Kelvin Davis: 2021 Labour Conference Speech

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Leadership comes in many forms. I’ve always looked to my past for leadership.

Whether it be from my ancestor Whetoi Pomare who signed Te Tiriti o Waitangi in February 1840 on behalf of my hapu Ngati Manu.

Or my grandfather’s younger brother Rihimona Davis who was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal while fighting with the Maori Battalion in North Africa.

Or even just the example of my father, a humble freezing worker with no formal qualifications who once told me in terms of leadership, “Doing what is right won’t always be easy, but it is always right.”

Which brings me to the leadership of our country today.

Right now things aren’t easy, but we are doing what is right.

We are protecting our people from the ravages of a virus that takes no prisoners and if it had been left to run its course would have devastated our country.

My whanau in the last one hundred years has personally felt the impacts of a pandemic that had been allowed to run wild.

My great-grandmother died because of the influenza that swept the world after World War 1, leaving my grandfather and his three young brothers without a mother.

As a government we had the options of doing nothing, doing a little, or going for broke.

We chose the latter option because we had to.

Going for broke was the right thing to do, because leaving more young boys and girls motherless, fatherless or dead isn’t leadership.

It would have ignored our responsibility and moral duty of care.

So we had to act, and we had to act fast.

We didn’t have the benefit of a manual to guide us.

As a government did we ever think we would receive unanimous support for the path we took? Never.

Did we as a government ever think that making the hard decisions was going to win us adulation? Never.

Did we ever think that political opponents would see this as an opportunity to belittle and deride everything we did, to promote their personal aspirations? Of course we did.

But we’re up for every one of those challenges.

Being belittled and derided by political opponents and those challenged by reality is the price a government pays for doing what is right.

Closing the borders was the right thing to do.

Lockdowns were the right thing to do.

Vaccinations are the right thing to do.

Vaccine mandates for those who teach and care for our children are the right thing to do.

Wage subsidies are the right thing to do.

The leave support scheme was the right thing to do.

Resurgence support payments were the right thing to do.

They may be the right things to do, but none of them have been easy.

There are always those out in our communities who want more and there will always be those that throw out criticisms, threats and personal insults.

Those who want to move faster, then slower and now faster again.

Those who want the border open and then closed and now open again.

Those criticisms, threats and personal insults aren’t easy to deal with. But that is the price you pay for doing what’s right.

You see the alternative would be worse.

A larger number of deaths, multiple children without mothers or fathers, multiple parents burying their children, multiple urupa with more unmarked graves a hundred years after the last similar event, is unacceptable, and would be a sign of failure.

But we are not out of the woods yet.

There are forces that threaten the alternative becoming New Zealand’s future reality.

We have the deniers, the internet experts and the Facebook doctors, the straight out hesitant and the disengaged threatening the wellbeing of our people.

So we face more challenges, more criticism, more threats and more personal insults. And we will continue to face them until we are through this pandemic.

We don’t know exactly what the future holds for us.

The future I wish for is one where I get to see my great-grand children, so that I can share my stories with them, so I can tell them that I was part of a government that cared enough for its people to face down the criticism, threats and personal insults because it was the right thing to do.

I want to tell them that I got vaccinated so that I could give protection, not just to my loved ones, but also to all those people who criticised, threatened and personally insulted me, because being in Government isn’t about just doing what’s right for those who support you, it’s also about doing what’s right for everyone.

That is the message I will tell my great-grandchildren.

So this government is working on our future.

We all dream of the day where we will be able to spend time with who we want, where we want, when we want.

We all want to reconnect with whanau and friends both here in Aotearoa and around the world.

The temporary loss of the ability to connect at will, is part of the sacrifice we have asked of New Zealanders while we deal with this virus.

Some have taken up that challenge, including all those in Auckland, while others haven’t had quite the same fortitude.

But again, the pathway to our ideal future will take leadership.

The type of leadership that is measured, kind and based on the best evidence available from real experts.

It will take leadership that is rock solid.

It will take leadership that takes account of the Maori need for equitable outcomes, while at the same time has the best interests of all New Zealanders at heart.

To get that balance right is in itself an act of leadership.

Not everything will go smoothly. But we have in Jacinda Ardern a rock solid leader, who has led us through natural disasters, terrorist attacks and pandemics, while still addressing the bread and butter issues that weigh our people down.

She has faced more than her share of criticism, threats and personal insults, but even in the heat of it all I have only ever seen her brush it all off and rise above it.

A lesser leader would have folded.

Throughout this time she has adhered to her values of kindness and empathy.

She has proved time and again that positivity, unity and compassion will always win over negativity and division.

In years to come, because of the leadership of our Prime Minister through this pandemic, I will get to sit with my mokopuna and tell them the stories of how New Zealand navigated its way through these most troubling of times, despite the efforts of some to sabotage our recovery.

This was all because of a quality absent from most critics, but present in abundance in our Prime Minister.