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Deborah Coddington's valedictory speech

Deborah Coddington's valedictory speech

Deborah Coddington Tuesday, 2 August 2005 Speeches - Other

Valedictory speech by retiring ACT MP Deborah Coddington, 2 August 2005.

It feels somewhat presumptuous to be making a valedictory speech when just three years ago I stood here and gave my maiden speech.

A Gallery journalist, in the context of my not seeking re-election, asked me last week if I felt I was a failure as a politician. I certainly do not. I don't believe the success or failure of any job should be measured by the length of time spent in it. I doubt that journalist would consider herself a failure if she had spent three years working for, say radio, then moved on to another position in, say television.

I prefer to measure my achievements against my own standards. The past three years have certainly been pretty action packed and I can honestly say - never a dull moment.

I am happy to leave here with a feeling that it has indeed been worth it.

That I have actually managed to make a bit of difference, for the better, albeit in small facets, of a few people's lives.

I came into the House under the leadership of Richard Prebble and with his support and encouragement, threw myself into the job. I found out that when Mr Prebble was told in 2002 that I would be standing for ACT, he mused, "She'll be trouble, but she'll be good."

Well I've been both. I was trouble, but I was good too.

I put my career in journalism on hold to come in so analogies are inevitable. You catch a whiff of the smell in the back of the cave and instinctively, just as others want to run away from it, the journalist wants to find out what's causing it. As an Opposition MP too this applies - you do the research, ask the questions, check out the problem.

But an MP gets the journalists to do the writing, and it's the writing that I've missed so much, and which I can't wait to get back to.

And just as good editors have encouraged, pushed, bullied and cajoled me to write award-winning stories, Richard Prebble made me want to work hard to be an effective MP. His experience and knowledge was invaluable and I'm grateful for his generosity in giving advice to a novice. The first was, don't be scared of making mistakes. An MP who doesn't make mistakes isn't doing his job.

I remember not long after the election, Hon Steve Maharey, wrote to the Speaker raising a possible abuse of the privilege of free speech by me in general debate. I had proof that despite statements to the contrary, Child Youth and Family were still placing vulnerable children in the care of convicted child sex offenders - in this case, a paedophile I'd named in my 1996 book.

I nervously showed a copy of this letter to Mr Prebble, thinking I'd really done it now. I was expecting a bollocking. Hmmm. This is very serious, he said as he read through Mr Maharey's letter. Mr Maharey had suggested to the Speaker that he "have a discussion with Ms Coddington" about raising such concerns in the future. But I was okay.

This letter itself could be a breach of privilege, said Mr Prebble. Go down to the House and read Erskine May and see what you can do. I happily wrote off to the Speaker with a counter charge that Mr Maharey was just as much breaching privilege as I was because he was trying to frustrate and impair my freedom of speech, and impair the proper carrying out of my duties and performance as a Member of Parliament.

The complaints never amounted to anything serious, but I wonder how many second or third-term MPs have sat up all night studying Erskine May, let alone in their first few months.

Richard Prebble's guidance helped make this place feel slightly less alien, and serving with a parliamentarian of his calibre has been a rare honour and privilege.

One of the main reasons I leapt the divide from the fourth estate to the third estate was because I am driven by a desire to do more to protect and help children. Not just from sexual abuse, but in terms of improving their chances for a good education.

There is no doubt that most of our children do extremely well at school, but not long before I left North & Southmagazine I wrote a feature on the appalling situation in this country whereby around 18 percent of school leavers are unable to read, write or add up to sufficient ability that they can cope with everyday life. I called this child abuse of the mind – if that portion of students left school physically crippled there would be a national outcry.

So when Qantas sponsored me as a Press Fellow to Wolfson College in Cambridge, in 2003, I studied the effect of parental choice on literacy standards in The Netherlands and Sweden. I published my research in a little book - "Let Parents Choose" - and campaigned hard on the merits of a voucher system, which allows all parents - not just the affluent - to take children to the school they choose, ACT's policy since 1996.

That policy is now being adopted, albeit incrementally, by other parties in this House. The voucher system is no longer a dirty word. Let Parents Choose became the catch-cry from Russell to Blackball during my crusade against massive school closures.

Then last week at a political meeting a candidate for the Maori Party agreed that ACT's education policy is the best for Maori, 30 percent of whom leave school with no qualifications.

