Speech to the Hutt Valley Chamber of Commerce
Thanks for the invitation to be here today. The last time I spoke here was about a year ago in a candidates’ debate for Hutt South. It’s hard to believe it’s almost a year since the election.
I’ve been in my new job as a National List MP based in the Hutt Valley for ten months now. I thought what I’d do today is provide an update on what I’ve been up to in that time, some of my work at Parliament, and some things I’ll be working on for the next couple of years.
My first ten months – getting out and about the Hutt and being accessible
One thing I’ve tried to do since being elected is be as accessible as possible to people around the Hutt Valley. I’ve opened an office at 66 Bloomfield Terrace in central Lower Hutt, and it’s open regularly. The office is staffed and people can make appointments to come and see me and seek my assistance. In the last year I’ve dealt with a range of constituent cases – from tax, child support, immigration, housing, benefits, superannuation, and more. I’ve found helping Hutt locals incredibly rewarding.
I also run “Catch up with Chris” sessions around the Hutt. I’m in Wainuiomata twice a month and in Petone, Alicetown, Maungaraki, Eastbourne, Kelson and Upper Hutt once a month. These are an opportunity for people to see me about whatever they like. No appointment is necessary – people can just turn up and have a chat. I have a sandwich board outside so people know where I am.
I’ve also started running regular morning teas. I’m aiming to hold one once a month on a Friday, and I’ll rotate around the electorate. I’ve held two already – one at Boulcott’s Farm and one in Wainuiomata – and I was pleased by the turn-out. If you’d like to be invited to one of these please just let me know and I’ll add you to the list.
One of the things I enjoy most is getting out and about and visiting some of the great businesses we have here in the Hutt Valley, including winners of the Hutt Valley Chamber of Commerce business excellence awards and finalists in the Wellington Gold Awards.
Let me give you a flavour of some of them:
- GoodBuzz in Waiu St, Wainui – which makes non-alcoholic kombucha softdrink (“Booch”). It’s growing incredibly strongly.
- Strictly Savvy in Upper Hutt – which do tailored virtual assistants so businesses can outsource things like admin, website creation, event management, and more. A great and growing company making use of Ultra Fast Broadband.
- Stansborough, around the corner from me in Petone – which produce unique and high quality textile products, from a flock of rare grey sheep, " Greys", over in the Wairarapa. The wool is spun in Petone using looms that first arrived in the Hutt in the 1860s! Stanbsorough famously made the New Zealand government’s present for Princess Charlotte.
- Kaynemail – a Petone company which makes a unique and award-winning injected seamless polycarbonate architectural mesh sold into the global design, architectural and lighting sector, which came out of Lord of the Rights “chainmail”.
- And of course Armstrong Downes Commercial, which opened its new building in Aglionby St earlier this year. Armstrong Downes won a Gold Award and National Category Award at the New Zealand Commercial Project Awards, following their three silver awards last year.
And of course I try and get to as many Hutt Chamber functions as I can. I really enjoy talking to local business owners – it’s my job to help reflect what you’re telling me about what does and doesn’t work with our laws and regulations inside the National Party, in Parliament, and in government.
Some of you will have heard me before talk about “Technology Valley.” Very few people even in Lower Hutt, let alone Wellington and the rest of New Zealand, would know that over 3,900 people across more than 825 Lower Hutt businesses are employed full-time in the high-tech sector, that the sector generates $473 million in GDP already, and Lower Hutt has the fourth largest number of people in NZ employed in medium high-tech manufacturing.
Every time I go to a BNZ / Hutt Chamber Tech Series After 5 event I’m blown away by the innovative companies we have here in the Hutt Valley.
I believe we have a fantastic opportunity to build on our existing strengths in the Hutt and develop the Valley into ‘Technology Valley’ – where science, technology and high value manufacturing drive economic growth, new jobs and higher wages for Hutt residents.
The business community and the Council have done and are doing a lot in this space. Here’s a few non-exhaustive thoughts on what we need to keep doing, and do next, to make “Technology Valley” a reality.
Keep raising the profile of the sector – and keep telling our story
The technology sector in the Hutt flies under the radar a lot. We need to do a better job as a community of communicating our vision and our story so far. The Hutt STEMM Festival held earlier in the year is a really good start and I’m looking forward to next year’s one. We need to keep talking about how many great companies there are here, what unites them, and what’s attractive about the Hutt as a place to be based.
“Technology Valley” as a concept I think is widely supported around the Hutt community. But we’ve all got to work together on this – the Council can’t do it alone, just as the business community can’t do it by themselves as well.
Celebrate our successes
The Technology Valley awards this year were a good start. I was pleased to be able to get the Prime Minister along to the awards after a busy day with me in the Hutt. But we need to lift the profile and prestige of the event – so next year I hope the Tech Valley awards are a serious, professional dinner event much like the Hutt Chamber Business Awards are each year. I think that would be befitting of the importance we as a community can and should place on technology as part of our future.
Get government to back the Hutt’s focus on technology
Callaghan Innovation is based here in the Hutt and that’s a great start. I’m supportive of the expansion of Callaghan in its Gracefield site and I’d like to see the area really grow into a technology and innovation park. Of course we also have GNS Science based here in the Hutt along with WelTec and the Open Polytechnic.
