As Natalie likes to tell me, “Get a grip, get over yourself, your country is smaller than Sydney and no one knows where it is. Look at all the crazy shit Boris has gotten away with and he’s still PM.”
Like I say, who cares, you’ll be fine.
- To more senior MPs I make this plea, please, please, let’s not be quite so poll and focus group driven. They will make you nice, and beige, and timid. In short, wishy washy.
And as small as our remote little country is, it’s 5 million people, 26 million sheep, 10 million Cows, and 100 million or so native birds, deserve better. You were elected for your values, principles, character and judgement. And to be bold in pursuit of them.
If the people wanted a robot, these days they could probably buy one on the internet. As I think John Howard once told me, good policy is almost always good politics, in the end. And as maybe David Farrar or some other pollster told me, polls and focus groups don’t, or at least shouldn’t, tell you what to do. They should only ever be an aid, helping you to decide how to get to where you think is right. Let’s more often do what we think is right, and lead the polls and the people to where they should go for New Zealand not follow them to a place where the breadth of opinions, those we vocalise anyway, in this House and the Press Gallery, become narrower and narrower, beiger and beiger. Nice Beigeland rather than New Zealand. No way.
- Relatedly, let’s have less small target, short term political tactics and more large, long term strategies please. Big bold battles of ideas’ won’t hurt us. And the alternative, as we are seeing in Australia right now, is contests fought just on personality and “competence” and is truly depressing. If that’s all this place is about, what’s the point. Play your politics in opposition timid and you’ll necessarily govern timid as well. BE BOLD.
- That leads well to one more related point. Independent thought and differences of opinion are actually good. I’ve sometimes thought there are two perfect political jobs in the world. That of a backbench MP in the UK. There are hundreds of them, mostly with no chance of ever being a Minister let alone PM, and so you know what they do. They speak their minds freely and cast their vote freely. They aren’t nice and beige and timid. The other is in the United States Senate, where again somehow the whip is more relaxed. So they also don’t just believe in free speech – they even practice and vote on it.
- This point about independent thinking by the way also applies to the press. I love you all – and Claire Trevett you’re my favourite (although your story this last weekend certainly tested that favouritism). I do however despair how narrow the viewpoints are as opposed to in the UK, the United States, and even Australia. More viewpoints are tolerated, actually encouraged in their deeper media environments. Our press gallery can hunt as a pack. Ok then there is Barry. But basically as a pack. And I say to you, if every one of you has the same basic position on a complex matter, you are probably all engaged in group think and quite probably wrong. Go spend some time in the provinces or one of our bigger cities that’s not this one to recalibrate and get a fresh view.
- While I am at it on my friends in the Press Gallery, your most important job is to hold the powerful to account and let me give you a clue it’s the government that has the power. Yes, the National Party has been relatively newsworthy in recent times and you do tend to get better at that the longer parties are in government. But if the government of the time is giving you your best talking points every single day you come to this place, maybe you’ve got the balance wrong. And by the way if they are good enough they’ll more than withstand the pressure – if they are not they will fall over time by the wayside. Just something to think about on your wander home this evening.
- “Experts” don’t know everything when it comes to matters we must decide in government and politics. Yes in many, maybe even most fields, experts can offer valuable – sometimes crucial – assistance. But it is entirely wrong to think there is a podium of truth, some voices whose words are the definitive answer. We did away with that religious certainty centuries ago. I think they called it the Enlightenment. Politicians’ – and journalists’ job I might add – isn’t to slavishly follow experts. That is an abdication of our responsibility as elected officials, elected to weigh, and as I have said bring our values and principles to bear on the issue at play. Nothing in politics and government comes down to “the science says this”. There are always wider social, economic and normative implications as well which we have a duty to have an opinion and decide on.
- To MPs on select committees, less time arguing about where the comma goes in a report (no one will read) please. And more time debating from your principles and values for your electorates and communities.
- While on Parliament, both in terms of this House and its committees, I’ve already been a bit mean about the wishy washiness, the beigeness, descending on politics. Its right to say it hasn’t always been so either in terms of the substance of the debate or the characterfulness of how it was put across. When I first arrived there were still Clarks and Cullens, and Hides and Peters as well as a host of others – including you Mr Speaker – prepared to get up and go at it. I didn’t always agree with what was said, sometimes MPs went too far, but they were bold and without fear or favour. They’d send shivers down my spine. Today I fear they’d be cancelled.
The reasons for our ever growing tepidness are many from MMP to the mainstream and social media environments but some of your efforts Mr Speaker to turn this place into more of a school library than a debating chamber respectfully haven’t helped.
My view is that over centuries, parliaments that are in the same tradition as ours among the roles they’ve fulfilled, such as the development of policy and laws, have also played some very primal ones that are still important such as saying what needs to be said, or maybe what doesn’t but that lets off society’s steam like a pressure valve at a difficult or delicate time. The jaw jaw, even if sometimes a bit hee-haw hee-haw in here, is better than war war out there – and we have sadly seen a little of that very recently. We overly sanitise this place at our, and more importantly society’s, peril.
