Richard Prosser Maiden Speech
Richard Prosser Maiden Speech
Thank-you Mr Speaker;
And may I add my voice to those who have offered you their congratulations on your re-election.
We are, all of us, here in New Zealand, either migrants, or the descendants of migrants.
Some have been here longer than others, but we all belong to this land and we all call it home.
Many of our forebears arrived here by varied and circuitous routes; my own family story is one such tale.
It is largely a tale of two grandfathers, neither of whom I had the opportunity of knowing as well, or for as long, as I would have liked.
My mother was born on the 8th of March 1940, in the city of Odense, on the island of Funen, in the Kingdom of Denmark.
My grandfather, Hans Christian Hansen, was born in Denmark in 1900, and spent his 20s and early 30s in America and Canada, where he leaned to speak English.
In the mid 1930s, as the Great Depression swept through the United States, Hans returned to his homeland, where he married my grandmother, and the couple soon had two children.
Watching the rise of Nazi Germany through the 1930s, my grandfather feared for the safety of his young family, and when the Second World War began, he resolved to take them away from the troubles of Europe, and to a better life on the other side of the world.
In February 1940 rumours were rife of the expected German invasion of Norway and Denmark.
By the 18th of March, when my mother was just ten days old, Hans could wait no longer.
He took my grandmother, with my mother as a babe-in-arms, and her two older siblings, to the local airfield, from where the family flew to Germany.
From there they took a train to Italy, and in Genoa they boarded a ship that was bound for Australia.
Barely two weeks after Hans and his family had made their escape, Germany closed its border with Denmark, and six days later, on the 9th of April, the Germans invaded and Denmark was occupied.
The Italian ship Romolo carrying my grandfather and his family docked in Brisbane at the beginning of June 1940, where the Captain discovered that his sister ship, the Remo, had been impounded in Freemantle, as war between Australia and Italy was considered imminent.
Knowing that his vessel was about to be seized, the Captain disembarked passengers, and then broke the moorings and headed back out to sea, attempting to reach safety in Japan before war was declared.
But when the Romolo was intercepted by the Australian Navy a few days later, the crew scuttled her – along with everyone’s possessions, which were still on board.
My Granddad applied to stay in Australia, but the Lucky Country decided that they didn’t want him.
Australia at that time had no great tradition of migration from Scandinavia, and the nervous wartime authorities there were distrusting of a would-be European migrant who had a German-sounding name, and who spoke unusually good English with a suspiciously American accent.
Fortunately, however, New Zealand did have a tradition of Scandinavian migration, and in July 1940 my mother’s family arrived in Auckland, with little more than the clothes they were wearing – on the Union Steamship Company’s freighter Limerick, which was destined to be torpedoed by the Japanese in 1943.
My grandfather was a carpenter and builder by trade; and a no-nonsense, hard-working individual, unused to asking for handouts.
His first action on arriving in what would be his new home, was to roll up his sleeves, borrow a hammer, and go to work.
My grandmother spoke no English at all; and so, alone in a strange new land with three small children, she learned.
Hans kept his American accent until he died in 1973, by which time he had become a proud New Zealander; and with two sunken ships behind him, he wasn’t going anywhere else anyway.
Never much concerned by rules or regulations, he didn’t bother to obtain a driver’s licence until he was pulled over and asked to produce one, by an Auckland City Traffic Officer, in the early 1960s.
Hans provided the officer with the only form of licence he had ever held; it was a “Permit to Operate an Automobile”, which he had purchased from Chicago City Hall for fifty cents in 1921.
Hans, who had never had an accident, reasoned that his licence had worked perfectly well all these years, and he couldn’t see the point in getting another one.
My father was a somewhat later arrival, stepping off the boat in Wellington at the tender age of not-quite-twenty, in 1956, having completed his service in the RAF.
By coincidence my paternal grandfather was born in the same year, and died in the same year, as did his maternal counterpart.
