New Zealand Labour Party

Valedictory Speech

Te papa pounamu
Aotearoa NZ
Karanga karanga karanga;
Nga tupuna
Haere haere haere;
Te kahui ora te korowai o tenei whare;
E tu e tu ... tutahi tonu
Ki a koutou oku hoa mahi ki Te Kawanatanga;
Noho mai noho mai ...
Kia tau te rangimarie ki a tatau katoa;
Ka ao
Ka ao
Ka awatea!


Mr Speaker, They say giving a valedictory speech is a bit like being buried alive – it is intended to be permanent, is followed by a wake, and you get to witness the eulogies.

Having failed to obey Holyoake’s advice to “breathe through my nose” on my way in here, his advice may be more useful on the way out.

May I thank at the outset colleagues from all sides who have joined us today, yes I really am going.

To all the friends and family who have joined us from New Lynn and around New Zealand, it is profoundly moving to have you all here.  Thank you so much for attending. 


Mr Speaker, our early lives frame why we are all here.  My parents were from a politically mixed marriage.  For years they cancelled each other out at the polling booth - they could have stayed home and saved the petrol. 

My father Bill Cunliffe, the “red Reverend’, was the son of railway workers and miners, the first in his family to go to university. Priests, poets and politicians; the Cunliffe’s were idealists for generations.

My mother’s family were National-voting farming folk. They got stuff done. My mother was one of four feisty daughters and ahead of her time – she nursed around the world for a decade starting in post-War Africa. 

Despite my mother’s pleas to avoid politics at the breakfast table, ours was never a household short of opinions, or – as an Anglican vicarage – for opportunities to help the needy.  .

As a kid, I helped my Dad do the Labour Party chook raffles at the Pleasant Point Pub.  He was Chairman of the Point Branch and on Sir Basil Arthur’s LEC. 

I was caned in the third form for biffing a mate who called me a “Labour poof”.  So, I learned some views by osmosis, and some others more directly.

My childhood in small town rural New Zealand was idyllic and formative.  From Te Aroha to Te Kuiti to Pleasant Point, afternoons were spent fishing, weekends playing rugby and holidays farm labouring, mucking piggeries, planting blackcurrants and rousying in a shearing gang.

Those are the things you can definitely find on my CV.


Parliamentary rookie

Politics they say is like malaria, once in your blood stream it is hard to get rid of.  I caught the bug as a foreign affairs officer on posting overseas but it wasn’t till I got back to New Zealand that I got to indulge it. 

In 1999, thanks to an amazing young campaign team, we turned a National-held majority into a fairly safe Labour seat.  The campaign theme was so simple that even I can still remember it – five basics that mattered: “cops, docs, trees, jobs and kids” – not a bad line for 2017 if anyone’s stuck.

About that time I featured in a Young Labour fundraising calendar as a Gladiator. Marian Hobbs was a nun on a motor bike.  Trevor and Steve were the blues brothers.  Go figure.

In any case the 1999 intake washed into Parliament with huge energy.  We staged a backbench revolt in FEC to hold up the demutualisation of the NZ Stock Exchange, to prevent a hostile takeover by the ASX and demand a proper regulatory framework.

It may have been good for economic sovereignty but we got our ears boxed for our enthusiasm.

Likewise chairing the Commerce Committee that first term, we did not sugar-coat too many pills after nine years of Opposition. 

I must have mellowed with age, because the Regulations Review Committee I chaired this term has never put anything to the vote, and I thank members on both sides of that table for their collegiality and professionalism. 

1999-2000 saw business pushback against the Clark government reforms, countered with our very own “smoked salmon offensive” of canapes and conversations.  My small part in that was tragically outed when I erroneously emailed a plan to Jenny Shipley’s office.  When it turned up on the six o clock news it took about two seconds for Helen Clark to ring and share her views with me.

Jonathan Hunt gave me two pieces of advice that first term that stuck: “never forget you are only here because you have Labour next to your name” and “knock every door in your electorate in your first term”.  Once your constituents know that you are there for them, then they will forgive your time in Wellington.

I have loved being a local MP.  To the good people of New Lynn – thank you for letting me represent you.  I hope I have done you justice.

MPs come to Parliament not only to serve their districts but to contest ideas and policies.

Since I first walked into this place, my political values have been grounded in the belief that all people are created equal, and they all deserve equal dignity, opportunity and respect; that markets make good servants but bad masters; and that it’s the government’s job to ensure the economy serves our people and not the other way around. 

In a small country we must be all in together: if we do not educate all our young, who will pay for the health care and superannuation of tomorrow?

If all our people don’t have warm dry homes, some of our kids will get sick and cannot learn. 

And if people don’t have jobs that pay a living wage, we will all be the poorer for it.  Those were principles we worked hard to deliver on in the Fifth Labour Government.


