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Anderton – Valedictory speech in Parliament

Speech – Hon Jim Anderton

Unlike some other MPs I’ve heard say that from the age of 14 years they wanted to be Prime Minister, I never had any ambition to be a member of parliament. My early ambition was to be a New Zealand Cricketer, or an All Black.

Anderton – Valedictory speech in Parliament

Unlike some other MPs I’ve heard say that from the age of 14 years they wanted to be Prime Minister, I never had any ambition to be a member of parliament. My early ambition was to be a New Zealand Cricketer, or an All Black.

And with Dan Carter out, if Graham Henry is still looking for depth at first five….I am happy to pick up the phone! But I am not holding my breath!

So I didn’t have a searing ambition to be a politician.

That might have been because I went to a school called Seddon Tech, a school, in those days, looking back now, for street kids, of whom not much was expected. But educational planners were wrong to set their sights so low for us, and some of our best teachers didn’t.

One of my classmates was Bruce McLaren, a polio victim who at 15 years of age was building a racing car in the school’s engineering workshop, and went on to win the NZ Grand Prix – although not in that car.

Today, his McLaren brand is still winning Grand Prix races over forty years after he was killed in practice in the UK at the age of 32.

I gained confidence from kids around me like Bruce who showed that we could be anything and do anything we wanted to be or do. So I grew up with the conviction that one person could make a difference.

As Irish statesman Edmund Burke once observed, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

Growing up in poorer, working class suburbs of Auckland, I noticed power pylons were in Mangere, Otahuhu and Mt Roskill, not Remuera or Epsom. The sewage treatment plant was in Mangere, off Puketutu Island in the Manukau Harbour, not on Brown’s Island off St Heliers or Mission Bay beaches and the Waitemata Harbour where it was originally planned to be.

There were no Maori in the All Black teams to South Africa. The proliferation of nuclear weapons, and New Zealand’s involvement in wars that were clearly not ours and in addition were, in the case of Vietnam, irrational in the context of the history of that country, yet were all considered, New Zealand government, policies.

My own philosophic development through this period was heavily influenced by my conversion to Catholicism as a teenager, and a resulting commitment to Christian teachings in support of social and economic justice.

So I joined the Mangere Bridge branch of the Labour Party and they made me Vice-President at the first meeting I went to. The following week I went to my first meeting of the Manukau Labour Electorate Committee and they made me president. I began to wonder at that rate whether I would end up in Wellington as leader of the party by the end of the next week.

At the tender age of 27, I stood for and was elected to, the Manukau City Council, together with my socialist colleague Roger Douglas. And we set about the public purchase of large tracts of land on which to develop our new city. The idea of selling public assets never occurred to either of us! We made use of the libraries and swimming pools free of charge. And later I was elected to the Auckland City Council, the Auckland Regional Authority, and then President of the NZ Labour Party.

To the extreme annoyance of many politicians on all sides of politics, Time magazine, completely out of left field, selected me as ‘a New Zealand leader of the future’.

I worked with Norman Kirk, who was the greatest political orator I ever heard, and later Bill Rowling, when I was President of the NZLP. Bill was the most under-rated politician I have ever known and one of the grittiest and courageous politicians I ever met.

I remember Bill and I looking at grim polling news over a beer in the lounge of his Leader’s office, in 1981, and it indicated that if trends continued then on election day Labour would get no votes whatever!

We actually went on to win more votes than the Muldoon-led National Party – but still lost – an early cause of the electoral dissatisfaction that led to the change to MMP.

My message to Phil Goff is to ‘hang in there’ – elections are not over till they are over! To beat the National Party of the day, we had to catch and roll over the much vaunted political machine of Sir George Chapman, then the highly effective National Party President – and we did! By 1984 Labour had more than 100,000 party members.

The year before, I moved from the city of my birth, Auckland, to my adopted city of Christchurch. The people of Sydenham, and now Wigram, have been both loyal and generous to me, through four political parties, which must be some kind of record – and nine consecutive general elections.

