Valedictory Speech- Charles Chauvel
| Wednesday, February 27, 2013 - 17:45
Oscar Wilde apparently once claimed that he never traveled without his diary. This was so that he would always have something sensational to read on the train.
This was not exactly what I had in mind when I re-read my maiden statement the other day. But I was interested to compare what I said then against what I have learned while experiencing the privilege of more than two terms of service as a member of this House.
On 1 August 2006 I made my affirmation of allegiance in English and in Tahitian. This was intended as a tribute to both my parents. Like so many who have helped build this society, they were both immigrants to New Zealand. I repeat that tribute now and I acknowledge my family members here this evening– my father Charles, my sister Fleur and her husband Michiel, and my aunt Annie - who has traveled from Tahiti. I am sure that, were such things are possible, my late mother and grandmother would be keeping an eye on proceedings as well.
I chaired the Regulations Review Committee of this Parliament from the end of 2008 until this morning. More recently I have been the Shadow Attorney-General, and a member of the executive of the Australasian Study of Parliament Group – the ASPG. These roles have all required me to observe at close hand the daily operation of the machinery of our constitution.
Much works well. Today, for example, the House disallows, on my motion, transport regulations that clearly contain matters more suitable for legislation. They lapse because a disallowance motion moved by me a member of the Regulations Review Committee will not have been brought on for debate within 21 sitting days. This will be the first time since it was introduced in 1986 that the relevant standing order has been used in this way. I have not always seen eye-to-eye with the Leader of the House but I acknowledge and congratulate him for allowing the system to function on this occasion as it is intended to.
Of course, there is always room for improvement. Elsewhere in this building, Geoffrey Palmer and Jim Bolger are about to give papers at a seminar hosted by the ASPG. The seminar looks forward to how Parliament might be made to work better over the next 30 years. I have seen Geoffrey’s paper; I agree with much of what he says in it; and in some ways I would go further.
It’s time for an entrenched Bill of Rights and a constitution, including provisions that accord the Treaty of Waitangi appropriate status. Parliamentary procedure needs further reform, including rationalising the number of select committees, and increasing their powers. Our public watchdogs need proper powers and resources. The judicial branch’s independence needs to be safeguarded, while ensuring that the courts are responsive to public need. Preparation for the inevitable transition to a republic should begin. Opportunities offered by technology to open government and eliminate red tape should be maxmised. I’m proud as outgoing justice sector spokesperson that Labour policy now reflects many of these positions.
Institutions beyond government need strengthening too. Democracy requires a free, well-resourced, unbiased fourth estate. Journalists working in much of our undercapitalized, foreign-owned media are under constant professional pressure. This comes from many quarters, including the constant need to sell newspapers and airtime, and to compete with instantly available online sources. In the case of the two better-known right wing blogs, those online sources are proxies for the present government, with much copy supplied directly out of ministers’ offices at taxpayers’ expense. A general dumbing down, but more importantly a loss of independence, have been among the inevitable results.
For those of us who want to read and listen to unbiased domestic news and analysis, or even for those of us who really don’t care whether John and Jacinda are still New Zealand’s sexiest politicians, there remain a diminishing number of options. The quality of reporting and analysis now offered by PBS, the ABC or the BBC, as well as their effect on the standards of other media, are simply not available here. It’s time for the re-establishment of a strong, independent, well-resourced, multimedia public broadcaster in New Zealand.
Since 2008 I have chaired the New Zealand/European Union Parliamentary Friendship Group. The New Zealand state – founded on the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi; situated in the South Pacific – is not European. We must become more integrated in our own Asia-Pacific region. The Americas and Africa will offer increasingly important trading and cultural exchange opportunities.
But the EU is still the world’s largest economy. Like us, it has an Emissions Trading Scheme on its statute book. We share similar economic, social, cultural and environmental values. We profess a shared belief in a government of laws. The EU offers models for better regional institutions in the Pacific to promote development and good governance. We know that in order to secure our nation’s future prosperity we need to pursue greater engagement with the rest of the world. As we do so, it would be folly to forget Europe, or worse, simply to take it for granted.
