Farewell speech emphasises need for compassion

An emptional Bill English is applauded after delivering his valedictory speech in Parliament...
An emptional Bill English is applauded after delivering his valedictory speech in Parliament yesterday. Photo: Getty Images

Former prime minister Bill English has marked the end of his 27-year career in Parliament with a valedictory speech laced with cheerful anecdotes and a message about the importance of compassion.

His 45-minute speech to a packed debating chamber and its public galleries yesterday ranged over his early life in Dipton to the rigours of politics in opposition and in government.

His wife, Mary, and their six children were there to hear it.

As prime minister and before that finance minister, Mr English made social investment his strongest focus, and he explained why.

He cited the case of a solo mum with a disabled child who visited 23 agencies in two weeks, and in her account of her experience said: "There was one who treated me with respect, knew my story, helped me, gave me a cup of coffee. It was Instant Finance.''

That made a great impression on Mr English, and he explained why.

"We are getting outdone on compassion by people who charge 37% a week,'' he said.

"That's telling, and if there's anything I want to leave as a lesson here it's the dangerous complacency of good intentions - there's too much of it, that somehow if you say you mean well that is going to make a difference.

"Actually, it can cause damage.

"The services we provide are not about us. The only measure of it is whether it changes their lives, whether we reduce the misery. We have a system built, still, too much on servicing that misery.''

In lighter moments he talked about how he was very nearly too late filing his nomination papers when he stood for Parliament for the first time, his Fight for Life boxing match, which he said had taught him how to stay composed while taking punches, and the times when Sir John Key was prime minister.

"Under John Key it was a pleasure to go to work every day,'' he said.

"He was almost as good as he said he was some days.''

Sir John was not in Parliament to hear that.

Mr English said that on March 13 it would be 10,000 days since he entered Parliament, and there was a benefit to that: "You get to know a lot of people who aren't your friends.''

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