People generally take a jaundiced view of politicians being recognised in the New Year Honours. They have a higher regard for those who make a valuable contribution to society away from the parliamentary limelight. Sometimes, however, the impact of a politician's work is too significant and substantial to be ignored. As much is highlighted by this year's honours, not least in the case of the former Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia, who has been appointed a dame companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.
The courageous and principled contribution of Dame Tariana during her 16 years in Parliament should never be underestimated. Quitting the Labour Party to found the Maori Party was a huge step into the unknown. Others before her had failed. But even that paled beside her decision with party co-leader Pita Sharples to be willing to work with governments from either side of the political spectrum. "Our people need to decide whether they want to continue living a life of activism standing on the sidelines, or someone actually progressing their issues," she said.
The partnership with the National Party paid rich dividends for Maori. New foreshore and seabed legislation was achieved, something impossible in Opposition, and Dame Tariana's name will be forever associated with her party's whanau ora welfare scheme. Even more fundamental was the change in attitude her party wrought. If New Zealanders feel better disposed towards Treaty settlements and Maori initiatives, Dame Tariana and Dr Sharples can take much of the credit.
The recognition of two other politicians is also about far more than time served in Wellington. Foreign Minister Murray McCully has been made a companion of the order, mainly for his role in securing a seat for this country on the United Nations Security Council. Other nations seemed to have a greater case. The canvassing for votes by Mr McCully and the country's diplomats changed that and New Zealand now has the opportunity to present "a fresh, independent perspective".
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Tony Ryall has been accorded the same honour and is equally deserving. As Health Minister from 2008 to 2014, he oversaw clear progress in emergency department waiting times, elective surgery and preventive health. An aversion to party partisanship and a timely departure from Parliament was also out of the ordinary.
One of the more pleasing aspects of recent honours lists has been a sense of timing. This year, there is a good example in the appointment of military historian Chris Pugsley as an officer of the order. The centenary of the Gallipoli campaign falls next year, and probably no individual has done more to record and explain this country's role. Even more timely is making footballer Ivan Vicelich a member of the order. Auckland FC's remarkable third placing at the world club championship in Morocco, and the selection of Vicelich as the tournament's third-best player could not have been forecast when the honour was being discussed. Through such inspired choices do honours lists retain their value.