Perk-buster politician sharpening his pencil

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Rodney Hide lost his life as he knew it when he was kicked out of Parliament. He is now starting again.
Photo / Getty Images
Rodney Hide lost his life as he knew it when he was kicked out of Parliament. He is now starting again. Photo / Getty Images

Rodney Hide says he has returned to where he started, digging up dirt. Today, he joins the Herald on Sunday as a columnist and vows to fight political and bureaucratic excess

The electrician pulled Ian, the builder, aside. "That looks like Rodney Hide down that hole ..."

"It is. He's my bitch."

"Gosh," he said (or the word sparkies say to that effect). "I knew he had tumbled. But that far?"

One minute I was a minister. Next minute I'm back where I started: caked in dirt and sweat, swinging a shovel.

I had often wondered how I would take the end of my political career. The odds were it wouldn't end nicely. It's usually the voters or your own colleagues who give you the toss. Either way it's a big rejection.

It's public, too. There's no sneaking out the back.

As it turned out it wasn't too bad. I had given Parliament my utmost and could have no regrets. I had loved every minute.

I am proud of what I got done. The best for me was sorting out Auckland's governance. Auckland now has one mayor and one council to provide the vision and the leadership the city and region badly needed. Len Brown and his team are doing a good job.

I was pleased, too, that I had been in a position to help the many, many people who had come to me over the years desperate for help.

Of course, I made mistakes. My biggest was in 2009 when I used my Parliamentary travel allowance to take my partner Louise on an official trip to Britain, the US and Canada - and on holiday to Hawaii. I repaid the $22,000 it cost taxpayers.

I rang Louise to warn her that her name might be in in the papers in the morning. I told her not to worry: it would be a one-day wonder. Little did I know she and I would be in the news for days.

I knew I was on a loser trying to explain the rules when a clergyman took me aside to tell me cheerfully, "Don't worry, Rodney. Half my flock are fiddling their expenses."

I did my best to put my mistakes right and to make up for them.

Overall, I did a good job. First, for the country, second, for Epsom constituents and, third, for my party.

Still, the end was a big wrench. The new leader demanded that I resign immediately from Parliament. I refused. I wasn't about to put the country through the distraction and expense of a by-election.

But the message was clear: I wasn't wanted.

The next day my world had changed. My phone stopped ringing. Dead. My diary was no longer chock-a-block. In fact, it was empty. I no longer had to rush madly from place to place. I actually had nowhere to be.

There was an election campaign. I was not in it. It felt luxurious.

What to do? Hmmm.

For years I had been putting off all the odd jobs that needed doing around the house. I had been too busy. I now had the time to get stuck in. Louise and I had bought a beautiful old home in Wellington. It needed work. Lots of it.

I told Ian the builder I would help him. He started me on the dirty, grunt jobs, testing me. I think he enjoyed having a former Minister of the Crown run around as his labourer. Digging the rock and clay out from under what had been our bathroom was tough.

It was that job that saw me caked in sweat and dirt when Marty the Electrician showed.

I loved the work. Just the sheer physicality of it. And being with guys who simply get on with the job without the talk and the preciousness of politics. I enjoyed the earthy humour. No need to be PC.

I crawled off to bed each night aching but without a care in the world. The state of government and the country's direction was no longer my problem. It felt good.

My only concern was to get the power and water on. Then my wife Louise and our baby Liberty could return. Until then, they were staying with Louise's parents in Hamilton.

Luckily for me the Prime Minister is a good bloke. I still had my Parliamentary access card and late at night would head down for a shower. One night I walked into the PM in the Beehive basement.

He called out, "How's it going?"

"Never better," I shot back.

If he was shocked by my appearance and pong he never showed it. The plumbers had given me the job of digging down 1.8m to remove the Buchan sewage trap. I had managed to empty it over me. You can imagine how I felt standing like that in front of the PM. I could not have looked or stunk worse.

