Peter Dunne's Valedictory Address at Victoria University
Peter Dunne's Valedictory Address at Victoria University
Wednesday 6 December 2017 - I am extremely grateful to Victoria University for the opportunity to make this valedictory statement in this historic Chamber, on this occasion.
I want to begin by expressing my sincerest thanks to everyone - past and present - in this complex who has offered me advice and support over the years, but specifically I want to thank my staff, my constituents and above all, my family.
First, to my staff, who are too numerous to name all individually, but each of whose individual contributions, dedication and commitment I have valued.
In particular, I acknowledge
• my chiefs of staff, the late Mark Stonyer, and for the last fourteen years, Rob Eaddy;
• my Senior Private Secretaries Paul Brewer, Jillann Byrnes, Vicki Rogers, Anne Small, Elliot Steel and Elena Scheule;
• the various secretarial, media, and clerical staff, departmental secondees and advisers, and my drivers, all of whom worked so well for me, and contributed to what was always one of the more efficient and harmonious offices in this complex, a feature by no means common here.
Next, to my constituents who loyally supported for me so long.
They were an absolute pleasure to represent, and I continue to value the many friendships I have formed as a result.
In this context, I was helped hugely by my electorate staff over the years - Anne Wright, Sue Locke, Cath Blair, Lisa McMillan, Diana Morison and Shirley Simcock - thank you to all of you for your wonderful service.
And finally, my family.
The pressures on politicians' families are strong, and often remarked upon, although really understood by only those who endure them, but their sacrifice and the price they pay are often far greater than for the politician themselves.
My wife Jennifer, has been a wonderful pillar of support - always there (in the early days answering telephone calls from grumpy constituents while juggling a newborn baby, while, I was at Parliament) attending countless local and other functions over the years, and forever accommodating the demands on my time.
My sons, James and Alastair, were not born when I began my Parliamentary odyssey, but have been great throughout (it may have had something to do with the fact that they learned early on that they got special fair money to go to all the school and community fairs we made a point of attending!).
I have been extremely proud watching them grow up and develop their own highly successful professional careers, and now with James and Kendra to have seen the arrival of my grandson Benedict in May this year.
I am a firm believer that there is a time and a place for everything, and that, notwithstanding whatever we might wish, nothing lasts forever.
My grandson's arrival reminded me of the generational nature of politics, and kindled in me the process which led to my eventual decision to stand down from Parliament.
I had always told myself that I would leave Parliament when the reasons for doing so, outweighed the reasons for seeking to stay.
To that end, I had, at the end of the year before a General Election, beginning in 1986, done a little "for and against" exercise.
This time last year, for the first time ever, there were more reasons to go, than to stay - but I chose to ignore them.
Becoming a grandparent was my wake-up call, and set in train a still reluctant process that led to my eventual decision to stand down.
Now, with the comfortable benefit of hindsight, I am extremely glad that happened - and that, this time, I listened.
I was elected to Parliament in July 1984 - over 33 years ago - at the then tender age of 30 (unusual then, but almost run of the mill today) and, at the time of my departure had the privilege of being in the top dozen or so of long serving MPs since our first Parliament was elected in 1854.
I was lucky enough to serve initially as a Parliamentary Under-Secretary and then as a Minister under seven of the eight Prime Ministers in my time, for a total of just over fifteen years, and to have been part of every Government, at some stage or another, since the fall of Muldoon.
When I came to Parliament in 1984 the door was closing on the World War II generation of politicians - those (mainly) men who had served overseas, and come back keen to settle down and then later get involved in politics.
At the time, their values and views seemed increasingly out of step with a majority of New Zealanders, and their time had passed.
1984 saw the baby-boomers take control, and the subsequent sweeping away of many of the pillars of the last great generational change - the advent of the welfare state under Labour in the 1930s - not only because many aspects of it had become too cumbersome and costly to maintain in a different world, but also because that new generation of politicians had a different set of aspirations, born of a more modern world view.
