I was privileged to be elected by my caucus to Cabinet in 1984 at the tender age of 31 years, which I think still makes me the youngest Cabinet Minister in New Zealand’s political history.
I think he is overlooking Deborah Morris, who became a Cabinet Minister at age 26 off memory.
Education was a challenging portfolio for all of those Ministers who have carried it out. I remember this cartoon. I inherited it from David Lange. It had David Lange floating down serenely on a parachute and had me plunging to the ground with this lead weight around my leg, called education. And David is calling “How’s the portfolio going, Phil?
One of the small changes that I made, looking back at my colleague who was also a Minister of Education, was the Education Amendment Bill in 1989. We enabled public institutions to take on international fee-paying students. It was not, Trevor, always the popular decision with all of my colleagues and with the education establishment. It was going to ruin education, I was told. International education today is a $3 billion enterprise that employs highly skilled people at high rates of pay, and again I was proud to be part of the group that made that change.
Strangely he does not mention his most significant educational reform – introducing fees for tertiary students. A policy he is now against today.
I was later privileged to become Minister of Defence. In that role, I was aware that, one day, I might have to explain to parents that their son or daughter had died in their country’s service. Sadly, the first New Zealander to die in Afghanistan was my nephew Matthew, who was serving with the 173rd airborne division of the American Army. Our family still keenly feels that loss 9 years on.
I pay tribute to David Walker, who was my chief negotiator on the China free-trade talks. That was an amazing deal, to get the first free-trade agreement that any developed country had with China, and, Prime Minister, I think that that helped us immensely with the trebling of our exports, and that helped us not to sink into the severe recession that we might otherwise have suffered from.
It was Goff’s greatest achievement. Very sad to see Labour turn their back on free trade now. Goff was the only Labour MP to back TPP.