Valedictory statement – Annette King

Annette King has been a very accomplished and widely respected MP and Minister. She has probably done more than anyone to help Labour survive the last nine years. If she had chosen to stand as leader she will probably have done better than any of Goff, Shearer, Cunliffe or Little.

She has mentored Jacinda Ardern and helped ready her for her big step up last week.

King has just given her valedictory statement in Parliament.

Hon ANNETTE KING (Labour—Rongotai): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I could not start before the grandson arrived.

Where to begin? It has been 33 years since I was first elected, 11 elections, nine leaders, 15 portfolios, 985 speeches in this House, so many debates, so many challenges, so many stories, and so much fun. I have often asked myself how Skinny Robinson from the small South Island town of Murchison ended up in a place like this. So like any good yarn you have got to start from the beginning. I joined the Labour Party in 1972 following the victory of Norman Kirk and the third Labour Government—a Government that was full of ideas, passion, and hope. I joined in Hamilton. I went to my first branch meeting, and I was immediately made the secretary. That is what happens in the Labour Party.

Throughout the 1970s I did most of my party work in Hamilton. I was instrumental in setting up a new branch in Hamilton East called the Trendy Leftie Club. It was called that because the Prime Minister of the day, Rob Muldoon, called everybody who was in the Labour Party a “Trendy Leftie”. For our inaugural meeting we invited the up-and-coming leftie of the day—Richard Prebble. [Interruption] It is possible to get things wrong in politics.

It was Richard Prebble, the then Minister of Railways, who, when I excitedly told him that the Waikanae Railway Station had just been painted, said: “Ah! That means we’re gonna close it.”, and he did. But my real political activism started in March 1974 when I joined around a thousand school dental nurses, in white starched uniforms, red cardigans, veils, and seemed stockings, and marched up Lambton Quay to Parliament in support of a pay claim. I was petrified. But I have never forgotten a carload of young blokes who called out as we passed them: “Hey, hey, you Waikato sheilas, best looking in the bunch.” I can tell you it put a real spring in our step that day. We had waited years for a pay rise. With the sport of Dan Long and the PSA we walked away that day with a 24.4 percent pay increase from Norm Kirk. Yes, it was great—an increase of $8,000 in today’s money. It was unprecedented at that time, and I can tell you that the silver fern railcar rocked and rolled its way back to Hamilton that night with the help of a few bottles of golden sherry.

I learnt from that day the value of leadership and courage—leadership from people like Maggie Morgan, Pam Horncy, and Sheila Brown. Pam and Maggie are those two who have dressed in that uniform up there tonight. It showed me the value of standing up and fighting for what you believe in and the value of belonging to a union. Now, 43 years on, I am ashamed we still do not have pay equity in New Zealand. Women have waited long enough. No more excuses, no more half-baked measures, no more litigation. It is time for us to once again lead on women’s issues. Our country used to be a leader. There is so much more that we need to do.

In 1981 I shifted to Wellington. I packed up my old Chevette, the TV, the dog, and my young daughter Amanda and I headed to new challenges. I joined the Mount Victoria branch of the Labour Party, and I was immediately made the Secretary. That is what happens in the Labour Party. It was there that I met the formidable Kath Kelly and her husband Pat. I also met Helen Kelly. She became my babysitter. One of the sadnesses for me is that I leave this place and Helen Kelly is not sitting here with us.

I worked on Fran Wilde’s campaign, and it was with her encouragement, along with Helen Clark, that I put my name in for the 1984 election. The Party had decided that we needed more women in Parliament, because we were sick of being tea ladies, Mr Joyce. We wanted to make policy, and we wanted to make decisions. Before the 1984 election, women made up 8 percent of Parliament—8 percent. It increased to 15 percent—the biggest increase ever. And 33 years on it is now 31 percent. That is not good enough. All political parties need to commit to making this place truly a House of Representatives.