And the greatest satisfaction I’ve had in politics is to be able to have helped thousands of individuals and hundreds of communities in ways almost no other occupation can make possible.

But it gave me no satisfaction at all to see that the government we had all worked so hard to elect in 1984, sheet inequality into New Zealand, through huge tax cuts for the rich, GST for everyone, and the most regressive financial shift in income and wealth inequality in New Zealand history.

The gap between rich and poor widened by 127% (or 14 % per year) between 1984–90 and New Zealand has never recovered from that enormous chasm. GDP between 1984 and 1993 grew by only ½% per year – while the world economy was growing rapidly. Compare this to the Clark-led government of 1999 – 2008 where, in real terms, NZ’s GDP grew by 36% – an average of 4% per year or 8 times more growth.

Social policy should always accompany economic policy, but it was never taken into account while immense social damage was done to New Zealand in the eighties and early nineties. No one says change wasn’t necessary, but the scale, timing and impact of change were borne largely by poorer New Zealanders.

And while we made some considerable difference between 1999 and 2008, we are still dealing with child poverty, the decline in core services like education, health care and housing, and with radical inequality.

According to OECD figures, poverty in New Zealand is highest among children – around 15 per cent of them. None of us here can be proud of that. The top ten per cent of households own 500 times more than the bottom ten per cent. The kind of society our ancestors left in droves.

Inequality affects everything about our lives, it is unfair, and it is avoidable. That’s why I left Labour in 1989 to form the NewLabour Party.

I genuinely thought at the time (along with most commentators), that I was heading for political oblivion. Quite a few members of parliament at the time assured me with some enthusiasm that I was.

When I stood in the 1990 election as the NewLabour candidate for Sydenham, many thought they were going to see the back of me. Yet the only MPs from that parliament who are still here are Phil Goff, Annette King, Mr Speaker, Trevor Mallard, and Ross Robertson and Peter Dunne.

So the lesson from that is that even certain demise sometimes gets delayed, and voters appreciate political principle as well as pragmatic self-interest.

It really is worth sticking up for what you believe.

The promises broken by successive governments, both National and Labour from 1984 to 1993 led to the dramatic changes which have taken place in parliament under MMP.

I remember 93 per cent of the population was against the sale of Telecom, and Richard Prebble told parliament at the time that: “New Zealand is lucky to have a government of such courage that it would stand up to a lobby group like that.”

It was no wonder that people rebelled against an electoral system that delivered such outcomes, and in choosing MMP they made the right decision. Between 1853 and 1984 there were 1102 MPs elected to the NZ House of Representatives. Only 25 of them were women.

Currently there are 38 women in this parliament, – more than were elected in a total of 131 years and there are also more Maori, as well as Asian, and Pacific MPs. Parliament now, is more like New Zealand now.

So MMP was the right choice for New Zealand.

I have no doubt that I also made the right decision in joining with others to form NewLabour when I did, then taking it into the Alliance with other parties, and later, when the Alliance was set to become a threat to an enlightened government rather than a supporter of it, forming the Progressives as a coalition partner for Labour.

I have no regrets about any of that. Under the same circumstances I would do exactly the same again.

There was no point being part of a party when I couldn’t, in all honesty, ask my constituents at that time to vote for it. And there is no point in asking your constituents for their vote if you don’t intend to take on the opportunity and responsibility of being in government, regardless of the risk of doing so to smaller parties. Because only by sitting around the Cabinet Table helping to make the decisions can you make the greatest contribution to the well-being of those you claim to represent.

That’s why I rejected the idea that we could ask people to vote for us to go into Opposition. As I have said often, one bad day in Government is better than a thousand good days in Opposition.

I’m proud of the difference I tried to make in government. I pay tribute to Helen Clark, who had the clearest and most insightful understanding of anyone I have ever worked with in politics, and to the positive difference the government she led made to New Zealand.

As Minister of Economic, Industry and Regional Development I oversaw 23 consecutive quarters of positive growth in every region of New Zealand, while unemployment fell to record low levels.

