Speech – New Zealand Labour Party
Mr Speaker, this will be the last speech I give in this House and I would like to start by acknowledging Pete Hodgson and Jim Anderton, who are also giving their valedictory speeches today. They have both made a tremendous contribution to our Parliament and … Lynne PILLAY Labour List MP
Valedictory speech Embargoed until delivery
5:15pm Tuesday 4 October 2011
Mr Speaker, this will be the last speech I give in this House and I would like to start by acknowledging Pete Hodgson and Jim Anderton, who are also giving their valedictory speeches today. They have both made a tremendous contribution to our Parliament and to our country. Their combined service adds up to 48 years. I am very happy to be saying farewell along with them today. I have had some good advice that a Valedictory Speech should be dignified and not churlish, and I will do my best to meet that standard. However, there are some things I really want to say, so if I offend anyone in the House today, I apologise in advance.
It is often said that there are no friends in politics. Mr Speaker, that has not been my experience. I have made some wonderful friends, and not only in the Labour Party. Of course, I have made a few enemies too. In the interests of dignity, I won’t mention their names, and I remain hopeful that they won’t mention my name either. I first stood for Parliament in 1999 because I was committed to improving the rights of working people. That was such a difficult time for so many New Zealanders. As a union organiser, I had seen the devastation that the Employment Contracts Act caused in working peoples’ lives.
I got to Parliament for a very brief 10 day stint as a list MP in 1999. Congratulations to Keith Locke who actually took my space at the final count after the special votes came in—Keith I bear you no malice. In 2002, I was elected as MP for Waitakere. The sheer joy of being part of the Helen Clark and Michael Cullen government – that did so much to bring fairness back into New Zealand – is something I will always hold dear.
Not only the many things that I had campaigned for in my former life – fairer labour laws, enhanced health and safety in work places, modern apprenticeships, four weeks holiday, paid parental leave, increases to the minimum wage, and creating jobs for people.
But also the restoration of income related rents in state houses, free early childhood education for every three and four year old child, affordable doctor’s visits, tax credits through Working for Families – putting money in the pockets of families who really need it, – Kiwisaver and help with home ownership, and interest free student loans.
Those were exciting times and have made a mark in our history in making our country a better place for all New Zealanders.
I have also had the opportunity to be part of some major social changes. These included the Amendments to Section 59 of the Crimes Act and also the Civil Union legislation. Social change is always controversial. Emotions run high, people become polarised, misinformation becomes widespread, and there can be more heat than light in the debate. The easy option for some would be to pull back, – to retain the status quo. But, I could not in all conscience do that.
Chairing the Justice Select Committee on the changes to section 59 of the Crimes Act had its challenges. That law was never about criminalising parents for lightly smacking their kids. Rather, it was about protecting our children from being beaten.
Sue Bradford introduced the legislation to Parliament, as a Member’s Bill The Select Committee heard from hundreds of parents, caregivers, children, young people, and organisations. I want to thank all members of the Select Committee who treated every submitter with respect. I particularly want to acknowledge the invaluable contribution of my Labour colleagues Charles Chauvel and Ann Hartley. I also want to acknowledge National’s Chester Borrows who, despite a difference in opinion on how to achieve it, shared the same commitment to providing a safer environment for our nation’s children.
Lobbying at the time was full on and it was a very intense time both inside and outside of Parliament. I recall a conversation with Doug Woollerton from New Zealand First, who was supporting changes to the legislation. I said to him “Dougie are you still with us on changing Section 59” he replied “Yes, but I have just been talking to Chester and told him his amendment seems alright. Is that ok?” I said, and sorry about this Chester “No, look Chester means well but his amendment won’t be helpful. If you support it I will be heartbroken.” He replied in true Dougie style “Okay sweetheart, I’ll tell him I’ve changed my mind.”
Subsequently Doug Wollerton and the late Brian Donnelly were put under immense pressure from members of their Party to change their stance. They never wavered, and I want to say in this House how much I admire their courage and integrity.
