Imminent departure of MP Chris Finlayson

Chris Finlayson entered Parliament as a list MP in 2005. He had been ranked 27th on National’s list, high for a non-existing MP. National leader John Key placed Finlayson at 14 in his shadow cabinet, giving him some weighty responsibilities: Shadow Attorney-General, Shadow Treaty Negotiations Minister and Shadow Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister. He was also the Deputy Chairman of the Justice and Electoral Select Committee.

Retiring National MP Chris Finlayson at Parliament, Wellington, this week. Photo / Mark Mitchell

MP Chris Finlayson at Parliament, Wellington, this week. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Finlayson had a strong legal background which included treaty negotiations representing Ngai Tahu.

Finlayson was admitted to the Bar as a barrister and solicitor in 1981.[3] He was a partner in Brandon Brookfield from 1986 to 1990 and then in Bell Gully from 1991 to 2003. He has practised as a barrister sole at the Barristers.Comm chambers since 2003.

At Bell Gully he spent years fighting for Ngāi Tahu against the government, pursuing its treaty claims through a series of high-profile court battles. “I used to love going to the office in the morning when we were suing the Crown” Finlayson said in a speech in 2009. “Ngāi Tahu mastered the art of aggressive litigation, whether it was suing the Waitangi Tribunal and [National Treaty negotiations minister] Doug Graham or the Director-General of Conservation. It was take no prisoners and it resulted in a good settlement.”[5] The signing of the Treaty deal with Ngāi Tahu in 1997 was the highlight of his legal career.[4]

When National took over Government in 2008 until they lost out last year (2017) Finlayson was:

  • 32nd Attorney General of new Zealand
  • Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations
  • Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage

His role in treaty negotiations was generally praised.

Claire Trevett:  National MP Chris Finlayson’s farewell tour

His imminent departure from Parliament is having something of a liberating effect on National MP Chris Finlayson.

Within the first hour with the Weekend Herald he has told a story about a nun and a fly swat, described US President Donald Trump as “a dick” and described NZ First leader Winston Peters as much, much worse.

Finlayson is taking the Weekend Herald on a road trip of his favourite places by way of a farewell before he leaves Parliament and starts to spend more time in Auckland.

He will go back to what he calls his “first love”, law.

The exact field of law he intends to work in is rather boring – commercial arbitration – so let us not dwell on it.

Finlayson is famous for his intellect, his often-biting wit, and his effectiveness.

He is not famous for being a man of the people – he left that to the likes of former Prime Minister John Key.

I think that Finlayson was a very good example of a list MP, someone with a lot of experience and expertise who contributed a lot to Government but who didn’t have local electorate responsibilities.

On Trump:

But the first stop is the cafe next to the Khandallah swimming pool where he swam as a child.

He points to a photo of Jimmy the Cat, a much-adored cat, who was recently killed by a dog.

He tells the people at the cafe why we are there and assures them the cafe was the very top of his list of favourite places.

It is here, while posing for a photo, that he says whenever he has to force a smile he just thinks of US President Donald Trump.

Asked why, he says “because he’s a dick”.

He later says this is because he does not like populist politics.

“It gives me the creeps. It’s not the way I think countries should be organising themselves.”

Finlayson certainly wasn’t into populist politics.

Finlayson will deliver his valedictory on Tuesday, signing off on a career in politics that began in 2005.

In that time he oversaw an overhaul of the spy agencies’ powers.

His personal highlight was his appearance at the International Court of Justice in 2013 to set out New Zealand’s objections to Japan whaling.

But his most visible and enduring work was in Treaty settlements.

To Finlayson goes the credit for securing 59 Treaty settlements in nine years – the highest rate of any government.

That’s more than six settlements a year. His previous experience from the other side of the negotiating table was an obvious advantage in getting up to speed.

When National went back into Opposition, Tuhoe’s negotiator Tamati Kruger paid tribute to Finlayson for the emotional and intellectual connection he had with iwi.

“Easily we call him our friend.”

The Tuhoe settlement was a major success.

Alas, Ngāpuhi proved his Everest.

His successor Andrew Little has just learned for himself how intractable the Ngāpuhi hapū can be.

He insists he felt no moment of schadenfreude when Little’s attempts to get Ngāpuhi back to the negotiating table failed following a vote this week.

“I like Andrew, he’s doing a good job as the minister and I think it’s very important in that area that National and Labour do not criticise each other. I don’t think anyone could have done more than he did.”

Refreshing to see his non-partisan praise of Little.

Asked what he will miss about Parliament, he says “frankly, not much.”

He may miss the camaraderie of the caucus.

He did not like some modern developments in being an MP. He does not understand or want to understand social media, for instance.

Social media is an integral part of modern society and of modern politics, like it or not.

He lists his Favourite People.

It is pointed out he did not mention National leader Simon Bridges in his list.

“The fact is, you have your good years and your bad years but I think the party is still in very good heart and Simon can be very pleased we’ve ended the year on 46 per cent in the party vote.”

He does not pay much attention to the popularity of a leader.

