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House: Valedictory of Hon. Denis Marshall

HON DENIS MARSHALL

MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT FOR RANGITIKEI


VALEDICTORY SPEECH

THURSDAY 7 OCTOBER 1999

Mr Speaker

It has been a privilege and an honour to serve in this House for the past 15 years. Some people would see 15 years here as a sentence – in fact counting educational establishments I have spent 25 years of my life institutionalised. The real world beckons once more!

I spent years sitting in the back of political meetings thinking I would like to be here but there was always some high profile person who would be the next MP for Rangitikei.

Then one day the competition evaporated. Bruce Beetham had beaten them all.

I had just returned from six months study in Europe and found the opportunity presented itself to stand for Parliament.

Annette wasn’t at all sure about this idea but I persuaded her that a short spell of six years in Parliament wouldn’t be too disruptive. My arrival here was aided by Sir Robert Muldoon’s snap election in 1984. It all happened so quickly the locals never found out the downside of the candidate. It took me about six years to get the hang of the place so I thought I should stay longer.

Now 15 years later one of my constituents said – Why are you leaving now? You’re only just becoming some use to us now that you’re out of Cabinet.

It’s hard to know when to quit. I’d like to thank the Party for all those letters, cards and phone calls to stay. I actually think they had been plotting with my wife.

I would seriously like to thank my constituents for their strong support and suggestions I continue to serve but there is a time to
move on – I have never seen this place as a lifetime career, and I hope I now have time for another.

But I would like to apologise to my wife and family for staying so long here. It’s very addictive. There’s always a new challenge, a new battle, a new argument to win.

Thank you Annette, Nicky, Sue and your respective families and Tim for your support and belief in me over the years. My career choice has put enormous pressure on you all in so many ways.

It was not easy for Nicky to be a university student with the name Marshall in the 1980’s. Didn’t matter that we were in Opposition then – it’s the name that counts! Pity it wasn’t the seventies – Sir John had more popular portfolios than Russell for a while.

I want to thank all my incredibly loyal supporters in the electorate – too many to mention who have made it their life’s work to support the National Party and myself as its representative, through thick and thin

You are all now working hard to elect Simon Power who will be the new MP for Rangitikei I predict – he will make an excellent MP – in spite of the fact he is a lawyer. Sir Douglas Graham, your prayers will be answered – there will be another lawyer in Parliament.

There is one person in Rangitikei I must mention specifically – Norma Humphries has worked for me in my constituency office for 15 years. Constituents in Feilding probably know her better than they know me. Thank you Norma for helping me help the hundreds of people who have come to the office over the years (Thank you too to Jane Nugent-O’Leary, Denise Saunders and Lidia for your support in the office).

Many people said you lose your friends from outside politics. I have been fortunate to keep my old friends and I would like to thank you for the fact that you have forced me to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground!

I came to Parliament at the time the Muldoon Government was defeated and saw the last of some great characters.

After the election of 1984, (green as grass) I made the terrible mistake of being trapped by a journalist with the question, “Do you think Sir Robert will step down now he is Leader of the Opposition?” I said “I expect so at same stage”. Driving to Wellington I heard the news item “Newly elected Rangitikei MP expects Sir Robert Muldoon to step down as the Leader of the Opposition soon! I almost turned around. Worse was to come. That night I went looking for my neighbouring mentor Venn Young. I got lost in the Beehive and stumbled into a room with RDM, Duncan McIntyre, Venn Young, David Thompson and Merv Wellington sitting around more than one empty whiskey bottle.

“Come here young man” said Sir Robert. “Let me look at your hands”. Meaning here was some heavy handed country bumpkin with no brains or nouse at all. I couldn’t escape quick enough. This definitely called for a period of breathing through the nose till I got the hang of things.

Many people have worked for me during my 15 years here and I can’t mention you all. Many of those I have worked with have also become lifelong friends.

However from 1990 to 1996 my Ministerial office had a great team who worked like trojans and provided absolute loyalty and support when the going got tough as with the Cave Creek disaster.

The team is largely scattered around the world now. To Keith Mason, Harry Broad (with his eccentricities and wicked sense of humour), Beth Vaughan, Mark Neeson, Liz Brooks, Emily Su’a Dunn, and the rest of the office team – thank you. We will always be in your debt. We had a certain camaraderie – right throughout the executive in those days.

Incidentally three of the women in the office had their first babies – including Beth’s twins to coincide with the 1996 election. There must have been something stimulating about that office.

In Conservation and Lands we fought the battles and achieved some huge gains against the odds. The vast and beautiful Kahurangi National Park, the Crown Pastoral Lands Bill and the Waitutu settlement and six marine reserves were among the greatest achievements.

We fought the battle over pests, over Kaimanawa wild horses, and we fought to save threatened species.

We fought to rebuild DOC after the tragedy of Cave Creek. The tragedy of the loss of those young lives who were drawn to the opportunities and beauty of our outdoors will always be with me – as will the spirit of Stephen Hannen. He’s an inspiration to all who suffer adversity.

If I had taken the soft option and resigned immediately I know Cabinet would have accepted the sacrifice and DOC would never have got the $60 million it needed to rebuild and go forward. Delaying my resignation until the job was done might not have been the smartest move politically for me – but was definitely worth the sacrifice in the name of conservation. As one brief editorial said at the time – I did it my way.

