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House: Valedictory Of Hon. Jack Elder

(Hansard transcript of the valedictory speech of Hon Jack Elder to Parliament delivered yesterday at 3.30pm.)


VALEDICTORY STATEMENT

Hon. JACK ELDER (Minister of Internal Affairs): I begin by thanking the House for granting me leave for the reasons it has to make my valedictory speech after being a member of Parliament for 15 years in this House. It is a very great honour for any person in New Zealand to be elected a member of this Parliament. In many ways it has been a considerable greater honour for me, considering my background, and the fact that I have also had the honour and privilege of being a Government Minister for 3 years. This privilege is not granted to many people in this country. I acknowledge two organisations that have been responsible for this that is, the Labour Party and New Zealand First. I thank them for their part in my ability to have that right and that privilege in this Parliament. I also thank a number of individuals who have helped me to get here and to stay here for 15 years. As a member who started off in a marginal seat, in a political sense it was a little bit problematic to say the least that I should have survived that long. In particular, I thank Lou and Laura Yelovich, Alan and Shirley Norman, John and Linda Riddell, Ken and Trish Findlay, and Don and Anne Burte. They are all people who worked hard for me over the years not only in a political sense but also as very close friends as well. There are many others whom I have missed out, but they are the people whom I think were the essential core of the organisation I had throughout most of my time here in Parliament. As a member of Parliament I have also been blessed with very good staff. My electorate office worker, Linda Riddell, and, of course, my office staff in Wellington with Bonnie Clark who was my office secretary for many years until she was promoted upstairs. I have also had the loyal support as a Minister of a number of staff such as Darian Beirne, Faye Davy, Superintendents Lindsay Todd, John van der Haden, and Graham Thomas. Anne McKay did other police work and Allan Black, Trevor Henry, my press secretary, Andrew McKenzie, Martin Glynn from the Department of Internal Affairs*, and Marion Swales. All of those people have been very diligent workers on my behalf, and, of course, on behalf of the portfolios that I have represented and the people whom I have represented in this Parliament. By now most MPs will know that I am retiring at this election for family reasons, which involves illness in my family that I do not want to go into. Anyone who is married with a family will understand that when the chips are down our families come first, and I have no choice. It cannot be in any other way. I thank the Prime Minister, ministerial colleagues, caucus colleagues, and, of course, the Opposition for their consideration shown to my family during recent months. It has been quite trying for my family. I got involved in politics in a way a little reluctantly, although I started off when I was very young. I was first elected to public office when I was 23. I have spent my entire adult life from age 23 to 50 in elected public office. I was driven by a sense of duty that was installed in me by my family, particularly my mother. Having done nearly 27 years I have to say that I feel as though I have done my duty. I should explain to members that I did 12 years in local authorities from 1972 to 1983, before I stood successfully for Parliament in 1984. I should say successfully after two unsuccessful attempts in 1978 and 1981. All told, that is 12 elections, 10 of which I have ended up in office, so I have done a great deal in that time, and I do not regret a minute of it. However, in the end we all have to come to terms with the fact that we have families and we cannot ask too much of them. I simply cannot ask any more of my family. I have enjoyed the time I have spent in this Parliament. It is a wonderful place. I do not think that the public quite appreciates the depth of talent there is in this place. Despite all the hurly-burly* that takes place and despite the economy of truth used by some people and all the other subterfuges and trick measures used by people in this place, I have to say that in general the public of New Zealand is very well served by their MPs. Something that needs to be said is that the general standard of behaviour and I talk in terms of honesty in terms of commitment to the job by most MPs in this House quite commendable. I think that people who do not understand that really have not studied carefully enough what goes on in this place. I do not want to spend a great deal of time talking about the ministerial responsibilities I have had or the other areas of policy I have been involved in, because over 15 years there has been a very large number of them. I do not want to speak about them, apart from one, because it is something that I think is neglected in the New Zealand political landscape and I feel I should say something about it. Something that I think every New Zealander has a right to be concerned about is the issue of civil defence. I have been pleased to see, and to be part of, the progress of reforms we have had in the emergency service sector to ensure that New Zealand is better prepared for managing the effects of what we call its ``hazardscape''. It is the areas we inhabit in this country and the hazards that that brings. In July this year I announced that a Ministry for Emergency Management had been formed and would replace the current Ministry of Civil Defence*. The purpose of this ministry is clear in that it provides strategic policy advice to the Government on the direction and performance of emergency management as a whole to ensure that a comprehensive and integrated emergency framework* is established and maintained, in addition to providing a coordinating function in response to a national emergency. Over recent weeks as the election approaches, I notice that political groups and people have been announcing policies concerning the amalgamation of emergency services. I would be the first to admit and to suggest that a natural extension of the new ministry's function could well be as the Government's purchaser of emergency service provisions in the future. However, I warn members about one thing in particular. Any idea that we can amalgamate very easily and at little cost and get any worth-while* achievements out of amalgamating the service provision end of emergency services is a very, very grave mistake. If that mistake is made it has the potential to be littered with dead bodies. I believe that New Zealand is better prepared now to face a major civil emergency, because of the changes that have been made. One of the most interesting comments made to a Labour caucus by a former Labour Prime Minister David Lange was that if we look at the real risks facing New Zealand, whether they be military, civil, or whatever, the greatest risks to the future of New Zealand in a security sense are probably the risk of civil emergency, a major civil catastrophe befalling New Zealand. It could be an earthquake in Wellington, it could be a major tsunami coming in from the Pacific, or it could be a major volcanic eruption. The problem with civil emergencies is that we of course cannot predict them. We do not know what is going to happen. We do not know how bad it will be and we do not know what form it will take. What we do know is that if it happens we have as good a preparation as we can. I think that we are heading in the right direction although we have not got to the right point yet. However, we can ensure that we are part of a family of nations and that if we help them, and if this ever happens to us, they will help us. When we talk about our international relations we should think about that. If New Zealand is ever hit by a catastrophe its future may be decided by how well we have got on with our friends and neighbours. Realistically, if New Zealand is ever hit by a major catastrophe of that sort, the people most likely to help us will of course be the Commonwealth, other Pacific rim* countries, and in particular, the United States of America. As I said before in this House, if that ever happens, we will truly learn the meaning of the importance of maintaining good relations with other countries.

