The last week of Parliament before the election gave departing politicians the opportunity to offer final thoughts in their valedictory speeches. The stark contrast between the careers and speeches of two former Labour ministers, Ruth Dyson and Clare Curran, is worth examining.
Ruth Dyson has been a Member of Parliament since 1993. In the Clark government she was Minister for Social Development, and in the Ardern government she was the Senior Whip then assistant Speaker. She forged a reputation as an effective behind-the-scenes operator, and was well respected across the political spectrum. Her achievements include Working for Families, marriage equality, and making New Zealand Sign Language an official language.
The one blemish on her career was when she was caught drink-driving while a Minister. She resigned her portfolios, apologised, took full responsibility for her transgression, and spent eight months on the backbenches before being restored to Cabinet.
Dyson's valedictory speech was measured, with heartful comments about the events that have rocked Canterbury in recent years, and a plea for people to "be bold, be brave, leave a legacy and go well.'' In her final act in Parliament she was dignified, forceful, gracious, and even a little bit funny.
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Clare Curran has been a Member of Parliament since 2008. In the Ardern government she was Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media for almost a year. Her reputation as a communication specialist saw her quickly become a MP after successfully challenging the incumbent Labour MP David Benson-Pope.
Curran was sacked after repeated failures to declare meetings with a political journalist, and another with a tech entrepreneur going for the Chief Technology Officer job she was creating. She initially claimed the coffee with the journalist was a coincidence, but it later emerged the meeting was planned, but not included in her ministerial diary. It was a particularly bad look for the Minister of Open Government. The final nail in her political coffin appeared to be her cringeworthy performance under questioning from National backbencher Melissa Lee. It is widely considered one of the worst in Parliamentary history.
Her stated No 1 priority as Minister of Broadcasting was to establish the new office of Chief Technology Officer within 100 days; 413 days later, the office, which was never filled, was officially dumped by her successor, Megan Woods. There was never any talk of restoring Clare Curran to Cabinet.
Curran's valedictory speech sought to paint herself as a victim. She claimed to have been "targeted," criticised the role of the media in her fall, and condemned the "toxic" environment in Parliament. She did not accept any blame for her downfall. Few Parliamentary colleagues congratulated her after the speech, certainly compared to the cross-party scrum at the end of Dyson's speech.
In summary, Dyson has a long track record of achievement, accepted her single lapse of judgement, and paid the price. Curran failed quickly, and still does not apologise for trying to cover up her covert meetings. Her flagship policy was quietly knifed by her own colleagues after never getting off the ground. The contrast is stark.