Isaac Davison

Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Departing MPs' memorable moments

National MP Shane Ardern drove a tractor up Parliament steps during the anti-fart tax protest by farmers in September, 2003. File photo / Mark Mitchell
National MP Shane Ardern drove a tractor up Parliament steps during the anti-fart tax protest by farmers in September, 2003. File photo / Mark Mitchell

Some of Parliament's longest-serving MPs said their farewells to the House today, as more valedictory speeches were read.

'The best job in the Government'

Bay of Plenty MP Tony Ryall gave his valedictory statement at Parliament surrounded by National MPs wearing garish shirt-tie combinations in tribute to his colourful sartorial choices.

The National Cabinet Minister told a mostly-full House and his family in the public gallery that holding the health portfolio had been "the best job in the Government".

"I wake up most mornings and I turn to my wife and say: "Imagine being Minister of Education".

He recalled helping former Prime Minister Jenny Shipley to roll Jim Bolger: "It was my great privilege to play a part in delivering New Zealand's first woman Prime Minister."

At the time, the group organising the coup called itself the "Te Puke Bypass Committee" to keep a low profile.

"So it's a great pleasure to me that we are now spending $400 million on the proper Te Puke bypass."

Mr Ryall entered Parliament 24 years ago, and spent most of his farewell listing his run-ins and highlights.

He recalled his campaign manager expressing delight when Mr Ryall was badly bitten by a pitbull terrier while door-knocking in Opotiki during his first election campaign.

He was told to drive back to Opotiki from Whakatane and re-bandage his hand for a photograph. The incident made the front page of the Herald at the time with Mr Ryall quoted as saying: "The dog bit me, but if it had been the Labour candidate it would have eaten her."

He joined a Parliament which included David Lange and Robert Muldoon.

The latter invited him for dinner, where conversation quickly dried up and the two ate in silence.

When leaving, Sir Robert told him: "That was really good, let's do it again sometime."

Mr Ryall spoke of National's successes in raising child immunisation rates and increasing elective surgery, and listed the "mega-trends" which would shape the health sector in future.

These included greater "self-care" and innovation - Mr Ryall said Sir Ron Avery was developing a wristwatch which relayed a wearer's temperature, blood pressure and pulse to the person's doctor.

Mr Ryall also took a few shots at the Opposition, listing them as one of the "natural disasters" his electorate had endured along with floods, oil spills and horticulture collapses.

"We've got through them all," he said.

'The tractor man'

In his valedictory speech today, Shane Ardern recalled his most memorable moment as an MP, when he drove his tractor Myrtle up the steps of Parliament to protest against a "fart tax" - a levy on methane emitted by animals.

The Taranaki-King Country MP said he was happy to become known as "the tractor man".

Some colleagues had complained that his approach was "the wrong thing to do". But he said no one was put at risk and the controversial tax was never introduced.

"If anyone thinks I was dangerous then... wait until I'm not constrained by Parliamentary considerations."

The staunch defender of farming and farmers' rights said Parliament was in danger of being filled by "professional politicians".

He urged more farmers who felt aggrieved to get involved in politics, saying that if they stood back they were "as guilty as those doing the thing you don't like".

After 16 years as an MP, he said he was now returning to his farm, to the "land where I belong".

'All politics is local'

Long-serving Labour MP Ross Robertson said the secret to remaining in politics for nearly three decades was not charisma, but looking after his constituents.

"I was standing in another queue the day they handed out charisma. Rather, I have built my career on the principle - that all politics is local."

He said he had risen at 6.30am every Saturday for the past 27 years to visit the Otara market in his Manukau East electorate, before heading to sports games, bowling greens, then dinners, weddings, prize-givings and other engagements.

Mr Robertson said it had been "a great honour" for a working class boy from Ngati Toa and South Auckland to become Assistant Speaker in Parliament ? a role he has held for four terms.

He recommended changes to the Speaker's role, such as following the British tradition of allowing backbenchers to elect the Speaker, and giving every MP a day in the chair.

"Not only would behaviour be better, but also debate," he said.

He called for a code of ethics and greater transparency in Parliament, saying that the Official Information Act should apply to all MPs.

"I have seen many things in the last 27 years that would not have happened if we had the OIA apply to Parliament."

After departing Parliament, he said he would continue work for South Auckland, "the place that I love".

A 'brush with death'

Eric Roy, National's MP for Invercargill, told MPs about his "brush with death" in his valedictory speech today.

The six-term MP was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer while serving as an MP and was given a 20 per cent chance of living.

A day after being diagnosed, Mr Roy had "the most surreal conversation of his life". Cabinet Minister Murray McCully phoned and asked him to give a speech for him in Invercargill because McCully had a cold.