Beehive baby

I was fortunate to cut my teeth in the Beehive with Sir Michael Cullen, surely one of New Zealand’s greatest finance ministers, and under the leadership of Helen Clark. To work with one politician of their calibre is lucky; to have such a team is extraordinary.

It didn’t take long for me to learn that the real job of an Associate Minister is photocopying – that is shorthand for doing anything senior ministers don’t have the time or inclination for.

So, I got to ask State Owned Enterprises why they weren’t writing cheques to the Minister of Finance and ask IRD why the child support system pleased absolutely nobody. 

A highlight was making sandwiches for that modern miracle, the state sector budget. As Sir Michael said - the fiscal balance is the difference between two very large numbers that bounce around a lot.

And balance it he did – with nine straight surpluses, Kiwisaver and the New Zealand Superannuation Fund.  These have stood the test of time and, I believe, are crying out to be built upon.  

Broadband broadsides

In ICT I watched Hon Paul Swain and the New Zealand public get sliced and diced by the then monopoly Telecom, after the 2001 Fletcher Inquiry called time on that neoliberal version of the Emperor’s New Clothes known as “self-regulation”. 

When after the 2005 election, Helen Clark asked me to take on the ICT portfolio - I started a broad based stocktake review immediately, and after six months of research there was a compelling business case for pro-competitive regulation.

Because of the sensitivity of the issue we placed high security around all the paperwork. That didn’t stop a Beehive Messenger slipping a copy of a cabinet committee paper at a cycle club meeting to someone from Telecom.

The resulting protest from Telecom was too late – Cabinet had already approved the far-reaching reform package that unbundled and operationally separated Telecom and overhauled the regulator.

Taking legal advice, we released the policy after the markets had closed that same day.  Despite the short-term impact on share prices that reflected the loss of monopoly rents, as predicted - investment in the sector doubled, retail prices fell and broadband rollout took off. 

The current government has continued that work, New Zealand is now amongst one of the best served telecommunications markets in the OECD.  Kiwis really did get faster cheaper broadband.

Other portfolios

As Immigration Minister, my focus was on protecting human rights and focusing on getting the skills we needed to move NZ forward. 

I learned quickly that moderate, skill-driven immigration helps build a modern, connected New Zealand. But too many people, too fast puts undue pressure on infrastructure and communities – all in the name of grabbing more GDP.  No prizes for guessing which zone we are in now.

Inheriting the Health portfolio a year before an election was bound to be fun.  In my first week senior doctors were about to go on strike.  The headlines screamed “system failure”. 

The strike was averted after a long liquid dinner with the DHB and doctors negotiators in my Beehive office.  No-one could leave until the deal was sorted, which was about 5.30 am.

Building on the work of previous Ministers, we accelerated universal bowel cancer screening, integrated service planning for cardiology, health IT and other specialties, boosted mental health funding and kept a strong focus on public health. 

I still believe in the huge benefit of a low cost, world class health system that is nationally integrated and reaches right into communities. 


Into Opposition

Going into Opposition in 2008 was a shock for the Labour Party.  The Global Financial Crisis made sure of that for our Government, but we had also lost connection with our voters and our members.

It’s been a long hard road back – as it is for most Opposition parties – but you also have time to reflect on what really matters.

My time in various economic portfolios has led me to a pretty straight forward conclusion.

New Zealand doesn’t save enough, or invest enough in smarts. 

Without enough saving, investment is too costly and jobs are too few.

Kiwisaver was a good start but needs a boost.  Superannuation must be made sustainable.

We invest less than half the OECD average in the R&D.  But that smart stuff is what will win markets, create value and give our kids a first-class ticket to a global future.

What capital we do have, we spend on the wrong things.  Like bidding each other’s house prices up.

I remember my horror when I first found a family living in a garage in Kelston; these days, you can’t find an empty garage to park a car in in some parts of Auckland. 

New Zealand has become a speculators Pavlova paradise: no capital gains tax, negative gearing, weak rules for foreign land bankers, and throw in tax loopholes so big you drive an Apple through it.

It’s time we put our policies where our principles are.  Not only because a fair go is right.  But because the evidence is compelling – fairer, more equal countries do better economically too.

In New Zealand, inequality is holding us back and crippling our ability to do well.

The poor are getting poorer, middle New Zealand is working harder just to stand still. 

While nearly all the wealth created in the past decade effectively went to the top 1% of New Zealand, a smaller and smaller share of national income is going to wage and salary earners.

At some stage – hopefully soon - there will be a tipping point.

Mr Speaker, as the late great John Clarke said, “We don’t know how lucky we are.”  So this side of the house makes no apology for fighting inequality, investing in people and smarts and celebrating all that is good in this beautiful, diverse, innovative country.



That was the message I hoped would resonate with many New Zealanders during my time as Leader of the Opposition, including some of the missing million who don’t turn out to vote because they can’t see the point anymore.