One of my roles in Parliament is to be a real champion for the Hutt’s technology focus – to make sure that the government keeps investing in Callaghan, in science, and research and development. Government funding for those areas has risen 70% since 2008 so we’ve done a lot; but we can always do better.
Get the community engaged in technology
Despite the famous “no 8 fence-wire” mentality of New Zealanders, I believe the importance of science, technology and innovation is underappreciated in New Zealand. We need to get more people, particularly young people, thinking about science. The government has a programme called “Science and Society” to encourage just this to happen and it’ll be interesting to see how that develops over the next few years. But I’d like to see businesses doing more open days in which they throw open their doors to young people to come and see what they do – and equally it’d be fantastic to have teachers, principals and schools getting really switched onto the power of science and its importance.
I’ve placed a real focus on engaging with young people in the Hutt since I was elected. I’ve really enjoyed participating in the MaiBiz programme at Taita College and Wainui High School. MaiBiz places students into teams for three days of hands-on learning about being in business. Students have to come up with an idea, design a marketing plan and budget, and think about everything a normal business would. At the end of the three days they present to a panel of judges from the community. I’ve also really enjoyed getting to know some Young Enterprise Scheme companies from Hutt schools. We’ve got some amazing young people in the Hutt doing really great things.
With that in mind, I’m working on an exciting project at the moment, called the Hutt City Youth Awards. Watch this space!
Parliament sits on average for three weeks a month, and during those weeks, for three days – Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. In Parliament I’m a backbench MP and I sit on three committees – the Finance and Expenditure Committee (of which I’m the Deputy Chair), the Justice and Electoral Committee, and the Regulations Review Committee.
One of the ways that backbench MPs can make a difference is through members’ bills. The process for getting a member’s bill to be considered by Parliament is a bit strange – Bills literally get pulled at random every now and then from a ballot. I’ve been lucky enough to have a member’s bill pulled from the ballot and we started debating it a couple of days ago.
The Bill is called the Financial Assistance for Live Organ Donors’ Bill. It was originally drafted by Michael Woodhouse, but he had to give it up when he became a Minister. The Bill significantly increases the support provided by the government to altruistic New Zealanders who, through the goodness of their hearts, choose to donate an organ to a friend, loved one, or even a stranger.
The current compensation amounts to the equivalent of the sickness benefit and inadequately recognises and supports the hardship that these individuals face when they make the choice to give up an organ in order to save a life. This bill would allow donors to be paid up to 80% of their average wage for 12 weeks of recovery along with other childcare payments.
The second purpose of the bill is to reduce the financial barriers to becoming a live organ donor. While the reasons for New Zealand’s low organ donation rate are varied and many, one significant barrier is the financial hardship a donor suffers.
During one of my first candidates meetings in 2014 I spoke with 68-year-old Sharon van der Gulik who had been living with renal failure for more than two years, could barely walk and needed 15 hours of dialysis a week.
Like many in her situation by far her best option was a live kidney transplant. She was at one point given just two weeks to live and dialysis had become so awful that she could not think of continuing treatment past 70.
Fortunately for Mrs van der Gulik her incredibly brave 27-year-old grandson Matt was able to donate her a kidney. However, it was tough for Matt. The $206.21 paid by Work and Income was not enough to cover half his mortgage and Mrs van der Gulik herself helped keep Matt financially afloat.
Mrs van der Gulik and her grandson Matt are exactly the kind of brave people my bill attempts to support through proper compensation.
The debate on the Bill’s first reading will be completed in a couple of weeks and then the Bill will go to the Health Committee for further consideration.
Finally I’ll just mention a couple of things I’ve been involved in that I’ve chalked up in the “win” column. Ultimately I’m in politics to make a difference for people and to achieve things.
First, as many of you know I’m a strong advocate for more cycling and cycle-ways around the region. It makes sense from an environmental, health and economic point of view. During the election campaign I remember standing on the Petone foreshore with the Prime Minister as he announced a special $100 million fund for urban cycleways. So it’s been great to see a substantial investment in cycling around the Hutt come from that fund as well as from the local Council and the National Land Transport Fund. In particular I’m really pleased that we’ve now got substantially higher levels of funding committed for the Eastern Bays walkway and cycleway. That project really needs to be completed.
Secondly, some time ago a group of great local food trucks approached me and said they wanted to start a regular evening “Street Feast” in the Hutt – as exists in other parts of Wellington. Food truck food is really gaining in popularity and the variety and quality of food available in Wellington is extremely impressive. So I worked with the food truck operators and the Council to establish a regular “Thursday Night Street Feast” on High St, between Andrews Ave and Margaret St. There’s great food and live music once a month. It’s been really awesome to see families getting out and about with kids, enjoying the vibe and some good food. One of the things that I know bothers Hutt residents is the vitality (or lack of it), on the High St. This is not a new issue and was around when I was growing up in the Hutt. I think the Thursday Street Feast will help make a difference to the liveliness and vitality of the area.
I’ve had an amazing last 11 months – it really is privilege and an honour to be an MP. I love the job and I’m looking forward to the next two years. If I can be of assistance please get in touch with my office.