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A Tale Of Two Politicians

This was the last week of Parliament before the election and departing politicians had the opportunity to offer final thoughts in their valedictory speech. The stark contrast between the careers and speeches of two Labour ex-Ministers, Hon Ruth Dyson and Hon Clare Curran, is worth examining.

Ruth Margaret Dyson has been a Member of Parliament since 1993. In the Clark Government she was Minister for Social Development, and in the Ardern Government she was the Senior Whip then Assistant Speaker. Dyson forged a reputation as an effective behind the scenes operator and was well respected across the political spectrum. Her achievements include Working for Families, marriage equality, and making New Zealand Sign Language an official language of New Zealand.

The one blemish on her career was when she was caught drink-driving while a Minister. She resigned her portfolios, apologised, took full responsibility for her transgression, and spent 8 months on the backbenches before being restored to Cabinet.

Dyson’s valedictory speech was measured with heartful comments about the events that have rocked Canterbury in recent years, and a plea for people to “be bold, be brave, leave a legacy and go well,’’ In her final act in Parliament, Dyson was dignified, forceful, gracious, and even a little bit funny.

Clare Elizabeth Curran has been a Member of Parliament since 2008. In the Ardern Government she was Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media for almost a year. She rose to prominence in the Labour Party through her media advice on "capturing the language" on climate change policy. Her reputation as a communication specialist saw her quickly become a MP after successfully challenging the incumbent Labour MP David Benson-Pope.

Curran was sacked after repeated failures to declare meetings with a political journalist and another with a tech entrepreneur going for the Chief Technology Officer job she was creating. She initially claimed the coffee with the journalist was a coincidence, but it later emerged the meeting was planned but not included in her Ministerial diary. It was a particularly bad look for the Minister of Open Government. The final nail in her political coffin appeared to be her cringeworthy performance at Question Time under questioning from National backbencher Melissa Lee. It is widely considered one of the worst in Parliamentary history.

Her stated number one priority as Minister of Broadcasting was to establish the new office of Chief Technology Officer within 100 days. 413 days later, the office, which was never filled, was officially dumped by her successor Megan Woods. There was never any talk of restoring Claire Curran to Cabinet.

Curran’s valedictory speech sought to paint herself as a victim. She claimed to have been “targeted”, criticised the role of the media in her fall, and condemned the “toxic” environment in Parliament. She did not accept any blame for her downfall. Few Parliamentary colleagues congratulated her after the speech, certainly compared to the cross-party scrum at the end of Dyson’s speech.

In summary, Dyson has a long track record of achievement, accepted her single lapse of judgement, and paid the price. Curran failed quickly and still does not apologise for trying to cover up her covert meetings. Her flagship policy was quietly knifed by her own colleagues after never getting off the ground. The contrast is stark.

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