Stanley Prosser was too young for the First World War and too old for the second, but he fought in them both anyway. In 1916 he lied about his age and joined the Pioneer Corps.
After his demobilisation following the Armistice, he left his native Wales, to seek his fortune in England.
When war broke out again in 1939, Stan had become a successful drainlaying contractor, and had the option of spending the war getting rich from emergency civil works contracts.
Instead however, my grandfather, who regarded service to the nation as being nothing less than his sacred duty, rejoined the Army, as an officer in the Royal Engineers.
With his father in the Army and his mother battling ill health, my father David and his elder brother were sent to boarding school.
Stanley Prosser was a fine baritone, and a good Welsh Baptist, but although he was a lay Preacher in his local Church, he was also a betting man who was fond of a flutter on the horses, and so he sent his boys to a C of E school.
Dad believes that was because he wanted to have a pound each way, just in case God turned out to be an Anglican after all.
In 1959 my grandfather followed his sons to a better life in New Zealand, where he carried on laying drains – and backing horses – ending his days in Waihi in 1973.
The values inherited from his father, and the traditions of first the Haileybury and Imperial Service College, and then the Royal Air Force, instilled a profound sense of duty and discipline in my father; qualities which I am proud to say he did his utmost to pass on to myself and my two sisters.
After Dad’s mother died when he was just six years old, he was forced to learn to make his own way in the world; quite simply because there was not the option of doing otherwise.
To this day, battling his own demons in the form of Parkinson’s disease, my father remains a thoroughly fair and decent man; gentlemanly in his conduct, reasoned and reasonable in his approach to all things, and unafraid to stand up for what he believes to be right.
It is this last conviction, Mr Speaker, which provided the foundation for my own beginning of the journey into politics.
My father worked tirelessly for many years to promote the cause of the political Party and philosophy which he supported; probably, in truth, in terms of time and effort, to the detriment of his own business interests, but he did it anyway, because he believed it was the right thing to do.
He and my mother lived a simple life, putting their energies not into the pursuit of material wealth, but rather into a quest for some greater reason, and purpose to life, for themselves and their children.
Through organic gardening, alternative therapies, and a degree of self-sufficiency, they sought to instil in us the value of self-reliance, and of having an open and inquiring mind.
It was an upbringing which encouraged curiosity, learning, and a thirst for knowledge.
We didn’t have PlayStation games, or shiny plastic toys, or even television when I was a kid; we did have books, and the experience of a different view of life, and the insights provided by my parents’ many fascinating acquaintances.
Above all they taught us the worth of forming our own opinions based on observation and verifiable fact; to take good advice and to learn from the experiences of others, but also to have the courage of conviction, and strength of mind, to have a voice and to make a stand where that is what is necessary – and not to simply blindly follow the herd just because the herd is going in a particular direction.
It is a philosophy which I have followed for most of my life, Mr Speaker; and one which has often courted controversy, recent events being no exception to that.
In 2001 when the then Labour Government scrapped the Combat Wing of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, like many observers, I was concerned.
To my mind, that was an act which was deeply flawed, on many fronts, and it required a response.
I was concerned, Mr Speaker, that people in positions of high office and great responsibility, could make such decisions, which in my estimation and that of others, flew in the face of both military reality, and of the lessons of history.
I was very concerned that both the counsel of expert advisors, and the overwhelming weight of public opinion, could be disregarded in what appeared to be a somewhat cavalier fashion.
And I was deeply concerned that the decision could be justified to the public, without adequate media scrutiny, or the option of recourse to statutory investigation, by claims of fact and by statements of account, which in my view were, and remain to this day, entirely questionable.
That action was the turning point which persuaded me that I needed to become involved in the political process; that it was no longer an option to simply be an observer.
I was convinced by that event that certain aspects of the New Zealand political system needed to be changed.
It was the beginning of a road which has culminated in my presence in this esteemed House, Sir; which is, I believe, in itself the beginning of yet another road.
