Dr Cullen’s Maiden Speech

A reader asked if a copy of Dr Cullen’s maiden speech could be located as it was not online. I put out a cry for help,and someone has found a copy, so enjoy:

New Zealand Parliamentary Debates 23 April 1982, vol. 443, p 441-446

23 April 1982 Address in Reply 441

Dr CULLEN (St. Kilda): I rise feeling like the elusive “scarlet pimpernel” of the Labour Party. Members opposite, or at least some of them, have worked themselves into a righteous lather of trembling indignation about the left-wing academics in the Labour Party. At last, the “one and only” has stood up to be counted. The previous Opposition maiden speakers are not academics by their immediate former profession. I am the first Opposition speaker to be so. Three Opposition members might be classed as academics, but I am not sure about their qualifications: the member for Christchurch Central is a lawyer, and therefore qualified to make an income outside—and that may be an automatic disqualification; and the member for Te Atatu and the member for Mt Albert taught at Auckland University, but as an Otago man I am not clear about their status as academics. When the compliments about left-wing academics are thrown across the House I shall be grateful if they are addressed to me personally and not spread around in an unwarranted fashion.

I affirm my loyalty to the Queen, and her heirs and successors, whoever they may be.

Mr East: And to your old school, Christ’s College.

Dr CULLEN: And to my old school, Christ’s College. I am proud of the fact that my secondary education was not paid for by the taxpayers of New Zealand but by the farmers of Canterbury and Hawke’s Bay. I ripped them off for 5 years then, and I shall get stuck into them again in the next few years, so the honourable member should not bring that subject up too often.

The rest is over the break.

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I congratulate you, Mr Speaker, on your re-election. I hope that you will have little cause to exercise certain of your powers toward me. Being a member of the Labour Party, I tend to live in hope rather than in expectation. As a historian I am reminded of that part of William Cobbett’s English Grammar in which he described nouns of number or multitude to include “Mob, Parliament, Rabble, House of Commons, Regiment, Court of King’s Bench, Den of Thieves, and the like”. I congratulate the new members who have made their maiden speeches; the mover and the seconder of the Address in Reply; the worthy successors to John Elliott and Colin McLachlan, the member for Whangarei and the member for Selwyn; and one or two other members whose speeches, thankfully, have escaped my memory. I particularly congratulate the new Opposition members. They have set an appallingly high standard for those who follow them, and I am not sure whether I shall measure up to that standard.

My maiden speech as the member for St. Kilda is notable in one respect, if no other— maiden speeches from Labour members for St. Kilda are infrequent events. That reflects the good sense of the people in the electorate. With the exception of a brief period between 1951 and 1957 when “battling” Jim Barnes was the member, the electorate, or its predecessor Dunedin South, has returned Labour members since 1931. Yet I am only the third Labour member. That fact has always proved to be a disappointment to the two minor political parties in Dunedin. The leader of one of the parties was so bold, at his party’s Otago-Southland divisional conference last year, as to guarantee that his party would win the St. Kilda seat in 1981. It was not so much a gravy train as a ghost train on the fast track that was supposed to win the party the seat. He did not, however, have sufficient confidence in his guarantee to accept my challenge to stand himself as the candidate for St. Kilda, and I deeply regret that fact.

I am very well aware of the fact that one major reason that the prediction proved false was the excellent service given by my predecessor the Hon. Bill Fraser. He was not one of the noisier or more outspoken members of the House. In that respect, we may well prove to be rather different representatives for the people of St. Kilda, but I shall be more than satisfied if I can manage a fraction of his dedication to the people, and his effectiveness in assisting them with their problems. Over the years, his dedication and effectiveness were rewarded with a gradual increase in his majority, to its peak in the Labour victory in 1972. With that victory, he at last had the opportunity to carry out some of his ideas about housing the people—ideas he had talked about so often inside and outside the Chamber. I am sure that all members of the House will join me in wishing him a long and happy retirement, and ‘the good health to wield a hammer for many years to come.

I pay tribute to all the people who worked hard for me over the long and arduous campaign. It was the most intensive campaign fought in the St. Kilda electorate for many years, being complicated by certain extraneous issues. Yet all those involved kept working to the end for the victory that properly belongs to them and not to me. I know that those people are ready to fight again at any time for the cause in which they believe, and in which I believe. I thank the National Party candidate, Mr Stewart Clark, for the clean and open campaign he fought and for his generous spirit in defeat.

