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John Boscawen - An Honour To Serve

An Honour To Serve John Boscawen MP, ACT New Zealand December 17 2008

Maiden Speech to Parliament; Wednesday, December 17 2008

Firstly Sir let me congratulate you and your colleagues on your appointments as Speaker, Deputy Speaker and Assistant Speakers respectively. I also acknowledge and congratulate all new members of Parliament and wish you well in your new careers.

I too am humbled, privileged and honoured to have been elected an ACT list MP - and for the opportunity to serve. To all who supported ACT throughout New Zealand, a very sincere thank you.

I have a vision of New Zealand as a country that is safe, rich and prosperous; one that, once again, enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the world.

Our problems are man-made and if we are, as a first step, to lift our living standards to the level in Australia we need to break the cycle of dependency and create an environment that encourages - rather discourages - hard work, thrift and enterprise. We need to reduce taxes and increase productivity and improve our international competitiveness.

Education will be absolutely fundamental to achieving this vision - not just to ensure that every child leaves school able to read and write, but equally important in changing attitudes.

Kelvin Davis said in the House last week that: "Educational engagement and achievement is vital to Maori greatness and prosperity and that we will achieve more with one full generation of highly educated Maori, than we will from the last 168 years of grievance".

I totally agree. During my time in Parliament I expect to play a part in making my vision of a prosperous inclusive country a reality.

Throughout life our parents, teachers, mentors and experiences shape our philosophies, values and beliefs. A maiden speech is an opportunity to publicly acknowledge and thank those who have contributed to making us who we are today.

My late sister Leanne and I were privileged to grow up in a loving two-parent family. My early memories of my father Owen were as a school teacher, while my mother Beverley Wheeler - who, with my partner Jane - is sitting in the gallery today, sacrificed her early career to stay at home and raise Leanne and I. I am deeply indebted to both my parents for the start in life they gave me and for the values they instilled in me.

My father - who, sadly, passed away last November - had an unparalleled association with Otahuhu College that spanned over 60 years. He was a pupil, Head Boy prefect, teacher in the 1950s and 60s, Fullbright Scholar, and finally the post he coveted most: principal of Otahuhu College for 14 years from 1972. My father was highly regarded by most in education circles and he devoted his life to the school and its pupils. He was constantly pushing both teachers and pupils to excel and to achieve their maximum potential, be it academically, in sport or in other ways.

Just a few years before he suffered a stroke in 2001, he gave me a copy of the interview notes he had prepared over 25 years earlier for his 1971 interview as principal to use in writing his obituary. I was surprised to read that, as early as 1971, he was calling for the teaching of the Maori language at Otahuhu College. He then learnt Maori through correspondence school and, because of the shortage of Maori language teachers, taught it himself to fifth form school certificate level in addition to his duties as principal.

Maori culture is one of the things that surely makes New Zealand and New Zealanders unique and gives us all a sense of identity. Who in this House is not moved by the many waiata and haka from the public gallery that have followed so many of our maiden speeches?

For most of his last six years my father was treated with dignity and respect by the hardworking and generally lowly paid staff of Parkhaven Hospital in Mangere. I thank them.

I believe their families can enjoy higher standards of education through greater choice, greater certainty of healthcare and higher standards of living as a consequence of ACT's policies, and that is one of the reasons why I have come to Parliament.

My mother, sister and I also attended Otahuhu College. I now follow the Right Honourable David Lange as the second old student of Otahuhu College to enter Parliament. My father taught us both.

My maternal grandmother Mona Wheeler was the most selfless, kind and loving grandmother any child could possibly have. She was absolutely devastated - as we all were - when Leanne died as a result of a car accident at the age of 20. Leanne was an outstanding sportswoman, outgoing, a Rotary exchange student and she packed more into her short life than many do in a normal lifetime.

As children my mother tried to encourage a sense of thrift in each of us. Each week my sister and I were given initially two shillings sixpence, and then 25 cents, as pocket money. What was left at the end of the week my mother doubled and had to be banked in our school bank accounts. I soon worked out that 100 percent interest over a week was a very good return and for several years my passbook showed weekly deposits of 50 cents.

With a savings culture ingrained in me as a child, I was instantly attracted in 1995 to ACT's policy of significant tax cuts with a portion dedicated to compulsory savings.

The Right Honourable Winston Peters eventually incorporated most aspects of ACT's policy into his own referendum on compulsory savings which was sadly lost in 1997 by 93 percent to seven percent. In my view, this was a major lost opportunity for New Zealand.

I congratulate the Hon Dr Michael Cullen on the introduction of KiwiSaver and I hope that the recent changes reducing the minimum contribution to two percent will see even greater numbers of ordinary working families participate. This will hopefully provide the foundation for the scheme to become compulsory sometime in the future.

In my view, nothing will give ordinary New Zealanders greater freedom, independence and certainty than knowing that in retirement their living and medical expenses will be adequately covered. While those not working or with inadequate savings will need to be provided for, this must surely be better than relying on future generations of politicians to bid for the votes of the elderly as they do now.

My parents also encouraged my entrepreneurial efforts. For many years as a child, I would get up early every Sunday morning and ride my bike around the streets of Papatoetoe and Otara collecting beer bottles. At university I developed a miniature golf course at Mt Maunganui, which my father helped build, and my mother and grandmother ran during the summer holidays.