I supported MMP, because I saw it as a way to achieve diversity and fairness in our voting system. It has changed the make-up of the House, but we have still got a long way to go. President Jim Anderton selected me for the seat of Horowhenua, but I never expected to win. I called myself the accidental MP. We had never held that seat before, and I was swept in on the popularity of David Lange with a majority of 447. We put together a fantastic campaign with 1 month to do it in—after the calling of the Schnapps election—for the 14 July, Bastille Day, and the result was a political revolution. The campaign was short; it was sharp, and it was furious. It was led by my long-time friend and campaign manager for all but one of my 11 campaigns, Lloyd Falck and his wife Marea. Lloyd, who is larger than life, was my Chief of Staff for nine years, and Marea my electorate secretary. I owe them so much.

It was during that campaign that I met the 8-year-old Darren Hughes. He was Lloyd’s neighbour, and, yes, he was already a political junkie, delivering my pamphlets. He will deny this, but both he and his brother Bryce curtseyed when they first met David Lange. [Interruption] Darren is one of the most talented people I have ever met, and this House is the poorer for him not being here.

They used to say the softest thing about Anne Hercus was her teeth, but she was the person who gave me my first break in Parliament after the 1984 election. She put me on her working party to establish the first ever Ministry of Women’s Affairs and she made me chair of the Social Welfare Committee. I was a real novice, up against the wily old fox Venn Young, who was the former Minister, and he gave me a real lesson in the art of politics. I quickly learnt you had to hold your nerve if you were going to survive in this place.

I was also put on the Finance and Expenditure Committee. I was the only woman, and I was scared stiff, because sitting opposite me was a line-up of heavy hitting former Minister’s led by Rob Muldoon. I did not open my mouth for 6 weeks. After a while I got enough courage to ask a question, and I cannot remember what it was, but I can still see Muldoon fixing me with that stare and saying: “Who’s she?” I quickly learnt you need a sense of humour if you are going to survive in this place. I did have an odd relationship with Muldoon. He was the person who said I had put the horror into Horowhenua. But just before the 1990 election I passed him in the old billiard room, and he grunted, and he said: “I hope you win.” He often got things wrong.

For the first 3 years I was seated next to Trevor Mallard. We have fought and scrapped with each other for over 33 years, but he is one of my oldest mates, and a passionate politician. I will always remember the day when we had shifted seats to sit behind the front bench for Trevor to speak. He was speaking with volume on full when his front teeth, which were attached to a plate in those days, flew out of his mouth and landed on Richard Prebble’s shoulder. He leant forward, he grabbed them, he put them back in his mouth, and he carried on speaking without taking a breath or hesitation.

It was a tradition back them for two new members to propose the Address and Reply to the Speech from the Throne. I was chosen to do the Address, and Jim Sutton, my old mate, was chosen to do the Reply. It was not till afterwards that Mike Moore told us there was another tradition: those who were chosen usually lost their seats—and we did, in 1990. But, as they say, we came back. We came back as the retreads of 1993!

The years between 1984 and 1990 were both distressing and exhilarating. We became a deeply divided caucus and party by the end of 1990. I am not going to dwell too long on those years, but the fourth Labour Government made some of the most significant changes seen in New Zealand—economic, social, and constitutional. Rapid and radical economic changes included removing agricultural subsidies, removing controls on foreign exchange, introducing GST, removing import tariffs, corporatising many of our State assets, and much more. It took my dear old dad years to forgive the changes we made to the Post Office, a place he had worked for 40 years, and it was not until Kiwibank was opened that he felt his money was safe again. There were changes that were needed, but not enough thought was given to the consequences on families and communities, and some of those consequences are still with us today.

But there are highlights I do want to remember. Homosexual law reform, 1986—I believe one of the most courageous politicians in this House was Fran Wilde. She withstood the vilest of campaigns against her and her family, and I was proud to stand with those who voted in support of reform. I was told that I was going to lose my rural seat in the 1987 election if I voted for reform; I increased my majority. I learnt that you can only ever vote with your conscience. There is no such thing as a collective conscience in your electorate. The old adage “To thine own self be true” comes to mind. And there are many more reforms that are needed in this area, particularly for transgender people, who continue to be discriminated against.

You know, we too often forget some of the reforms of the fourth Labour Government, over-shadowed by those economic changes. They were reforms such as the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act—thank you, Dr Cullen; fully abolishing the death penalty; this one is amazing—making rape in marriage a criminal offence; the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act; Homestart to help people buy their first home—what a novel idea; Treaty claims dating back to 1840; and, of course, nuclear-free New Zealand. Today the nuclear-free policy is owned by all New Zealanders, something most people are proud of. I believe that our nuclear-free stance, the failure of Britain and the US to condemn the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour, and our refusal to send troops to Iraq without a UN mandate were some of the actions that have led to New Zealand having a more independent foreign policy today.

