Farewelling the Clerk of the House

Some very nice tributes to retiring Clerk of the House Mary Harris:

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): I seek leave to move a motion without notice recognising the retirement of , the .

Mr SPEAKER : Is there any objection to that course of action being followed? There is none.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Well, we will ignore Mary, so there is no objection from anyone else. I move, That this House recognise the retirement of the Clerk of the House, Mary Harris, and put on record our appreciation and thanks for her years of service to . Mary was appointed Clerk in December 2007. She began her career in in 1987. Before coming to , she worked for the Department of Statistics, producing the labour force statistics in the household labour force survey – team. She was a professional violinist, captained the Wellington women’s cricket team from 1982 to 1986, and was vice-captain of the international 11 in the 1982 Cricket World Cup in Christchurch. She taught Brendon McCullum everything he knows.

I never knew Mary was a top cricketer.

Since Mary became Clerk in 2007 she has served three Speakers—Margaret Wilson, Lockwood Smith, and yourself, sir—all of whom speak very highly of her work and the leadership she has shown, in particular her focus on working with the Parliamentary Service to achieve common goals in the service of Parliament and parliamentarians. Mary’s last day is on Thursday, and I understand that she will be spending some time after that cycling around Italy before returning to build a new home in Ōtaki Forks and to focus on honing her goal of becoming an expert fisher. I know that we all wish her well for retirement, and that we look forward to a booty of great smoked fish being delivered to Parliament and tabled when we can at the next opportunity.

The role of the Clerk is a key one in Parliament. They need to have the trust and respect of basically every MP. They are the most neutral of officials.

Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour): I am pleased, on behalf of the Labour Opposition, to support the Prime Minister’s motion on the retirement of Mary Harris, Clerk of the House. Thank you, Mary, for your years of service to our Parliament—28 of them, starting in 1987. Your experience, as the Prime Minister said, has been in most sections of the Office of the Clerk, from the Hansard Office to select committees to the Deputy Clerk of the House, and then 7 years as the Clerk. Some of us were here under the previous Clerk, Dave McGee, who was considered the foremost authority on the workings of a Westminster parliament. They were always going to be big shoes to fill, Mary, but you have filled those shoes, and perhaps your preparation for facing the googlies of this place came from the fact that you were in the 1982 Women’s Cricket World Cup, averaging 41 runs in that match against our old adversary Australia. I am told that Mary is a right-handed batswoman, and that is the only time that she has shown preference between the right and the left.

Mary is our first woman Clerk and our first non-lawyer as a Clerk, and she has led the House through a great period of change, particularly technological change, with the e-committees. Some of us are still getting to grips with those changes, Mary. She embraced change, but not at the expense of Parliament’s enduring values. She has shown a strong commitment to finding new ways for Parliament to be open and accessible to the people who elect it, and we are the better for it. With Mary’s guidance there have been some important changes in the procedures for the smooth running of the House, such as extended sittings. Under her leadership, the Office of the Clerk has been described as a “little gem”—I think that is probably a pretty good description of Mary herself, actually.

MPs have come to regard her as an impeccable and impartial source of advice, and, like her predecessor, she too is now widely respected in Parliaments around the world. For example, Westminster, the home of our type of parliament, sought her opinion on their governance arrangements earlier this year.

High praise.

Hon PETER DUNNE (Leader—United Future): I want to share the sentiments expressed by others in tribute to Mary for all that she has achieved as our Clerk over the last 8 years, and the 20-odd years beforehand that she was a servant of this Parliament. I have often thought that there are a couple of essential attributes that a good Clerk requires. One is an absolute poker-face—to be able to listen to all of the debates in this Chamber, absorb their content so that the Speaker can be advised to make appropriate rulings, but never, ever betray a hint of prejudice or interest one way or the other in the course that the debate is taking. Mary, over the years you have proved to be absolutely inscrutable in that regard, and I think it is a tribute to your professionalism, your impartiality, and your skill that at a time when passions have mounted greatly in this House you have been often the one calm voice of order amongst us, so thank you for that.

I would be a very bad Clerk as my facial expressions would give away what I thought of what MPs are saying!

The House has been served very well by its Clerks. I also wish Mary well. I hope she has forgiven me for the several hundred amendments I authored and delivered to the Table Office during the Employment Relations Bill committee stage in 2000 when she was the Clerk-Assistant there 🙂