I want to mention three member’s bills with which I have had some involvement. In the last Parliament, Carol Beaumont adopted my bill to control loansharks. Sadly, the combined votes of National and ACT saw that bill defeated. Since then, the recession has bitten deeper, and many more thousands of lives have been blighted by the activities of loansharks and the repossession agents who inevitably follow in their wake. New South Wales has just passed legislation in very similar terms to my original bill. There is overwhelming public demand for parliament to act on this issue. I wish Carol well in finally completing that task when she takes my seat in 12 days’ time.
On the subject of member’s bills, I want to acknowledge Lianne Dalziel, for whom I drafted a bill – based on the work of the Law Commission - to abolish the partial defence of provocation. That doctrine gave licence for the murder of defenceless victims – too many of them gay men.
It needed to be scrubbed from the statute book, and it was finally repealed in 2009 after the defence sought to invoke it in the Weatherston trial. The government’s method of repeal was the substantial adoption of Lianne Dalziel’s Bill. As MPs over the years, including my friends Jonathan Hunt, Fran Wilde and Lynne Pillay have demonstrated, member’s bills matter.
Yet another important member’s bill stands before the House in the name of Louisa Wall, and comes back for debate next month. Moana Mackey and I sat on the meetings of the Government Administration committee that heard evidence on it. I was impressed by both the overwhelming support expressed for the bill, and by the respectful way that submitters were heard by the committee. Members supported the bill by an overwhelming majority when it was read a first time last year. I sincerely hope that will occur again at second and subsequent readings. David and I had been partners for 13 years when we had the privilege of getting married in January 2008. But we had to go to Canada to do it. Our laws should no longer deny all New Zealanders the fundamental human right to marry and found a family here.
I want to acknowledge the excellent support that I have had from so many people during my time as an MP. Particular thanks go to the staff who have worked in my office- Gina, Sue, Juliana, Geoff, Chris and Ritchie. And many of those who volunteered to help on my campaigns in Ohariu are here this evening as well. I thank Diane, Caroline, Glen, Janine, Kaine, Dolly, Wendy, Margaret, Alastair, Judie, Graeme, Lynne, and everyone else who has lent a hand. Together, we reduced an incumbent’s majority from over 8000 to just over 1000. We collected more signatures on the petition opposing asset sales than any other non-Labour held electorate. And we have organised the local party again.
I have been a member of the Labour Party since 1985. It remains the greatest force for meaningful social change in this country. It continues to offer energy, ideas and talent from its ranks that would adorn any cabinet. I want to express publicly now two hopes that I have confided to David Shearer in private.
First, I sincerely wish that he will be Prime Minister in a Labour-led government at the end of next year; I regret that I won’t be his Attorney-General; and I appreciate his statement that he shares that regret.
Secondly, it’s time to stop wasting time and energy seeking to identify and exclude the supposed enemy within. Instead, in order to avoid history repeating, an honest, open, and overdue assessment is needed as to why the 2011 campaign produced Labour’s worst-ever electoral result. Those responsible for it should make dignified exits, and all the undoubted talent and diversity of the caucus needs to be included in the shadow cabinet. To put it another way, in Gough Whitlam’s words, the party needs both of its wings to fly.
Mr Speaker, next month I begin work full time for the United Nations in New York. I think I have some idea of what to expect. I served for two years on the UN Global Commission on HIV and the Law.
And I have undertaken follow-up work to that exercise, including traveling with Jackie Blue and Jan Logie to Timor L’Este last year to observe the work of the Global Fund there. It seems that there is much truth in Dag Hammarskjold’s observation that the UN was not intended to send humanity to heaven, but merely to prevent humanity from sending itself to hell.
As far back as the 1940s, Peter Fraser recognised the UN’s importance, and devoted much of his time and energy to its early design. Now, of course, its principal programme is headed by Helen Clark. I’m proud to follow in the tradition of New Zealanders who have supported its extraordinary work over the years in peacemaking and peacekeeping, its promotion of democracy and development, and its protection of human rights and the environment.
My role will be to give advice on democracy and good governance. Without all that I have learned in my six and a half years as a member of this Parliament, I would not be equipped to do that. I ended my maiden statement with thanks to all those who had supported me to become an MP, and expressed the hope that they would find my service here worthy of that support. I conclude this speech, and my service in this House, by repeating that hope, as well as expressing my thanks and best wishes to all.