Maiden Speech - Simon O’Connor
National MP for Tamaki
16 February 2011
(Check against delivery)
In 1854, this house met for the first time on the outskirts of Auckland. It consisted of just 37 people. Those 37 could scarcely imagine how NZ would change over the coming century and a half. Since that time, 1,362 people have held seats in parliament and each one has given a maiden speech. It is difficult to imagine how I might say something original, but I’ll give it a shot.
Maiden speeches seem to me a curious exercise. They are an introduction, a moment of history, and a statement to posterity all at once. They are also a time for reflection at the beginning of a new chapter in which each of us can consider the events in our lives that have led us to this place at this point in time. I, like all who have stood in this house, have been asked many times, why I decided to enter parliament and politics? I have always noted that there was never one particular moment. It has been an organic process that developed slowly over many years, while working alongside people from all walks of life. I have worked in many challenging environments, from prisons and homeless shelters, to rest homes and hospitals; from the streets of Brooklyn, New York to the island of Taveuni in Fiji. In doing so, I have seen some of the best and worst aspects of humanity. I have sat with those mourning the dead and celebrated the hope of a new-born child. I have encouraged those who suffer under the curse of drug addiction, counselled those who work on the streets, and listened to those off the street who simply needed to be heard. It has, for me, been the stories shared, the struggles endured, and experiences lived, that has drawn me more and more to this new opportunity to serve New Zealand, here in this house.
The varied experiences which have filled my life thus far cause me to look forward to working for the great constituency of Tamaki, and to engaging with its communities from St Heliers to Glen Innes, Orakei to Glendowie, and all the suburbs in-between. I love working with people, and for people. It has defined my life to date, and I hope and expect it will do so far into the future.
I have come to parliament with not only a desire to serve the people of this country, but also with the conviction that ideas are powerful things. I believe that ideas, well-articulated, can change the world. The importance of robust, rational debate is a passion of mine, one that requires the consistent application of considered principles. I reject political fundamentalism, where part of the truth is over-emphasised at the expense of everything else. No great idea needs such a dishonest defence. Some might consider me optimistic to hope that in this auspicious chamber there is still room for genuine debate and constructive discussion. About this, I may be optimistic, but there are few things I think far more deserving of such optimism than this place of thoughts and ideas, of discussions and debates. I hope that, in the coming years, I may contribute something to them all.
I seek to contribute because I am a proud New Zealander. I am kiwi through and through, having spent almost all of my life in Whangarei and Auckland. There are those who question what it means to be a New Zealander. They suppose we lack an identity or lament that it is not what they would wish it to be. I have no time for such a myopic perspective. New Zealand has a clear and strong identity which has grown and evolved over the centuries that have preceded us. Most kiwis know who they are and what they stand for and spend very little time worrying about labelling it. Some of our principles have changed over time, but the most important ones, our most fundamental values have not. The importance of family, hard work, personal responsibility, and a fair go for all, remain central to who we are.
Of course, one cannot stand in this room and speak of great kiwi traditions without acknowledging our extraordinary democracy. Mr Speaker, I believe New Zealand has the best democratic and constitutional structure in the world. I realise that this is not a thought which occurs to many people on a frequent basis, but this is probably more a testament to its veracity than anything else. My belief in our constitution has not arisen from ideology or blind patriotism, but an appreciation developed over many years of observation and study. Democracy is not something that can ever be taken for granted.
At the heart of our constitution sits the crown. It is an ingenious, ever evolving entity that plays a role in so many aspects of this country. It is a valuable guardian of our democracy, a symbol of our independence, and a sign of our political resourcefulness. I am pleased to acknowledge today the 60 years of service that the Queen of New Zealand has given to all kiwis. It is my hope that, in the years ahead, New Zealand can make its monarchy ever more distinct and an even more uniquely kiwi institution.
I suspect most here today would agree that New Zealand is the greatest country on earth. But that is not to say it is a perfect nation. Again I suspect that most here are cognisant of the many problems this country faces. Foremost among them, is the scourge of violence in our society. If there is one general area to which I wish to apply my time and experience, it is to ending, or at least greatly reducing, this violence. Of course, there is no single solution, no quick fix. It is a perennial issue that has been grappled with by successive parliaments. I believe that this National-led government is taking great steps in the right direction, but there is much work still to be done. Some is legislative, but the most difficult work is changing attitudes. I fear that New Zealand accepts violence too easily. Aggression is celebrated, verbal and emotional abuse is tolerated in public discourse, and people are willing to turn a blind eye towards those suffering at the hands of bullies. The prevalence of domestic violence, violence against children, and random acts of violence on our streets is a sad indictment of us all. I do not believe it is a simple matter to resolve this tragedy, but neither do I feel it is hopeless. Like all the problems we face in New Zealand, we begin with a commitment to fix what is wrong, to persevere in what is required, and to accept only success. This is how we have tackled problems in our past, and this is what is required now to build a safe and secure society for all.