There is still unfinished business from Cave Creek. On reflection Government Departments should be able to be prosecuted for failing to comply with the Building Code and the Occupational Health and Safety Act like anyone else.

The ethic of personal responsibility needs to be sheeted home in the public service as much as the private sector.

There are also some unanswered constitutional questions. Is there now such a separation between Ministerial and departmental responsibility that requires separate counsel for each in an inquiry such as followed Cave Creek. Unthinkable you may say? But if the departments counsel argues systemic failure by the department, then the Crown now longer appears to be one in these matters.

Can I say to my colleagues that New Zealand’s clean green image is a matter of luck through our small population rather than the success of sound environmental policies. The attacks on our planning legislation are largely ill founded. Gains in environmental protection are only grudgingly accepted. This is not how we wish to be seen internationally. The lack of willpower to enacting National’s long standing policy commitment to the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park means we will lose the opportunity to promote our environmental initiatives to the world during the America’s Cup. I hope there is more spine in the next Parliament on environmental issues. If we are to retain our commitment to conservation there must be greater resources allocated to the cause. No government can be proud of its record here.

In my maiden speech I focussed on our rural communities as the backbone of our country. I highlighted policies that needed to be implemented to halt rural decline. In 1990 we put the policies in place. Low inflation, low interest rates, a competitive labour market balanced budgets and reduced debt have created sustainable economic growth in our economy.

But they have not saved our rural communities. It is not a problem we have on our own. Farmers in Australia, the USA and Europe are all under stress. More and more are leaving the land as food

prices come down under pressure from the buying power of bigger and bigger supermarkets. We must meet strength with strength. Amalgamations in farms and in processors and marketers are inevitable. Sadly our rural communities have changed forever.

We are a very small country in an increasingly globalised world. We depend on trade more than most countries and I applaud the efforts going into Free Trade Agreements in Asia and the Americas. But we and Australia are too isolated. We must persuade the Australians that we need to move even closer together to a European style union, even to the extend of monetary union, but not political union.

For the last three years I have had the privilege to work with Parliaments of the Commonwealth through the CPA. Our Westminster style democracy is the envy of many countries throughout the Commonwealth and the world. Countries that have never been involved previously with the British now wish to join the Commonwealth. Why, because our Parliamentary systems are seen to be fair and just and a model for others to follow.

Yet we do not respect our own Parliament. I did not support the change in the electoral system. But we do now have a more representative House of Representatives – there are a greater cross-section of the community represented than ever before which has to be good for democracy.

Another reason people gave for changing the system to MMP was to remove the tyranny of two party government in a unicameral parliament.

MMP has done that. We have changed our electoral system once in our nationhood. We should not consider further change lightly.

The power of the executive has been diluted. The power of Parliament has been enhanced.

Officials are now for the first time considering what Parliament’s view may be of their policies rather than just Cabinets.

That is a significant change.

Select Committees have a genuine role to play in scrutinising legislation. They are no longer rubber stamps. They have the responsibility of an Upper House, and we will never have one of those.

Whatever the frustrations of my Ministerial colleagues more Parliamentarians are genuinely involved in decision making.

For example, at the Transport and Environment Select Committee we enlisted the departmental officials to modify an opposition private members’ bill and turned it into government policy with the Cabinet’s endorsement.

That is an historic first and some senior officials recognise the world has changed and departments must now think of Parliament’s view as well as the executive when giving policy advice.

But sadly these issues are not debated in the press.

The media, particularly television has trivialised our Parliament. There is little truly investigative journalism in the popular press. The image of Parliament is at an all time low because the voices of the reasonable and rational are not heard. The majority of legislation passes by consensus. My constituents are continually amazed to hear that.

Consensus and agreement are not big sellers in the popular press. It is too boring. But it is a major part of how Parliament works. Politics is not just a two second sound byte.

Of course we as politicians are not blameless for the parlous state of our democracy.

Too many are drawn to the glare of the cameras like moths to their fate. Publicity and power can become aphrodisiacs.

Promises and principles are too often sacrificed, but hopefully less so since public accounts are now transparent.

Democracy is a fragile flower – we must cherish it and nurture it. We must not trivialise or demean it, or simply reduce it to solely entertainment.

I am enormously proud to be a New Zealander.

But I am concerned that we do not believe in ourselves sufficiently when we live in one of the best and fairest societies in the world. We are far too negative about ourselves. It seems we cannot applaud much other than sporting success.

Our wealth is generated by people individually and collectively. There is no other source for it. We are the wealth of our nation.

Let’s applaud success in every field. Not only in sport, in cultural achievement, in social success, but in business achievement as well.

If we don’t we will condemn ourselves to mediocrity.

To prove my point 15 minutes on the rugby field for the winning Parliamentary rugby team at London Irish seem to have made me more famous than 15 years in Parliament. Actually I’m now a double blue – I played cricket for the Commonwealth Parliaments against the West Indies at the hallowed Oval at Port of Spain.

Mr Speaker. I would like to thank everybody who works here or who is associated with this place for your friendship and support over the years. It has been an honour and a unique and privileged experience to be here – I bid you farewell.

ENDS

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