A little-known story, however, is the part I played in restoring diplomatic relations with France after the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior. After the 1987 election Peter Dunne and I were made parliamentary under-secretaries. Cabinet decided that we needed to get our relationship with France back on a better footing. It decided to send the lowliest ranked member of the executive—me—to reopen dialogue. I was dispatched to Paris to meet their Minister of Foreign Affairs. She spoke in French, I spoke in English, and I have not a clue what we talked about. But the message was clear: New Zealand was giving France a silent one-finger salute—I will not do it—while at the same time showing we had forgiven, but not forgotten.

In 1989 I was elected to Lange’s Cabinet. That lasted 7 days before David Lange resigned. I do not think I was the reason. I became a Minister in Geoffrey Palmer’s Cabinet, and later Mike Moore’s. I had responsibility for immigration, youth affairs, employment, and the Minister assisting the Prime Minister with responsibility for caucus relations. Dark clouds were already gathering over the caucus, and as a peacemaker I turned out to be an absolute failure.

As Minister of Employment I had to front up to the media every month to announce the increase in unemployment figures, and they were rising at an alarming rate. It was a political nightmare. You Ministers have it easy these days! But from my one year in that role came one of the highlights of my political career: the setting up of the community employment development unit, the brainchild of Garry Moore and a number of other fantastic community development workers, including the late Parekura Horomia. It was an agency that was outside the Department of Labour, and I have to say it caused the then Secretary of Labour a lot of angst. But many of the economic and job opportunities that started under that policy endure today—think Whale Watch Kaikōura.

In 1990 I lost the Horowhenua seat by 624 votes. There is nothing more devastating to a politician’s ego than to be defeated at an election—rejected by your constituents. But on reflection, it did me good. With the help of Steve Maharey, who had just been elected to Parliament, I got a job as the CEO of the Palmerston North Enterprise Board, a business and economic development agency. I learnt the value of small business as a generator of jobs in New Zealand, and I met two people very influential in the next steps of my political career who are now lifelong friends: John Harvey, who became my press secretary, and his wife Dr Judy McGregor, someone who has fought for equal opportunities all her adult life. They took over the publicity for my re-election in Miramar in 1993. Their bumper stickers remain the best I ever had: “Miramar Needs A King”. The other one was “A King for Miramar”, and they worked, because I won the seat back for Labour at that election.

John and I had many adventures in my 9 years as a Minister in Helen Clark’s Cabinet, like the time John convinced me, when I was Minister of Racing, to ride a horse out the front of Parliament dressed as a jockey—by now I was hardly Skinny Robinson. Several of us, including Helen Clark, Darren Hughes, Rick Barker, Damien O’Connor, and Paul Swain, owned a race horse during the 3 years I was Minister; it was called Bowen Arrow. It was well-named because it could only run straight and it was scared of corners. The damn thing never won a race until we got rid of it.

The 5th Labour Government—1999 to 2008—brought the next set of progressive reforms in New Zealand, many of which endure today. I must credit Helen Clark for the many opportunities and challenges she gave me over the 9 years I was in her Government and Cabinet: Health for 6 years, Transport, Police, State Services, Justice, and Food Safety. I must thank Michael Cullen for giving me funding in every one of those portfolios. In fact, my colleagues used to say “follow the money when I got a new portfolio. Not only was Michael an outstanding Minister of Finance, he has a keen sense for the ridiculous. He often used to send me little notes in the House. I have kept them all, and most of them are not for publication, but I will always remember the one he sent me on the day I was authorising the irradiation of peanuts. It read: “nuts to be irradiated, Labour Women’s Council happy”.

I held the Food Safety portfolio for 9 years and the work undertaken by the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA), Andrew McKenzie, and his staff was world leading. I regret that the Government dismantled the agency at a time when the rest of the world was responding to consumer demand for food safety, transparency, and independence from food producers. I hope there will be a re-think by the new Government.

