E nga mana, e nga reo, e nga rangatira, tena koutou, tena koutou, kua huihui kia ora koutou, katoa.
Mr Speaker, I acknowledge your mana. I do so with trepidation, recalling the many Official Information Act requests I wrote to you in your former role as Minister of Education. I intend to be less of a nuisance to you as a Member of this House.
I’m late to the 52nd Parliament. I had a brief induction seven months ago and now I’m back. The privilege of being here is immense and I will make the most of every day.
I am grateful to the National Party who chose to rank me well on our list, to Party President Peter Goodfellow, our office holders and all those who support National and the values we represent.
My special thanks go to the members of Wellington Central who selected me as their candidate and backed me to the hilt.
The Wellington Central campaign trail was an education. Candidate debates with rooms full to bursting, challenging policy questions and door-knocking routes fit for mountain goats. I was supported by an energetic and resilient team enlivened by our incredible Young Nats. I thank you all.
I acknowledge my companions on that campaign trail and now colleagues in this House, the Honourable Grant Robertson and Honourable James Shaw. I learnt a lot from each of them. I suspect they were unwilling teachers, but I thank them anyway.
Grant, I hope we can sometimes work together to make good things happen for Wellington.
James, I will keep persuading you of the merits of a teal-deal.
Wellingtonians should know that while I do not currently represent an electorate here, I will always work hard on their behalf. Wellington is my home and I want it to succeed.
Growing up in New Zealand has given me great opportunities. I come to Parliament to ensure more New Zealanders can have the choices and experiences I’ve had. This should be a country of aspiration where every child can pursue big dreams.
I am a relentless optimist. New Zealand has enormous potential and I am determined we realise it.
Our forebears came here seeking security and prosperity.
My Great Great Grandfather Archibald Willis was one of them. Orphaned at 15, Archie left England, arriving here in 1854. Gold-digger, journalist, and printer, Archie met his wife Mary in Wellington and raised a large family in Wanganui. There he befriended John Ballance who became Premier of New Zealand. Ballance died in office, but first endorsed Archie for his seat.
Archie was elected MP for Wanganui in 1893. On the 6th of September that year the question of women’s suffrage came before this House: my Great Great Grandfather voted yes.
Today I follow in his feminist footsteps.
Archie was a member of the Liberal Party whose union with the Reform Party created our modern National Party. That meeting of city and country, taking the best of liberal and conservative philosophy, rejecting the binaries of ideology in favour of problem-solving pragmatism, is a tradition I am proud to represent.
My personal values come from Mum and Dad.
My mother Shona was a journalist, at one time serving in the great Parliamentary Press Gallery. She sacrificed paid work and the status it brings to raise me and my siblings. Thank you Mum.
My Dad, once a Stop and Go man for the Ministry of Works, and always a surfer, is a lawyer who lives life to the max.
Journalist, lawyer, both unpopular professions, but neither as unloved as politician.
Mum, Dad you get what you deserve.
My parents taught me we should always work hard and do our best. We should treat others as we wish to be treated. Actions have consequences, and we must own our mistakes.
Fairness, that Kiwi sense of doing what’s right, is an ideal not just to aspire to but to fight for. We do not make our own candle burn brighter by blowing out another. And when much is given, much can be expected in return.
I was raised to value education. I had many great and inspiring school teachers and I am humbled to have my former headmistress Jenny Button here today. Ad Summa!
At university I studied English Literature. I will always be a proponent of the arts and the role artists play in reflecting the beauty and complexities of our lives and society.
My unofficial second-major was my membership of the Victoria University Debating Society where I honed my debating skills, made great friends and met my husband.
Having worked jobs selling clothes, shoes and bagels, I was incredibly fortunate to land a role as a researcher, working with then Opposition Education Spokesman Bill English. Bill taught me that politics is not about personal ambition, it’s about making a difference for people. I look up to Bill not only as a political mentor, but as proof that juggling multiple children is compatible with a successful life in Parliament.
I went on to work for Sir John Key whose infectious enthusiasm, respect for all and sheer intelligence had a profoundly positive impact on our country. Thank you Sir John for your support, your belief in me and your constant ribbing.
My time with Bill and Sir John was the best political apprenticeship I could have hoped for.
It was inspiring to watch them lead New Zealand from a dark hour of financial crisis and natural disaster to a time of prosperity and choices. To see the exodus of New Zealanders leaving for Australia each year reversed as jobs and incomes flourished here at home. That transformation cemented my view that a strong economy is the foundation on which equality of opportunity is built.
Economic growth ensures New Zealanders can have better jobs, better incomes and aspiration for our children’s futures.
It doesn’t just happen.
We must back our risk-takers, innovators, and entrepreneurs who put their capital and livelihoods on the line to produce a product, idea or new way of doing things.
We must back the hard-workers, those who go the extra mile, who toil day in day out to make progress for themselves and their families.
The dairy-owner who works twelve hours a day, six days a week, with one week off at Christmas. The student who holds down two part-time jobs, the cleaners working night shift and the social entrepreneurs applying the disciplines of business to improve our world. The single Mum, who starts an online business, picking up her laptop the minute her daughter is asleep, sacrificing rest for the chance of a better future.
These people are the best of us. It is their efforts that will ensure New Zealand gets better and better.
