One of the best and most widely respected MPs have his valedictory speech in parliament today. Kevin Hague missed out on the Green party co-leadership last year – he could have made a real difference for them in that position – but has now chosen to move on the lead NZ Forest and Bird.
KEVIN HAGUE (Green):
[Authorised Te Reo text to be inserted by the Hansard Office.]
I used to do a lot of sailing. Ian and I—our first yacht was a 24-foot cutter and we would often be the smallest boat at Great Barrier Island or around the Hauraki Gulf in the various anchorages.
I remember in 1988, during Cyclone Bola—and some might question the decision to go sailing—we were anchored in a bay in the outer part of the Coromandel Harbour. The wind was so strong that the anchors would not hold. Together with many other boats, the two of us kept a 24-hour anchor watch.
We would anchor in the most sheltered part of the bay, and then the wind would sweep us across the bay. We would turn on the outboard motor, punch back into the wind, set the anchors again, and hope that they would hold for a little while longer. We did that again, and again, and again. The wind kept up for more than 24 hours, and we were exhausted, but eventually the anchors did hold.
Eight years of Opposition has felt something like that. Going to work each day, standing up for what we believe in, but losing almost all of our arguments—not because we were wrong, but because of the Government’s superior numbers and the resources of Government.
I guess for me, what we have had to do is to find a way to pick ourselves back up and punch back into that wind, into the storm. But now my watch has ended. It has been an enormous honour to serve in this role, to stand here and to know that along with my Green colleagues I represent an enormous number of New Zealanders who share our vision and our values.
I leave here proud of the work that I have helped to do.
I also leave here with some regrets. I have projects that I believe in passionately that I will not be able to see through to their conclusion. It goes against the grain for me to leave work unfinished.
I am leaving behind people who matter a great deal to me. I have friends right across this House and right across the political spectrum. I will not get to be a Minister, with the opportunity to implement policy in Government, and I think I might have done a pretty good job of that.
Hon Members: Hear, hear!
KEVIN HAGUE: Thank you. But despite those regrets, I have no doubts. I want to thank the Green Party, all of its members, the staff, the volunteers, and other MPs for the opportunity to do this work and for their support and friendship while doing it.
Those people who have worked in the Green Party’s parliamentary team have been outstanding, and I especially want to thank those who have worked in my own office—Joanna Plows, Sophie Belton, Nerei Kanak, Linda Veyers, Tasi Vaonga, Ridian Thomas, and the incomparable Jen Lawless.
You have seamlessly hidden my flaws from the world while simultaneously doing all the real work. Thank you very much.
I am grateful for the wonderful support that I have enjoyed over the years from the Parliamentary Service team and from the Office of the Clerk. I think, in particular, I am probably one of the biggest users of the Parliamentary Library and the travel teams, and they have always been fast, efficient, and reliable. I said earlier that I have friends across the House.
It has always seemed to me that positive relationships stop disagreement about some issues from getting in the way of collaborating on others.
I particularly want to acknowledge colleagues from all parties who have served with me on the Health Committee, and my great friends Ruth Dyson and Louisa Wall with whom I worked closely on marriage equality and other issues, and Nikki Kaye. Nikki and I worked together on a bill to completely overhaul the adoption law. I want to extend to Nikki my very best wishes for her recovery and swift return to this House.
I want to thank members of the Press Gallery, past and present. I have pretty much always felt that I had a fair run from you, and for the biggest issues that I worked on, you were also great partners in the pursuit of truth and justice—thank you.
Always, the work in Parliament has been made possible by others working in the community. It is a role that I have played in the past, and to which I return now.
As most people do, I think, in preparing this last speech, I went back to my first. As part of that speech, I set out some of my hopes for my Parliamentary career and some of the expectations that I knew that others held.
I talked about the hopes of cyclists that I would help make roads safe and well-engineered for all users, and for a national network of off-road cycling tracks.
I want to express my thanks to the Prime Minister for the great opportunity to work alongside him as co-sponsors of Ngā Haerenga, the New Zealand Cycle Trail network.
That project has achieved what we hoped for and more.It created lots of employment, it has provided a major boost to regional economies, and it has got loads more people riding their bikes more often. Those people are now demanding better cycling facilities in towns and cities as well. The trick now will be to sustain and grow that network, and it would be fantastic to see a multi-party agreement to make that happen.
I said in that maiden speech that people who love wild rivers and our natural world for its intrinsic values would be looking for me to make a contribution.
I led a major Parliamentary campaign alongside Forest and Bird—it is a fantastic organisation, is it not—Whitewater NZ, and the Wild Rivers coalition that led to the Mōkihinui River being saved. My campaign was based on how Lake Manapōuri was saved. I set out to get people all around the country to care about what happened to a place and to animals and plants that they had never, and probably would never directly experience, and it worked.
New Zealanders love the rivers, forests, oceans, and animals of Aotearoa, and they want to protect them.