The Health portfolio remains my passion and my greatest challenge. People often say that health is a hospital pass; actually, it was a privilege. The people who work in health are the most committed of any I have ever met. We have had some outstanding leaders in medicine, in nursing, in midwifery, and in many of the allied health services. I was fortunate to have an outstanding Director-General, Dr Karen Poutasi, and a strong Ministry of Health to advise me. After we came into Government we set out to tackle the inequities in health that had emerged after the health experiment of the 1990s. We were becoming a “care-less” society. With the help of my associate Ministers Ruth Dyson, Steve Chadwick, and Tariana Turia, we set in motion many reforms to re-establish a public health system focusing on preventing disease.

We developed long-term strategies such as the Primary Health Care Strategy, which endures today—well, at least in name. It set out the direction to make primary healthcare services more accessible and effective, particularly for those who historically had missed out on such services. It focused on both financial and non-financial barriers, and it needs to happen again.

There are many challenges in health, and I urge the incoming Government to address as soon as possible the growing crisis in mental health. Mental health has always been the Cinderella of health. What we are seeing now is a repeat of the 1990s, which led to the Mason inquiry and the need to double funding, train, and increase the mental health workforce.

One regret I do have is we still do not have affordable dental care for adult New Zealanders. Dr Clark, I expect you to deliver that.

I was fortunate to attend the annual World Health Assembly for 6 years, and a lasting achievement was New Zealand being one of the leaders for the UN Framework Convention on Tobacco Control—a set of policies that have helped to save millions of lives around the world. I married Ray in 2000, and I took him with me on my first assembly in Geneva. Rodney Hide, the perk-buster turned perk-taker, labelled it a “golden honeymoon in the Mediterranean”. Ray’s response was that if Rodney thought that listening to dozens of speeches on the evil of smoking was erotic, he had a very strange life indeed.

It is often said that bricks and mortar are not important, but I can tell you that they are when it comes to hospitals and health centres. We set out to rebuild hospitals from Kaitāia to Invercargill, many of them under threat of closure. Murchison was to be closed, and I got a phone call from Dad. He said: “You can’t close Murchison. I was born there, you were born there, and so was your sister.” It was rebuilt under my gentle guidance, and I got to open it as Minister of Police.

I do have to admit to one major failure in the health portfolio—and I am sure Hekia Parata will relate to this. Helen Clark told me that as Minister of Health, I had to talk to Parekura Horomia and convince him to lose weight. I went to Pare’s office and I said: “The Prime Minister said you need to lose weight. You’ve got to go on a diet.” His response was unprintable. I said: “You’ve got to join Weight Watchers, Pare.” There was another outburst of bad language, and then he said: “OK, OK. I’ll join, but only if I can do it by correspondence.” The impossible we did immediately, but I have to say miracles took a little longer.

The Police portfolio brought some particular challenges: the Bazley report into historical police conduct; the recruitment and training of 1,200 extra police, as per our agreement with New Zealand First; an increase in pay for police officers—and Greg O’Connor was a skilled and relentless union negotiator; he will go well in this place—and the passage of the new Policing Act. We have an outstanding police service in New Zealand, and many of the changes in attitude and practice were led by Howard Broad, Rob Pope, and Lyn Provost, three commissioners who brought vision and ideas and what I called head and heart. [

There was one thing I was not prepared for as Minister of Police, and it was a bad case of shaver’s rash that I got after 100 UK recruits kissed me on the cheek at the police college, when I welcomed them to New Zealand. It was the closest I ever got to an operational matter. My one regret is the manner in which the Urewera raids of 2007 were carried out. Although the Minister of Police has no involvement in operational matters, I have gone to Tūhoe and I have made my peace with their people.

In 2008, we were back in Opposition and I had two stints as deputy, first with Phil Goff and then Andrew. Phil Goff is one of the hardest working people I have ever met. He is the original “Energizer bunny”. I left him in charge of the health portfolio when I went overseas, but I only did it once. My staff begged me to never do it again. He demanded everything that was on the internet for every oral question that was asked. We sat together in this House for 20 years, and we are good mates.

Andrew—Andrew, you brought unity to our caucus and renewal to our front bench. Look at this line up. The average age is 47 years—I have not added what the Government’s is. But I have to tell you it is brimming with talent. And Andrew, you have ensured our next caucus will be made up to close to 50 percent women.

