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Maiden Speech, Gerrard Eckhoff MP

Maiden Speech, Gerrard Eckhoff MP

Friday 11th Feb 2000
Gerry Eckhoff Speech

It has been said that it is a foolish thing to make a long prologue and be short in the story itself.A sentiment I shall endeavour to follow. Mr Speaker - may I congratulate you on your elevation to this high office that I am sure you will serve with distinction. I greet you my colleagues in this House.I honour all my family, some are with me here today, and whom I rank above all else.

Sir - As a member of the ACT party, I stand proud in this place and throughout New Zealand, for promoting this country as it could and should be. I am greatly honoured to count with such courageous people, for whom else speaks today for those who strive to achieve?Who else speaks for those who increasingly carry the burden of dependency?

Who else but ACT speaks for those who maintain the values of hard work, of family, in a world where correctness often precludes the ability to re-affirm the well established principles for which this nation, once, was famous?

I have seen, during my life of 52 years, our systems of dependency grow. I thought state assistance to agriculture, was wonderful. I thought it was my right to be dependent on the state if I so wished. I now know the State depends on me - to perform - to contribute, for that is my obligation and indeed is my only right.

In 1987 I attended, of all things, a Labour Party meeting in Alexandra. The temperature outside was minus five degrees and it was colder inside. After listening to one Trevor de Cleene, I wrapped my tongue around every adjective I could, to describe my outrage at Roger Douglas and Richard Prebble for the removal of my security blanket.I received substantial applause from the audience.

Mr de Cleene replied in the most scurrilous manner. He threw logic back at me! Everything he said to me, smacked of common sense.

I stood doing an outstanding impression of a stunned mullet especially for one being so far from the coast.

And so, I come to this place as an unashamed advocate for ACT and for rural New Zealand; for embattled farmers, and for rural people who have faced with a downward spiral of returns since the mid 60's.

They also face a lessening of influence and control over their lives. That influence and control now rests with those who already own beach houses, those whose dining rooms and kitchens are already lined with rimu and beech, those whose power and influence in the environment, compounds annually.

Those who live an ordered, well manicured existence know full well that real power in our society rests with those who never have to contest, almost daily, for their right to exist in the environment, for their property rights, and their right, through purchase, to sustainably utilise the resources of the Nation.

We appear now to be more concerned at the redistribution of wealth rather then the creation of it.

I must mention again the flooding of Alex. The town cannot sustain any inaction by Government on this issue. Some years ago a water shortage in Auckland brought an immediate response - even the RMA is suspended!

Alex: is inundated three times in five years and we must wait. I seek your support to finally deliver justice to Alexandra and its people.

We as an agricultural nation still, are subject to the vagaries of nature's bounty.Indeed my area of Otago has suffered fire, flood and drought in this past 12 months. However we cannot survive Government's infliction of plague and pestilence, to complete the biblical visitations, in the form of high interest rates and high cost structures, brought about by new laws and regulations - designed to control, by protecting the power of Government and interest groups.

In truth we need laws designed to protect people from the excess of Government. The Government power of eminent domain for example should only be exercised with rarity, delicately and with an overwhelming sense of fairness.

To often we hear of an excuse called 'a public good' to justify an abuse of power. In reality that public good, is all too often a political good.

Sir - I would fail in my duty to a minority people in this land if I did not mention my fellow Pastoral Lessees of the South Island High Country during this debate.The recent passing of the Crown Pastoral Lands Bill can only be compared to that tragic time in Scotland during the early 1800's known as the "Highland Clearances".

That appalling period of Scottish history when the settlers of that land were "removed" in order to allow the owners of the land, the pleasure of recreational pursuit, unencumbered by the sight of human beings. I hope the parallels between then and now are not lost on the members of this House.

Sir - the sustainability of all land is of paramount importance to New Zealand's economy, whether tussock grassland, beech forest or fertile plains.

Of great importance is the identification of those special areas of enormous ecological value.The farming community applauded the inception of the Protected Natural Area Scheme 10 years ago, only to be met with deceit by the preservation lobby.

Thankfully it is not the true conservationist who seeks the removal of land from private stewardship. 15

It is profoundly regrettable that an ogdoad environmentalists continue to cast the producer of this country as a careless knave.

Who is there amongst the farming community that denies the value of conservation?

Who is there amongst the rural community who says it is not appropriate to ensure that the values that we all hold to dearly should not also be available to our children and their grandchildren?

But who is there amongst us in this place that would say that it is not important to ensure that justice, fairness and equanimity should not also be available to those who preserve our values, at their cost? Surely it is by incentive that we ensure sustainability.

By guaranteeing property rights to those who spend themselves in such a worthy cause.As Oliver Cromwell said "It is an unwise and an unjust jealousy to deprive a man of his natural liberty on the supposition that he may abuse it".

Mr Speaker, may I congratulate Ms Sandra Lee on her appointment as Minister of Conservation. I have every confidence that she will bring an understanding so lacking in past years. An understanding that the abuse of property rights, her people, the Maori people, have suffered for over 150 years, results in a opportunity cost to our society. It is an avoidable cost we, as a nation, will continue to pay for many years.

I sincerely offer my best wishes and my co-operation, in her quest to preserve the species by understanding that the real question is not whether we should preserve the species, but how.

It is an heroic assumption that the State will better manage this nation's resources than those who live, work and benefit from the practice of conservation in their daily lives.

Sir, with ownership comes responsibility and rights. The rural community has accepted the responsibility long ago. They have accepted the need to preserve and conserve our heritage. Isn't it now time to offer trust and respect by ensuring property rights cannot be subjugated to political expediency? Please understand that farming today is not an extractive industry.

My plea to you is to accept that rural people are part of the environment; that they enhance rather than detract from it; that production and protection are not mutually exclusive, and that true sustainability can only come from the heart and not the law books.

Finally Mr Speaker, I should like to pay homage to a section of our society, both past and present, whose contribution cannot be measured in any definable way.A contribution so vast and yet given inadequate recognition; for recognition has never been sought. Theirs is a history of enormous dedication, commitment and sacrifice - of uncomplaining acceptance and unfailing humour coupled with the sadness that travels through lifeThese people have quite literally carried this nation. I refer, of course, to women, and specifically, rural women.

The appalling hardship endured by those pioneering women is perhaps unimaginable today.They often settled those lands no one else wanted, the unfashionable lands that gave little respite between raising a family in remote mountain valleys, and the daily grind of what we today, would call abject poverty.

Sir, almost 12 months ago I had occasion to hear a rural woman speak of the difficulties they face today. On that parched summer's day in the Ida Valley I heard the plea of one woman who is a wife, a mother, a farmer, a minister of religion, a councillor, a friend, a provider to the district. She spoke to the then Prime Minister of this almost forgotten people. Sir, they shoulder a heavy burden for while they share in the occasional success; too often they carry the burden of a family's suffering - alone. I wish to salute, in this inadequate way, the unsung women of yesterday, today, and those who will continue to provide that silent strength to continue. A strength that seems inherent within our rural women.

When I first entered this chamber, I recalled the words from Dante's Inferno - "Abandon hope, all ye who enter this place." Sir, I do not abandon hope, I live in hope. For I am and will always remain a farmer. And proud to be so.

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