Bill English’s Valedictory Statement


Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH (National): The library tells me I’ve spoken 1,000 times in the House; answered or asked 2,000 questions and answers; I suspect probably about 10,000 interjections, 23 of which were witty. Enough of the numbers, the strongest feeling I have today, in this last speech, is gratitude. That is, gratitude for the opportunities that I’ve had, for the many people I’ve served with, but, most importantly, for the many moments of connection and witness to the lives of others, which I believe is the deepest privilege of public life: to see the joy of their achievement, to see the courage in their suffering, and to be grateful for the strength and the wisdom given to me by so many.

For those of you who may not have noticed, the other focus I developed as a finance Minister and would have put a lot of time into as a Prime Minister is social investment. Why does it matter? Well, I referred earlier to the harm I’d seen done in the 1990s by Government institutions to so many people, and we’re 20 years on, going 30 years on, going to have a royal commission into all of that, which will tell us what we already know. But the conclusion will be this: Government work looks after the weakest worst—it does the worst job for the weakest.

I’ve never understood the argument that the structure of delivering a service matters more than the people to whom you deliver it. The core of my belief—and it comes from Catholic theology, and to some extent National Party principles—is the utter integrity of the individual person, their importance, and our obligation to them to ensure that they can realise their aspirations and their full humanity. Much of what Government does does not do that.

That’s a shame, because I’ve never met a person, in 27 years, who had no hope—never, not one, including the worst of our offenders, and I’ve met them. There’s always some hope. In fact, often that’s all they have. So that’s why I, in my small opportunity to do so, injected into the public service, at least, the word “customer”—mainly because they hate it. They don’t like that word. Who thinks they’re a customer of Government?

Well, in the real world, they have choices, they have preferences, so why can’t someone with multiple disabilities have choices and have preferences? Why do they have to put up with what we give them or what some professional group says is the way the service should be, and that you can’t do something different because it might undermine the integrity of the service? Well, what about the integrity of the person? What about them? Actually, that’s who we are here for, and my sense of that over 27 years of public service is stronger than it’s ever been.

I used to tell this story, which I’ll tell again. It’s from the Auckland City Mission, who tracked 100 families. They interviewed them every couple of weeks for a year, and they created this case study. It was a solo mum with a child with disabilities, and everything she did in two weeks. She said at the end of it, “Absolutely stuffed. I’ve visited 23 agencies. There was one that treated me with respect, knew my story, helped me, gave me a cup of coffee—it was Instant Finance.” We’re getting outdone on compassion by the people who charge 37 percent a month.

That’s telling, and if there’s anything I want to leave as a lesson here, it is the dangerous complacency of good intentions. There’s too much of it in New Zealand—that, somehow, if you say you mean well, that’s going to make a difference. Well, actually, it can cause damage because you’re not actually talking about what actually happened. The services we provide are not about us; they’re about those people. The only measure of it is whether it changes their lives—whether we reduce the misery—but we have system built, still, too much on servicing that misery.

Social investment will roll on because ideas are powerful. Knowledge is powerful—more powerful than Governments—and now people know it can be different, enough of them, and I want to complement those, particularly those brave public servants. We had a fantastic time doing some of the hardest stuff, because it’s hard to do, and I must say, if it was as easy as just giving money—I used to think of this as a Minister of Finance.

If I believed every claim made to me and my predecessors about the benefit of the next $100 million, there’d be no problems in New Zealand—none. They would have all been gone 20 years ago. The fact is, most of those claims are wrong, because the people claiming it’ll make a difference have no idea and never go back and see whether it made that kind of difference. I think, as you can see, I’ve never quite lost my energy for that one, and the only regret I suppose I have after 27 years is that we were ready to some good stuff if we’d been re-elected. But that’s politics: you get great opportunities without having to earn them, and they can be taken away just as easily.

I just want to finish with a few remarks, particularly acknowledging my family who are here today. This has been our adventure, particularly 2017 and the campaign, where I discovered that our rule of having no politics at home hadn’t worked. That was our rule. We shifted the family to Wellington and made a couple of rules: no politics on Sunday, go home for tea every night—so I have not eaten in Bellamy’s for 20 years—and we don’t talk about politics when I get home because there’s plenty of other stuff to talk about. I discovered that, actually, they’d been reading the paper, surfing the internet, and had developed political views of their own—some of which are wrong. But it’s our togetherness that matters, and the great gift of me leaving politics will be that we can re-craft that sense of togetherness.

I want to just finish with a quote from James K. Baxter that I’ve always liked. It’s from his poem called “New Zealand”, where the first line is

“These unshaped islands, on the sawyer’s bench,

Wait for the chisel of the mind,”

On March 13, when I officially resign—it feels like you leave the building about six times when you’re going, six last times—it will be 10,000 days since I was elected, and I want to acknowledge my brother Conor, who pointed that out to me. Ten thousand days since I was elected, and I’m satisfied that, every day, I took my turn at the chisel.


Full transcript here.

Leave a comment


  1. Corky

     /  March 2, 2018

    Sir Bill English….sooner rather than later.

  2. Zedd

     /  March 2, 2018

    Good riddance.. another SMUG Tory ‘bites the dust’ 😀

  3. Blazer

     /  March 2, 2018

    Goodbye Bill the borrower ‘..debt for youth to repay.

    • Conspiratoor

       /  March 2, 2018

      Agreed. No matter how well they are spun, words are cheap. No vision, no legacy …apart from a mountain of debt for the next generation

  1. Bill English’s Valedictory Statement — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition

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