‘Brat Packer’ Health Minister proud of role in Bolger coup, asset sales and achievements in portfolio
Health Minister Tony Ryall has signed off on his 24-year political career by reminiscing on his role in asset sales, helping former Prime Minister Jenny Shipley roll Jim Bolger and the achievements he was proudest of as Health Minister.
Mr Ryall's colleagues mimicked his signature style of wearing colourful shirt-and-tie combinations as a tribute to the minister whose steady hand has managed to keep the health portfolio relatively trouble-free for the past six years.
He recalled his role helping organise former Prime Minister Jenny Shipley's takeover as Prime Minister from Jim Bolger. "It was my great privilege to play a part in delivering New Zealand's first woman Prime Minister." The group dubbed themselves the "Te Puke Bypass Committee" as a disguise.
"So it's a great pleasure to me that we are now spending $400 million on the proper Te Puke bypass."
Mr Ryall also spoke about working with his close friend Finance Minister Bill English on asset sales in the current Government and the former National Government in the 1990s.
"Bill commented to me the other day that ... we've privatised or partially privatised $7.7 billion worth of assets. He thought that was more than Richard Prebble, but we're not going to tell anybody about that."
He spoke about his Bay of Plenty electorate, with a joke at his opponents' expense.
"We've had a lot of challenges, a lot of natural disasters. Floods, oil spills, kiwifruit collapses, Labour governments. We've got through them all."
He said the nine years he had spent in Opposition was frustrating, but he had learned a lot, most notably in the health area.
He said his role as Health Minister was the "best job in the Government" despite its notoriety for being a problematic portfolio.
"I wake up most mornings, and I turn to my wife and I say 'ugh. Imagine being Minister of Education'. That is a really tough job."
However, he had had some embarrassing moments - he remembered trying to show off his hand hygiene awareness in an endoscopy unit by coating his hands with hand gel, only to discover it was lubricating gel.
He was particularly proud of work such as funding the breast cancer drug Herceptin which he said had made a big difference to many lives.
Other achievements included getting 2-year-old Maori immunisation rates above those for Pakeha and reducing emergency department waiting times. He said modern technology would change the way health care was delivered over the next decade, through devices such as watches to transmit temperature and pulse rates to GPs, as well as an ultrasound device that could be used through a smartphone.
He also told stories of campaigning, including unsuccessfully trying to fend off a pitbull with a clipboard in his first election campaign in 1990. When he reported the bites to his predecessor, Ian McLean, Mr McLean responded "fantastic" and sent Mr Ryall off to milk it for coverage - getting him on the front page of the Herald.
Mr Ryall paid tribute to his closest friends from Parliament - Bill English, Nick Smith and Roger Sowry - saying although they had been close friends for years they could never work together because they never agreed on anything. "It's always two-two. And the two always varied."
The four entered Parliament in 1990 and came to be known as the "Brat Pack" because of their youth and friendship.
The public gallery was full for the valedictories of Mr Ryall, Phil Heatley, Paul Hutchison, Eric Roy and Shane Ardern.
• Entered Parliament in 1990 as MP for East Cape.
• Was in the "Brat Pack".
• Was one of four who organised Jenny Shipley's coup of Jim Bolger in 1997.
• Was first made a minister in 1997, portfolios included SOEs, Justice and State Services.
• Was given health portfolio in Opposition in 2005.
• Health Minister since 2008 and gained attention for his surprise visits to emergency departments to check on waiting times.