I have strong views about the damaging role played by some members of the media on this issue at that time, which makes it especially important that I congratulate all the wonderful organisations that advocated so strongly for our children – because they knew it was right thing to do.
The Civil Union legislation was another important social change, and I am proud to have been a part of that change. I still struggle to understand why some people find it so difficult to recognise the right of all people to have their loving relationship acknowledged and celebrated.
In 2007 my Member’s Bill – Human Rights (Women’s in Armed Forces) Amendment Bill – was drawn from the Ballot. When the Human Rights Act was enacted, the NZ Defence Force had a policy of not allowing women to serve in combat roles, which was recognised in the legislation. However, the Defence Force had discontinued this policy in 2000.
Despite the fact that the discrimination had ceased, the wording of the Act prevented New Zealand from complying with the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, known as CEDAW. My Bill removed that wording and allowed us to ratify the UN convention – an historic moment for New Zealand and we beat Australia to do it.
Perhaps my proudest experience was being entrusted with the passage of the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Protection Bill in Parliament. The Bill was promoted by Waitakere City Council under Mayor Bob Harvey’s leadership, Auckland Regional Council and Rodney District Council. It provided long term protection for the Waitakere Ranges, in particular from ‘ad hoc’ development – described by the Commissioner for the Environment as death by a thousand cuts. The Waitakere Ranges Protection Society and Hon Jonathan Hunt had campaigned for many years, and I am proud to have played my part in providing added protection of this iconic landscape for generations to come.
During my time in government and Opposition, I have been actively involved in victims’ rights. I was the Chair of the Justice Select Committee during the Inquiry into Victim’s Rights in 2007 and later became the Labour Opposition Spokesperson for Victim’s Rights.
At the Inquiry, we heard from many victims of crime, and also from some organisations. The messages were two fold. On one hand, some – like the Sensible Sentencing Trust and members of the media – focus almost exclusively on how long the perpetrator should be locked away. On the other hand, others saw more complex issues. Many told the select committee about feeling let down by their treatment in the justice system, a need for better information and support, more counselling, a victims advocate and enhanced restorative justice. Some progress has been made, but there is still much to do.
I am not renowned as a bipartisan person – I will admit that. But, this is one issue that cries out for a bipartisan approach. Victims’ rights and law and order should not be a political football. If there is one message that I would like to leave this house with it is this. Making the Department of Corrections our second largest public service agency is nothing to be proud of, and it will do nothing to guarantee community safety in the long term.
On a less bipartisan note, one of the most challenging issues I have been involved in was ACC’s cuts to counselling for victims and survivors of sexual abuse. Many campaigned for reinstatement of that counselling, including survivors and the professionals and organisations that support them.
After almost a year and an independent inquiry some counselling support was reinstated, but not before immense harm had been done – and to people who had already suffered so much already. I admire so much the tenacity and the courage of those women and men, and it was a privilege to work alongside them.
My other recent role was as Opposition Spokesperson for Disability Issues. Whilst we were in government some exciting things happened in the disability sector. This included making NZ Sign Language an official language of New Zealand in 2006, New Zealand being awarded the prestigious Franklin D Roosevelt International Disability Award in 2007 and ratifying the United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008. However there are many challenges ahead. In these hard economic times, disabled people are the most adversely affected in terms of education, training and employment opportunities. It is government’s role to ensure that all citizens have the ability to participate in society and reach their full potential.
Mr Speaker – my Maiden Speech drew on my experiences as a union organiser In fact, it was those experiences that brought me here. And, my belief in the need for a strong democratic union movement remains. The contribution of unions and workers is essential to the wellbeing of working people and their families. I can only hope that I have honoured their contribution during my time here.
There are many people that I want to acknowledge here today. All the hard working parliamentary staff –Messengers, Security people, cleaners, Hansards, Select Committee, Buildings, Travel, and library – without exception they all do a tremendous job.