It is not enough that, eleven years after the fact, the folly of the aforementioned disbandment of the Combat Wing still requires to be corrected; that Government still needs to realise and accept that the adequate defence of the nation is its first responsibility.
It is my belief, Sir, that Members of this House do have sufficient courage to be accountable for the decisions we make on behalf of the nation and its people; not just once every three years at election time, but every day in between.
And if we are true to ourselves and to the principles of democracy, we should not fear the voters being allowed to exercise a continuous right of recall.
Equally I hope the day will come when Members from all Parties enjoy the freedom to follow the mood and instruction of the electorate, as Members of the New Zealand First Party do, in supporting policies which reflect the clearly expressed will of the people.
It is my belief that Members have a responsibility to speak up and speak out when they know that their concerns are shared by the voters whom they represent.
And it is of paramount importance, in my opinion, that the presently unchecked authority of the Executive be made accountable to the electorate, through the mechanism of Binding Citizens’ Initiated Referenda, which I am proud to say has been the policy of the New Zealand First Party since its creation eighteen years ago, and the desire of our Leader, the Right Honourable Winston Peters, who might I say Sir, stands as an inspiration to us all.
The achievement of these goals will not be accomplished quickly or without effort, for the wheels of change grind uncommon slow, and there is much work to be done.
I intend to throw myself into that task, Mr Speaker, and to that end, I have bought myself a new pair of work boots, to go with my new suit. They’re a bit more flash than the ones I’m used to, but they’re workboots nonetheless.
Every morning over the next three years – and beyond, should the people choose to extend my contract - I will have a constant reminder of what I am coming here to do, and who I am coming here to do it for.
As I pull on my boots for work, as I have done almost every morning for these past twenty-seven years, I know that all over New Zealand, hundreds of thousands of my countrymen and women are doing the same thing.
They may be engaged in industries that I myself have experienced, or those of which I have not had the honour; they may be truck drivers, tractor drivers, orchard workers; they may be farmers, soldiers, Police Officers or forestry workers; they may be employed in workshops, machine shops, in warehouses or on production lines; in dairy sheds, in wineries, in coolstores or on fishing boats.
And they could be wearing steel toed boots, or spike soled boots, or tramping boots or gumboots.
But whoever and wherever they are, they need to know that here, in this House, Honourable Members are also working; together, and in the best interests of those workers.
Mr Speaker I feel enormously privileged to be allowed the honour of serving in this House.
That the first generation New Zealand-born son of migrants, one half of them penniless refugees from a war-torn continent, can grow up to become a Member of the House of Representatives of the People, is not something which can happen in many countries of the world, Sir, and I make no apology for proclaiming that I believe this one to be the best of them all.
I have come here, Mr Speaker, to advance the progress of democracy; to enhance the security and sovereignty of New Zealand in every sense, including military and economic; and to improve the lot of my fellow man, such that I may make my country and the world a better place for my children and grandchildren, in the healthy safe environment of a clean, secure, and wealthy nation.
I look forward to working with all the Members of this House towards what I am sure is that common goal, for I am convinced that we all share in the desire and intention to build a better world and a better New Zealand.
I would like to pay tribute to my partner Mel, the great woman who stands behind and beside me – no doubt rolling her eyes – who is still on the other side of the world in the United Kingdom, where I spent the summer recess waiting for the birth of our second daughter, who was meant to arrive early and who is now officially late.
It is for them, and for all the families in New Zealand who call this wonderful country home, that I am driven to make this effort.
Mr Speaker may I end as I began, in congratulating you on your re-election to office.
It is with sincerity, Sir, that I say that in my estimation you have restored a dignity to the role, and through it a sense of decorum to this House, that I have not otherwise witnessed throughout all the years of my lifetime that I have observed this noble institution from the outside.
If I may similarly endeavour to advance the better functioning of our Parliamentary democracy by working in the best interests of this House, the People, and the Nation, through all the days that I am given here, then I will consider that I have made a worthy contribution to our country and its future.