I shall spend some time talking about my electorate—as Labour members have so few chances in their maiden speeches to talk about the electorate of St. Kilda, which is a very diverse and varied one. The small and fiercely independent borough from which it takes its name comprises about one-sixth of the population and no more than about one-twentieth of the area of the electorate. It fiercely fights off the irredentist ambitions of the Dunedin City Council. The electorate falls into three geographical parts, although it is not in fact Gaul: the western hills suburbs; the densely settled flats that include the only major centres of employment; and then, stretching away to the north-east, the Otago Peninsula, with its gentle bays and strong communities on the harbour side and its rugged beaches on the seaward side.

The peninsula is not merely a recreation area for Dunedin as a whole. With its many attractions it represents a large part of the underdeveloped tourist potential of the Dunedin area. This potential must not be ruined by foolish so-called development—development of the type represented by the possibility of extensive opencast mining for low-grade gold deposits—and I make my position on that perfectly clear. It is to be hoped that the mining company that holds rights over the peninsula will soon withdraw, and leave the area to more

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appropriate development in keeping with its character and charm.

It is surprising that, until the last year or two, not a great deal of attention was paid to our local tourist potential in Dunedin. Part of the explanation may be a not entirely misplaced sense of modesty about our climate, yet climate is only one factor in tourism. In Dunedin’s case, the human and architectural history of the city are major countervailing factors. What is required to develop Dunedin’s potential tourism is, as in other areas, a sense of self-reliance on the part of our business and community leaders. It is time for much of the rhetoric of free enterprise that spouts forth to be applied in practice.

Too much reliance has been placed on the hope that some saviour will appear from outside, suitably subsidised by the rest of the country. Well, the legs fell off the horses of the light-blue cavalry last seen charging to the rescue; and, to reverse the old nursery rhyme, I have a feeling that even Humpty Dumpty will not put those horses back together again. We now know better about where our strengths lie, and where our future lies. It is time for Dunedin to shake off its self-imposed image as a social and economic invalid.

Mr East: It needs a carpet factory!

Dr CULLEN: Indeed, it does need a carpet factory, which is a much more serious proposal than many others that floated around before the general election. As a city, Dunedin has been through a long time of troubles that have had many causes: old industries that could not survive for ever; old business families that were content to sit on their assets, and did not do too much good with their “brainets”, either; the snowball effect of the drift north robbing us of much of our talent; a failure to understand the true basis of urban prosperity in New Zealand, which rests upon a strong and wealthy hinterland; rapidly rising transport costs, the biggest complaint that local manufacturers come to me about—all these and other factors have led to a long relative decline that dates back a little more than 100 years.

In the past few years, that relative decline has become an absolute one. Between 1976 and 1981, Dunedin lost some 5000 people, which is a fearful haemorrhage made all the worse because it consisted largely of the young and the talented. When I was canvassing, I found the real clue to the reasons for those people leaving. Those missing young people were no longer to be found in Auckland but in Australia. The addresses were Perth, Melbourne, Adelaide, and Brisbane. In other words, they were not fleeing Dunedin because of Dunedin, but they were fleeing the National Government.

There are some signs of hope and of a new realism in my city, despite 6 years of fundamentally anti-Dunedin government. What has been achieved, and is being achieved, has been achieved by the people themselves. The Otago Regional Development Council continues its basic work, although I wish it were more representative of the community at large. The Dunedin Promotion Association has begun the long-overdue task of co­ordinating the sale of our tourist attractions. In and around Dunedin we are seeing signs of development in processing industries, and expansion in timber, wool, and hides. Industries of that type, growing out of an expanding resource base in Otago, will provide one of our economic mainstays in coming decades. All we need, and all we ask, is the right kind of encouragement, and a recognition of our true strengths and comparative advantages. We do not come begging to Wellington on our knees.

The power development on the Upper Clutha is the necessary pre-condition for large-scale irrigation projects. Multiple-use development of the Upper Clutha must not be surrendered in a headlong rush to create a power surplus that must then be sold off at well below cost, nor must it be surrendered to a fit of pique by the Minister of Works and Development. It is not a question of whether or not to think big; it is a question of actually thinking in the first place. When the Prime Minister referred to the sweat on the brow of members opposite I assumed that it came from the strain of the effort of trying to think, and I congratulate them on effort, if not achievement. Strutting in front of the mirror in foreign-made uniforms as economic supermen is no substitute at all for serious analysis of our economic problems or of possible projects, especially when those uniforms have all the substance of the emperor’s new clothes.

Our future in forestry, fishing, and certain types of horticulture is only just beginning to be explored. Central Otago has big lignite deposits largely free of the environmental problems associated with the Southland fields. My colleague the member for Dunedin North has referred to this already. Research into the use of those deposits must continue apace.