“It’s a sad reality the leader of the Opposition always gets bagged. Low polling results are not necessarily an indicator of a lack of success.”

Not necessarily.

His least favourite people include Winston Peters, who had a hand in dispensing this fate: “someone once described Ronald Reagan as a triumph of the embalmer’s art. On a bad day, that’s what Winston reminds me of.”

I’m not surprised that Finlayson isn’t a fan of Peters the populist panderer (who was also a lawyer many moons ago before becoming an MP).

He enjoyed Opposition in his first term, from 2005 to 2008. But after nine years as a minister, it has somewhat lost its appeal. “I’ve found this year pretty boring, actually.”

It was an ideal start for Finlayson in Parliament, three years in opposition to become familiar with how Parliament worked, followed by nine years of putting things into practice.

Also not surprising that he is now bored with being in Opposition.

“I’ve done my dash, and I’m washed up,” Finlayson tells him.

Twelve years is probably long enough for a non-career politician with outside career prospects to battle in the bear pit.

He finds it ironic that it is Mallard – whose nickname for Finlayson was Tinkerbell – called a review into bullying, but thinks it is a good thing for the staff at Parliament.

Mallard long operated on the more bullying side of politics, but that shouldn’t detract from his efforts now to address it, at least between MPs and staff.

He has a good rep from the his own former staff as a generous boss.

So, he may after all be a man of some people. Just not people in general and certainly not Winston Peters or Donald Trump.

For the people in general, albeit distanced from most.

Finlayson ends is Parliamentary career as he started, ranked 14th in National’s shadow Cabinet.

Highlights of his 9 year Ministerial career include:

  • Signing 59 deeds of settlement with iwi, far more than any previous Minister and a record which will be impossible to beat
  • Reforming the legislation governing the intelligence agencies and securing major increases of funding so that the agencies are well equipped to protect New Zealanders against evils like terrorism and cyber crime.
  • Appearing for New Zealand in major international forums like the International Court of Justice on whaling and the U.N Security Council on terrorism.
  • Reforming much of the cultural legislation of this country, being responsible for the widely acclaimed New Zealand presence as guest of honour at the Frankfurt book fair in 2013, and being responsible for the World War One commemorations.
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  1. Blazer

     /  16th December 2018

    Finlayson is a smart man.His ego gets the better of him.
    Basically conferring a Q.C upon himself detracts from his career achievements.
    OTT disdain for people who disagree with him is another character flaw.

    • Gezza

       /  16th December 2018

      Have to agree with that. I wasn’t aware for some time that he was amongst the worst for yelling out snarky stuff the Speakers would occasionally have to pull him up for. Heard him give a couple of speeches on the introduction and passage of Treaty Settlement Claims and he came across as very genuine in his understanding of the issues behind the grievances, the sincerity of the Crown apologies he delivered, but he ruined my good impressions of him with his arrogant, acidic personality.

      • Duker

         /  16th December 2018

        Will find commercial arbitration a challenge as its best suited for affable sorts, mostly ex judges. Without a judicial temperament he might be the last choice when others are all busy. I wouldnt be surprised to see back in wellington where he is more well known but work isnt as busy.

      • Ray

         /  16th December 2018

        I presume are aware of the heckling that the present Speaker and a couple of his nastier mates have directed at him over the years?
        This from a Party that has Rainbow Caucus and “claims” to be caring and inclusive.

        • Duker

           /  16th December 2018

          And Tinkerbell has given as good as he gets. he too was part of nationals rainbow caucus, you usually have to look in cupboards for them as the party as a whole is so homophobic it isnt wised to say a word. How many gays in national now that Finlayson is leaving ? More than you think as one quite high profile person isnt out publicly.

          • Gezza

             /  16th December 2018

            Oh really. Sounds a bit like scurrilous rumour to me. Male or female?

            • Duker

               /  16th December 2018

              One former mp, now retired used to wear leather jackets and ride motorbikes. Yet she never said a word . You need to think stereotypes , and look for some who don’t talk about partners or seem to be 40 and still have ‘flatmates’

            • Gezza

               /  16th December 2018

              Nah. Can’t even be bothered working it out. Don’t really give a bugger. More interested in exactly what went down with Darren Hughes, and not even greatly interested in that either.

  2. Duker

     /  16th December 2018

    Done more than Trump ever could to re-make the judiciary. You can see his favourite Kos and his rapid promotions from High Court to Court of appeal and then president of that court -who assigns Judges to cases. Occasionally sits on Supreme court cases and would have been Finlaysons pick to replace Elias for the new Chief Justice of NZ , the present one appointed by Shipley govt 20 years ago.

  3. Zedd

     /  16th December 2018

    an honourable Tory : maori settlement claims !

    ka mau te wehi

    • Gezza

       /  16th December 2018

      Google Translate Maori to English confidently informs me this means:

      “And the fear”

      • Zedd

         /  16th December 2018

        I’ll take your would for it.. I was told it simply is a phrase which translates as meaning ‘Awesome’ the context I (&others) use it for 🙂

  1. Chris Finlayson – valedictory statement | Your NZ

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