New Zealand Labour Party

Kelvin Davis' Speech to the 2018 Labour Party Conference

Inside my beehive office are an assortment of photos.

They are not just there to cover the walls – they are a constant reminder of where I come from, of the many people that helped along the way, of the values we all believe in, of what we as a Government have achieved so far and all the work we have yet to do.

In the centre of the photos is a picture of our Ngati Manu sign that sits above the entry to my marae in Karetu.

It's my home.

It's a reminder to me of my parents, especially my father, whose words guide me in every decision I make both as a Minister and as the Deputy Leader of this party.


He said "Doing the right thing – it's not always easy – but it is always right."


We are tackling many hard issues as a government. Housing, child poverty, prison numbers, climate change, improving the wellbeing of our country. None of the answers are easy. But we know taking on these challenges is the right thing to do.

The photo doesn't just remind me of Karetu. It's a constant reminder of the street I grew up on.

That is Leonard street, in Kawakawa.


On my street, being poor, living in poverty was just the way things were.

When I look at that photo I think about all my mates that lived on our street and where they are now.

Some have lived a hard life, others are in prison, a number have died well before their time.

My childhood, my time on Leonard street is one of the reasons I am Labour. It shaped me as a person, as an educator, as a politician.

Because, unlike the other lot, when we talk about eradicating child poverty, helping those whanau that are struggling the most, we are not just talking about percentages, headlines and numbers on a spreadsheet.

Poverty has a face. It has names.

We are talking about our neighbours, our friends, our whanau.

And that is what sets a Labour Government apart from the rest.


Above the picture of Karetu – are photos of the kaumatua who sat on the marae Taumata and greeted the Government during our Waitangi Day celebrations this year.

A day I will always remember. A day that people up North still talk about.

The turning point for this Government and its commitment to Maori.

We promised to do things differently. Waitangi was the start.

That day will always be one of my proudest moments as an MP.

I was proud of Te Tai Tokerau. I was proud of my Caucus and party.

And I was proud of our Prime Minister.

When the Prime Minister stood on the mahau - that is the meeting house verandah - in front of the thousands of people who had joined the celebrations she spoke of the physical distance between the The Treaty House and that meeting house.

She said “the differences between these two whare on these grounds between this meeting house and the old homestead is the difference between us as people, that is the inequality we still have”

From those words alone, I knew she understood.

And I knew, that all those that had come to listen to her that day felt the depth of her understanding.

That means more to Maori than can be measured.


It's tradition for Prime Ministers to host a formal Breakfast at Waitangi on the 6th of February with a long list of VIPs, hidden away in one of the conference rooms.

This year, our Prime Minister insisted we opened it up to everybody.

She wanted her breakfast to be a BBQ, an open invitation, she wanted Ministers and MP's to do the cooking and the serving.

This has come to symbolise the Goverment we want to be.

Open, inclusive and here for the all people.


One of the pictures is of the last Labour MP for Tai Tokerau, Dover Samuels.

It is a reminder to me, and should be a reminder to our 13 Maori MPs, that many have come before us. They held our seats. They fought hard for our people.

Many will come after us.

So we must make the most of our time to do the best for our people as those before have done for us.

Those hands belong to Tai Tokerau stalwart Rudy Taylor. He and his wife Kaye have been my most loyal supporters, they are the hardest working Labour members I know.

Each one of you here at our conference have served our party well.

Each one of you here played an important part in guiding Labour back into Government.

And every member here today will play a part in ensuring we stay right where we are.


I have this photo of my tuahine Nanaia Mahuta.

This photo, in a single image shows a candid side to the Minister of Maori Development. I love this photo because it is an example of the genuine connection she, and our MP's have with people.

It's not staged, she doesn't even know the camera is there.

Yet you can feel her warmth, see the sincerity in her actions – this is what it looks like when we bring manaakitanga back to Government.

In the end we are in Government to take care of people.


Some of you here may not know of Hek Busby. But up home he is a household name.

Hek was honoured earlier this year in the Queen's Birthday honours for his commitment to and love of waka building.  Hek's work can be seen in Tai Tokerau where he runs a school in Te Aurere, teaching the next generation of Waka builders. Across the globe, his Waka can be found as far away as the Netherlands.

Hek has always said if it wasn't for waka, Maori wouldn't be here today. In my opinion, it is because of Hek, that our waka and our traditions will be here tomorrow.

Sir Hekenukumai pursued his passion – not for mana or money, not because he knew one day he would be knighted, but because he believed in his work. He was passionate about future proofing one of our traditions.

Hek is a constant reminder to me than even when I may not do so well in the media, or not quite nail a speech that I need to focus on the bigger picture. On the hard work we all do away from the cameras that future proof our country for the next generation of New Zealanders.

Hek reminds me that a position, a front page story or a title doesn't give you mana. It is only the people that can give you that.


The young koitiro.

She was so excited to see the Prime Minister when we visited the waka camp outside of Paihia she could hardly talk.

The boys in her group were lined up behind her as she welcomed us – not moving her eyes off our Prime Minister for a second. That young girls excitement was infectious – her awe for the Prime Minister was adorable.

We, under Jacinda's leadership are changing the way we see ourselves as a country and how the world sees us on the global stage.

As a father to two young Maori women, I am proud to be led by a Prime minister who is shattering ceilings here at home and abroad.

Our Party has a history of supporting and growing strong women leaders.

One story that is close to my heart is of my great grandmother Rewa Bennett– she was the first Maori Women Delegate to a Labour Conference, in fact to any political conference in New Zealand, representing Pt Chevalier and was an active member of the Auckland Women's branch.

Media reports of the time marvelled at the idea that it was possible that a Maori woman might one day be a member of parliament.

Rewa, I am sure, would be astounded to see that today we have 21 woman in our caucus - 5 of them are Maori - and that we are led by a strong woman showing young girls and sometimes older men how it's done.


The boys in this photo come from different nations, some as far as Europe to train in a traditional waka camp and form one single waka crew.

It reminds me of the team we have built inside Government.

It's been said before, but I will say it again – we are all part of the same waka crew.

More than that – what many don't see, is that we are colleagues, friends, mates.

Whether it's the odd boil up with Winston, sharing jokes in the corridors with our Kakariki cousins – we all get along, and like every good waka crew – we know we have each other's backs.

We all come from different parties – that's what a coalition government looks like – but we chose to pick up the paddle, to be a team and work together to keep pushing the waka forward.

These photos remind me of our journey so far.

Not to take this opportunity to do things differently for granted.

They remind me to stay grounded, to do the mahi for the people and not for the mana.

They remind me that we as a Government are not only changing policy and legislation – we are changing the way we see ourselves as a country, challenging perceptions of what has been seen as impossible - until now.

Most importantly they remind me of all of you. The Party I am proud to help lead. The people that live our values every day. Those that helped us get to where we are today.

So party members – from me to you, from us to every member of our Party.

Thank you.

No reira…..



Watch the livestream of the speech here.