- I’ve come to realise, I admit too late, that Parliamentary reform to strengthen it against the Executive is important. I say too late because the tragedy is that while in government most including me don’t reform this place because its suits our interests at the time. That was true for the last National government and respectfully probably is for this Labour one too. I in truth don’t know exactly what the reforms should look like but when select committees are in essence majority rubber stamps for government where everything anyone outside of the government of the day says is voted down, it’s a bit hard to say they aren’t more Executive than Parliament led. Likewise, regarding the role of the Speaker which is so important to the tone and function of this place. I don’t see it as a panacea but a secret ballot for Speaker as happens in most other similar parliaments today could help wrest things away from the government of the day.
- In regard to the National Party that I will have been a member of for thirty years this year, caucus colleagues – senior ones – would be wise to remember one very important thing. As a party that believes it represents our entire nation, as is often said, National is and must be a very broad church of urban, provincial and rural, of liberal, centrist and conservative. We must be scrupulous to allow all these views through without too much control, let alone censorship and seek to keep the balance, the peace, amongst all those values and interests without letting one dominate the other. Despite what is sometimes said, I took great pains to ensure this while I was leader and future leaders must continue to do so also. Give primacy to too narrow a spectrum through a belief that the prevailing views in central Wellington and Auckland make up New Zealand, and National will over time cease to be the strongest, most representative political movement we have.
- They say politics is Hollywood for ugly people. And its true politics has at some level an attention getting, personality factor to it. David Seymour wasn’t on Dancing with the Stars for his great rhythm and sway, and I wasn’t on Celebrity Bake Off for my baking skills. It’s far from all glamour and glitz, however, and I do think politics is getting harder.
- John Key got rid of our “perks” and maybe he was somewhat right to, but let’s be clear that, while it’s not why I am leaving, this job done well is tough and not actually that well remunerated for what it entails. So on MP’s pay let’s all remember that we need the highest quality people here, not just the very wealthy for whom money doesn’t matter or those naïve enough to enter and crazy enough to stay in the game no matter what.
Mr Speaker, I don’t want to sound so negative. It’s been great. While there have been lows there have also been highs and it’s the little things that make it all worth it. Like an email I received after my lonely vote just weeks ago on the conversion therapy bill.
I have always thought you are one of the worst and most hopeless MPs in Parliament but I do want to thank you for voting no on the conversion practices vote. For once in your career you got it right.
High praise and Like I say, it’s the little things that make it all worth it.
I couldn’t have done this time in Parliament without the special people who’ve helped so much. It’s dangerous to name names but I want to acknowledge my Tauranga staff over the years, Glenn Harris, Maree Brookes (the real MP for Tauranga), Sonia Hoyes, Electorate chairs the late Phil Simpson, Ron Scott, Rosemary Turner Waugh, and then Andrew von Dadelszen, Sir Paul and Cheryl Adams and many others, my key staff over the years in Wellington – too many amazing people to name – but I think of Cameron Oldfield, Jeanine Begg, Lucy Paul, Jamie Gray, Vanessa Rawson, Michael Fox, Kristy Martin, Stephanie Edridge, Rachel Morton, Mac Mckenna, Liam Kernaghan and Finn Stitchbury.
To everyone named and unnamed thank you.
Of course I thank my family. My mum, Ruth Bridges, my in-laws, Tom and Alicia, my many siblings, and most of all Natalie, Emlyn, Harry and Jemima. I’ve spent as much time away as at home over the years and oftentimes glued to a phone or to some other “very important” work. I hope now I am home more often you don’t get sick of me.
I am proud of my whakapapa and proud to be the first Maori New Zealander to lead one of the big two parties (sorry, Winston). People sometimes can’t understand my conviction and conservative politics and how I reconcile it with my forebears and the prevailing views in Maori politics today. But the reason I have been and continue to oppose policies like separate Maori Wards, health authorities and the like is because while I deeply understand our country has a way to go on race, personally I don’t want to be treated differently on the basis of it. I don’t want special help because I am not a victim, I am good enough in any room, whether this big one, our Cabinet, or commercial boardrooms in the future. So are all Maori.
I accept as a conservative, conviction politician, I am somewhat out of favour these days. A young fogie maybe. But politics ebbs and flows and as with other things, maybe views like mine will move back into vogue one day.
Conservativism to me is simply an instinct or disposition. While we shouldn’t be reactionary to changing times, we should carefully weigh the transaction costs of change. Like GK Chesterton said, there is usually a reason for the fence, and so before we tear it down we want to think things through carefully.
I didn’t read other people’s valedictory’s before preparing these remarks – you can probably tell. The only thing I read in advance was my maiden speech from 2008. I liked it. It was a pretty good speech, that may age better than this one. In it, I finished with something Tony Blair said in his valedictory to the House of Commons and seeings as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern worked for him and my boss for another day or two Chris Luxon likes his third way I thought I’d quote it again:
“to all my colleagues from different political parties. Some may belittle politics but we who are engaged in it know that it is where people stand tall. Although I know it has many harsh contentions, it is still the arena that sets the heart beating a little faster. If it is, on occasions, the place of low skulduggery, it is more often the place for the pursuit of noble causes.”
To those who stay here, as I move on, know yes I’ve seen the skulduggery but more often the noble causes, and I will continue watching because I know that what you do matters, I see you standing tall, I recognise your nobility.
Keep firm hold of the baton I now let go from my grip. And run boldly and hard.