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House: Valedictory - Rt Hon Sir Douglas Graham

House: Valedictory - Rt Hon Sir Douglas Graham

(Note: Speech notes for the Valedictory of Rt Hon Sir Douglas Graham delivered this afternoon. Hansard - which should be available in the next few days - is the official record of Parliamentary speeches.



October 7, 1999

Mr Speaker

No doubt to the considerable relief of my colleagues, I rise to deliver my last speech in this Debating Chamber. And as there are a number of valedictory speeches to be delivered, I am more than happy to go along with Henry VIII who is said to have informed Anne Boleyn - "I don't intend to keep you long!"

After 15 years, my political career comes to its end.

I leave with a deep sense of gratitude to so many people.

To my former constituents in Remuera for their continued loyalty over many years.

To the political party I have been proud to serve for so many years.

To all the support staff at Parliamentary Services and Ministerial Services and in particular to my long suffering Senior Private Secretary Dave Pullar and all who have worked in my Beehive office.

And to my wife and family who have enjoyed the benefits, but also suffered the penalties that having one of the family in politics inevitably brings. Their unwavering support and encouragement has been critical.

I leave this House with many memories but I will mention but a few. I remember listening in absolute awe at the oratory of David Lange in full flight and the irrepressible and unique debating skills of Trevor de Cleene. There were others, too, who impressed with their undoubted sincerity. I recall the time I came down to the Chamber late one night to sit next to the seriously ill Norman Jones as he whispered what would prove to be his last contribution to a near empty Chamber. I think too of the ANZUS debates in the mid 1980's where a number of remarkably fine speeches on both sides of the issue were made. Given the events in East Timor of late, and the numerous trouble spots throughout the world today, is there anyone who really believes it possible or prudent to isolate ourselves from world events? And is there anyone who thinks it possible or prudent to do other than maintain an efficient armed force?

We always have and we must continue to play our part to the best of our ability. I remember the words of Sir Carl Berendsen, our Ambassador in 1951 who said then:

"We in New Zealand are not of those who ask what we are not prepared to give; we are not of those who demand help which we are not prepared to accord; we are not of those who are content to leave to others burdens which we should ourselves assume."

It was true then and it is true now. And if we are to fulfil our obligations on the world stage we must have the wherewithal to do it.

And then there were the times when I sat with growing concern as members abused parliamentary privilege by making unsubstantiated allegations against innocent members of the public. It is pleasing to note that Standing Orders now at least give the opportunity to the maligned to respond in order to correct the record. And who could forget the uplifting emotion of a haunting waiata filling this Chamber as the House passed Treaty Settlement legislation. Utterly unforgettable. Quite wonderful. Uniquely New Zealand.

I have also watched, as all members have, the first faltering steps of a Parliament elected using the MMP system. With the advent of coalition or minority governments, the public is often unaware what trade offs have been made and whose policies are actually being put in place. On the other hand we have seen a far more representative House, greater power exercised by Select Committees, the proliferation of smaller parties and even the novelty of independent MP's. I have to say, too, that I had not expected to see the advent of a member who insisted on exercising the freedom of independence while continuing to enjoy the benefits of caucus membership. Crossing the floor is serious enough - colluding with the opposition to defeat your own party when every single vote counts is quite another matter. Being of the old school, I have always tried to be loyal to the party I represent, even when, on rare occasions, I may not have agreed with the position taken by my caucus colleagues. It seems to me that without party loyalty it is impossible to provide political stability - the more so when minority or coalition government has become the norm. Perhaps I am wrong in this and too old fashioned. If so, it is indeed time for me to quietly make my exit.

For the first six years as a member I sat on the opposition benches and had the galling experience of watching the then Labour government introducing reforms I generally supported. So too, I might add, did my electorate - as I found to my dismay in 1987 when my majority nearly disappeared. After a period when the right had moved left, the left had moved to the right. Now the right has swung back to the right and the left to the left. I am sure that it is a great relief to us all that we seem to have returned to our respective political homes.

Then in late 1990 I was privileged to be appointed a Minister in the new government. One immediate tangible benefit was that my living conditions improved from a one-room garage in Wadestown worth perhaps $30,000 to Vogel House in Woburn worth perhaps $3m. My ministerial portfolios have been very interesting and I have enjoyed them immensely. During my time as Minister of Cultural Affairs Te Papa was built. The Justice portfolio involved much law reform including the Companies Act package, legislation on domestic violence, DNA testing of suspects and many more. And, of course, there has been the challenging area of Treaty Negotiations.