Jacinda, I am so proud of you. I have a feeling that you are going to lead the party for years to come, and you are going to be one of our most loved and effective leaders and Prime Ministers.

I have been privileged to represent the Miramar-Rongotai electorate for 24 years, including the Chatham Islands, a unique part of New Zealand. The Chatham Islands are very independent, and proud of their islands, and they are also very innovative. They were asked to provide land for a nuclear test monitoring station by the UN as part of the international Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. They responded that the only land available was at the airport, 20 minutes from town, and, unfortunately, there was no reticulated power there. There is now, and half the cost was paid by the UN.

My electorate is one of the most diverse in New Zealand and a sanctuary to new settlers and refugees from many parts of the world, and I have been proud of New Zealand’s commitment to receiving UNHCR mandated refugees. They make a fantastic contribution to New Zealand. In 2001, our Government welcomed 40 unaccompanied minors from the ship Tampa, to New Zealand. They had been rejected by Australia. That was a proud moment. I want the next incoming Government to make us proud again—double the refugee quota

Rongotai is the home of creativity, ideas, and jobs arising from the film industry—old factories were turned into studios and workshops. I say to my colleagues opposite, it was the fifth Labour Government that kick started the film industry in Wellington, contrary to popular propaganda.

Rongotai is the home of social housing. If any Government wants a good model, look no further than the partnership between our Government and the Wellington City Council, which resulted in warm, dry, affordable apartments for the most vulnerable citizens.

I leave this seat with a sense of achievement—Wellington has only had to wait 50 years for its new hospital—but also with a sense of sadness. But it is tempered by the fact that Paul Eagle will become the next member of Parliament for Rongotai.

Hon Christopher Finlayson: What about me?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I know my cousin Chris Finlayson would want a recount if he was to win.

Many things have changed in the intervening 33 years. The bars have all but disappeared. The all-night sittings have gone. Gambling schools have closed—although I still owe Jim Sutton $60. Time-wasting procedures in this House have been done away with. The Parliament now sits more days of the year, and Bellamy’s food is healthier. When I arrived, we were offered two roasts a day, and I set about putting salads on the menu. Muldoon went on TV and he complained. He said “There’s this woman in Parliament, and she’s put salad on the menu, and it’s not good for you.” And there are now enough toilets for women. That was not always the case. This is a better place for members, for their families, and for staff.

So in conclusion, it is time for me to go. I had 15 years in Government and 15 years in Opposition. I have now been informed that I am the longest-serving woman member of Parliament. That officially makes me the “Grannie Annie” of the House. The people I have met, the places I have been, the chances to make a difference—it has been a privilege.

It is time to acknowledge and thank those who have been with me over 33 years. To the Labour Party—you gave me the chance to be an MP. I would not be here without you. To members and supporters—thank you, particularly my Labour electorate committee chairs Peter Noble; the late Mike Herne; Peter Franks; the longest serving of them all; and Eileen Brown. To my electorate staff—the formidable late Tilly Hunter, Marea Falck, Robin Boldarin, Bill Nairn, and Sophia Shanks. My patient and talented parliamentary team—Jennifer Rose, Emma Williams, and Angela Bray, who made today possible. I could not have done it without you, Ange. They all have one thing in common: they know my PIN number, and they know where to find things that I have lost. And Jenny happens to know my bra size. She was once dispatched on urgent public business to buy me a new one.

My loyal friends, who have stuck with me even when I forgotten to phone them, and my four closest are here today—Mary, Jenny, Marie, and Liz. My family—Dad, who is now 95-years-old, who will be watching. I hope I have done you proud, Dad. My late Mum, who loved politics—she watched everything I did and said, and she would phone and tell me whether she liked what I was wearing, or whether I had enough curl in my hair. I hope it looks all right today, Mum.

To my two wonderful sisters, Raelene and Pauline, and their husbands, Bill and Pete—they were forced to work on all my campaigns.

To my new family, gained when I married Ray: Christopher, Daniel, Ben, their partners, and my four step-grandchildren who do call me Grannie Annie.