The 2017 election was similar in many respects - the baby boomers have now yielded to the millennials - hardly surprising when the median of our population today is 37 - but that passing on of the torch is not complete, for the median age of this new Parliament is still around 49.
The Parliament I was first elected to - and the three to follow - were elected under the First Past the Post system, and FPP politics was still rampant.
Many people make the mistake of thinking that FPP's tyranny reached its apogee in the Muldoon years, where Parliament met only from June to December, and the Government relied on the power of regulation for most of the rest of the time.
In fact, it was the Fourth Labour Government where that dubious peak was attained.
A small group of Ministers dominated the policy debate.
Collective responsibility ensured that all members of the Executive (including the Whips) supported the Cabinet line in Caucus which ensured a majority, which in turn was translated to a solid majority for the Government in the House.
They were heady days, as New Zealand (having briefly threatened to do so in the Kirk years a decade or so earlier) attained a place of international significance because of its foreign policy, and also the economic reforms.
Indeed, one of my proudest moments as a very young MP of barely six months' standing was being at a large luncheon in the old Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, in the very room where one of my boyhood heroes, Senator Robert Kennedy, had been shot, to hear David Lange address a highly sceptical and critical audience about New Zealand's anti-nuclear policy.
Finally, at the end of a testy question and answer session, a local television reporter asked the Prime Minister how, in his upcoming debate with Jerry Falwell "who would have the Bible in one hand and a cross in the other and be in favour of nuclear weapons" he could possibly defend his position.
Quick as a flash, Lange responded "I will tell him that to err is human but that I am prepared to forgive him".
Equally quickly, the entire hitherto grumpy audience of around 400 people rose to its feet in a sustained, spontaneous standing ovation.
In those days I was a Labour MP, comfortable and happy with the direction of the Labour Government, and the new course it was charting.
Around this time, the British Labour Party was going through one of its periodic meltdowns, with the departure of the so-called Gang of Four - Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, David Owen, and William Rodgers - to form the Social Democrats and eventually morph into the modern Liberal Democrats.
From afar, I was interested in this development, and had a number of discussions with my special mentor, the late, great political scientist Professor Keith Jackson, about the possible translation of such a move to New Zealand.
While I was still happy in the Labour Caucus, I was starting to feel mildly out of place and uncomfortable, as a number of my colleagues paraded how much more difficult the circumstances of their particular upbringing had been than anyone else in the Caucus in almost some form of Monty Python-esque competition.
As it happened, my story was probably as good as any - after the sudden death of my father, my mother had been left to raise four children on a widow's benefit - but I never saw that as a political card to play the way others did, nor frankly as anyone else's business.
So I never told anyone.
It irked me then and still does now to see politicians play the misery card this way.
While people are products of their life experiences, Parliament is a House of Representatives, not a House for the parading of individual circumstances, where policy should be formed in the best interests of the country, not as a way to salve consciences for the circumstances of the past.
As Edmund Burke said all those years ago, "Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement."
So, when MMP came around in the mid 1990s, and the Labour Party tried once more to revert to its 1930s class roots, I saw the opportunity to try and repeat what had happened with the Gang of Four in the 1980s, which was essentially why I left the Labour Party in 1994.
During that time, there was one most unlikely person in whom I was able to confide my intentions and plans, and who never betrayed that confidence, earning my undying respect in the process.
That person was Helen Clark, the then leader of the Labour Party, the person least likely to have any interest in what I was up to at that point.
But it was that sense of trust, that gave me the confidence to enter into two Confidence and Supply Agreements with her Government in 2002 and 2005, and to serve as one of her Ministers from 2005, showing yet again the importance of personal relationships in politics.
I went through seven elections under our proportional representation system, MMP, and firmly believe that the outcomes in terms of more representative and inclusive government are far better than under the old First Past the Post system.
But I am still not persuaded we have the best form of proportional representation.
I still feel uncomfortable at the notion of list MPs - political nomads elected by no particular constituency, owing their primary loyalty to the Party, rather than the nation.