Put that against the record of previous governments, and in particular the performance of our economy after it was restructured in the 1980s.

New Zealand went into recession in 1987 and our economy wasn’t as big again as it was in that year until 1993. Six lost years. And yet between 1999 and 2008, it grew in real terms by 36 per cent.

Incidentally, our economy is still smaller in 2011 than it was in 2008, which shows how the entire country loses out when inequality grows.

My term as Minister of Agriculture as well as Minister of Economic Development demonstrated over and over again how the real strength of the New Zealand economy lies in innovation. We should constantly be celebrating our culture of success.

Ernest Rutherford once said “New Zealand doesn’t have much money so we have to think.”

And our core industries – sectors like agriculture, horticulture, forestry and fishing are, contrary to urban mythology, all hi-tech, science-based industries. Disciplines like soil science, animal husbandry, pasture science, marine biology, food production and processing science are all knowledge-rich, innovative and positive contributors to our national wealth.

Our food production ability and potential has never been more economically significant for New Zealand than it is today. Countries in our economic zone like India – population 1100 million, growing by 22 million every year, and China – 1400 million and growing are the dynamic economic power houses of this century and we are on the ground floor, ready to grow with them.

Because these industries are so important to us, it’s important that we get them right – that we keep investing in innovation and research, and that we make sure they are sustainable industries and we extract high value from them.

I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to my wife, Carole, who has stood with me through 27 tumultuous years, and to my family and extended family, who know how much time, energy and cost all this has taken and caused.

My extraordinary long serving electorate staff, who started this journey with me in 1983 and are still with me – Jeanette Lawrence, Liz Maunsell, Shona Richards, Marty Braithwaite and dozens of volunteers who help 1500 constituents every year.

My parliamentary staff, who have worked tirelessly and well beyond what could reasonably have been expected – Sally Griffin, David Cuthbert, John Pagani and Tony Simpson, you have all been valued colleagues.

To Parliamentary staff, the Speakers and the Clerk’s Offices, VIP drivers, and messengers, my thanks for years of unfailing courtesy and assistance. And my former NewLabour, Alliance and Progressive Party colleagues who are present in parliament today: My grateful thanks for your invaluable contribution throughout what has been a remarkable journey: Sandra Lee, Matt Robson, John Wright, Grant Gillon – not to mention Reg Boorman, my former Labour colleague, whom I once had to persuade not to engage in fisticuffs with Richard Prebble at a particularly robust meeting of the Labour Party caucus in the Rogernomics era.

Also my Labour Party colleagues, particularly Phil Goff and Annette King. We have been on a long journey together but, at the end, are now on the same side again. We have KiwiBank and Air NZ to remind us that publicly owned assets can be run successfully in the interests of all New Zealanders.

And as far as KiwiBank is concerned, I will always remember Annette’s contribution at a final Cabinet Policy Committee meeting after months of exhaustive advocacy by me of the NZ Post’s business case for the Bank – having to knock down every objection one by one. Annette turned to Michael Cullen and said these immortal words: “Michael, he’s beaten back every argument against the bank we’ve ever put up – for God’s sake give him the bloody bank! And in equally immortal words, Michael Cullen replied: “Oh, all right then”! And finally, I want to mention two areas that have been central concerns for me, where I hope that work will continue into the future:

Suicide prevention, and prevention of drug and alcohol abuse. These areas are sometimes sidelined because they are complex and hard to solve. Progress is frustrating. And yet they are indicators of a community that, to the extent that it does not address the needs of some of our most vulnerable citizens nor has the will to make necessary changes, fails in its responsibility to care for all of our citizens.

To those critics who constantly belittle and cynically demean political participation and representation in parliament, I can do no better than quote the words of former United States President, Teddy Roosevelt, who said, in a speech on ‘citizenship’:

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who knows at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall not be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

My next task now is to do what I can to help my adopted, beleaguered and loved city of Christchurch to recover from the disaster by which it has been struck. It’s been a privilege to serve in this House, and I want to end by again thanking my constituents for the once in a lifetime opportunity to do so.


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