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Finally in this context I mention the future exploitation of the Chatham Rise phosphorite deposits. In the initial stages, exploitation will need to be accompanied by substantial marine research. As a base, it will require both a port and a centre of marine research. Only the Otago Harbour fulfils both those needs.

There is still much that central government must bear in mind. Over the next few years it can either support or destroy the slowly emerging confidence of the Dunedin area. Within my own electorate, it is crucial that the redevelopment of the Hillside railway workshops continues. Parts of the workshops are a disgrace, and I can only wonder at the skill and dedication of the men who still manage to produce excellent results out of them. They are an exercise in economic archaeology rather than in economic progress. The railways must remain the backbone of long-distance freight haulage, and that means a substantial programme of upgrading, as well as a programme of electrificiation, welcomed and supported by members on this side. New Zealand workers must take the lion’s share of the benefits of the programme, and that will be possible only if we proceed rapidly with the upgrading of our own workshops, Hillside among them. The real communist threat to jobs and livelihood comes more from Hungarian train-sets than it does from the Socialist Unity Party.

Equally, the Government must come to understand, as it seems not to understand at present, the importance of the health and education industries to Dunedin, and the value of those industries to the nation at large. I am sure that if the Minister of Trade and Industry stopped reading for a while he would care to support me in that matter. I shall be referring to the health and education industries at greater length later in the session.

I find inexplicable the present Government’s reluctance to accept and support the concept of centres of excellence with regard to those industries. In education, the issue is one of urgency. The University of Otago is staffed by many intelligent, responsible, and dedicated people, and some of those who teach there are not too bad, either. The university is crucial to the future of Dunedin. Although I began with somewhat jocular remarks about academics, I am saddened by the bitterness, resentment, sourness, mean-mindedness, and pettiness of the attacks upon academics and universities coming from the other side. I am sad for two reasons. I can speak only for myself—and I hope my parents are listening, if they can receive 2YA in Christchurch—but many people working in universities had parents who made great sacrifices to put them through a lengthy education. Members opposite demean the people who made those sacrifices, and they do something else as well. The universities represent a large portion of the accumulated knowledge, wisdom, traditions, and experience of our civilisation—and, indeed, of other civilisations. In making those petty, mean-minded attacks. Government members are demeaning the heritage of our civilisation. That is because they are scared of that heritage, but I shall return to that point later.

The role of the University of Otago is highly dependent on students from outside the region, who find travel costs increasingly prohibitive. That is the nub of the issue—the level of bursary payments, and particularly the problem of travel costs to get to the University of Otago. Perhaps it is not too late for the Minister of Education to recognise that fact, but, as I said, I live in hope rather than expectation.

The rebuilding of the polytechnic must go ahead along the lines of the plans already prepared. No cheap-jack solution threatening the essential integrity of the teachers college will be acceptable to the people of Otago and Southland—and that includes the people in six National-held electorates. All three institutions must survive as viable entities. On adjacent sites, they will provide the potential for new experiments in co-operation and joint development. Equally, the Government must recognise the fallacies embedded in the hospital boards’ funding reallocation system. If the Government, at least outside Auckland, wishes to embark upon a programme spreading mediocrity equally across the nation, it should proceed with its present plans. If it does not wish to do that it must look again, and provide the appropriate mechanisms to protect the Otago medical school. In 1981 Otago gave the National Party what it had often said it sought—two highly marginal seats. We will now watch with interest to see if the long-promised rewards are forthcoming. Otherwise, I suspect that there will be two marginal Labour seats in their place after the next election.

I am particularly pleased to be giving my maiden speech on this day, which, for the information of the member for Whangarei, is St. George’s Day. As we seek to establish our identity as a Pacific nation, this day serves to remind us of a number of things of significance.

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It reminds us, above all, that we are a nation of immigrants. No one in this land is descended from people who were here much more than 1000 years ago—a brief span in the long history of humankind. The large majority are descended from people who arrived in New Zealand not more than 150 years ago, and many of us—myself included, as well as some members opposite—are first-generation New Zealanders. Somebody with an acutely trained ear, for example, can just detect in the tones of the member for Clutha a faint hint of Caledonian accents. The member for Napier and I are founder-members of Parliament’s newest club, the Honourable Kipper Eaters Society. The member for Onehunga runs on a famous campaign slogan, “Wine producers of the world unite”. Many people in the House have links back to different civilisations and different ethnic traditions. That is what ‘makes us a rich and varied nation, and we should not be ashamed of that fact. It is very sad indeed to hear people attacking that part of our heritage in the House.

