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Liberty Belle: Final Transmission From Cambridge

Deborah Coddington's Liberty Belle

Final Transmission From Cambridge

This is my last Liberty Belle from Cambridge. When you read this, I'll be on my way home. In truth, with mixed feelings. I've missed my family - at times, physically ached for them. I've missed being present in Parliament - though thanks to the Internet I've kept up with my MP's duties, even if occasionally that meant staying awake all night doing media interviews and sorting out constituents' problems. I've even written another Bill, which has gone to the Bills Office to be tidied up ready for the ballot - The Regulations Responsibility Bill.

I've written a 21,000 monograph on my research. It's called "Let Parents Choose" and it's not radical, just common sense. In fact, much of it simply entails going back to the old days in New Zealand, when parents, teachers and communities were trusted with their children's schooling. But then, I'm an old-fashioned kind of girl.

But I will miss Cambridge. I have made such interesting friends from all over the world. Meena and Nandini -feisty, intelligent and incredibly highly educated women from India. Rachel from Kenya, doing a PhD on gifted children. Nuade from Johannesburg, Vincent from France, Paul from the Congo, John the fireman from Newcastle-on-Tyne and Jim, a policeman from Southampton, both here on a management course.

I'll miss the intelligent debate - sitting down to discuss what it means being an MP for a classical liberal party, why we supported America, Britain and Australia on Iraq; why I believe private property ownership is best for protecting the environment; why social welfare New Zealand style would be disastrous for South Africa - all issues we disagreed and argued about but could still leave the table as friends, interested in each other's lives and countries.

I'll miss the sparkling social life - whether it's over champagne at the Cambridge Union with Rt Hon Michael Howard or over tea and cakes at the Centre of African Studies.

I'll miss being able to cycle to the station, jump on a train to London and visit 'think tanks', researchers and campaigners who are as excited about education reform as I am. Who don't think I'm mad, don't caution me to fudge my language so the public won't be 'frightened'. Urge me to be bold, say what others dare not say, remind me why I was asked to represent ACT in the first place.

I love New Zealand, that's why I live here. But I wish we could be less self-satisfied, internationally irrelevant and hooked on mediocrity. We do certainly have much to boast about - the landscape for starters and the open, helpful friendliness of New Zealanders. There are also the jewellery designers - among the best in the world. Our musicians; scientists; John Hood, the first New Zealander in 900 years to be appointed to the prestigious position of vice-chancellor at Oxford. This is an incredible achievement but I've not seen much skiting in the New Zealand media about it.

For one brief moment in my life-time New Zealand did attract the world's attention. David Lange performed marvellously on the international stage, and Roger Douglas reformed our economy, making New Zealand a shining example of how to turn a basket case into an example of economic freedom in the making.

Sure, privatisation of businesses didn't always work out exactly as we would have liked. But that doesn't mean we should abandon it. The principle that it's not the state's role to risk taxpayers' money on commercial enterprise is what's important.

We've gone backwards since those heady days of Rogernomics. A recent email titled "Hustling!" from my old mate Lindsay Perigo reminded me just how far we've drifted. Urging people to subscribe to his courageous magazine, 'The Free Radical' ( Perigo wrote:

"Contemporary New Zealand is burdened with the most authoritarian regime it has ever known. Never has government extorted taxes so rapaciously - even sherry-drinkers are not exempt - or intruded in your daily lives so brazenly. If politically correct primitives say there's a taniwha on your property, or that your property is wahi tapu, this government forbids you to develop it.

"If you have the temerity to be financially successful - providing jobs & creature comforts in the process - this government subjects you to a punitive envy tax.

"If you wish to smoke tobacco, this government quadruples the price you pay for your pleasure with more taxes.

"If you create jobs, this government makes it impossible to fire unsatisfactory employees, & compulsory to subsidise their pregnancies. This government forces you to pay other people to breed.

"This is a government that tried to pass legislation making it an imprisonable offence to criticise it; this government offered succour to Saddam Hussein. This government has deliberately subverted the teaching of reading in schools so that 40% of the population now lacks sufficient literacy skills to think & function in the world - & will therefore vote for ... this government!"

Perigo's slightly unfair - not all these sins can be laid at the feet of this government. Others before, Jim Bolger for example, must take responsibility for holding New Zealand back from becoming a free nation.

Perigo would probably accuse me of being politically correct because while here I've been learning some Maori, in particular, the words to the New Zealand National Anthem. In so doing, I looked at the words of other countries' national anthems, and it made me realise how far many nations have strayed from the meaning of the lyrics they probably sing several times a year.

La Marseillaise? Consider today's neo-socialist France (our new best friend) with the stirring words written in 1792 by de Lisle (translated):

"Oh liberty can man resign thee
Once having felt thy generous flame?
Can dungeons, bolts and bar confine thee?
Or whips thy noble spirit tame?

Today's politically correct Canada? "Oh Canada we stand on guard for thee, God keep our land glorious and free!"

America, for all her faults and aberrations, has remained most true to the words of the 'Star Spangled Banner' with its repeated, "O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave."

And New Zealand? There are five verses in our national anthem, and the last one, which we rarely get to sing, includes the words, "May our mountains ever be, Freedom's ramparts on the sea."

But that's not all. At the end of each of the five verses, Thomas Bracken, the poet who wrote the words to this anthem, penned the lines:

"God defend our Free Land."

Withered free land now but we could have a free land again. It wouldn't be hard to get rid of all the constricts Perigo lambasted - and the others he didn't. Maybe then we could attract some of our brightest ex-pats home. Perhaps New Zealand will become a beacon for sparkling people from other countries, who can contribute to our culture, our self-confidence, and give us a happy country we can really be proud of.

To someone like me who strives for it, happiness is a wonderful mode of existence. With freedom comes happiness and prosperity. With freedom's opposite, tyranny, comes misery and poverty.

But as with freedom, happiness is too often dismissed as ephemeral, frivolous and of no consequence. Then when it is gone and all that's left is the sweet memory, we realise what a treasure we had. Just like my study leave in Cambridge.

Yours in happiness,

Deborah Coddington

And it reminded me, how many people, when they sing the Anthem in English, even consider what they're saying?

Liberty Belle is a column from Deborah Coddington, Member of Parliament for ACT New Zealand.

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