Six Labour MPs have announced they will step down at the next election: ministers Poto Williams, Aupito William Sio, and David Clark as well as backbench MPs Jamie Strange, Marja Lubeck and Paul Eagle.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the names this morning, saying the decisions were in good time to allow for succession planning ahead of Labour’s candidate selections and Cabinet reshuffle. All six will leave at the next election.
The resignations include two of Labour’s Pacific ministers, Sio and Williams. After the departure of Kris Faafoi earlier in the year, it leaves only Carmel Sepuloni as a Pasifika minister in the Cabinet - although Barbara Edmonds, who is Samoan, is widely expected to be appointed a minister in the reshuffle.
‘No regrets:’ Poto Williams rejects suggestion she was told to quit
Poto Williams said it was completely her own choice to leave – and rejected the suggestion it was because she thought Labour would lose the next election.
“We are in for a real fight next year, but it’s a fight we can win.”
“Anybody who knows me knows I came into this knowing I would give it about 10 years because I wanted to be sure I would have plenty of opportunity to do other things with the rest of my career.”
Williams was replaced as Police Minister by Chris Hipkins earlier this year after the government came under fire for its response in law and order. Williams defended her own record in Police, pointing to the gun reforms and increase in police numbers under her watch.
“You come into this role not expecting it to be easy. You expect it to be hard and you want to give it all your best, and that’s what I’ve done.”
She said she did not have any regrets and it had been an “absolute privilege” to be an MP and in Cabinet. “No, I have no regrets except for the fact I don’t spend enough time at home.”
She had become Christchurch East MP in 2013 after winning a byelection. She said it was at a difficult time for the city, and it was time for someone with “fresh eyes and fresh energy” to take her place.
“For myself I am wanting to pursue other interests while I still have plenty of gas in the tank.”
Earlier in the day, fellow outgoing Labour MP Jamie Strange told the Waikato Time he believed he was a better Government MP than an Opposition MP so had come into Parliament at the right time: but the comment was also taken to mean he thought Labour would lose.
WIlliams said she thought Opposition was important. “I think Opposition gives you a bit of backbone and it teaches you your job. I think it’s an important part of our training for MPs.”
Williams, of Cook Islands descent, became the South Island’s first elected Pasifika MP.
Williams has a background working on family and sexual violence issues and in 2019 became Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector, becoming the first of Cook Islands descent to hold a ministerial role.
After the 2020 election she became Minister of Police at a time of calls for a reform of police culture across the globe, following the police murder of George Floyd in the United States.
However, this year under intense scrutiny from the Opposition amid a spike in youth crime and claims she was “soft on crime” Williams was replaced by Chris Hipkins.
Williams is currently Minister of Conservation and Minister for Disability Issues, as well as Associate Minister for Children.
Aupito William Sio: Dawn Raids apology the highlight
Sio said he would mark 15 years in Parliament next year and that was a good time to leave. Sio entered Parliament in 2008 representing the Māngere electorate. He has held the Minister for Pacific Peoples portfolio since 2017.
He said he also had matai responsibilities and family to tend to. “This job is all-consuming and relentless and you can’t do everything.”
“I like to think I’ve given it my best, left everything on the field.”
He remained confident Labour could win. “I”ve got every confidence we have a strong Labour team.”
Sio, who was born in Samoa and came to New Zealand in 1969, said his personal highlight was the Dawn Raids apology last year.
“The Dawn Raids and the racist policies of the 1970s were a stain on Aotearoa. And the role the Prime Minister played in that, I will always be eternally grateful she was able to humble herself and allowed me to place that mat of humility. It was a tear shed moment for our Pacific peoples.”
Last year he revealed his family was subjected to a “traumatising” police dawn raid, which disproportionately targeted members of the Pasifika communities. Sio was instrumental in the official Government apology to those impacted by the raids.
He expected to stay as a minister until the election and hoped to get a few more things over the line before he left, saying he had got more funding for the Pacific Ministry and more targeted funding for Pacific people since he started.
In the meantime he would head to Samoa for the summer holiday. “I’ll go to my village, take my shirt off, not answer that phone call and not wear a tie and spend some time with the villagers.”
And he took another jab at National leader Christopher Luxon’s comment about prospective gang members hanging out in South Auckland garages with their brothers: “I might even go to my South Auckland garage and shoot the breeze with some of my brothers to see what the future looks like.”
PM Jacinda Ardern on retiring MPs
“I want to thank them personally for their work and for being part of our team. They have all made an important contribution to Government and the lives of New Zealanders,” Jacinda Ardern said.
“These decisions come in the midst of Labour’s selection process for seats in the 2023 elections. MPs have made these decisions in good time to allow succession planning for both Cabinet and caucus.
“These retirements will have no immediate impact on Cabinet with a reshuffle not scheduled until early next year.
“I’ve had conversations with each MP and Minister. They’ve each made their own call based on their personal circumstances – which I both understand and respect.”
Ardern saved a special mention for the ministers.
“[Sio} has done huge work in the Pacific, been a fierce advocate for his community, and I will forever be grateful for his role in the Dawn Raids apology.”
“Minister Clark has, in recent times, led our work on supermarket reform and demonstrated his intellect but clear focus on protecting the most vulnerable through consumer finance reform,” she said.
“Minister Williams brought her experience in the community sector to Cabinet, working across groups as diverse as the construction sector through to the disability community. She also did a huge amount of work on the implementation of gun reforms.”
David Clark had earlier confirmed he was leaving Parliament in a Facebook post, saying he would step down at the next election and hoped to focus on his family more after being an MP since 2011.
“I still love the job – but for me it is the right time to make a positive decision to be more available to my family.”
“By the time I stand down, I will have been fortunate to represent the people of Dunedin and its northern surrounds as the locally elected MP for 12 years. I will have spent the better part of each week, for around 30 weeks a year, away from home – advocating for causes I believe in, causes you elected me to fight. Over those roughly 360 weeks, as well as the remaining weeks each year that I’ve spent meeting with constituents in Dunedin, I’ve been working to make New Zealand a better place.”
Clark is the Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, the Digital Economy and Communications, State Owned Enterprises and Statistics.
He was Minister of Health from 2017 until he was demoted from the portfolio – and out of Cabinet – over some misjudgements during the initial months of the Covid-19 pandemic, including going mountain biking during the Covid-19 lockdowns.
The well-liked and genial Clark took the decision with grace and was moved back into Cabinet after the 2020 election in the new portfolios. As Commerce Minister he has dealt with the Commerce Commission market studies into the grocery sector and building supplies, and has also kept an eye on banks.
Eagle has been MP in the safe Labour seat of Rongotai since 2017. He stood – unsuccessfully – for the Wellington mayoralty earlier this year.
Lubeck has been a List MP since 2017 and was the MP who put the Prohibition of Conversion Therapy Bill to ban conversion therapy into the members’ bill ballot.
Hamilton East MP Jamie Strange told the Waikato Herald he wanted to spend more time with his four children and to support his wife Angela who is a Waikato Regional councillor.
He said his job as an MP meant he had had to spend a lot of time away from his family in the past five years.
Last week PM Jacinda Ardern had foreshadowed the day of retirement announcements, saying she did not want them to catch people by surprise.
They come as Labour starts its selection process for 2023 candidates – and ahead of the PM’s Cabinet reshuffle, which is likely to come in February next year.
MPs, especially electorate MPs, were asked to make their decisions clear so the hunt could begin for new candidates.
National Party leader Christopher Luxon is also due to deliver a reshuffle of his team in the near future - so far Ian McKelvie, David Bennett and Jacqui Dean have announced they will retire in 2022.