Sarah Dowie – valedictory swipe at media

Sarah Dowie mostly kept out of the spotlight as National MP for Invercargill since 2014, until it was revealed that she had had an affair with Jami-Lee Ross and had sent him a controversial text.

From Wikipedia:

On 25 January 2019, Dowie was revealed as the MP who had an affair with fellow MP Jami-Lee Ross. Ross had disclosed this in October 2018, but the news media chose not to name her at the time. After it was learned that a police investigation had been launched into a text message allegedly sent by Dowie to Ross, media revealed her identity.

However, the police decided that no further action was needed

In 2019 Dowie was re-selected by National in Invercargill unopposed, but in February 2020 announced her decision not to stand for re-election.

Dowie addressed her treatment by the media in her valedictory speech.

According to the more experienced politician, everyone has an annus horribilis. Mine hit full peak in January 2019, and I didn’t think my personal life was too out of the ordinary until my name scrolled across The AM Show‘s newsreel, bumping Brexit as the lead story. While it’s clear I had made some poor choices, the fact that a press gallery reporter was live providing analysis brought the whole sorry affair to a new level. In my eyes, it can only be described as comical. She was maniacal, could hardly get her words out, and she didn’t have the nous to work out the difference between a complaint, investigation, charge, and proceedings. What followed was worse: a litany of diatribe from even the so-called reputable outlets. At best, some comments could be called wide of the mark. Others were just downright lies. In hindsight, I question whether I should have sued some publications.

One article claimed I ran on family values in 2014. I absolutely did not. The journalist wrote that story without seeking confirmation of facts. It’s irresponsible, lazy, and just downright wrong. A subsequent article on the Politik website suggested I only got promoted because of my alliances—nothing about me holding a law or science degree, having practised and worked for the Department of Conservation. One other paper said I’m not a conservation naive, but for some reason, in 2019, my qualifications and experience were overlooked in favour of the salacious. These stories made taking the high road a very bitter pill to swallow. Nevertheless, I rose above it, continued to front and show up to work.

Compared with recent events where media analysis lasted only a couple of news cycles, the speculation and rubbish continued for me for weeks on end. One woman said to me recently, “Sarah, you were absolutely trashed in the media in 2019, and yet these other MPs experience a couple of media cycles of scrutiny and hide behind mental health issues for their bad behaviour.” The antithesis is the hypocrisy of the media calling for a clean up of politicians. Yes, we are representatives and should take responsibility for poor behaviour, but we are not elected as angels. We too are human and make mistakes, just as journalists do and have. But when a predator is able to manipulate the media for his agenda and the media is directly party to it, it is the media fraternity that needs to audit themselves as to their ethics and their conscious peddling of sexism and patriarchy. If it takes me to be New Zealand’s scarlet woman to highlight this, then so be it.

New Zealand has a long way to go with how we view women. Successive Governments have been concerned with eliminating all forms of violence against women. Violence does not stop at the physical and sexual, and from what I’ve seen and experienced, it seems that unless a woman loses her life, they are afforded very little sympathy for situations or circumstances they find themselves in—ones in which they can’t control.

It’s that underlying patriarchal view that persists in New Zealand that stimulates this. “She shouldn’t have been travelling alone.” “She shouldn’t have led him on.” “She should have seen the signs earlier.” “She should not have been wearing that skirt.” What about: “No, she deserves justice and an environment where she feels safe to report abuse.

What is surprising and deeply disappointing to me is that in some cases these views are held by women who can be most vicious in their criticisms. You cannot legislate for a women’s code, but policy can re-educate. We should encourage everyone to encourage women to contribute to our communities, and we should build a society that enables our daughters to achieve all their hopes and dreams and to do so without judgment or guilt.

Therefore, I am not unchanged from the experience of being an MP. People often say to me, “Why on earth would you want to be an MP?” referring to the endless criticisms—some fair, some not; the hours of work; the arduous travel schedule; endless days away from family and your home; and, even when you are at home or off the clock, eagerly watching for media alerts. Being an MP is all consuming; it’s not like normal employment where you get to switch off at the end of the day.

Her parliamentary experience was not all bad.

But we do not walk alone. We seek out a pack for camaraderie and support, and I have been so fortunate during my lifetime in politics to meet some of the very best men and women in New Zealand, to call them my friends, and I will be eternally thankful for their care. In particular, I mention four colleagues who came in with me in 2014.

We have spent countless days and nights in each other’s company, experiencing the highs and lows of Parliament and life. Brett Hudson, Stuart Smith, Matt Doocey, and Todd Barclay. We are the self-proclaimed breakfast club of misfits, acutely comfortable in our own skin, never actively seeking limelight—[Member hands Dowie a box of tissues] Thank you—but quietly going about our jobs, doing them well and with skill. That shouldn’t be underestimated or underrated.

I thank them from the bottom of my heart for being there in the dark times, for taking me under their wings like a sister and protecting me. I also thank you for the endless laughter and gibes and the ability not to take ourselves too seriously. These friendships are what restore my trust and faith in people. To the class of ’14, a family of alphas, each in our own niche, yet a group that has fitted together like a jigsaw and now withstood two terms without any falling outs, you are talented, kind, and compassionate, and I value each and every one of you.

