Me: Yay, it’s my maiden speech day.
6y/o: Will there be maids helping you Mum?
Me: No, bit junior for that.
6 y/o: But will you wear a princess dress?
Me: Er, no, sorry darling.
6 y/o: Don’t worry Mum, I’ll clap for you anyway.#truefan
— Nicola Willis (@NicolaWillisMP) May 1, 2018
It was an excellent speech, well worth reading in full. Some extracts:
Having worked jobs selling clothes, shoes, and bagels, I was incredibly fortunate to land a role as a researcher, working with then Opposition education spokesman, Bill English. Bill taught me that politics is not about personal ambition; it is about making a difference for people. I look up to Bill, not only as a political mentor, but as proof that juggling multiple children is compatible with a successful life in Parliament.
I went on to work for Sir John Key, whose infectious enthusiasm, respect for all, and sheer intelligence had a profoundly positive impact on our country. Thank you, Sir John, for your support, your belief in me, and your constant ribbing.
Sir John was the MC for Nicola’s after match function. He would have enjoyed this exchange:
Wonderful to have so many colleagues, friends and family members in Parliament for my maiden yesterday. Our five-year old had a good chat with John Key who asked if he remembered him “Yes, I know you, you used to work for Mummy” 😂 https://t.co/VpJw2bSSkl
— Nicola Willis (@NicolaWillisMP) May 3, 2018
Anyway back to the speech:
Economic growth ensures New Zealanders can have better jobs, better incomes, and aspirations for their children’s futures. It doesn’t just happen. We must back our risk takers, innovators, and entrepreneurs who put their capital and livelihoods on the line to produce a product, idea, or new way of doing things. We must back the hard workers, those who go the extra mile, who toil day in day out to make progress for themselves and their families: the dairy owner who works 12 hours a day six days a week with one week off at Christmas; the student who holds down two part-time jobs; the cleaners working night shift; our social entrepreneurs; the single mum who starts an online business, picking up her laptop the minute her daughter is asleep, sacrificing rest for the chance of a better future—these people are the best of us. It is their efforts that will ensure New Zealand gets better and better. The Government can too easily take their effort for granted or, worse, invoke the politics of envy against them.
Or treat them as a cash cow with tax increases.
My desire to better understand business led me to work for our largest cooperative. I wanted to experience the reality of managing a bottom line, of selling New Zealand’s products to the world, and striving to maximise their value. Fonterra opened my eyes. I saw our country from new perspectives: from high-rises in Shanghai, trade offices in Jakarta, and a factory floor in Columbo. I saw that New Zealand has so much more to gain from embracing trade than we do from fearing it. We must remain open to the world, its markets, and its people. Best of all, I got to walk in gumboots alongside Kiwi farmers, who know that nobody owes them a living, who go out each day rain or shine, high milk price or low, to earn their way in the world. These men and women share my view that New Zealand’s land and water are taonga for which we are stewards. Farmers should be respected as a partner in the vital environmental work New Zealand has before it, to combat climate change, to clean our rivers, and to protect our biodiversity.
In other words don’t treat farmers as the enemy.
I’m hugely fortunate to have married Duncan. He understands that caregiving is a responsibility and a privilege to be divided according to circumstances and not gender. He has again and again made sacrifices to further my dreams. We are parents to four beautiful children aged eight, six, five, and two: James, Harriet, Reuben, and Gloria—that’s you, darlings.
I remember our excitement and confidence when I first became pregnant. We read all the books, drafted sleep schedules, and planned an infancy of structured excellence. Then our son arrived, and he seemed determined not to adhere to our plans in any way at all. Each of our children has continued to confound us like this. This imperfection has been a gift to me. It has taught me that much is beyond our individual control, that plans only take you so far, and that the messy bits in life can be a source of joy. Parenting has deepened my well of empathy and helped me understand that sometimes sugary treats, takeaways, cartoons, and disposable nappies are the keys to sanity.
As a new parent myself I could absolutely relate to this. All your plans just go out the window. We look back and laugh at the difference between what we thought it would be like, and the reality. It’s great but damn challenging.
I will not be a Government-knows-best politician, because I know just how imperfect family life is. I’ve had the fortune of parenting with the support of a village and the means to fill our supermarket trolley, heat our bedrooms, and buy ever bigger shoes. Even with all that support, parenting is sometimes a tough gig. There is no getting away from the broken sleep, the tantrums, the hospital visits, the worry, and the heartache. I respect the many Kiwis who day in day out do the hard work of parenting well, without fanfare, and often in difficult circumstances. It is time we did more as MPs to honour and support the work of Kiwi parents. They are the heroes of New Zealand’s homes. Too often, our public institutions and services ignore the realities and demands of modern family life.
Why is it that in a country of working parents we have 12 weeks of school holidays, which leave many families stressed and scrambling for childcare? Why is it we can’t access our children’s medical and education records online? Why when some parents choose to work an extra shift or take a promotion do they end up financially penalised by the blowback of childcare costs, tax hikes, and loss of tax credits? Why do we so seldom acknowledge those who forego paid employment to care for their children and contribute to their community? And why don’t we better target investment at those crucial first 1,000 days in a child’s life?
Would be far better to spend more on early childhood education than giving future lawyers and doctors free fees.
We should put whānau and family at the heart of policy. Let me be clear, families come in all shapes and sizes: one parent, two-parent, four, grandparents as caregivers, blended, gay, married, not married, adopted, whāngai—I am not concerned by the form a family takes but by the function it performs. What matters is the strength of the bonds, the shared values, the getting up at 2 a.m. to change the nappy or give the feed, cheering on at assembly and from the sidelines, asking the questions when progress stalls at school, and providing the comforting words when worries loom large at night—support, belonging, unconditional love.
Politics is not just about the what; it is about the how. We do our best as leaders when we listen well, when we treat each other with civility, and when we bring people together, not when we drive them apart. Duncan and I have taught our kids that my political opponents are good people. They share a motivation to make this country better, but have different ideas about how to achieve it.
The vast majority of MPs are motivated by a desire to help improve things. We can disagree strongly on policies, but not end up in the US with a growing chasm between supporters.