In my view, in a functioning democracy everyone has the right to vote for candidates they support, but also to vote against candidates they oppose, without those candidates defeated on Saturday popping back up on Sunday, courtesy of their place on the party list.
In Ohariu, we often had the case where the three - and on occasions four - main candidates were all going to be elected, one way or another, making somewhat of a mockery of the actual election process.
So, that is why I have always favoured the STV system, because it guarantees that every candidate is elected directly, and perhaps more important, that every candidate has a legitimate piece of territory to lay claim to representing.
Nevertheless, MMP was good to me and my United Party, or UnitedFuture as it eventually became.
UnitedFuture was a formal government support party for just over fifteen years - the longest continuous period in government of any party since the original United Party toppled the Reform Party in 1928, nearly 80 years ago.
More importantly, that long period of influence on successive Labour-led and National-led Governments enabled UnitedFuture to achieve many of its policy objectives.
Early in 2002, I wrote a book, Home is Where My Heart Is, in which I set out a number of policy areas I wanted to see action upon.
Looking back, I am extremely proud that over the following years 52 of the 66 key policies, just under 80%, I set out then have been implemented - a pretty good record for any party in government, let alone a small support party often derided as a one-man band!
I doubt any party - large or small - could claim a similar record.
Some of the initiatives included:
• the establishment of the Families Commission;
• strong Victims' Rights legislation;
• radical reform of tax rules regarding charitable donations, leading to a substantial increase in philanthropic donations;
• the establishment of a National Drug Strategy focusing on drugs as primarily a health issue, rather than a legal one;
• reduction in the company tax rate;
• ensuring public access to public land through a Walking Access Commission;
• the development of the annual register of MPs' financial interests to aid transparency.
In addition, I was able to use my Ministerial portfolios over the years to push other areas of concern to UnitedFuture.
For example, when Minister of Revenue, I carried out the biggest reform of the Child Support System since its introduction in the early 1990s, to make it fairer for both custodial and non-custodial parents.
I began this work under Labour, and was delighted to see it through under National.
Similarly, the National Medicines Strategy I developed as part of our 2005 Confidence and Supply Agreement with Labour to improve public access to pharmaceutical medicines was confirmed under National as the basis of medicines policy in this country, and now, over a decade later, has seen well over a quarter of a million more New Zealanders getting access to affordable medicines than before.
As Minister of Internal Affairs, I campaigned for, and achieved, a return to a 10 year New Zealand passport, something that has proved to be phenomenally popular and has led to a significant increase in the number of New Zealand passports.
Earlier, I had led a successful campaign to persuade the then Minister of Internal Affairs to increase daylight saving to six months per year, making me truly the Time Lord when I took up that portfolio at the start of 2014!
Throughout the 1990s I had waged a lone campaign, often to the point of ridicule from other MPs, to build Wellington's Transmission Gully Highway.
Now, successive Confidence and Supply Agreements later, with both Labour and National, that Highway is being built and will be open by April 2020, just over a mere 100 years after it was first mooted.
And, as Associate Minister of Conservation, I drove the development of the Game Animal Council to give statutory recognition to the interests of the game and recreational hunting sectors.
This year, I oversaw the implementation of what had been a key UnitedFuture policy for about 15 years - the establishment of an integrated national fire and emergency service.
This had been recommended by the Royal Commission into the tragic Ballantynes' Fire in Christchurch in 1947, but had never been implemented.
When I took up the mantle I was reminded by many that there had been 16 attempts in the previous 20 years by successive Ministers to make such a change, all of which had failed, basically for a lack of political will, and that I should be prepared for a similar outcome.
There were some rocky moments early on with Ministerial colleagues more than a little sceptical about what I was planning, but, with the quiet but loyal encouragement of John Key, I proceeded, and, after a widespread public discussion and consultation process, Fire and Emergency New Zealand was established from 1 July this year, with substantial political support.
Yet, despite all these achievements, UnitedFuture was frequently dismissed by commentators as ineffectual and I was derided for my liking of bow ties, and my luxuriant natural head of hair, as if either somehow mattered.