She concluded:

In conclusion, I refer to the lines of The Breakfast Club, and I tailor them for the context of Parliament.

Dear media, we accept that we had to sacrifice part of our lives in your scrutiny for whatever it is we did wrong, but we MPs think you are crazy to make us write a valedictory telling us who you think we are. You see us how you want to see us—in the simplest terms, the most convenient definitions. But what each of us found out is that one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, the breakfast club.

Media have a very important job to do in a democracy, but they would do well to reflect on their own behaviour at times, when they relentlessly pursue MPs in order to make their own headlines.

Chris Finlayson – valedictory statement

“Some people please wherever they go; other people please whenever they go.”

Chris Finlayson, National list MP since 2005 and ex Attorney general, Minister of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations and Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage, gave his valedictory speech in his last day in Parliament yesterday.

Praise for some (from several parties) – some were to be expected, but of note is a special mention for Nikki Kay’s determination. a few jokes and barbs, and quite a few suggestions – like promoting a four year term. And while he opposes term limits for MPs he suggests a a compulsory sabbatical after five three-year terms or four four-year terms, which “would allow MPs to re-enter the real world and if they are odd enough to want to come back, well, they can do so.”

Finlayson’s speech (with some edits):


Mr Speaker, I have to say, I’m delighted to be leaving. In fact, I would have gone sooner, but I stayed on a few more months for a few reasons. First, Jim Bolger advised me not to go straight after the new Government was formed but to wait until about October, and I always follow the advice of Jim Bolger.

I have to say, secondly, I’ve really enjoyed the camaraderie of the caucus, especially getting to know and work with the 2017 intake.

Thirdly, I’ve been very keen to progress reform of the law of contempt, a hugely important topic I had spent many, many years trying to advance, and it’s one of the ironies of politics that I succeeded in Opposition. The recent debate over suppression orders shows why the bill is so very important. It’s now in the Justice Committee, in safe hands, and so I don’t need to stay until the bill is enacted.

Could I begin with the acknowledgments. In no particular hierarchy or order, I want first to acknowledge my opponents. The Labour opponents that I had in Mana and Rongotai, Winnie Laban, Annette King, and Paul Eagle and their spouses, are very, very nice people. I really enjoyed their company. The campaigns were pleasant and issues-focused.

I have to say I have great respect for social democracy, though I prefer liberal conservatism. But I still admire the courage of the 1984-87 Labour Government in the economics area, even if the Labour Party doesn’t. The changes they made were essential and overdue.

Can I say something about the Greens—far from me politically in many areas, but we always got on well. Kennedy Graham is someone I regard as a good friend, a man of principle and courage, and someone who still has a lot to contribute, and I hope that party can look beyond divisions of the past and use his talents.

I also acknowledge James Shaw and, particularly, Teall Crossen, who was the Green candidate in Rongotai in 2017. I think she has a great future, or perhaps she had a great future till I started praising her.

… I now turn to talk about New Zealand First. The most I can say to them is: thank you very much for not choosing the National Party in 2017. As is well-known, I think we dodged a bullet. That decision lays the foundations for a National Government in 2020.

Then, there’s my National Party family, but especially Judy Kirk, whose decency and warmth helped the National Party recover in 2002.

I need to say something about the media, because they are not the enemy and should never be referred to in that way. Their work is essential to our democracy. I promised Tova O’Brien I would say this: I especially acknowledge the young, clever, and classy TV3 team, Audrey Young, who’s the best bush lawyer in Wellington, and I’d better mention Claire Trevett and Barry Soper, otherwise they’ll get snarky.

I’ve almost forgiven Guyon Espiner, who taught me a very good lesson: do not appear on Morning Report just after you’ve woken up. I remember very well the morning he interviewed me and put a proposition to me from Metiria Turei, and I said, “Oh, well that’s what happens when one is dealing with a left-wing loon.”

And he put another proposition to me, and I said, “Well, that’s what happens when one is dealing with a right-wing loon.”, and he said, “Well that commentator was John Key.” The message came down from the ninth floor that if I wanted to be Minister for Consumer Affairs I was on the right track.

‘ve worked for so many iwi over the years, so many people to mention: my old friend O’Regan’s sitting up there from Ngāi Tahu; Vanessa Eparaima from Ngāti Raukawa; the gentleman, kind Tiwha Bell from Maniapoto; the wise Tāmati Kruger from Tūhoe; Kirsti Luke from Tūhoe also of Ngāpuhi, who needs to go to Ngāpuhi to sort out of few of her cousins; and all of my wonderful colleagues in Taranaki. I especially mention my friends in Parihaka, who cannot be here tonight because of their commitment on the 18th of each month. People have said some nice things about me in recent days but these people are the ones who made the settlements happen.

I also acknowledge John Key and Bill English, without whose active support nothing would have been achieved.

