Dunne’s legacy

Peter Dunne’s 33 year political career hasn’t set the world on fire – Donald Trump may do that in 33 months – but he is regarded by those who know as a competent and effective politician in Parliament, and a hard working electorate MP.

He has practiced pragmatic incrementalism, but now sees himself as not fitting in with volatile media driven politics, nor with ideology driven revolution.

Brent Edwards at RNZ:  Dunne: A great survivor finally runs out of support

Dunne has supported governments led by both Labour and National and held ministerial posts in both. He has been an under-secretary and minister for just on 15 years, serving seven different Prime Ministers.

Few politicians have done better, yet few have been ridiculed more, whether for his coiffured hair or bow ties.

Despite the ridicule, Mr Dunne has been an extremely effective politician who has worked well with both sides of politics.

Mr Dunne’s resignation is not just United Future’s loss. It is also a blow to National, probably more so. It loses a crucial vote irrespective of its final result in the election.

In the meantime time the MP for Ōhāriu ends a 33-year parliamentary career by taking what he is likely to see as a pragmatic, commonsense approach to politics.

There is a need for pragmatism and common sense in politics, but it tens to not excite media or voters.

Southland Times editorial Dunne dusted as Nats lose ally:

The outgoing MP deserves to be remembered as an adept politician. And since that in itself is a fairly wan claim to integrity we can go further and acknowledge the areas in which the man himself suggests he’s drawn the most satisfaction:

  • Modernising drug policy,
  • making fluoridation in drinking water more widespread,
  • establishing Fire and Emergency New Zealand,
  • bringing back 10-year passports, and
  • overseen New Zealand help form the D5 group of digitally-advanced nations.

How many people, you have to wonder, would have immediately have brought him to mind if asked to identify the politician behind that little lot?”

As Minister of Revenue he was also involved in the modernisation of IRD’s computer systems. And there will be many other things he has played a part in.

He has received far less media attention and help than Winston Peters but has achieved much more as an MP.

He has also achieved more in Parliament in 20 years than the whole Green Party.

Sam Sachdeva: Peter Dunne’s cautious crusade ends

Along with those highlights, there have been low points, notably when he resigned as a minister during an inquiry into the leak of a GCSB report (he was later vindicated), but Dunne says the sun always came up.

“Politics is a tough game, it’s unforgiving, it doesn’t show much sentiment, it is demanding, and you’ve got to have the stamina and the mental rigour, I guess, to cope with that…

“The interesting thing was for me through that whole [GCSB] process I learned a lot about my own resilience and determination.”

Pragmatic incrementalism by design:

He concedes his political career has been marked more by pragmatic incrementalism than bold ideology, but says that has been by design.

“I have always railed against what I call bright ideas in politics. I think if you look around the world over history, societies have failed when politicians with bright ideas, good or bad, have got in control.

“I’m always wary of the politician with the big grand vision, the bold picture of the future, because it’s invariably founded on feet of clay, and I think the politicians who believe they can make a massive difference are deluding themselves and their country.”

Bold ideology and grand vision tends to flounder on the fringes in new Zealand politics. It rarely survives through the party system that anyone wanting to get into Parliament must work their way through and up. It almost always takes years to get into Parliament, and more years to become a significant influence.

That mindset is evident in what he labels as his proudest accomplishments: reforming the tax system, unifying the Fire Service after 70 years – “what everyone said was impossible” – and improving the housing of constitutional documents like the Treaty of Waitangi and the Women’s Suffrage Petition.

Someone has to do unheralded bigger things and important little things.

He says New Zealand is “a vastly better country” than when he first entered Parliament: more mature, more diverse, with broader horizons and more opportunities seized.

“I hope that we’re able to continue to do that, that we don’t get captured by backward thinking, people who want to try and reinvent yesterday.

A swipe at his oldest adversary, Winston Peters.

“Yesterday’s important in terms of what you did and what you achieved, but it’s not necessarily a guide to the future: tomorrow is where it all opens and you’ve got to be nimble.

Dunne has been adept at adapting for the future for decades, but now sees a need to stand aside.

“It’s just the sense of people feeling that old boundaries have gone and they can go every which way and if they go this way, then it doesn’t really matter because if they get it wrong, they go that way…

It’s very difficult to provide stable politics in that environment and be someone who likes to stand for a consistent line when suddenly all around you is swirling like a great maelstrom”.

So Dunne has decided to step out of the maelstrom. A modestly successful MP of the past but he doesn’t see a future in politics any more.

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6 Comments

  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  August 23, 2017

    Still haven’t forgiven him for blocking RMA reform. Has cost the country billions.

    • Blame National at least as much for not doing a deal. Dunne supported RMA reform but wanted to maintain adequate environmental protections.

    • Patzcuaro

       /  August 23, 2017

      National couldn’t pass the legislation because in that form it couldn’t muster enough votes, they had the option of negotiating amends to get them sufficient votes but National chose not to do that. That is how democracy works.

  2. PDB

     /  August 23, 2017

    • lurcher1948

       /  August 23, 2017

      And he’s gone YEE HAAAA, Greig OConnor the NEW face of Ohariu,bring him on….