Chris Bishop – Maiden Speech
I move, that a respectful address be presented to His Excellency the Governor-General in reply to His Excellency’s speech.
Mr Speaker, can I first congratulate you on your re-election as Speaker. I am sure you will continue to discharge the responsibilities of the office with skill and care. Can I also congratulate Deputy Speaker Hon Chester Borrows, and Assistant Speakers Lindsay Tisch and my opponent in the Hutt – my friend, the Hon Trevor Mallard.
It is an honour and privilege to have been elected as a Member of Parliament. I am here because the National Party has placed its faith in me to be an effective list MP. And ultimately of course I am here because over one million New Zealanders voted for National in the recent election. I thank the party, and I thank New Zealand, for honouring me with this important job.
I also thank the people of Hutt South. Lower Hutt was where I was born and raised and I am happy to be living there again.
I am proud to say I am from “the Hutt”, an area with which I have a long family connection.
On my mother’s side of the family I am descended from seven Dixon siblings that arrived on ships at Petone beach between 1838 and 1856. Edward Dixon was one of them and every summer when I go to the Basin Reserve I sit beneath his memorial clock in the old grandstand. My great, great Grandfather Joe Dixon walked the Hutt Road before it even existed and as a lay preacher held services on Petone Beach, a stone’s throw from where I now live.
From the days of Oswald Mazengarb QC’s famous report into delinquent youths at milk bars in the 1950s, Lower Hutt, I think it is fair to say, has had a somewhat mixed reputation. Stereotypes are hard to break, but let me say this: the Hutt is a wonderful place. We have fantastic high-tech businesses at the forefront of the new economy, excellent community facilities, a wonderful natural environment right on our doorstep, and most of all, we have innovative and spirited people.
I believe the Hutt Valley’s best days are ahead of it and I am looking forward to serving the people of the Hutt - from Wainuiomata to the Western Hills – as a list MP based in the area.
While I am saying thanks, I would like to put on the record my thanks to everyone who has helped me get to where I am today: my family, who have loved and supported me in ways too numerous to detail; my friends; my campaign committee in Hutt South, who ran such a high-energy campaign; the National Party leadership in particular Malcolm Plimmer, Glenda Hughes, and Roger Bridge; and the Young Nats who make it so much easier to stand by the side of the road at 6.30am doing human hoardings in the cold because of their infectious enthusiasm. Most importantly I want to thank my partner and campaign manager Jenna, who has been the rock in my life for the past six years.
As some members know, I have been lucky enough to work in roles behind the scenes for this government. I have worked directly for two very different, but exceptional Ministers: Hon Gerry Brownlee and Hon Steven Joyce.
It is a privilege, although I have to say somewhat surreal, to be joining them in a caucus led by a man I also greatly admire, the Rt Hon John Key. Thank you, Gerry and Steven, for your friendship, guidance, and wisdom. If I achieve half as much in politics as you have I will be doing pretty well.
I come to this House as someone who has always, for as long as I can recall, been interested in politics, history, public policy and the law. My parents – John Bishop and Rosemary Dixon – are to blame. From Dad I got my love of politics. Dad was in the press gallery from 1982 to 1987. He was chief parliamentary reporter for TVNZ during the momentous year of 1984. The political bug was transferred to me, or so the family joke goes, when he was told to talk to his new baby. Most people would choose the weather, or what was on TV tonight, something like that. His topic of choice was none other than “this man called Sir Robert Muldoon”, and I’ve had an enduring fascination with him and his politics ever since.
Growing up I would pepper Dad for stories about his time as a journalist – about the night of the snap election; the night of the Mt Erebus crash; about travelling with Geoffrey Palmer to try and save ANZUS. I drank it all in, and those stories and their lessons have shaped who I am today.
From Mum I got my love of the law, particularly public law. From both my parents I gained an interest in ideas; in current affairs; and the world around me. Our household growing up was one where everyone was expected to have a view; and not to be shy about expressing it. Indeed both my parents were champion debaters, and Mum was instrumental in establishing the New Zealand Schools’ Debating Council, which I was president of for four years much later. Almost every year since 1988 the grand final of the Russell McVeagh National Champs has been held where we were this morning, in the Legislative Council Chamber.
