Not that it hasn’t been a privilege to serve the city where I was born and raised. I’m extraordinarily grateful for the lifetime of opportunities my life in politics has offered, and for the privilege of sharing in the lives of the people I have been honoured to represent.
I entered Parliament in 1990. It was a last minute entry to fill a candidacy for Christchurch Central when the then Prime Minister announced he was stepping down and not running again just two months short of the general election. He finished as Prime Minister on the 4th of September 1990 and I became the MP for Christchurch Central on the 27th of October. I only realised the significance of his retirement date and what happened 20 years later when preparing for this talk.
I looked back at my valedictory speech after 23 years’ service in Parliament. I took the opportunity to thank all the people who trusted me with their personal stories over the years. It is the best way to understand the impact of government policies and practices – and the best way to advocate for change. Nothing compares to personal stories. Even as a brand new Opposition MP, Minister would listen, and changes could be made.
I talked about my time as a Minister and the different portfolios I held. I talked about the Immigration portfolio that I loved. I still get approached by people who received their residency at this time, or for whom I intervened to exercise my Ministerial discretion. There is a personal connection that transcends time.
I remember when I was first appointed as the Minister of Commerce in 2002. A consultant sent a message out with comments on the new Cabinet – he said mine was the worst appointment – a left-wing trade unionist who knew nothing about business. He sent a photo a year later eating a piece of pie with the word “humble” decorating it.
There were highlights and lowlights. The lowlight of the Commerce portfolio was the collapse of the finance companies. It highlighted the need to have a helicopter view:
- The Reserve Bank was reporting on one aspect of the risk to the Minister of Finance but there was no threat to the money supply;
- The Securities Commission had concerns about them but had no authority to act;
- Market participants were expressing concern and;
- The media were being shut down by threats of legal action including defamation.
I was lucky to be able to work collaboratively with the Opposition Spokesperson. I think we can achieve a lot more when we work in a collaborative way without the politics of government/opposition.
Simon Power followed me as Minister of Commerce and I took over the Chair of the Commerce Select Committee. We worked together on completing the law reform programme for financial products and providers.
If I have learned anything over the past three decades, it is that party politics have no place to play in a post-crisis environment.
Nothing prepared me for the politics of the earthquake. I am not reflecting on the political issues that led my colleague, the late Jim Anderton to run for the Mayoralty in 2010, but if the election had been held a few weeks before it was, then Jim would have been the Mayor. I believe that would have made a significant difference to the state of the city in 2013 when I became Mayor.
I often remind people that the Council inherited:
- A Cost Sharing agreement that left the city exposed to massive financial risks;
- Insurance not settled;
- A three year plan that hid $400 million as savings to be found;
- Battles over the Town Hall and the Cathedral;
- Reneging on deals e.g. Tūranga
Regenerate Christchurch could have been brilliant but it wasn’t because the government set up its own urban development authority, Otākaro. The best approach would have been a single urban development authority with shares held by the Government and the Council and with them transferring over time – leaving us with a capability we still don’t have.
I believe there are lessons to be learned from our experience which means that this can never happen again:
- Start with what you have;
- Don’t start with something new;
- Don’t import a model that is not fully engaged with the local community;
- Value what the community has to offer.
From Welfare State to Resilient Nation is how I describe my journey of discovery.
In the nine years I have been Mayor we have had to confront floods, fires, a pandemic and the completely unimaginable horror of the March 15 terror attacks, in addition to the rebuild.
I am in awe of the capacity of communities to come together and offer support at times of crisis. I wish I had the solution as to how we make that the norm – how we live our everyday lives.