As a people, we therefore express in a very real sense the striving for betterment and the search for a better way of living that is such a common theme in human history. For us to retreat into either a peaceful or self-satisfied conservatism is to deny our very origins and the reasons for our being in this particular place. In so doing, we would destroy our identity as a people; we would cease to be citizens of a new nation and become pale imitations of the old, doomed to repeat the mistakes rather than develop the innate potential of our heritage.

There are signs that this is indeed one possible future for us. The failure to solve social and economic problems has led to a growing disillusionment with parliamentary democracy and any established forms of democracy. We are seeing around us the growth of extremist political movements that provide simple solutions to complex problems. Let us be clear that the most rapidly growing, well funded, and best organised of those movements are to be found at the extreme right-wing end of the political spectrum. Last year, for example, we saw the sudden emergence of the Tax Reform Integrity Movement, which was able to spend huge sums of money on a clever but dishonest political campaign—and in that particular instance I did riot hear members opposite cry, “Where is the money coming from?”. There is also the neo-fascist League of Rights and the New Force group, with their adherence to the ideas of Major Douglas. Those groups represent a far more serious threat to liberal democracy in New Zealand than those at the other extreme.

One of the major reasons they do so is because politicians, within the traditional framework, have foolishly prepared the ground for them. Their objects of hatred are all too familiar—an orchestrated litany of hate objects: trade unions, political activists on the left, foreigners, immigrants, academics, and the news media. We have heard those objects of hatred mentioned by members opposite one after the other during this debate. Already we have heard too many echoes of that strange modern New Zealand phenomenon, the self-pitying whine of the rich, and the insecure arrogance of those who know their abilities do not justify their wealth or power. It would be as well if some of the sorcerers’ apprentices in politics thought a little more before adding their treble voices to the chorus of hatred and intolerance.

I have come to the House representing a very different political tradition—a tradition of which St. George’s Day also serves to remind us. It is a tradition of radicalism, a tradition of individual liberty operating within an ethos of co-operation. That tradition is no fly-by-night affair, for it dates back some centuries to a time when Russia was a poverty-stricken, oriental despotism—not that much has changed—and the United States of America was not even thought of. Its first mass supporters were the artisans and craftsmen of England, and so it is a tradition of whose origins I am proud, and for which I shall never apologise to any member of the House. The message conveyed by that tradition is as relevant today and in this nation as it was more than 300 years ago in England, for it is a message concerned with human dignity and the liberation of the human spirit. It rejects the inherent right of one person to lord it over another. It is not a complicated message. It does not require the sophistry necessary for ideologies that seek to justify rampant greed in the name of the general good, or tyranny in the name of some higher purpose. In its simplest form it is summarised by a single remark in the constitutional debates that took place between the rank and file of the new model army of Oliver Cromwell and the generals, after King Charles I had been defeated. As a spokesman for the rank and file put it, “For really, I think that the poorest he that is in England has the right to live as the greatest he.” That simple remark represented then, and still represents, a turning upside down of the world view of conservatives

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everywhere. It is an affirmation of the essential dignity of all people, and it is of growing and not declining relevance to New Zealand. We are becoming a more unequal society in which the arrogant tones of privilege and condescension are to be heard more and more clearly. Those tones must be drowned out by the genuine New Zealand heritage, including the radical tradition to which I adhere.

We have still to house all our people decently, we have still to ensure adequate health care where and when needed, we have still to create genuine equality of educational opportunity, and we have still to provide jobs for all those ready and willing to work. We are also faced with a phase of rapid technological change that may either enslave or liberate. If we go down one path, the benefits will go to the few and the cost to the many. If we go down a different path, we will find a sharing of the benefits and the creation of greater leisure and freedom.

We are faced with a choice. One the one hand we have what is, in the short term, the easy option: let things happen as they will and acquiesce in the creation of social injustice and division—a choice never better summed up than by the kind of existential Pollyannaism of the maiden speech by the member for Waikato. On the other hand, there is the struggle to find justice and to realise a moral purpose in politics. The irony is that it is the path of struggle that will lead surely to peace, civility, and good order. The other path may well lead to chaos and confusion, and to the breakdown of all order. In a very real sense we on this side are the true conservatives.

The seventeenth century radical, raised in a stern religious tradition and guided by right reason, would not have found that choice a difficult one. As one of them put it: “Right reason shall and will endure for ever. It is that by which in all our actions we must stand or fall, be justified or condemned.” After 300 years it is not a bad guide for members of the House. It is certainly a good place to begin.

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