John Key gave his valedictory speech to Parliament yesterday, after just over 14 years as an MP. He became a front bencher and Finance spokesperson in his first term in Parliament and party leader in his second term. He spent 10 years as party leader and eight as Prime Minister and left National polling in the high 40s.
It was a funny, and at times poignant speech. He paid tribute to his mother Ruth, who was so hugely influential in shaping him. Some extracts:
While I was at high school, I had a weekend job in some stables. I remember coming home one day at the age of 15 to tell Mum I had this brilliant idea: I was leaving school to train racehorses. “No.”, she said. “Shall we talk about it?”, I enquired. “No.”, she said. “Not even the pros and cons?”, I suggested. “No,”—she said—”you’re going to university to study accounting.” That was it. To Mum, no meant no. I do not think she would have lasted very long in coalition Government
By nature, I am a pragmatist, not an ideologue. That is because, in my experience, most people just want results that work. Some people have said that my pragmatism indicates the lack of a clear set of principles. I do not think that is true. It is just that my principles derive mostly from the values and ethics instilled in me by my upbringing, rather than by the “Politics 101” textbook.
A lesson others could reflect on.
When I first came here, like all of us, I was an eager backbencher with much to learn. I remember walking out of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee with Roger Sowry, who was an experienced MP, and so I started asking him a million questions. He gave me what I thought was great advice. “John,” he said, “every moment you get, go to the House and watch the politicians who are good in the Chamber—not necessarily the ones you agree with or whom you want to be friends with, but those who can move the place with the power of their argument. Don’t stay in your office or go drinking. You are here to learn.” It was good advice, and I followed it, so every chance I had I came down and watched Michael Cullen, Richard Prebble, Winston Peters, Rodney Hide, Bill English, Simon Power, and Gerry Brownlee. Roger also gave me another lesson in the peculiarities of the place when he added, in the very next breath: “And by the way, John, just because I talk to you, it doesn’t mean I like you.”
That is such a Sowry thing to say!
One time, I was at the Pacific Forum in the Marshall Islands, and when the summit finished, we had some downtime before leaving, so I hatched a plan to go tuna fishing. The trouble was I was due to get an important phone call from the then British Prime Minister, my friend David Cameron, about the atrocities taking place in Libya and to talk about why Britain was taking military action. “No worries,” someone said, “we have the satellite phone.” So we headed out to sea, and just as I had hooked a big one and was hauling it on board, the phone rang. I handed the rod to my diplomatic protection officer, who found some implement to finish off the tuna, which was flapping mightily in the boat. It is fair to say there was a huge amount of noise in the background, and Cameron, who was used to taking calls on secure phones and in a quiet office, said to me: “What the hell is going on there?”. “Oh,” I said, “don’t be alarmed. It’s just that we’re on a fishing boat about a mile out to sea in the Marshall Islands, and I’ve landed a big tuna.” There was this long silence, and then he wistfully said: “God, I wish I ran a small country.”
This is the line that got the most laughs.
I will also never forget the Pike River mine disaster. As the full gravity of the situation became clear, I flew to Greymouth. The impact that event had, and continues to have, on the small community of the West Coast is profound. It also had a far-reaching impact on New Zealand’s workplace health and safety laws. No one should leave home to go to work and never return.
One thing that maybe is not well known is that 5 days after the initial explosion the Mines Rescue Trust had decided it was safe to re-enter the mine. That Wednesday, I was receiving regular briefings on the planned re-entry, so when the phone rang I thought it was to inform me they had gone in. Instead, I learnt that a massive explosion had occurred. Had those rescuers been in the mine, they too would have perished. Let me say to those families directly affected by the disaster that I sincerely wish you could have been provided with the closure you deserve, but I can honestly say I never, in my time as Prime Minister, saw a credible and safe plan to achieve that.
A few people should reflect on that.
The truth is that my confidence in the air force and the SAS grew so much that late last year I decided to tag along on an SAS training day to do a parachute jump from Whenuapai, in my electorate. Needless to say, my office was a touch nervous about the jump, and the kitchen cabinet did not find out until the day before. Anyway, I jumped from 12,000 feet, and sometime after 7 a.m., when I was on the ground again, I rang Bronagh, buzzing with excitement, to declare I was alive and well. I then texted Bill English. I kept it short. “I’m alive.”, I said. His reply was even shorter: “Bugger!”. One minute later, I got another text from him: “Going to give it another go?”.
For example, the first death threat I got as Prime Minister, and I kid you not—one of those milestones that goes with the job—was from a not-very-bright guy who faxed it from his house, not realising his phone number was on the fax. I think my secretary had solved it before the DPS even got to her.
And so, Mr Speaker, my time here is done. I take away many memories of this most remarkable place. I would like to think I leave having made a positive difference to the country, and that is satisfying. I have few regrets in my life, but one is that Mum did not live to see how it all turned out. I hope that she would have been proud.
I have no doubt of that.
So that is it. It has been a privilege, an honour, and a blast. Goodbye, and good luck.
And thanks for all the fish.