Hon Jim Sutton Valedictory speech
Speech Notes 26 July 2006
Hon Jim Sutton
Hon Jim Sutton List Member of Parliament Minister of State, Associate Minister for Trade Negotiations
Madam Speaker, in my maiden speech on October 2, 1984, I paid tribute to a couple of my predecessors as MPs for Waitaki. Both I thought, far more distinguished than I could ever be and I was right.
The first was Reverend Arnold Nordmeyer, one of the architects of New Zealand's welfare state.
"Nordie", author of the 1958 Black Budget, displayed a degree of raw political courage rare in any Parliament. Earlier, as Presbyterian minister in Kurow, he had visited a mother in one of the hydro construction cottages. Her young children were grubby, with ringworm, nits, and runny noses.
Nordie enquired how long it was since they had been bathed. The woman replied that it was some time, as her husband required the use of the bath to brew his beer.
Nordie went through to the bathroom, and pulled the plug on the brew. He might not have voted to lower the drinking age, but he would certainly have applauded the 75 per cent reduction in unemployment achieved by Helen Clark's Government.
An earlier representative, Jock MacKenzie, was the Minister of Lands who broke up the big estates for family farm settlement. That policy, I told the House 80-odd years later, had reflected the egalitarian values of New Zealanders and made us the sort of society we still are, by and large, today. The same principles led this government to abolish interest on student loans.
Hon Jock MacKenzie also set up legislation to give effect to the so-called "Queen's Chain". In 1984, I said the law on public access was ridiculously complicated and uncertain, and needed sorting out.
I quoted the anonymous citizen, who, when that great proponent of private property rights the first Earl of Camden, in 1764, fenced off a piece of common land for his exclusive use, wrote: " The law doth punish man or woman That steals the goose from off the common Yet lets the greater felon loose That steals the common from the goose."
I regret that this is still unfinished business I leave behind. But I am confident that quite soon now this Parliament will ensure that the birthright of New Zealanders, to enjoy responsible and legal access to our glorious natural environment, will prevail over the selfishness of the squatter Camden.
It is reckoned better to be in Government for a week than in Opposition for a year; but one does not have to be in this place for long to appreciate that it is better to be in Cabinet.
Geoffrey Palmer when Prime Minister gave six of us the opportunity to take that step up in February 1990. Six established ministers, planning to retire at the end of the term, were invited by Geoffrey to resign their portfolios. It didn't turn around the fortunes of that government, but it did induce me to stay in politics and indeed to return in 1993, courtesy of the generous people of Timaru, having lost my always tenuous grip on Waitaki in October 1990.
Now it is my turn to stand down, in order that new and younger blood may flow into the arteries of government. So, I reflect on the highlights for me of my ministerial career.
In 1990, I took on agriculture and forestry from Colin Moyle. His were giant shoes in which to step.
I would have liked to reform the producer boards, but there was no time. Nor was there a political mandate, other than the enthusiastic support of Roger Douglas, and he was counting down to retirement.
I did think I might at least remove the monopoly of the Apple and Pear Board in the domestic pipfruit market - where it was resented by retailers and consumers alike - while preserving the single desk export arrangement. But this plan was frustrated by the Prime minister who he said, mistakenly, having misheard a briefing in his limo on the way to a meeting of noisy Hawkes Bay orchardists assured the industry that the status quo would prevail.
I was utterly dismayed by this, but Cabinet after intense discussion decided that the Prime Minister's word, however careless, must be our bond.
The issue which exercised me most in 1990 was how to respond to the devastation left behind by Cyclone Bola, by promoting sustainable land management. We devised and won funding for a scheme called the "FARM Partnership" ? the letters standing for "Facilitating Action for Risk Management".
FARM Partnership perished in the "mother of all budgets" the next year, but what remained has endured - the reorientation of MAF from an organization existing to make two sheep graze where but one had grazed before - to an organization whose mission was to promote sustainability - where the three pillars of environmental, social, and economic sustainability were seen as interdependent and of equal importance.
The Sustainable Farming Fund, established post 1999, has given wings to another ingredient of sustainable agriculture - the energy and innovative impulse of our rural communities. I am continuously amazed by the quality of the SFF-assisted projects, and suspect the scheme will long endure.
This time around, we have at last done justice to producer board reform. It has been successful because government reached agreed positions with the stakeholders in each sector.
Undoubtedly, the jewel in the crown is Fonterra. I confess to having been a skeptic with regard to the "one company" model, but was persuaded by a cunning regulation which disincentivised any unfair manipulation of milk and share prices by the dominant company.
Anyway, even if Fonterra doesn't work in theory, it's hard to argue with success in practice. Initially the 13th biggest dairy company in the world, Fonterra is now the world's 3rd or 4th largest, with the vision and momentum to become "New Zealand's Nokia".
Other highlights of my tenure in rural portfolios have been the ongoing strengthening of biosecurity and of food safety, and of animal welfare. All of these are important in their own right, but doubly so because of market risks which threaten the living standards of every citizen, whether they know it or not.