END OF TURN

Continuation Line [As the Minister of Civil Defence]

As Minister of Civil Defence I have insisted that the civil defence organisation develop and maintain very close working relations with the Australian Federal and State authorities that deal with civil defence issues, and the United States. We have gone out of our way to ensure that the head of the United States civil emergency organisation, Federal Emergency Management Agency is aware of our problems. He has been to New Zealand twice. I want to assure the House that I believe from the bottom of my heart that if we are ever faced with a major civil catastrophe we will not be alone, because we have taken the trouble to reach out to others to ensure that we do have friends in the right places with access to the resources that are sometimes needed when those catastrophes strike. I have been in this place for 15 years and I have seen a lot of changes. The biggest change that has taken place has been the introduction of MMP. It is no secret that I was one of the keenest supporters of the Westminster first-past-the-post election system, because it tends to provide stable Government and consistent economic policies. I have to say that it has surprised me that few of my fears have been realised. But the reason for that is that members of Parliament in this House, or individual members of Parliament, have taken it upon themselves to make sure that we have had stable Government in New Zealand over the past 3 years. I would urge any one who thinks that the last 3 years have been difficult, to just think about what New Zealand did when it took a huge leap in the dark to introduce a totally new election system. We have survived the last 3 years without frequent changes of Government. We have not gone the way of Italy, and I think that many people underestimate the importance of that. New Zealand has survived. The sun has come up each day and, by and large, people have stayed in their jobs. It need not necessarily have been like that, and I want the critics of MMP to reflect on that. I say that as someone, I freely admit, who was not at all a supporter of any form of proportional representation. Given the time again I would probably still oppose the introduction of MMP. However, as I said on an interview recently, it is ironic that I have been one of the main beneficiaries of MMP in this House, but that, of course, is part of life is it not? I want to finish by saying that the people in this House, under very difficult circumstances, do what I think is a very good job. I want to call on God to bless them in that work and I wish the people of New Zealand all the best for the future. Thank you.

***


TUKOROIRANGI MORGAN (Independent Te Tai Hauauru): With the leave of the House I wish to make a short presentation of gifts as an affirmation of friendship and companionship to the honourable Minister, Jack Elder. I ask my colleague Ann Batten to come forward and present the honourable member, Jack Elder, with two pieces of greenstone as an enduring symbol of our friendship and we wish you well in the future. These gifts were selected by the Minister of Maori Affairs. Ki a koe Jack, e te rangatira, tena koe, tena koe, kia ora. Kia ora tatou.

***


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