This room is full of leaders, representatives of their constituencies and communities. Their commitment to ending violence in our country is essential, but the work of many others outside this building is also required. Fortunately, New Zealand has no shortage of dedicated, principled, and energetic citizens. I feel it is important to recognise that none of us stand in this parliament alone. We are born into a community, live in that community, and as individuals are at our strongest when we are in the midst of that community and those that matter the most.
Mr Speaker, there are many people to whom I owe a huge debt of gratitude for their support and encouragement over the years, and who have been very influential in my being here today.
My parents, Rory and Colleen, are in the gallery this afternoon. A son could not have better parents and my gratitude can only ever be a small measure of what I owe to them. If there is one lesson, amongst the many they taught me, and that I can bring to parliament, it is that love is not an economic commodity or one that is scarce when times are tough.
Sitting with them, are my siblings, Bernadette and Vincent. I am lucky to have such a great brother and sister. When required, they know how to put me in my place, a skill several people in this room will be interested in hearing about I’m sure.
To my friends across this country and around the world, I would like to thank you for all the insights and humour, lessons and memories.
William Yeats said, “Think where man’s glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends.” Truer words have never been spoken. To those friends here today I say thanks to you, and through you, to all those who couldn’t be here. To Ben Lee, Charles and Leigh Hay, Lynne Francis, Sean Palmer, Gordon Pilot, to Paul Foster-Bell, Chloe Oldfield, Brian Anderton, Aaron Hape and Paul Byers – thank you for all your help and encouragement over the years. I thank the Auckland University Fencers for all the fun and laughter, the debates, and the bruises. I am optimistic that my years of fencing may have well prepared me for the cut and thrust of this political place.
I acknowledge my caucus colleagues, for the help and support they have given me over the past few months. I would particularly like to thank Dr Jackie Blue and Dr Cam Calder, both of whom I have worked closely with over the past six years. The opportunity to be part of your electorates and to lead your campaign teams was great preparation for my own path to parliament.
I must also acknowledge my predecessor, Allan Peachey, whose sad passing last year cut short the work he sought to undertake in this house. I want to recognise his family, and the kindnesses they have shown me as I have prepared to represent Tamaki in this house.
Tamaki is an electorate with a formidable story, a narrative known all over the country. I am conscious of the role I play in writing its next chapter, but fortunately, I am not the sole author. I am pleased to work alongside the finest electorate team in New Zealand. Andrew Hunt, Christine MacFarlane, and Aaron Bhatnagar are here today. I am immensely proud to be your MP and conscious of your expectations. I will not let you down. Ros Rundle, Adriana Gunder, Eric Hansen, Phil Martell, Simon King, Cher Reynolds, Mariana Nordmark, Sharon Ludher-Chandra, Jim McElwain, Todd Muller, Dan Gardiner, Graham and Matt Malaghan, Kit Parkinson, and Cyrus Richardson form the electorate leadership team, but could not be here today. Without their help and support, I wouldn’t be either.
I am grateful to the National Party
for the opportunities it has provided me. My commitment to
our shared principles is absolute. I am conscious that my
selection as an MP is both a privilege and a responsibility.
The list of those who have helped guide me to this role is
long and I cannot thank each person by name, but I hope all
of them know how much I appreciate their efforts and their
friendship. I will thank, in particular, Alastair Bell and
Alan Towers, Nicholas Albrecht, Josh Beddell, Alan Conlon,
James Palmer, Murray Broadbelt, Chris King, and Scott
Simpson who was the first party figure with whom I spoke of
my parliamentary aspirations. Scott, I am thrilled that we
enter this 50th parliament together.
Mr Speaker, it is an honour to be here as the Member of Parliament for Tamaki. It is a welcome opportunity to serve my constituency, to listen to their needs and articulate them here in this house. I look forward to the future in my new role, but in the finest conservative traditions, I will venture into that future with a clear understanding of and respect for the past. I will work hard to live up to the expectations of our first 37 parliamentarians who, 150 years ago, launched New Zealand’s democracy. I believe this 50th parliament is the heir to all the hopes and dreams of the thousand MPs who have come before us. We are here today to build a better country and I hope that those who occupy this house 150 years from now might look back upon us and say that we were successful. Mr Speaker, I can think of no greater honour than to know that I might be a part of that.