Key was as gracious as ever and way too polite to ask what the hell I was up to. I was too embarrassed to tell him. I was also afraid that living without power and water was against some law or other. I thought it best he didn't know.

I learned about building, wiring and plumbing. Ian gave me bigger and better jobs. I was as proud as punch when he gave me my very own builder's apron and a proper, professional hammer. We now worked side-by-side.

Once the power and water were hooked up, Louise and Liberty returned. We spent the weeks moving from room to room as we worked our way through the house. We cooked on a gas ring perched on the veranda. We spent our summer camping - and never left home.

I saw Liberty's first faltering steps and heard her first words. If I had been successful in the election, if I had achieved what I was striving for, I would have missed Liberty's first year. I would have been too busy.

For that special time with my little girl, getting the political heave-ho has proved a wonderful blessing.

I had no plans about what to do next. Still don't.

RadioLive asked me to fill in for John Tamihere Friday afternoons. It has meant learning a new job and new craft. The youngest reporter at RadioLive kindly takes the time to show me what to do. It's humbling.

Willie Jackson and I host the show. We're chalk and cheese. He's pro-union, favours big government and advocates race-based privilege for Maori. There's not much we agree on but always plenty to debate. We get on well but have some fiery arguments. The listeners get to ring up and join in. I enjoy hearing the take the callers have on the hot issues of the day.

I loved Parliament. I didn't want to get dumped. But wild horses now couldn't drag me back. I am finding starting all over again humbling, exhilarating and invigorating. Sure, I have my moments wondering what's next but that's all part of the experience. I am enjoying the challenge enormously.

I feel refreshed.

Now the Herald on Sunday has asked me to write a weekly column. I feel like I have jumped a fence from politics to columnist.

I aim to bring to you an insight and an empathy that comes from having been a politician and having been in the media spotlight, sometimes for good reasons and often for bad. I know what it feels like. It makes a big difference having actually lived it.

I know politicians and their foibles. I know they have children who adore them and spouses who suffer enormous pain when politics turns bad. It's a side of politics the public doesn't see.

I know a little, too, about how things work on the inside. That understanding is often missing in the news and political commentary. I aim to provide it.

I also would like to hear from you. What is it that you want me to write about, what questions do you want answered and what problems and difficulties have you had with government and bureaucracy?

So please, write to me.

My history is as a centre-right politician. But I have no desire now in persuading you to vote this way or that. I have done that for years. I also have no desire to bag one political party over another. There's enough of that already.

Besides, my particular political philosophy was always too radical even for the Act Party.

I started in Parliament a libertarian. That means I wanted government nice and small and confined to just a few keys tasks such as protecting us from the thugs and bullies.

I ended up an anarchist. I have concluded we would do better with no government at all. New Zealand before 1840 had some downsides. But the downsides were small beer compared to the social and economic devastation wrought by big, bloated and out-of-control bureaucracy.

I reckon we could fix the down sides of no government without having to give a small bunch of people enormous power over the rest of us. I have no doubt I was the first Anarcho Government Minister. It is a great contradiction.

I am out of step politically. I know of only two New Zealanders who agree with my political philosophy and one of them is wobbly.

The advantage of being out of step is that I now don't align with any particular political party, although I prefer by a whisker centre-right over centre-left.

Besides, every other writer and commentator in New Zealand is a socialist. I am not. My column will be good and provocative. I believe Kiwis should stand on our own two feet and not look to government to do everything for us.

Every other columnist wants government to do this or that. I want government to do nothing.

But if we must have government, democracy is best: it gives us the chance to kick the buggers out. The turnover is healthy.

Democracy too is the only form of government that allows us to laugh at those in power. I know government is a serious business but it's also the funniest show in town. Laughter is a great antidote to the enormous power and pomposity of government.

Democracy has another advantage: falls from power aren't fatal. They were historically. They still are in many parts of the world.

I took a tumble. I was one of the buggers kicked out. But here I am still alive, brighter than ever. Just as well. I have a roof to paint and concrete to mix. See you next week.

- Herald on Sunday

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