Following my graduation as BCom from Auckland University I worked initially as an accountant at UEB Industries and then Eta Foods.

Like a lot of people at this time I borrowed heavily to invest in the stock market, and lost everything in 1987. I fought off the threat of bankruptcy at the age of 30 and after five years of insolvency, with the support of both my parents, eventually emerged as the developer and outright owner of the 100,000 sq ft K-mart Plaza Shopping Centre in Hastings in 1992 which I fully debt funded.

I was lucky however. I was young, hardworking and committed with more than adequate time to rebuild financially.

I contrast my situation with a large number of New Zealanders in their 60s, 70s and 80s who have lost all or part of their life savings through recent finance company failures. This is a tragedy as most of these people, unlike me, will have little chance to rebuild their savings. The fact that so many can lose so much, with no government intervention is, in my view, a national disgrace.

Developing K-mart Plaza Hastings was a once in a lifetime opportunity and it has changed my life in so many ways since 1992.

Firstly it has enabled me to travel extensively throughout the world and to have the privilege of experiences few New Zealanders enjoy.

For example I found it impossible to stand inside Nelson Mandela's cell on Robben Island or in its limestone quarry without having enormous respect for all that he endured and achieved.

Or alternatively when visiting eye hospitals in India I constantly asked myself why the elderly in New Zealand must wait for cataract operations, when advances in technology in recent years should have made this a relatively simple, quick, inexpensive and an on-demand operation.

During this time, I have also been free to support various philanthropic causes.

I am a member of Rotary Club of Downtown Auckland and I am proud that Rotary International, a worldwide organization with over a million members, has been instrumental in virtually eliminating polio from the world over the last 25 years.

The love of music and culture instilled as a child, also sees me as a trustee of the Auckland Philharmonia Foundation, and I take this opportunity to acknowledge the work that the Honourable Judith Tizard did in promoting the Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Bill last term.

I have also been able to devote considerable resources to the ACT party. I first stood for ACT in Epsom in 1996 and like so many of ACT's candidates in 2008, I had no expectation of being elected but rather my role was to help get others into Parliament. For those who did the same for me this year, I am sincerely grateful.

I acknowledge all those ACT MPs who have come before me and in particular, the Honourable Rodney Hide and the Honourable Heather Roy who have helped keep the party together over the last 3 years, the selfless contribution of the Honourable Richard Prebble, and Dr Muriel Newman who first alerted me to the Electoral Finance Bill last August and the ease with which I could make a submission.

I have the greatest admiration for the Honourable Sir Roger Douglas and the foresight and courage he showed in addressing the country's problems during the fourth Labour government. Without his encouragement I would not be here today and I will regard it as a privilege to work with him over the next three years.

In addition, I acknowledge and thank so many others. Our volunteers, our electorate committees, our Parliamentary staff, our party and campaign staff and all those who supported us financially. Special thanks go to the Board, our party president Gary Mallett and vice president and my North Shore Campaign Chairman, Michael Crozier

I turn now to the Electoral Finance Bill which was introduced into this House last July. Incredibly the government sought to regulate virtually every form of political expression for the full election year. Anyone who wanted to express any form of political opinion was to be required, as a minimum, to sign a declaration before a Justice of the Peace before they spent a single dollar doing so. Worse still, the government's own lawyers, The Crown Law Office thought this was perfectly acceptable and not in breach of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

It is hard to imagine a more a more draconian attempt to muzzle free speech. If New Zealanders disagreed, they needed to say so. The contempt with which the government treated the public was unbelievable.

I am sure Members know the story well.

Thankfully the Human Rights Commission strongly disagreed and described the Bill as a "dramatic assault on two fundamental human rights that New Zealanders cherish" and said the bill "was inherently flawed" . They along with the New Zealand Law Society and others called on the government to withdraw the Bill and start again.

I travelled from Auckland to tell the members of the Select Committee that they should regards the Commission's submission, as my submission and if they did not withdraw the bill as recommended I would consider running a campaign against the bill.

The rest is history. Over the ensuing months over 7000 people joined me in protest marches throughout the country.

I am tremendously indebted to all those who joined me in speaking out on an issue that goes the very heart of our democracy.

I believe that in passing the legislation the former government was trying to restrict our democratic rights to criticize them in election year. While I am sure this is not the only issue that contributed to their defeat, I certainly believe it contributed to a change in public attitude to the Labour government and the size of its defeat. Accordingly I believe it serves as a lesson to all future governments that hopefully this generation of politicians of will not forget.

I congratulate the Honourable Phil Goff on acknowledging Labour's mistake and the Right Honourable John Key and National on their decision to repeal the Act. How I ironic that I will be to voting for its repeal.

However I also note the EFA is not the only piece of anti-democratic legislation on the statute books. In 1995 Parliament passed legislation making it illegal for political parties to use their own money to purchase broadcast time. For example in the most recent election Labour and National were given around a million dollars each in free broadcast time, while The Greens and Act had just a fraction of this.

I believe it is only fair and democratic for all parties to have the right to use their own funds to purchase additional broadcasting up to the largest allocation.

Finally to Jane, I say thank you for all your love and support and to the current and past pupils of Otahuhu College, I say Kia Tamatane.

ENDS

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