And my stance on sexual abuse has been unflinching since 1996 when I compiled my first Sex Offender Index. One of my express aims upon entering Parliament was to follow the lead of the United Kingdom and Canada and introduce a Sex Offender Registry Bill. I am grateful to Allan Bracegirdle for drafting up my Sex Offender Register Bill so quickly and concisely. I was very lucky to have this Bill drawn out of the Ballot so early. It unanimously passed the first reading and is ticking its way smoothly through select committee.

I have spoken with several MPs in other parties who firmly support the Bill, and I am confident that under Stephen Franks' care, this will become law in the next Parliament.

That would see New Zealand stand alongside other first world nations with similar legislation.

And it is with huge satisfaction that I now see widespread recognition of the faults of NCEA. I started campaigning against this in the pages of North & Southmagazine. Before

I was made education spokesman for ACT, the education select committee refused leave sought by ACT's former education spokesman for an inquiry into the implementation of the NCEA.

Undaunted, Richard Prebble, Donna Awatere-Huata and myself held our own inquiry, travelling around the country hearing submissions - both for and, especially from parents, against the NCEA.

Now, as I leave, the Labour Government has agreed to not one, but three inquiries, with the results that we all predicted back when this dreadful experiment was first foisted on our school children back when National was the Government.

Of course I can't take the sole credit for these changes in attitude. ACT has been hugely influential on other political parties, whether they care to recognise it or not. Key ACT policies are now accepted - at least nominally - by most parties. Issues which once made ACT the radical party - welfare abuse, low taxes, zero tolerance for crime, ending the treaty grievance industry, opening up the family court, honouring the right to self-defence - are now widely accepted by the New Zealand public as essential for this country's development, peace and progress.

I consider myself very, very fortunate to have been an MP in a party, which not just tolerated my obsessions, but gave me the utmost freedom to pursue my objectives. I have absolutely no doubt my colleagues will be back in the next Parliament because their work in terms of being the party of influence, fresh ideas, and new policies, is certainly hugely successful. They have made enormous achievements, but their work is far from finished.

So I do leave with a sense of achievement and accomplishment and I believe Hansard will reflect that. In select committee I have cooperated, where appropriate, with opposing politicians for good outcomes, for example on transport legislation where Lianne Dalzell and I worked hard together to clean out the taxi industry of serious sex offenders.

And I have hugely enjoyed my time here. I have made friends across other parties. It is certainly a brutalising place, that's for sure but I don't blame anyone for the battles I had to face, and the demons I stared down. Even the bad times were good.

I am sorry for my children - they didn't like reading some things about their mother, and they were hurt by it. But nobody ever said life would be easy, and when tears were dried we always managed to sit down together, bring things into perspective, and have a good laugh.

I believe the Press Gallery owe me in terms of the copy I inadvertently provided for them. To those who hyperventilated and billed me as a 'star' and a 'future leader', I hope your excuse as to the non-appearance of your "we got it wrong" stories is that they were spiked. There are no "stars" in politics, just 120 MPs doing the best they can in an environment that, unjustifiably in my opinion, ranks their profession as the lowest in society. My advice to journalists is, don't knock it until you've tried it.

I do hope that what I went through doesn't deter people from standing for Parliament. I also hope that my controversial publicity doesn't cause the ruling hierarchy of political parties to over- sanitise those they decide to promote as high-ranking MPs - just to save their parties from embarrassing publicity.

This is the House of Representatives. Anyone who's made mistakes, fallen over and skinned their knees, picked themselves up again and fought another day - anyone who's lived life to the full - will have made embarrassing decisions in their past. But I doubt New Zealand wants to be represented by 120 individuals who've never made a single mistake in their lives. That would really be a parliament of freaks.

So I'm moving on to another pasture now, which includes a happy marriage and the chance to make some fine pinot noir.

But to those who suspect I'm going soft, be warned. I haven't finished with politics. I won't rule out a come back. And I shall be up there with the fourth estate, the nitpickers, watching you and remembering exactly what you've promised in this election campaign.

Thank you to my staff, especially Janice Lopez, Scott Dennison and David Young. Thank you to my colleagues who've supported and tolerated me - kia kaha and remember, it's better to fall on principle than stand on lies.

I wish you all, all the very best. And I leave you with the words of Victor Frankl, a neurologist who survived three years in Dachau and Auschwitz:

"We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

ENDS

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