It is with tremendous pride and a great sense of responsibility that I rise as the new Member of Parliament for Rimutaka. As a genuine ‘Hutt boy’ I feel deeply honored to have this opportunity to serve and represent the community that has given so much to me throughout my life.
My speech is notable in at least the sense that maiden speeches from my part of the country are reasonably infrequent events.
In the last century the part of the Rimutaka electorate formerly known as Eastern Hutt elected just four members of parliament, Sir Thomas Ward, Sir Walter Nash, Trevor Young and my immediate predecessor, Paul Swain.
It is my sincere hope that the good people of Rimutaka will choose to retain this tradition of stability and I will have many more opportunities to address this House in the future.
This time two years ago I was settling into a new life in London. Never did I imagine that 2 years later I would be standing here in this House.
My time living away from New Zealand gave me a much greater appreciation for all that I love about Aotearora New Zealand.
I missed the beaches, the mountains and the forests, and I missed the unique diversity of cultures that makes us so special.
There is nothing quite like watching an All Black haka in a cold and dreary London pub to make the hair stand up on the back of your neck and your heart call out for home.
Living and travelling throughout the UK and Europe also gave me an insight into what we can do better back here at home.
As a backpacker I made it right around the continent by train, bus and foot. It made me realize just how far we have to go before we live up to our own propaganda about being a truly sustainable nation.
Since arriving back home in New Zealand I’ve made a point of catching the train to work whenever possible and cycling where I can.
The residents of the Hutt Valley are keen users of public transport, but we have a way to go before make that a truly world class service.
Anyone who has tried to bike from Upper Hutt to Wellington during peak hour traffic will also know that we have a way to go with regard to cycle safety.
I’m aware that there is active discussion about improving the cycle way between Petone and Ngäuranga and I believe we need to progress that issue with some haste.
In many ways the Rimutaka electorate embodies the rich diversity that I love about New Zealand. The Hutt Valley is home to a wide range of cultures, ethnicities and families with a wide variety of economic means.
Our rolling green hills and fresh clean river represent the wonderful natural environment we take for granted throughout the country.
There is no place I would be prouder to call home and to represent in this House than the Hutt Valley.
I acknowledge all those who have come before us. Standing in this House, we do indeed we stand on the shoulders of giants.
I would like to acknowledge two giants of the Labour Party here in the House today, Helen Clark and Michael Cullen.
For most of the past decade, they have led our country with great strength and dignity and I honour their lifelong commitment to making New Zealand a better place.
I believe that the fifth Labour government will be remembered for restoring the balance between our right to individual freedoms and our responsibilities to one another as members of society.
It will be remembered for ensuring that the needs of the competitive free market are balanced by the need for government to set a few boundaries and ensure that our most vulnerable are protected.
The past weeks and months of economic turmoil have demonstrated very clearly that the great promise of humanity will never be realised if we leave our most vulnerable exposed and unprotected in cruel economic winds.
We will never live in a truly harmonious and prosperous society unless we turn out backs on the ‘what’s in it for me’ mantra of individualism that pervaded our public policy decision-making for much of the 1980s and 1990s.
Growing up in the Hutt Valley during the 1980s I saw first hand the impact the great rolling back of the state had on many of our families.
Many of the kids I went to school with had parents who had worked in the public services and found themselves on the economic scrapheap thank to Rogernomics.
Those parents struggled to provide their kids with the basics in life. Their problems were compounded when what little financial support they did receive was cut by the incoming National government in its now infamous “Mother of all Budgets”.
Like mine, they were loving parents who wanted the best for their kids. I utterly reject the notion that they could have got ahead if only they had worked harder.
They had no jobs, and there were no jobs to get. In many cases that had only minimal skills and qualifications and there was no support available to gain any.
As a society, we simply turned our backs on them. We live with the legacy of those actions today.
Those tough economic times created a huge divide between those in our country who have, and those who have not.