Government can too easily take their discretionary effort for granted or worse invoke the politics of envy against them.
My desire to better understand business led me to work for our largest co-operative.
I wanted to experience the reality of managing a bottom line. Of selling New Zealand’s products to the world and striving to maximise their value.
Fonterra opened my eyes. I saw our country from new perspectives, from high-rises in Shanghai, trade offices in Jakarta, and a factory-floor in Colombo.
I saw that New Zealand has so much more to gain from embracing trade than we do from fearing it. We must remain open to the world, its markets and its people.
Best of all, I got to walk in gumboots alongside Kiwi farmers, who know that nobody owes them a living, who go out rain or shine, high milk-price or low, to earn their way in the world.
These men and women share my view that New Zealand’s land and water are taonga for which we are stewards.
Farmers should be respected as partners in the vital environmental work New Zealand has before it: to combat climate change, to clean our rivers, and to protect our biodiversity.
Mr Speaker, I am hugely fortunate to have married Duncan. He understands that caregiving is a responsibility and a privilege to be divided according to circumstance, not gender, and has again and again made sacrifices to further my dreams.
We are parents to four beautiful children aged eight, six, five and two. James, Harriet, Reuben, and Gloria. That’s you darlings.
I remember our excitement and confidence when I first became pregnant. We read all the books, drafted sleep-schedules, and planned an infancy of structured excellence.
And then our son arrived. He seemed determined not to adhere to our plans in any way at all.
Each of our children have confounded us like this, at different stages and in different ways.
The imperfection of raising children has been a gift to me. It has taught me that much is beyond our individual control, that plans only take you so far, and that the messy bits in life can be a source of joy. Parenting has deepened my well of empathy, strengthened my patience, and helped me understand that sometimes sugary treats, takeaways, cartoons, and disposable nappies are the keys to sanity. I will not be a Government-knows-best politician because I know just how imperfect family life is.
I’ve had the fortune of parenting with the support of a village: open-minded employers, engaged grandparents, loving caregivers and teachers, and the means to fill our supermarket trolley, heat our bedrooms, and buy ever-bigger shoes.
Even with all that support parenting is sometimes a tough gig.
There’s no getting away from the broken sleep, the tantrums, the hospital visits, the worry and the heartache.
I respect the many Kiwis who day in day out do the hard-work of parenting well, without fanfair and often in difficult circumstances.
It’s time we did more as MPs to acknowledge, honour and support the work of Kiwi parents. They are the heroes of New Zealand’s homes.
Too often our public institutions and services ignore the realities and demands of modern family life.
Why is it that in a world of working parents we have 12 weeks of school holidays which leave many families stressed and scrambling for childcare?
Why is it we can’t access our children’s medical and education records online?
Why when some parents choose to work an extra shift or take a promotion do they end up financially penalised by the blow-back of childcare costs, tax hikes and loss of tax credits?
Why do we so seldom acknowledge those who forgo paid employment to care for their children and contribute to their community?
Why don’t we better target investment at those crucial first 1000 days in a child’s life?
Mr Speaker, we should put whanau and family at the heart of policy.
Let me be clear. Families come in all shapes and sizes: one parent, two parents, four; grandparents as caregivers; blended, gay, married, not married, adopted, whangai. I’m not concerned by the form a family takes but by the function it performs.
What matters is the strength of the bonds, the shared values, the getting up at 2am to change the nappy or give the feed, cheering on at assembly and from the sidelines, asking the questions when progress stalls at school and providing the comforting words when worries loom at night. Support. Belonging. Unconditional love. No Government intervention can replace it.
I endorse the work of successive Governments to eliminate the material deprivation in which too many families raise their children. This work must continue.
But we are kidding ourselves if we think lifting family incomes is all that is required to strengthen Kiwi families.
We cannot ignore the cycles of dependence, dysfunction and criminality that exist in our country.
A smarter social investment approach is needed to break those cycles.
Our efforts should be joined up across Departments, Votes, Government and non-Government organisations. Bureaucratic silos must be dismantled. Data and evidence must be leveraged. Results for children and their families should be our focus, not the dollars spent.
We live in an age of technological disruption, information networks and personalised services. Government must harness those forces for the good of all our people.
Mr Speaker, politics is not just about the what, it is about the how.
We do our best as leaders when we listen well. When we treat each other with civility. When we bring people together, not when we drive them apart.
Duncan and I have taught our kids that my political opponents are good people. They share a motivation to make this country better but have different ideas about how to achieve it.
I think the members opposite me have good hearts, their ideas are occasionally a bit mad or naïve, but I want the chance to talk them round from time to time. So I intend to get to know you.
I see politics as a team sport. I am a small part of a great Party, with a long and proud history, a talented caucus and a mighty membership.
While I’d rather National was leading the Government I’m excited to play my part in reshaping us for the new challenges our country and world face. I have great confidence in the Honourable Simon Bridges and Honourable Paula Bennett and I am honoured to have theirs. I‘ll always be thankful to National’s class of ’17 for adopting me as their own.
And now, it’s time to get on with it. To walk the walk. To do the mahi. To serve.
Mr Speaker, let me finally say to my family, most especially my parents James and Shona, my sister Amanda and brother Jono, my husband Duncan and our wonderful children James, Harriet, Reuben and Gloria. I love you and I hope to make you proud.