I was also pleased to work with Kate Wilkinson to conduct major field trials of resetting traps, a project that has laid one of the main foundations for daring to believe that Sir Paul Callaghan’s vision of a predator-free New Zealand was possible.
I said in that speech that the gay and lesbian communities and the wider rainbow family would look to me to keep delivering on the promise of equal rights and opportunity. I have worked on a number of projects over the past 8 years, most notably the successful campaign for marriage equality.
I leave behind three important ones: better health services for transgender New Zealanders; the petition that is currently before the House for an apology and for wiping the convictions of gay men who were convicted of consensual sexual activity between adults before homosexual law reform; and my campaign to have the Education Review Office required to audit the safety of all schools for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students.
We showed in 2014 that most secondary schools do not provide such a safe environment, and that the Education Review Office never exposes that. Perhaps as a farewell present?
There are a couple of areas where I have been proud of a contribution I did not expect to make. I worked hard to expose what I called a sick culture of disentitlement in ACC. Major improvements were made, and I praise the then Minister, the Hon Judith Collins, but more still is required—more change is still required.
I also warned New Zealanders that the insurance industry and small government ideologues have not given up on their plan of a privatised ACC, and vigilance is still required.
But the work that I am proudest of is that that I did in the aftermath of the Pike River tragedy. I have felt a heavy responsibility for that work, and I have been pleased to contribute to a major overhaul of workplace health and safety regulation in this country.
But I have been frustrated and angry that nobody from the board or from the senior management of Pike River Coal Ltd has been held to account, or will ever be held to account, for what has occurred, and that 29 men still have not been brought home to their families.
The other area where I know people hoped that I would be able to make an impact is health, and, in particular, increasing Parliament’s understanding that health outcomes are the result of people’s circumstances and environments, like poverty, housing, and how empowered their communities are, rather than individual choices, and goodness knows I have given enough lectures on that topic in this House.
I regret that successive Ministers of Health have preferred to adopt an adversarial approach to their portfolio. I believe that much more could have been achieved by working together across the House on health.
Economists seem to agree that funding for health services has dropped cumulatively and in real terms by almost $2 billion since 2008, while something like $20 billion has spent on roads of national significance, for example. To me, that suggests that the priorities are entirely the wrong way around.
It seems essential to me that Government should seek to ensure that every person has the basics that will enable them to have a decent life: enough good food, clean air and water, warmth and shelter, the means to good health and education, and a decent income.
In this country, a growing number—far too many—do not have these basics, and worse, access to them is unfairly distributed. Remedying these problems should be the purpose of Government—that is what Government is for.
The economy is not some force of nature; it is a collection of tools that we can re-engineer to help us meet those social goals.
Instead, far too often, people are sacrificed in the interests of the economy, and that is fundamentally the wrong way around.
The same is true of the environment. When the natural world is seen as a set of resources to service the economy as raw materials or waste disposal, we know that something is fundamentally wrong. Restoring and conserving a sustainable relationship with nature should be the other fundamental goal of Government, which the economy should serve.
Our country is run as though people and the environment need to serve the economy as inputs to the firm, and this needs to change entirely.
When people are homeless because of land banking and kids go hungry because wages and benefits do not even cover the basics; when they have avoidable health conditions that scar their entire lives because of poor-quality, overcrowded housing; when landowners are still cutting down lowland forest, draining wetlands, and allowing their stock into rivers because there is money to be made; when the last Maui’s dolphin plunged towards extinction because we prioritised the oil and fishing industries, something is fundamentally wrong.
When our very species is at grave risk because governments around the world refuse to take decisive action on climate change lest it harm business, then we know that making people and the environment serve the economy has reached its logical end-point of self-destruction.
There are also areas where change is desperately needed but where successive Governments have taken no action because of what I believe is political timidity.
There are others, but I want to single out drug law reform, adoption law reform—which I have already mentioned—and assisted dying.
These are all areas where the member’s bill process is poorly suited to considered reform, and where a solid public mandate already exists for change. These are also areas where archaic law harms people in terrible ways every day, so I appeal to all parties to please be brave, and stand for something.
Finally, I want to give my thanks to those who have been on this journey with me: my friends, especially those in whose houses I have so often been a terrible guest, arriving late and leaving early, and those who have had to put up with me not being around for their important occasions.
Thanks to my family, some of whom are able to be here tonight, and above all thanks to my partner Ian.
In this House our partners and families pay a great price in enabling us to do this work, and I extend my respect and thanks to all of yours.
When I entered Parliament, I said that I wanted to dedicate my time here to the memory of my mum and my sister. I hope that they would have been proud.
I leave here now to take on another really exciting challenge. I know that those who come after me in the Greens will bring new skills, knowledge, and energy that I could not have contributed.
But in leaving I feel that I have done my best, I feel I have made things better, and I go with my integrity intact. I wish you all the very best.