I could write a book about the 2014 election campaign - but I don’t think anyone would believe it, or possibly read it.   That campaign was one of the most bizarre this country has ever seen.

We had Kim Dotcom, Donghua Liu and dirty politics coming out our ears. 

What Labour did not have enough of was time.  Not enough time to heal our wounds, raise the money we needed or build the systems to get our message through.  

Mike Moore once said the easiest way to be wrong in politics is to be right too soon.  I have no regrets for standing up for what I believe in.  My delivery could at times have done with some work.

And no, family violence is still not OK.

It was a huge privilege to be able to lead the New Zealand Labour Party. I am indebted to all who were part of that campaign. 

I want to commend my successor, Andrew Little, his deputy Jacinda Ardern, and all my colleagues for building the 2017 campaign to give New Zealanders a real choice for a fresh start.


Looking Forward

Mr Speaker, progressive politics has been my passion for these last 18 years. 

But if politics is like malaria – a recurrent fever – I think I might just about be cured.

I have done what I can and the time really has come to move on. 

I thank members for coming along to make sure I mean it, but unlike David Lange, I am not going to even joke about changing my mind. 

I am lucky enough to be able to change tacks in my own time and without a by-election.  Labour did so well in the last two I just could not put members opposite through another! 

Thank you, Mr Speaker for allowing the electorate offices of all retiring members to continue to serve needy constituents through these short months of interregnum.

They say politicians are a mile wide and a millimetre deep.  I am looking forward to returning to the private sector and getting stuck into some deeper issues, consulting to businesses, iwi and regions.



Mr Speaker, I am moving on with a sense of real optimism and excitement and a great deal of gratitude.

It is not possible to commit to a life in politics without the generous and selfless support of family and friends. 

There are so many people to thank that it is impossible to justice to all.  For some, I will convey privately the gratitude that time and place does not permit me to do today.

To my long-standing electorate agents Sue Hagen and Lusi Schwenke, you have been with me for virtually the whole of my parliamentary life.   I could not have asked for more dedicated and professional support, or for better friends during the tough times.  Thank you. 

To my talented researcher Kris Lal and dedicated EAs Reremoana Fuli, Esther Robinson, David Hawkins, Paul Grant, Sue Piper, Gay Pledger and others.

To my former Leader’s Office staff including Karl Beckert, Wendy Brandon, Rob Carr, Simon Cunliffe, Carolyn Dick, Rob Egan, Chris Harrington, Neale Jones, Matt McCarten, Deborah Manning, Elizabeth Munday, Dinah Okeby, Bronwyn Presland, Bridget Service and Clint Smith; whips office Emma Williams and Peter Hoare, and to my former ministerial staff, some of whom are here today.

To the Labour Party leadership, especially Presidents Nigel Haworth, and Moira Coatsworth and General Secretaries Andrew Kirton and  Tim Barnett, as well as the thousands of volunteers and members who give so selflessly and believe in a better New Zealand. 

To our affiliates in the union movement – especially my friends the late Helen Kelly and the late Peter Conway: to Sam Huggard and Jill Ovens here today, and to Richard Wagstaff, Angus McConnell, Chris Flatt, Joe Fleetwood, Bill Newsom, Robert Reid and many others: kia kaha.

To the incredible New Lynn Labour Electorate Committee: Greg and Jan Presland, Clare Hargraves, Raema Ingles, James Armstrong, Eanna Doyle and Val Graham, Kirsten H and whatshisname, Don and Noreen Clark, Val and Don Rogerson, Bruce and Trixie Harvey, David and Liz Craig, Dorothy and Alan McGray, Nissanka Kumarawansa, Ami and the late Savitri Chand, Susan Zhu, Vanessa King, Kaye Jones, Martin and Laurice Holland; to my excellent intended successor Dr Deborah Russell; and to the Socialist Speech Writer, thank you all.

To Helen Clark, Michael Cullen, Jonathan Hunt, Perry Keenan, Sir Bob and Lady Harvey, Richard and Jackie Randerson, Rick Boven, Richard Zeckhauser and Nitin Nohria, thank you all for your patience and guidance over the years.

Thank you also to the Press Gallery and media for the important role you play, and to all the Parliamentary staff who keep us fed, watered and safe.  I thank you for your long hours and dedication to this institution.

And finally to my family, who have given the most over so many years; and especially to my two sons William and Cameron who are here today: I am so very proud of you, I love you and I look forward to spending more time with you.

You guys face a world that is both more complex and more challenging than that inherited by us Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers sitting in Parliament today.

But while our world is changing in fundamental ways, the values that guide us should not. 

They ultimately what makes politics worth doing.  Not the rollercoaster ride of media attention, or the greasy pole of competition.

This is ultimately a service job. That’s what, for me at least, has made it such a privilege to be part of.

To all sides of this house and all who serve it, I wish you all well.  I look forward to being a voter and a constituent from now on. 

Haere ra.