My Office in Waitakere has been very busy and people have come with many issues – from immigration to ACC, housing, training, jobs, education and health – just to name a few. We couldn’t fix everything but I know we were able to assist in making some really positive changes in peoples’ lives That is one of the most rewarding parts of the job and it only happened because of the extraordinary commitment of wonderful staff.
I want to thank all of my staff over the last nine years and in particular: In Waitakere, Debbie Taylor, Don Clark, Elysa Hyde and Megan Murphy who is with us now. And here in Parliament, Gay Pledger and Michiel Burger and Ritchie Wards who is also with me now. They are all fantastic people and have done so much to support me personally and gone all out to assist the people that needed it most.
To our hard working Westie Labour team over the years including, but not restricted to: My fellow Westie MPs Carmel Sepuloni, David Cunliffe and Darien Fenton, Enzo and Gina Giordani, Debbie Taylor, Mike Loughran, Brian and Mary Lythe, Beverly Buffett, Don and Noreen Clark, Trixie and Bruce Harvey, Hamish McCracken, Barbara and Len Hill, Gerry Fennelly, Neil MacKenzie, Ngaire Worthington, Kymberly Inu, Mohammed Faiaz, Tala Tafuna’i, Eric Bechet, Jeremy Greenbrook-Held, Garry Marshall, Kerry Christian, Barbara Hutchinson, Celia Tai’atu, Dave Downing and Dave Munro. Their support has never wavered both for me and for Labour. They are all people I very much admire and am proud to call my friends.
And of course all my mates in the wider Labour whānau.
My taxi driver Dorothy who works harder than anybody I know. I will really miss those Tuesday morning and Thursday evening journeys hearing about her family. Dorothy’s five children are all at university or will be there in the future. That’s testament to her and her husband’s support and self-sacrifice. I am heartened that policies like Working for Families, interest free student loans, abolition of youth rates and increases to the minimum wage have helped. Those journeys have been a constant reminder of why I am here.
My best wishes to Phil Goff, Annette King and our team, my talented caucus colleagues and our fantastic staff – for building on Labour’s legacy, taking in to this election the most progressive platform Labour has presented to the people of New Zealand – a fairer tax system, abolition of youth rates, $15 hour minimum wage, no Asset Sales, integrating our environmental and economic future, and putting children at the heart of our policies.
And to Charles Chauvel, Moana Mackey, Darien Fenton and Carmel Sepuloni. My very very good friends. I will miss you all. Also to Carmel you have hit the ground running in Waitakere and I look forward to working alongside you in the next two months – I can say in all sincerity that Carmel Sepuloni is twice the woman I am!
To my brother Graeme and sister-in-law Pru and my favourite niece Jessie and nephew Rufus, and very very good friends Dave Hollander and Kaine Thompson. Thank you – you have been a big part of my life here in Wellington.
To Mikes and my modern blended family. Blended families are the new mainstream.
To Mikes children and in-laws, Nancy, Michael, Ewen and Kelly and those beautiful grandchildren Kai, Mahe, Lena and Archie. My sister in law Sharda (actually my first husband’s second ex wife) and my stepson Ashwin – I am so happy you are all in my life.
To my son Mark, and my daughter Kirsty and my son-in-law Shane and our wonderful grandsons Nikau and Mikaia. I love you all dearly and am so looking forward to spending more time with you all. To Mike, my rock; I have such high expectations of your support and you almost always deliver. I am so lucky to have you as my partner. And you are lucky to have me too Helen Clark went off to the United Nations, Michael Cullen went off to Chair NZ Post and I’m going round New Zealand in a campervan. Mike and I are looking forward to it – an opportunity to explore our beautiful country and catch up with many friends, which we have been unable to do for quite some time. The government will be relieved to know we will be complying with the Freedom Camping Act and all waste will be contained and disposed of appropriately.
Mr Speaker – Now I’m out of here. This has been a wonderful nine years for me and a privilege few people get to experience. I leave paid political work with a commitment to continuing in voluntary political work.
Authorised by Lynne Pillay MP, Parliament Buildings, Wellington.