There are now four alumni of the Championships who have become MPs: Jacinda Ardern, Megan Woods, Holly Walker, and myself. I am pleased that our side of the House is now represented on that list. I am sure there will be many more in the years to come.
My Dad’s side of the family – although not necessarily my Dad, whose politics I have never known – is true blue. The Bishops were farmers at Hillend, outside Balclutha in south Otago. My Poppa Stuart joined Wright Stephenson in 1928 and worked for them until he retired, interrupted only by World War Two where he fought at Monte Cassino. Stuart and Cora Bishop almost certainly voted National their entire lives. They referred to National Superannuation as Rob’s lolly.
My mother’s side of the family could not be more different. They were Methodists in the great reforming progressive tradition and Labour voters to their toes. One great grandfather was a wharfie who won the honoured 151 day loyalty card during the 1951 strike.
My grandfather Haddon Dixon was a Methodist minister, director of CORSO, a social activist, and an inveterate follower of politics. The sort of man for whom Parliament TV was made. My Nana was a progressive socialist. In 1981 as a 61-year-old, sickened by apartheid in South Africa, she joined the Stop the Tour movement, helped organise a sit-down protest on the Hutt motorway during the Wellington test, refused to move, and was duly arrested. She happily did her 200 hours community service painting the Barnardos centre in Waterloo Road.
I think I get my social liberalism and reforming zeal from my grandparents – although I think it’s fair to say I didn’t inherit the Labour Party politics.
I come to this House as a 31-year-old – a representative of generation Y. Our generation doesn’t remember needing a doctor’s prescription to buy margarine, or permission from the Reserve Bank to subscribe to a foreign magazine, or any of the other absurdities of the Fortress New Zealand economy. It seems scarcely believable to us that from 1982 to 1984 all wages and prices were frozen by Prime Ministerial fiat.
For our generation, inflation has always been low. We’ve always been nuclear free, homosexuality has always been legal, and the Treaty Settlement process has always been underway.
New Zealand is a completely different country to what it was when I was born. I’ve always been profoundly fascinated by that transformation, and what its effects have been. For example, it intrigues me that while Bob Hawke and Paul Keating are regarded by the Labor movement in Australia as heroes, and receive standing ovations at Labor Party conferences still to this day, New Zealand’s own Labour reformers are essentially pariahs from their party.
I think it a significant portion of the Left in New Zealand has never made its peace with the economic reforms of the 80s and early 90s. And in some ways the debate inside the Labour Party today is the most visible manifestation of that lack of reconciliation. The battles of the 1980s are still being fought. That’s a shame.
A maiden speech is traditionally the time to put on the record your principles, philosophy, and beliefs. I will do so, with the caveat that I am not so arrogant as to think that my current views are immutable. Some of my political heroes said things in their maiden speeches they almost certainly would not have agreed with later in their careers. Roger Douglas’ maiden speech in 1969 is extremely sceptical of the benefits of foreign investment in New Zealand. In 1970, Paul Keating told the Australian Parliament that the Commonwealth government should set up a statutory authority to fix the prices of all goods and services, and bemoaned the number of young mothers who were entering the workforce.
I think good politicians listen, reflect, read, and think deeply about the world – and if necessary, change their minds. I hope to always be open to that in my time in this House.
Mr Speaker, I am an unashamed economic and social liberal. The classical enunciation of liberalism within National Party remains John Marshall’s maiden speech as the member for Mt Victoria in 1947.
I believe, as he did, that “the conditions of the good society are liberty, property, and security, and the greatest of these is liberty”.
I think individuals make better decisions about their own lives than governments do. A fundamental belief in the primacy of the individual over the collective should be the lodestar that guides all good governments. I think we should trust individuals more than we do, and be more sceptical about the ability of government to solve social problems.
I believe that the best way to deliver the prosperity New Zealanders deserve is through a globally competitive, market-based economy that rewards enterprise and innovation. The reforms of the 1980s and early 1990s were vitally important in transforming New Zealand from a sclerotic economic basket case to a modern, functioning, competitive economy, but there is more to be done.
I support a tolerant, multicultural New Zealand that is confident, proud, and open to the world. Our society is enriched greatly by migration. The periodic desire by some to scapegoat migrants I find deeply distasteful. I am proud of how New Zealand in only one generation has changed from an inward looking, insular economy and society, to one that is internationally connected and confident on the world stage.
