Dunedin MP Clark recalls career, warts and all, in valedictory

Yesterday, three years late, Dunedin MP David Clark finally delivered on a broken promise.

"To my wife Katrina," he told Parliament during his valedictory speech.

"When I first ran for Parliament in 2011, we agreed to nine years of parliamentary service, but it has been 12. I’ve stretched that agreement far enough.

"You have sacrificed much in your career, as I pursued this life of service. You have stood by me in good times and in hard times. I love you and I’m coming home."

Dr Clark, the Labour MP for Dunedin for a dozen years, has had a rollercoaster ride during his time in Parliament and he traversed the good, the bad and the ugly during an entertaining review of his political career.

After two terms in Opposition, Labour was elected and Dr Clark took office as Minister of Health, little realising a pandemic was about to make one of the toughest Cabinet portfolios even harder.

David Clark, Labour MP for Dunedin, giving his valedictory speech in Parliament yesterday. PHOTO:...
David Clark, Labour MP for Dunedin, giving his valedictory speech in Parliament yesterday. PHOTO: PARLIAMENT TV
After a tumultuous few months, during which he was severely criticised for breaching Covid-19 restrictions, his resignation from the portfolio was accepted.

"During Covid, official advice changed very day to reflect emerging science. I remain extremely grateful for the prime minister’s support of the health measures I proposed early on," Dr Clark said.

"I won’t dwell too much on the ups and downs of being health minister No 40 during the Covid period. Much of that has been more - or less - well-documented in the media.

"I did not much enjoy returning to the back benches. I loved health as a portfolio and had greatly enjoyed working with one of the smartest and most decent people I know, Grant Robertson, as his associate in the finance portfolio."

In 2020, after Labour was re-elected, Dr Clark returned to the Cabinet in a range of portfolios.

He said that he had been surprised to find that the digital economy - and the threats of cyber attacks in particular - had been what had given him many sleepless nights.

"We need to find a way to declassify more restricted reports, so more Kiwis have a real sense of the real threats to our country and democracy.

"Like many other countries, New Zealand is woefully underprepared for the world we find ourselves in."

Watch valedictory speech in full

Dr Clark said he was also proud of creating "world-leading" legislation to tackle the lack of competition in the grocery sector and an overhaul of the Statistics Act.

He also highlighted three issues in his local patch he felt had been positive changes for Dunedin: saving Invermay, creating the Centre of Digital Excellence, and securing the funding for the new Dunedin hospital.

"Very few ministers get to lead a project worth more than $1 billion in their local community. It was a deeply satisfying victory by the community, for the community."

At the end of his speech Dr Clark paid tribute to his three children, getting his biggest laugh when saying that now there would be plenty of time for bike rides.

"Kids, I’m looking forward to finally taking that advice you gave me at so many school fairs and other community events: ‘Dadda - no talking, just walking’."

mike.houlahan@odt.co.nz , Political editor