The result was a breakdown in our collective community spirit. As a society, we became indifferent to the lives of those around us.
We see that indifference to others in the terrible growth in violent crime.
We see that indifference in the tragic level of child abuse that goes unreported until it’s too late.
We see it in the graffiti and vandalism that has invaded our public spaces.
We cannot solve these problems by turning away from them.
We cannot solve these problems by pretending they are someone else’s responsibility.
I believe that a major challenge for this and future generations will be rediscovering our sense of community spirit and responsibility.
We need to rediscover our faith in collective institutions and processes.
I too am ambitious for New Zealand. But the prosperity I dream of won’t be measured by the size of our cars or the number of holiday homes we own.
It will be measured by the strength of our compassion towards one another.
It will be measured by our collective efforts to give our kids the best possible start in life.
It will be measured by the respect we show our older citizens.
It will be measured by the steps we take to help others up the ladder of opportunity.
We need to move past the notion that our welfare system should be little more than a safety net at the bottom of that ladder.
It can and should help people up.
I have little time for those who, having climbed the ladder themselves, think it is their right to pull it up behind them.
We need to look very carefully at the support available to our families and recognize the tremendous importance of families and whänau in all of our lives.
I wouldn’t be standing here today were it not for all the love and support I received from my parents, Rose and Doug, who are sitting here in the gallery today.
They are joined by many of my wider whänau, the friends and family who have supported me throughout my life and helped me to realise the opportunities available to me.
I recognize that my success in life, and my ability to grasp the opportunities in front of me, is as much a tribute to the love and support I have received from those around me as it is to my own individual efforts.
I carry with me the values that my parents taught me and my brother Dave, who is watching this over the internet with his family in Dublin.
They taught us to place ourselves in the shoes of others and treat them as we would like to be treated ourselves.
They encouraged us to measure ourselves not just by our own happiness, but by the happiness we bring to others.
Growing up I never considered myself a rich kid, but my brother and I were raised with an abundant supply of love and support and there can be no greater wealth than that.
Our parents were always there when we need them and gave us all the time we needed.
I do sometimes wonder whether the overwhelming emphasis we place today on paid work is undermining the importance of family time.
How many of the social problems we face today would be overcome if only we took a little more time for family.
Perhaps the people in my Rimutaka electorate could stop worrying about the significant growth in the size of the Rimutaka prison if we started measuring our response to crime by the steps we take to prevent it in the first place, rather than the number of people we lock up after the event.
Too often we are asking our social institutions to compensate for the breakdown in our family lives and social networks.
The education system is a classic example. I recognize the critical role social workers play in our schools, but I also recognize that they are the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff rather than the fence at the top.
I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the thousands of dedicated teachers we have in our schools.
They carry an incredible responsibility and it’s all too easy when debating education to resort to a ‘blame the teacher’ mentality.
There may be some teachers who could do better, but I believe that the vast majority of our teachers are dedicated and hardworking.
They quite literally change lives.
I believe that we need to re-think the competitive model of schooling that was introduced through Tomorrow’s Schools.
When schools compete, the real losers are the students who have no other option than to attend the poorer performing schools.
They are often from poorer families, are frequently brown, and sadly they often don’t enjoy the same level of support at home that others in more affluent areas do.
If we are to ensure that every kiwi kid gets the best possible chances in education, we need to ensure that every school is a great school and every teacher a great teacher.
We can start by looking very carefully at the physical learning environment in our schools and the level of resourcing they have available.
The state of Upper Hutt’s state intermediate and secondary schools was a major local issue during the recent election campaign.
One of my top priorities over the next three years will be ensuring those schools get the $30 million in additional capital funding they have been promised.
Like so many throughout the country, those four schools are trying to make do with old facilities built for the schooling needs of the 1960s and 70s. They are no longer fit for purpose.
I visited most of the schools in the Rimutaka electorate over the past year and I know that most of them are struggling to provide their teachers and students with the learning resources they need given the level of funding they have available.