To my daughter Amanda: I am so proud of you, darling. I hope you have forgiven me for the times I put politics ahead of you. You married a good Ozzie bloke, Tim. He is my favourite son-in-law, and you gave me my grandson William, the most beautiful boy in the world.

And, finally, to my husband and lover, Ray: after 18 years, yes, we are still on our honeymoon. When I told you on our first date I never intended to marry again, you replied: “I didn’t know I’d asked you.” We have been laughing ever since. I think I am the only person who asked to look at your teeth before I would marry you. You are my best friend.

Finally, to my colleagues—people often think politicians dislike each other. It is not true. I have liked and respected many colleagues from all side of politics—many I call friends who have made life in this place enjoyable, fun, and, at times, challenging. I respect those who have the courage to put themselves forward in an election, to be open to scrutiny and criticism, and to be accessible. Where else in the world would you meet your MP at the fish and chip shop on a Friday night in their slippers. I do believe people come here wanting to make our country a better place.

I cannot finish without a special mention to my Wellington colleagues, Grant, “Chippie”, Kris, and Trevor. We have been a great team, and I am sorry, Peter, but we intend to paint the whole of Wellington red at this election—

Hon Member: Dreams are free.

Hon ANNETTE KING: —ha, ha—and with a good tail wind we want to take Wairarapa as well.

Finally, to the fantastic staff who make this place work: thank you. As MPs we are so well served by caring and professional people.

A person who exemplifies commitment to this place by our staff is Sheryl Grace, our Senior Security Officer, who is retiring in September after 38 years of service—congratulations, and thank you, Sheryl, wherever you are.

So, Mr Speaker, it is goodbye from me—over and out.

[Applause]

Bread and Roses sung

13 Comments

  1. Blazer

     /  August 10, 2017

    just…wonderful…a big loss.

    • Gezza

       /  August 10, 2017

      Yeah I’ll miss Annette. A real professional.

  2. Zedd

     /  August 10, 2017

    I preferred Steffan Browning’s speech; ripping into Natz over ‘Chemical Cowboys country’ & their lack of REAL effort to cut pollution ! 🙂

    • He was an idiot. Wouldn’t know how to string a sentence together.

      He pronounced Stymie stimmie.

    • Corky

       /  August 10, 2017

      Someone really needs to light a candle in each of your eye sockets so you can see the real world, Zedd%.

  3. Interesting to see this in her speech “It was during that campaign that I met the 8-year-old Darren Hughes. .. Darren is one of the most talented people I have ever met, and this House is the poorer for him not being here.”
    I think everyone is waiting for Annette to tell us why is isn’t there. It wasn’t one of her finest moments.

    • Blazer

       /  August 10, 2017

      we all know….make you feel good does it.Wheres Mike Sabin these days…Wendy?

  4. PDB

     /  August 10, 2017

    One of the better lefties……

    This was of interest: “Darren (Hughes) is one of the most talented people I have ever met, and this House is the poorer for him not being here.”

    NZ Herald: “Mr Hughes left the Establishment Club with an 18-year old male student. The two went to Annette King’s home where Mr Hughes boards. Mrs King was in bed asleep at the time. The student left some time later and is reported to have ‘run into a police car’. He then made a complaint to the police about Mr Hughes. The complaint has been widely reported in the media as being ‘of a sexual nature’.

    “Mr Hughes is adamant that he has ‘done nothing wrong’”

  5. chrism56

     /  August 10, 2017

    Blazer. I believe Mr Sabin is still living free somewhere here in NZ, Why doesn’t Mr Hughes reside here?

    • Did Ms Turei get up an launch a savage reply? No… wonder why. When can we expect MeTu to give a valedictory speech? answer not soon enough…. ‘She has sat in this house for too long, and done to little… just go madam just go…’ to mess about with a more eloquent and famous line to useless members of parliament…

  6. What an amazing speech from Annette. Sincere, funny and earnest at the same time. A great loss to the Labour Party, House of Representatives and New Zealand.

  7. Corky

     /  August 10, 2017

    A hard bitten Leftie woman. She got Labour out of a situation that would have had the GG stepping in. She was also a competent minister. JA will need her motherly advice when she shoots herself in the foot. Going by her inability to provide facts on the hoof, that wont be too far away.