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

Colourful reformer to sever ties

Tony Ryall in his Beehive office yesterday and other pictures of colourful ties. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Tony Ryall in his Beehive office yesterday and other pictures of colourful ties. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Health Minister Tony Ryall says he learned his unique fashion style from his wife - and about the importance of slow reform in the health sector from Ruth Richardson and her Mother of All Budgets.

Mr Ryall, 49, announced yesterday he would retire from politics at the election after 24 years in Parliament.

He had made his decision about three weeks ago and while he loved his time in Parliament, believed it was time to build a second career. He was yet to decide what he would do, but it would be in the private sector.

Renowned for his unique shirt and tie combinations, he said he took style advice from his wife Kara who was a graduate in fashion. He had always worn colour but the full impact was not noticed until the swine flu scare when he was in the media day after day. "It's a great conversation starter. It really breaks the ice."

Mr Ryall has made his biggest mark in the health portfolio in which he has managed to slowly introduce significant reform without sparking major controversy.

He said he had never expected he would end up with health, or that he would enjoy it because it had traditionally been a "very tense" portfolio.

He had deliberately taken an incremental approach, partly because of two decades of change in the sector. He had also learned a lesson from the aftershocks of Ruth Richardson's Mother of All Budgets in 1991. It was the first Budget after Ryall entered Parliament in 1990 and slashed social welfare spending as well as kicking off major reform quickly. "Huge structural reform doesn't deliver the results people expect."

He was most proud of the progress made in increasing elective surgery, cancer treatment, and preventive health care. He also made surprise visits to emergency departments and said he still did so, including as recently as two weeks ago.

Yesterday Prime Minister John Key said he would have liked Mr Ryall to stay on, but accepted he wanted to develop a new career.

"He decided now that he was turning 50, it would be time to think about what he'd do for the next 15 or so years of his working life."

Mr Ryall's rival, Labour's health spokeswoman Annette King, said he had "created a climate of fear" and survived only because of political management. "He gets an A for politics, but a 'barely achieved' for health. He should go now and let someone else try to repair the damage in relationships."

Mr Ryall said that was nonsense and Ms King was an example of one of the Labour MPs who might consider retiring to help the party refresh.

Mr Ryall is also SOE Minister and has played a key role in the partial sales of state-owned energy assets.

Mr Ryall was one of the four young ministers in National's "Brat Pack" along with Bill English, Nick Smith and Roger Sowry.

He says his low point was the aftermath of the 2002 election when National hit a low of 22 per cent under Mr English's leadership and Nick Smith had to take leave because of the stress of the change in leadership.

"It was not a happy time. A lot of people talk about Parliament being a lonely place, but I've always had those three guys."

Tony Ryall's CV

* Entered Parliament as East Cape MP, aged 26.

* Became a minister under former Prime Minister Jenny Shipley.
* Part of National's 1990s "brat pack'' - Ryall, Bill English, Nick Smith and Roger Sowry. Still holiday together every year.

* Appointed Health Minister and State Services Minister

* Kept Health and appointed State-Owned Enterprises Minister.
* Qualifies for the old parliamentary superannuation scheme. Will get $103,152 a year after he turns 50, increasing by cost of living each year.
* Bay of Plenty MP with a majority of about 18,000.

- NZ Herald

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