We need to recognize that technology has changed our school system dramatically in the past decade. Unfortunately, it’s expensive and we haven’t yet adequately addressed that through the funding system.
If we are to realise our full potential as a nation in coming decades, education will be critical, and it won’t just be in the school system.
At this point I would like to acknowledge our new Speaker, the Hon Dr Lockwood Smith, and the vision of seamless, lifelong education that he articulated during his time as Minister of Education.
It was the right vision then and it remains the right vision now.
It’s perhaps ironic that it was whilst protesting the last National government’s policies in tertiary education that I became actively involved in politics at a national level.
Following a protest march to parliament I found myself enjoying Her Majesty’s hospitality at the Wellington Central Police Station.
Eleven years after being forcibly removed from the grounds of parliament I find myself back on the inside in a very different sense.
Having experienced parliamentary urgency for the first time last week, I can say the feeling of containment is very similar, although the surroundings certainly superior.
I remain as committed today as I was 11 years ago to breaking down the barriers to participation in higher education.
I’m incredibly proud of all that has been achieved over the past nine years, from putting an end to massive tuition fee increases to the introduction of interest free student loans.
I’m deeply disappointed we were just one election victory away from achieving a universal student living allowance.
However we also need to recognize that in a modern economy, a great deal more learning is going to be taking place in non-institutional settings.
The time I spent working in the industry training field convinced me of the enormous value and potential of on-the-job learning. We need to do more to ensure it’s adequately supported.
In particular, I believe we need to look very closely at the level of support we provide small employers who take on apprentices.
Many of the people living in the Rimutaka electorate are former employees of large manufacturers such as General Motors or South Pacific Tyres, or of the former large government departments such as the Post Office or the railways.
Those organizations were more than just large employers, they were also places of learning. They trained many of the tradespeople we have in our workforce today.
As increasing numbers of those people near retirement age, we’ll need to find new ways of ensuring that their skills are passed on to new generations.
In fact, I would go as far as to say that the retirement of the baby boomer generation will be one of the biggest challenges we are going to face over the coming decade.
In recent years we’ve seen a considerable growth in the number of rest homes and retirement villages in the Hutt Valley, and with half a million New Zealanders nearing retirement age, that trend will only continue.
I firmly believe that the care of our older citizens is far too important to leave to the vagaries of the free market.
I find it morally repugnant that the assets older citizens have spent a lifetime accumulating can be scooped up in a few short years and added to the profit margins of large corporate conglomerates.
Our older citizens deserve so much better.
To paraphrase former US Vice-president Hubert Humphrey, the moral test of Government is how that Government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children, those who are in the twilight of live, the elderly, and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick and the needy.
As our world grows ever more complex and demanding, reconnecting with each other is going to be one of the great challenges of the 21st century.
We have never been more mobile than we are today, and yet we have never had higher rates of loneliness and depression.
Technology connects us with friends and family across the globe, and yet we have never been less likely to know the names of our own next door neighbours.
We need to reignite the fire of our collective spirit. We need to rediscover what it means to live as part of a community.
Compassion, respect, friendship, love, tolerance and forgiveness need to once again become values that are embedded in all that we do.
I thank the people of Rimutaka who have given me this opportunity to serve.
Particular thanks go to the Rimutaka Labour Campaign Team: George and Josephine Collins, John and Anna Young, Janette Granville, Bill Werry, Julie Englebretsen, Ian Dunwoodie, Claire Norris and Jan Smith. It was a long an exhausting campaign, but you rose to the challenge.
I thank my family and all those who have supported me along this journey.
I hope I live up to your expectations.
He aha te mea nui o te ao?
Maka e k ake, he tangata, he tangata, he tangata
What is the greatest thing in the world?
I say, it is people, it is people, it is people.
No reira, kia tau te rangimärie ki a tätou katoa
Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena tätou katoa.