I believe we can responsibly develop our natural resources, and improve our environment at the same time. We are blessed with abundant natural resources in New Zealand – both renewable and non-renewable – and we are not wealthy enough as a nation to not take advantage of them. What we know from history is that the wealthier a country is, the more able it is to take practical steps to improve the environment. Some of the most polluted places on earth were in the communist Soviet Union. Growing our economy through the responsible development of our resources gives us the ability to preserve things precious to New Zealand like our rivers, lakes, and national parks.
Mr Speaker, I come to this House with a long history in debating at school and university. I have a profound belief in free speech, the power of ideas and the importance of persuasion by those in public office. Fundamental, sustainable change in public policy is only ever achieved when the argument is won. That’s how marriage equality was achieved. It’s how Treaty settlements were started and how they have continued. It’s how we tore down the walls of the Fortress New Zealand economy and opened ourselves to the world. Because leaders in our Parliament made the case for those things and won the argument.
One of the proudest moments of my life was to debate in the Oxford Union, standing at the same despatch box that Lange stood at where he delivered his famous speech on the moral indefensibility of nuclear weapons. Lange was at his best when arguing.
Mr Speaker, I believe Bill English had it right in his maiden speech as the Member for Wallace in 1991: “What I bring to this job is a willingness to get into the argument rather than to avoid it. I owe it to my voters to present in Parliament what is best in them – a credible, constructive, and committed argument… Power without persuasion has no lasting place in a democracy.”
As long as I am an MP I will always try and present credible and constructive arguments – and I’ll always be willing to have one.
I am proud to be joining a government that is demonstrably making a difference for New Zealanders. I agree with the Prime Minister - we are on the cusp of something special as a nation. This National Government has an historic opportunity to be the kind of long-term government that doesn’t just administer the status quo, but one that can, through incremental, constant economic reform deliver ever growing living standards for all New Zealanders.
We have the economic opportunities right in front of us – globalisation, a rapidly growing Asian middle class, and technology ending the tyranny of distance. We have the right leadership through John Key, Bill English, and his Cabinet team. And we have the right policy framework in place: smaller government through better government, openness to foreign capital and labour, a tax system that rewards hard work and enterprise, and a growing culture of innovation. Most importantly, this government has a fundamental belief in the power of the New Zealand individual and civil society.
This is a government that is governing with a hard head and a soft heart. We are the first government in a long time which has a resolute focus on tackling some of the intractable social problems which have bedevilled New Zealand for too long, such as a persistent underclass; welfare dependency, Maori and Pasifika educational underachievement, and poor quality social housing.
We are not doing this by simply throwing more money at problems. Care for those most vulnerable is not, or should not, be measured by the amount of money spent, the number of bureaucratic agencies set up, or the number of people employed to deal with a problem. We should judge policy by results. Milton Friedman was right – “one of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results”.
This is a results-driven government. Across the fields of welfare, housing, and education we are driving through quite remarkable and transformative change that is delivering results for the most needy in our society.
There is still more extremely important work to do. One thing that I am personally passionate about is our plan to reward excellent teachers and keep them in the classroom, doing what they do best – changing kids’ lives. Everyone remembers their amazing teachers growing up. It’s simply wrong that the classic career pathway for good teachers at the moment involves leaving the classroom to move into administration. I am proud to be part of a government that is changing that.
Mr Speaker, when people look back on this passage of New Zealand’s history, it’s my fervent hope that they will recognise that it was the Fifth National Government that put in place the reforms to raise the quality of teaching in our schools, that challenged the soft bigotry of low expectations, that made progress on tackling child abuse and family violence, that made social housing actually work for people, and that invested in people to support their aspirations for independence from the State.
This government’s signalled economic achievements are important, but I think and hope that this government will be known for much more than that.
In closing Mr Speaker let me just say finally that I come to this House with the desire to serve. To represent the people of the Hutt Valley, to apply my mind to the challenges facing New Zealand now and in the future, and to work hard each and every day for and on behalf of New Zealanders. Much faith has been placed in me by many people. Mr Speaker I intend to work hard to repay that faith.