A personal highlight was, as New Zealand Agriculture Minister, to be honoured to be elected the Chair of the biennial conference of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, in Rome. The last New Zealander to do so had been Keith Holyoake in 1950-something. A beautiful city, in a beautiful country. An unwieldy bureaucracy, never the less trying to operationalise an important part of the United Nations vision.
My other major portfolio, which steadily increased in size till it demanded an almost fulltime commitment, was Trade Negotiations.
I had not anticipated this. Nothing in my Parliamentary experience had prepared me for it.
I had expected to be typecast, as usual, in a suite of primary industry portfolios, excluding of course forestry from which I had withdrawn because I could not support my party's policy of ruling out sustainable timber production from any part of the extensive Crown beech forest estate.
What I didn't realize till later was that Helen Clark was being vigorously lobbied by suburban greenies not to allow Sutton anywhere near fisheries: "He's too close to industry."
So I was somewhat surprised when, about a month before polling day, Helen said: "Oh Jim, you'd better have your bag packed on election night." (My God, there's been a bad poll in South Canterbury!) "It may take weeks to form a government, so I've agreed with Jenny that you and Lockwood Smith will both go to the WTO conference in Seattle."
And so it was: Seattle, Doha, Cancun, Geneva, Hong Kong. And all the APEC conferences, and the bilateral and regional FTA and CEP negotiations, and the many trade promotion missions, mostly accompanied by the indefatiguable Jeremy Spanjaard.
To me, the greatest challenge, and the greatest opportunity, has been China. I'm not quite certain, but I think I've visited China as an MP or a minister 16 times.
Chinese outnumber New Zealanders by about 325 to one. They are demonstrating the world's most spectacular economic growth. Within the lifetimes of most New Zealand MPs, they will be the world's biggest economy. They have 21 per cent of the people but only 7 per cent of the planet's arable soil.
We on the other hand have almost no people and a third of the world's internationally traded dairy product. China and New Zealand are economic partners made in heaven. We get along famously well. It has given me the greatest satisfaction to be able to contribute to this growing relationship.
On the backbenches, in government or opposition, job satisfaction is thinner on the ground. It is better with MMP. Simply, the dominant party will never let any more small parties into coalition, sharing the chairs in Cabinet, than it has to. So, most select committees are finely balanced. If members on either side of the table wish to contribute anything constructive and almost all do they need to start doing deals.
I very much enjoyed my time on the Primary Production Select Committee, chaired by Eric Roy, or by me when he was absent. Eric and I were able to forge a bipartisan consensus on almost anything, not infrequently over a feed of fresh-baked muffins produced by the NZ First MP, Robyn McDonald.
Not everything was of earth-shaking importance. I recall the passion of witnesses defending their sacrosanct right to amputate the tails of their puppy dogs. Without their advocacy, there can be little doubt that our suburbs would by now be ankle-deep in the shards of valuable vases swept off coffee tables by the colossal tails of undocked Labradors.
My time on the Finance and Expenditure select committee was a joy. In opposition, Bill Birch and Michael Cox each described themselves as "National's spokesman on finance". Trevor de Cleene as chair would play them off against each other, whenever he could. The GST Bill was an absolute highlight.
Later, when I had taken over as Chair, the Reserve Bank Bill was another highlight. The world's most eminent macro-economists lined up to provide an incredible tutorial in monetary policy. It was an opportunity for New Zealand to be at the absolute cutting edge, and a privilege and a joy to be a part of it.
Another select committee experience was Maori Affairs, hearing submissions on the Ngai Tahu Claim Settlement bill. It wasn't rocket science, but the emotional intensity was white-hot throughout. One witness collapsed and died while giving evidence, despite the best CPR efforts of those present.
I have wonderful memories of my time here. I think of Lange, Palmer, Douglas, Prebble, Mike Moore, Muldoon each somewhat larger than life in the roles they played. Jim Bolger, who I had underestimated, continues to make a huge contribution. Annette, who is a sister to me. Sonja, who shamed me into ironing my own shirts. Bill Dillon, who helped organize a still-notorious party which started in the Doidge Room and ended up at 6am in the Beehive swimming pool. Too many others to mention.
I think of the brilliant and dedicated public servants with whom I have been privileged to work.
I acknowledge all those who help us, in and around this place: drivers, security, messengers, VCO, Bellamys, cleaners, and many more.
I think of the wonderful, loyal, selfless people who have helped me, who stand behind every constituency candidate. In Timaru, there was a committee called "The Last of the Summer Wine". To name some would mean omitting others which would be unfair.
My own office staff in Timaru, Oamaru, and Wellington have been fabulous. Again, after so many years, I cannot mention some, even those nearest and dearest who are now friends for life, without unfairly and arbitrarily omitting others.
Public life is often a selfish business. It can be all-consuming.
Those closest to public figures often pay a high or unfair price.
So it has sometimes been, for those closest to me, friends as well as family.
To those I have hurt, I say sorry. To those who follow me here, I say try to do better than I did, in that respect. But I hope you all have as much fun and enjoy as much job satisfaction as I have. It is a honour to serve in the Parliament of the people.