Mr Roy replied: "I'm sorry to hear about your cold but I'm dying of cancer." Mr McCully said: "Haha. I'll send you the notes."

He said despite the "dog-eat-dog bear-pit" of New Zealand politics, he had made friends with many "genuine" people from both sides of the House, including Labour's Ross Robertson.

Mr Roy said he left Parliament with some lingering concerns. In particular, he felt New Zealand society had drifted away from Judeo-Christian values.

"It's my view that we've stepped away from reference points ? we used to be solidly grounded.

"We've never had the debate about what we put in its place if we move away from that."

He said he was not endorsing closer ties between church and state, but said New Zealanders needed a clear basis for making decisions on conscience issues such as abortion and euthanasia.

'Modest but profoundly important' changes

Paul Hutchison, National's Hunua MP, spoke of his two passions - healthcare and science, in his valedictory speech to parliament today.

The former gynaecologist and obstetrician entered Parliament on the Opposition benches in 1999, and later won the Port Waikato and Hunua seat.

After three "extremely challenging" terms in Opposition, he was determined to improve New Zealand's relatively poor investment in research and development. But when National came into power, the Global Financial Crisis had begun and he was told "there was no extra money for science".

Dr Hutchison said he helped scrounge some "modest but profoundly important" changes for the sector.

He "cunningly" introduced Sir Peter Gluckman to Prime Minister John Key at his home, paving the way for Sir Peter's later appointment as Mr Key's Chief Science Advisor. And he helped to secure more public honours for scientists, including a new Prime Ministers' prize.

In both science and healthcare ? particularly children's health ? National had made some strides but much more work was needed.

Dr Hutchison said his party had increased investment in science, "but a quantum leap is needed in the long term".

Government had picked up some of the recommendations from the four inquiries he initiated as head of the Health Committee - on prostate cancer detection, child immunisation rates, and medical innovation.

He noted that an article he wrote on the child immunisation was given the newspaper headline "A prick, in the right direction".

"I didn't take it personally," Dr Hutchison said.

In the case of the comprehensive cross-party inquiry on children's health, Dr Hutchison urged future governments not to "just pick up the easy issues".

The National MP had some regrets on leaving Parliament after 15 years, saying he wished he could have witnessed a "fair and honourable" settlement of the Ngati Te Ata treaty claim.

'An easy choice to put my family first'

Departing Green MP Holly Walker was not scheduled for a valedictory statement today, but made some final comments during the General Debate today.

The one-term MP said she did not have enough thoughts to fill a 15-minute speaking slot, but she did not want her final appearance in the House to be on the by-election debate after Act MP John Banks' resignation.

Ms Walker is leaving Parliament for undisclosed family reasons.

"When presented with the choice between continuing my Parliamentary career and supporting my family when they needed me, I'm not sorry to say it was an easy choice to put my family first."

She said her departure did not necessarily mean that it was too difficult to be a parent and an MP - her party and others had been highly supportive since she had her first child last year.

There was no single initiative that would make it easier to be a mother in Parliament, apart from radical changes such as temporary substitute MPs.

"But really it comes down to this. Being an MP is a 24 hour a day, seven day a week job. And so is being a mum.

"It's bloody hard to hold down one 24/7 job. Holding two at the same time has proved impossible."

She was sorry to be leaving Parliament without making progress on eliminating child poverty and inequality - goals she set out in her maiden speech.

Accused of 'murdering' Happy Feet

Phil Heatley, a former Fisheries Minister, spoke in his valedictory speech in parliament today of being "accused of murder" after the death of celebrity penguin Happy Feet.

He said his favourite Question Time in 15 years in Parliament was when Green MP Gareth Hughes said the fishing industry was responsible for the emperor penguin's death after it was rehabilitated in New Zealand.

Mr Heatley said his officials had been tracking the penguin by GPS to make sure it did not run across a fishing fleet.

"We... were happily able to declare that.... Happy Feet had quite simply become a Happy Meal."

The Whangarei MP recalled being told he was not working hard enough because his wife Jenny had become pregnant during his first election campaign.

But he joked that his consecutive "election-year babies" were worth 3000 to 4000 votes because they were so photogenic.

The five-term MP had been in Parliament throughout his children's lives -- "This is all they've ever known".

He recalled his lowlights, such as giving up his portfolios in 2010 after buying wine on his ministerial credit card.

Among his highlights was leading the controversial law change to take away tenants' right to a "state house for life" -- with "hardly a murmur" of protest.

Mr Heatley also defended the rowdiness of the debating chamber, saying it was important for politicians to be passionate and vocal.

"No constituent sends their MP down here to be a wet fish, or a mouse, or a soft touch."

- NZ Herald

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