Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Departing veteran tells of regret over gay vote, MMP

Lockwood Smith, delivering his valedictory speech, says his biggest regret is voting against homosexual law reform in 1986. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Lockwood Smith, delivering his valedictory speech, says his biggest regret is voting against homosexual law reform in 1986. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Longstanding National MP and former Speaker Lockwood Smith has used his final speech in Parliament to tell of his regret at voting against homosexual law reform, defend his record as Education Minister and plead for changes to MMP, claiming the current system makes MPs more accountable to their party hierarchy than to the people they represent.

Dr Smith, who is to become New Zealand's High Commissioner in London, delivered his valedictory in Parliament yesterday after nearly 30 years as an MP.

It was his first speech in the House in four years - while Speaker, he had to steer clear of airing his political views - and he used his valedictory to make up for that.

He said MPs should be judged by how well they represented people whose lives had been impacted by the actions of the state.

"The introduction of MMP in 1996 changed this place. Some of it was for the better - we have a broader face of representation, and that is good.

"But like so many policy changes, it's the unexpected outcomes that need to be watched. One of those outcomes has been a significant shift in the accountability of members."

Dr Smith said list MPs were obviously accountable to their party hierarchies, to whom they owed their place on the list. "But the pervasive power of the party vote has meant all members are now totally accountable to their parties. This House, in so many ways, has become a place of political parties rather than a House of Representatives."

He said he was not calling for MMP to be overturned, but did believe it needed to be re-examined.

Dr Smith also provided a lesson to MPs currently battling to decide whether to support the same-sex marriage bill, saying his biggest regret was voting against the Homosexual Law Reform Bill in 1986.

"I faced the classic dilemma of voting according to my own judgment or the opinion of those I was elected to represent. As a new member, I opted for the latter and I've always regretted it."

Dr Smith also took time to reflect on his own record as a minister in the 1990s - including the controversial changes he made as Education Minister.

Those included introducing the student loans scheme and means-testing student allowances - measures that resulted in student protests.

Dr Smith said he believed the student loans policy was good policy and had made university an option for more people, but means-testing student allowances was unfair, in particular to students whose parents were unable to "camouflage" their income.

He ended by promising to spend more time with his wife, Alexandra, whom he married in 2009, and paying tribute to his long-serving assistant Beryl Bright.

- NZ Herald

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