In any case, the latter criticism is easy to deal with - it came in the main from bald headed men, with no sense of style and absolutely no understanding of politics.
A provincial newspaper editor recently repeated this line of attack in a dismissal of UnitedFuture following its decision to disband.
His ignorant editorial was accompanied by his photo - a bald headed man, in an orange shirt, and brown tie, so I rest my case.
More seriously, I think the reason UnitedFuture's role and my contribution were often overlooked was because of the way we went about things.
I have always believed in reason and moderation in the presentation of public discourse, and, coupled with a higher stubborness quotient than most people, have based my dealings with others on that approach, which is why I believe we were able to be successful, often beyond the point we deserved to be.
I have no time for histrionic, showman politics, where style outweighs substance, and where an almost child-like narcissistic obsession with being the centre of attention dominates.
Politics is not a giant freak show or reality television, but a serious and responsible business to be treated seriously by those who participate.
Now, I accept absolutely that for many citizens politics is a sideshow - they are too busy getting on with on their own lives to share the obsession we have - and that the politicians who catch their attention are usually the outlandish and the irresponsible, rather than the sober and the steady.
Clearly, I failed in that regard but I was - and remain - proud to have been frequently labelled "Mr Sensible" or the politician who turned being reasonable into a political art-form.
One frustration though is the number of people who over the years told me how much they liked what I stood for and encouraged me to carry on.
While I appreciated that, I would have appreciated their votes more - I reckon if no more than half of them had actually voted UnitedFuture as a result I would have led majority governments for most of the last two decades!
But being reasonable, and seeing both sides of the argument, while desirable in life, is the scourge of the liberal centrist in politics, especially at a time when the politics of reason are giving way across the world to short-term, knee-jerk, populist reactions and political charlatans proffering simplistic and fundamentally dishonest solutions.
Too many still cannot get beyond the prejudice that we live in a bi-polar political world of right and left, and that whichever one's political side of the fence, that is unfailingly correct, and the other side equally wrong.
By contrast, in my time in Parliament, I supported Labour-led Governments for just over 13 years, and National-led Governments for also just over 13 years.
What some may regard that as a classic case of serial indecision, I regard it proudly as a mark of balance and independence, and a capacity to see the wood for the trees, again the scourge of the liberal centrist.
No wonder why I have always been attracted to W.B. Yeats' immortal lines:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
But, as I said when I announced my decision not to seek re-election to Parliament, all good things must come to an end, and so too with this address.
Yet before I finish, there is one remaining topic I wish to cover.
Throughout my time in politics I was consumed by the thought of what New Zealand might be in the future.
I am excited by how we have become more comparatively bi-cultural, and at our developing multi-culturalism.
That is something to be embraced wholeheartedly, never feared, or worse rejected.
My children and grandchildren are likely to have the opportunity of living in the world's best multi-ethnic, multi cultural nation, where they are as at home in the world of the Pacific, as they are in that of Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas, and where that unique blend and tolerance is what marks out our country.
Constitutional reform will help round out that picture.
I strongly believe the time has well past for us to have severed the umbilical cord to Grandmother England.
We should be an independent republic within the Commonwealth - like India, or South Africa and the majority of other Commonwealth nations.
It is not just my Irish heritage, but more my sense of pride and confidence in our country and what it can be that is why I am so staunchly of the belief we can do so much better than continue to bend our knee to a hereditary monarch on the other side of the world.
We have consistently shown over the last thirty years or so, that we can produce many quality New Zealanders to serve as our Governor-General.
There is no reason why we could not do likewise with a non-executive President in that role, and frankly the time for change is long overdue.
So, let me conclude with a challenge to our new Parliament.
You are in the main the millenials whom will shape our future for the next generation and beyond.
Seize the moment now, and begin the process of wider constitutional reform by committing to our next Head of State being the first President of the Republic of New Zealand.
On that note,
Poroporoaki me poroporoaki ki te katoa
Goodbye and farewell to you all.