MP pleads for laughter and leniency as he goes

By Claire Trevett

After 24 years as an MP, John Carter is off to the Cook Islands to become the High Commissioner. Photo / Richard Robinson
After 24 years as an MP, John Carter is off to the Cook Islands to become the High Commissioner. Photo / Richard Robinson

Northland MP John Carter left Parliament after indulging in his last chance to get toilet humour on public record and with a plea for MPs to be given some freedom to laugh rather than be made into saints.

Mr Carter gave his valedictory speech in Parliament yesterday after 24 years as an MP to head off to become the High Commissioner in the Cook Islands.

It was a trademark speech from the gregarious MP with more serious reflections book-ended by humour.

He told a story about turning the lights off in the men's toilets and later discovering Gerry Brownlee had "an accident" which necessitated buying a new suit. He let the laughter roll for a long time before confessing the story was untrue.

He gave his own recollection of the troubles that followed when he rang a Northland radio station and pretended to be a Maori called Hone.

That had coincided with then Prime Minister Jim Bolger's long-awaited trip to the White House.

"He appeared on page eight of the New York Times and I appeared on page one. It seriously pissed him off, I can tell you."

He moved on to his unfortunate "spoonerism" while saying "cunning stunt" in Parliament, adding he was disappointed Hansard more tastefully recorded it as "cunning trick".

Then he put his case: "We do need to be serious, we need to debate issues and this place is important to the country.

"But we also need to be able to share humour. I am more and more concerned - in fact I'm pleased I'm retiring - because the scrutiny we are coming under, particularly from the media who are trying to sanitise us and turn us into saints, is ridiculous.

"We need to have people who are real, who can laugh at themselves and be real people. I say to the people who are prone to criticise us, let us just have some space. Let us be real people. Occasionally we will make mistakes but let us be real."

In a surprising gesture, he also tabled a summary of superannuation scheme payments, saying he was fed up with people describing it as "gold-plated".

He said he had contributed about $33,000 from his after-tax salary package each year and with a modest 5 per cent interest, it now totalled $1.5 million.

"I have contributed it - not the taxpayer - I've contributed it. Not taxpayer-funded at all, it's out of my money."

He expressed pride in helping usher in the Auckland Super City and said he took great pleasure from the senior citizens' portfolio.

He wished Craig Foss, appointed a minister in his place, good luck in the racing portfolio where ministers, other than Winston Peters, were generally disliked and the industry was unwilling to change.

He saved special mention for his role as Minister of Civil Defence, which had seen him on television time and time again.

"Of all the portfolios, that became rather challenging, given I was told when I started by [Civil Defence head] John Hamilton that it would be a portfolio that wouldn't take too much time and I wouldn't have to put too much focus on it."

The public gallery was crowded with staff, friends, family and his Northland electorate team. National Party president Peter Goodfellow and others from the board were also in Parliament.

It was when he acknowledged his staff that the emotion began to show as he remembered his long-serving executive assistant Jan Miller, who died last year.

He left looking forward to his new role: "I can hear the breeze in the palm trees as we go."

He may have had a few troubles but there are very few MPs who would leave with hearty man-hugs not just from his own team but also Labour's Pete Hodgson, Act's Roger Douglas and the Green Party's Keith Locke.

- NZ Herald

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