I also acknowledge John Key and Bill English, without whose active support nothing would have been achieved. I say to Andrew Little that this is the best job in Government. Don’t worry about setbacks. Just when it seems a negotiation has gone all wrong something very good can and invariably does happen. I mean who knows, Sonny Tau could decide to go and live in Iceland!

Lastly and most importantly, my family: I acknowledge my mother, who is Annette King’s second cousin, a great person.

So that’s the nice warm stuff, and now for the inevitable lecture. Although I cannot wait to leave, I have great respect for the institution of Parliament. I think there are ways to improve our institution, and I outline a few of them now.

How long should the Parliamentary term be? I think it needs to be four years—three years is too short. A longer term will make for an effective Parliament. The proposal to lengthen the term failed in a referendum many years ago. It’s time to revisit the issue.

How long should MPs be permitted to serve? Imposition of term limits as a non-starter, but I think there should be a compulsory sabbatical after five three-year terms or four four-year terms—don’t look at me like that. A break would allow MPs to re-enter the real world and if they are odd enough to want to come back, well, they can do so.

How should parties be funded? A very important question, because generally I think our funding rules work well. But I have become concerned about funding of political parties by non-nationals. That’s why I think both major parties need to work together to review the rules relating to funding. I have a personal view that it should be illegal for non-nationals to donate to our political parties.

One of the things that amazes me in this place is that there really is a lack of practical understanding of the separation of powers. For example, the Ministry of Justice constantly fails to recognise the judiciary as a separate branch of Government, and sometimes the courts overstep the mark with Parliament when they go too far with Parliamentary privilege, as they did—David Parker knows these things. We passed the Parliamentary Privilege Act. Now, Parliament must deal with the consequences of the prisoner voting case. Parliament could nullify the decision, as we did in 2014, or recognise the court’s jurisdiction, provided Parliament makes it clear that there is no jurisdiction to strike down legislation. This will be an intensely important issue for Parliament in 2019. I shall be watching it with great interest from the sidelines.

Finally, I want to address a few comments to my fellow National MPs—my friends and colleagues for many years, a diverse and a talented bunch, you lot. I’ve said quite a bit over recent times about John Key and Bill English, so my praise for those two great New Zealanders can be taken as read. I have no intention of saying any more nice things about Ian McKelvie. He’s had his quota. But I do want to say something about two MPs I greatly admire.

First, Gerry Brownlee: when the history of the Key Government is written, his work rebuilding a shattered city will be regarded as that Government’s greatest achievement. I witnessed in Cabinet his absolute commitment to and compassion for his fellow Cantabrians. Sometimes I felt that his contribution has been taken for granted—well, not by me, because I think he’s a great New Zealander.

And secondly I want to acknowledge Nikki Kaye, who won Auckland Central in 2008 and has held it since then. Auckland Central is very like Rongotai, except Nikki wins Auckland Central. She was a Minister with a brilliant future and, as we know, was very unwell last year, but she fought that cancer and is doing a tremendous job in Opposition. I strongly support her bill on teaching foreign languages. She’s an example to all of us of grit, of courage, and of determination.

…New Zealand needs a liberal conservative Government in 2020. Some say we have no friends; I think friendship’s overrated—just a joke. But I actually think we’re turning back into a two-party State.

I think the SOE model is past its use-by date; in particular, Landcorp needs to go and its farms need to be sold to iwi. In my nine years as Minister for Treaty of Waitangi negotiations, I regret to say—well, Ron Mark knows these things—I always found Landcorp difficult and uncooperative.

We need to continue to update our constitution. The Senior Courts Act is now law and soon we’re going to have a Parliament Act—I hope. Then we need to review the Treaty of Waitangi Act. There have been some complaints recently that insufficient attention is paid to the tribunal’s recommendations; it would help if they were more practical. The shares plus decision, for example, was described as incoherent and ignoring basic principles of company law. And finally, we need to pass the Te Ture Whenua Bill in the first 100 days of a new administration. The product of a careful review and many years’ consultation, it’s going to provide landowners with a world-class regime of registration and dispute resolution.

When I delivered my maiden speech from this very seat in November 2005, I said the liberal conservative was concerned to govern and the public good and the national interest, confident in the knowledge that this is a great country full of talented and decent people. Other countries have problems; New Zealand has a project—an exciting, sometimes difficult, but nevertheless achievable project. As I give my last speech in the House today in the same place where I started, I stand by those words. I’m very pleased to be going, but grateful I’ve had the opportunity to serve.

Members probably know the old wisecrack, “Some people please wherever they go; other people please whenever they go.”, and I’m sure many will be thinking the second part applies to me—although, I understand, not Mr Robertson. I have it on excellent authority that he’s distraught and is currently undergoing counselling.

In 2005, Michael Collins said in the Address in Reply debate that he wasn’t convinced of “this sort of Latinate habit of everyone kissing each other after every maiden speech”, and I agree. It’s a dreadful habit. I think the same principle applies to valedictories, so Mr Speaker, fellow members of the House, that’s all from me. If anyone needs a lawyer in the future, don’t bother me. All the best. Goodbye.


See also Imminent departure of MP Chris Finlayson