I read my maiden speech the other day. In it I referred to the gloom and despondency which at that time seemed to be so much in evidence. I am not sure on reflection anything much has changed. We still seem to prefer holding people up to ridicule rather than for praise and encouragement, we submerge ourselves in the day's inevitable human tragedies, we are all quick to comment critically whether we know anything about the topic or not. We happily accept the judgment of the media on issues of the day rather than weigh the arguments of the opposing sides ourselves. Quite why so many New Zealanders seem to enjoy feeling miserable I do not know. When we look around the world I suppose there is much to be miserable about. But it achieves nothing, holds us back, and we can easily lose confidence in ourselves. We also run the real risk that we become mean spirited, self centred, racked with envy at the success of others, absorbed with trivia, and lacking in compassion. Winston Churchill once said "We make a living from what we get, but we make a life by what we give." There is a message there for us all.

If I have been able to achieve anything in the time I have been here it is because I have tried to mix and work with people who are positive, are dedicated, and who recognise achievement however modest. I was brought up with the rather quaint notion to look for the good in people and not the bad. I confess I have found that rather difficult from time to time. But continued carping criticism can easily dishearten the very people we rely on for our prosperity, namely those who strive for success in whatever field of endeavour however modest. It is rare indeed to hear praise of anything they do. Of course it is always easy to be an armchair critic. For those of you who become weary at the constant attacks from so many quarters, may I remind you of Theodore Roosevelt' gender incorrect, but nevertheless sound advice:

"It's not the critic who counts.

Not the one who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of good deeds could have done better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood;

Who strives valiantly;

Who errs and comes short again and again;

Who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions,

And spends himself in a worthy cause;

Who, at best, knows the triumph of high achievement;

And who, at worst, if he fails at least fails while daring greatly.

His place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."

So all of you in this House, who will continue to carry the mantle of leadership, must continue to strive for a better tomorrow without taking to heart the deluge of often unfair and unjustified criticism. I wish you well in your endeavours.

Much of the last decade for me has been concerned with the Maori people and their call for justice. This came to consume my very being and I doubt I will ever move on from it, whatever I may do in the future. But my contribution, such as it has been, has only been possible through some outstanding work by exceptionally able and talented officials on the one hand, and the outstanding and constructive leadership of many Maori on the other. By addressing these long outstanding issues we restore at least part of that taken unfairly and by doing so assist Maori to move from grievance to a new era of self development. The Treaty reflects a special relationship Maori have with the Crown - one based on respect and goodwill. I have never accepted that the Treaty created a partnership to govern the country but it did guarantee certain pre existing rights which, regrettably have not always been respected. It is somewhat ironic that a political party, which claims to be the protector of property rights, now believes these Treaty rights should be unilaterally extinguished because the are held by Maori. That is an untenable position. What is more it wants to abolish the Waitangi Tribunal that was established to consider Treaty breaches by the Crown. Were this done it would recreate the vacuum that previously existed for 130 years. This would be extremely foolhardy. The Tribunal will become redundant when there are no more Crown breaches.

We should acknowledge that we are not all the same. Maori are Polynesian - not European. Those of us who are of European stock have no right to force Maori to be like us. Maori have inherited traditions that are not the same as those inherited by subsequent settlers from the United Kingdom. It is cultural arrogance to assert that everything European is superior. But with all our cultural differences which we should value rather than decry, we are still all New Zealanders - and proud to be so. The New Zealand Coat of Arms has Maori and non-Maori facing the future together and that is how it should be. We have made good progress over the past decade negotiating settlements that are fair in all the circumstances and we must not lose our nerve now. This issue should be above party politics and I want to acknowledge the very real support I have received from other political parties in this complex area. It has been much appreciated. So I wish those who will take up the reins after I have gone, every success. I know that, for me, I have gained far more than I have been able to give. And I have no doubt at all that my successors will, in due course, reach a similar conclusion.

To all my parliamentary colleagues I thank you for your friendship over the years. I wish you well in the forthcoming campaign. We should be thankful that we live in a vibrant and healthy democracy. And while you will each have your own views on what needs to be done to achieve progress, you must never forget that this beautiful country is still the greatest little country on this earth. We should care for it with all our ability.

And so I say farewell and God speed.

Kia tau te rangimarie ki a tatou katoa - May peace be with us all.


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