Maiden speech from Clare Curran

Tena koutou, koutou te kahui torangapu o Aotearoa me Te Waipounamu.

Tena koe hoki e te mana whakawaa o te whare nei. He kupu whakamihi tenei no roto mai i te awa o Otakou me ona wahapu ki a koutou e noho nei ki te waha o te ika. Tena koutou, tena hoki tatou katoa.

I dedicate this speech to my grandmothers; Ellen Kinney and Peg Thompson, two strong willed, but compassionate women who would be proud, if somewhat astounded to see me standing here today.

I want to talk about honesty, aspiration and community. I stand here a New Zealander, a union member, a member of the Labour Party, a mother, and, until very recently, the owner of a small business.

I acknowledge Maori as tangata whenua and the importance of the Treaty of Waitangi.

I thank the people of Dunedin South for putting their trust in me to represent them as their member of parliament.

I thank all the volunteers, supporters and members of the NZ Labour Party who worked tirelessly on the campaign to win Dunedin South. You are the bedrock of our party.

I warmly acknowledge Pete Hodgson MP for Dunedin North and David Parker who imparted to me much wisdom in my journey this year. And Mike Woodhouse, the new Dunedin National List MP. I hope we will all work together constructively for our city.

As the first Labour woman to hold the seat of Dunedin South - I pay tribute to all the people who have come to this House before me to represent Dunedin South and St Kilda in its various forms.

David Benson-Pope, who has worked hard for the community and the Labour Party. It's been a hard few years for David, and his family. I wish them well. Before him were the inimitable Dr Michael Cullen, Bill Fraser, James Barnes and Fred Jones.

Dunedin South electorate has a long and proud history. For decades it's been a safe Labour seat and it remains a safe Labour seat. We are a staunch and steady lot.

From the working-class suburbs of South Dunedin, Caversham and St Kilda, to Green Island, Fairfield, Brighton and Mosgiel, from the lush Taieri Plains to the Lammermoor Range, and Graeme Sydney's Maniototo up to Middlemarch and Hyde which includes the beginning of the Otago Central Rail Trail and the historic Taieri Gorge Railway.

The glorious coastline of St Clair and St Kilda, and the Otago Peninsula, home to some of the rarest wildlife in the world, and my home too.

I am a passionate Dunedinite. I was born in Wainuiomata but grew up in Dunedin. Like many New Zealanders, I went away to see the world, and was gone for a long time.

Six years ago I uprooted my Australian partner and two little boys from Melbourne to return to Dunedin, the best decision we ever made. There is something special about Dunedin.

We are innovative, we are edgy, we manifest the can-do attitude of New Zealanders and the stoic nature of our early settlers to take whatever life offers and make the best of it. And we do make the best of it. Every day.

Dunedin, particularly South Dunedin, can claim to have nurtured many of our most creative and talented people. Janet Frame, James K Baxter both hailed from Dunedin South along with a myriad of other writers, painters, poets, sportspeople and musicians.

But for many in Dunedin South - the low-paid and pensioners - life is hard. Seventy per cent of people over 15 have an income of $40,000 a year or less. I'm here to make sure their voices are heard.

I was raised in a Catholic household to do the best you can for yourself, for society and the people around you. I hail from mostly peasant Irish stock.

My father Kinney worked in the Justice Department, and from him I learnt the values that underpin the civil service - behaving ethically, taking responsibility for your actions and doing the right thing.

My mother, Shirley, taught me with her strength and tireless commitment to voluntary work the difference between right and wrong and to always try my best.

At St Dominics College in Dunedin (which has produced two Labour MPs, Marian Hobbs, and me), I was one of "those" catholic girls who questioned everything, pushed boundaries, but ultimately took away strong principles of social justice and fighting to redress disadvantage. And inner strength. I pay tribute to the principal Sister Albert who instilled in me a sense of fairness and dignity.

I am not a practising Catholic, but I draw strength from the collective spirit, fellowship and the underlying values of Catholicism and many other faiths.

My faith is in the ability of people to act together to do good. A belief in the importance of all people having a voice, whatever their background. Faith in the principles of community.

Becoming an MP wasn't a pathway I mapped out for myself but rather a combination of circumstances, timing and my readiness.

Almost my entire working life I've been driven to work on issues that affect working people and the disadvantaged.

Motivated by a resolve to fight injustice, and I hope I always will be. My first political act was to protest against the Springbok Tour in 1981. I clearly recall what apartheid meant for our country at that time and I know where I stood on that issue.

But being a mother is by far my greatest motivation. The responsibility of bringing up two little people has made me focus on what I really believe and examine my values. As my children have grown, that drive has grown stronger.

I stand here today because of what I believe, and because I am committed to doing something about what I believe.

Shouldn't we, as a nation, want more people who truly reflect our community to stand up for what they believe? It worries me that so many are disinterested and turned off by politics.

Why? One reason is they fear what might happen to them. That they'll be exposed to unsustainable public scrutiny.

Of course people standing for office should be accountable. But none of us, including me, is without blemish.

One of the biggest tasks ahead is to restore faith in politics and politicians. I believe politicians of all parties have lost touch with the public we are trying to serve. It's not confined to New Zealand, but it is up to us to do something about it.

How many of us have struck the repeated refrain from our constituents that politics is a joke, all politicians are as bad as each other, that the contest of politics is more important than the issues?

In this latest election, more than 20 per cent of registered voters didn't vote, and in the Maori seats, 35 to 40 per cent didn't vote.

Is it good enough to accept that perception is the inevitable reality? No it's not! It's time for a new politic, a new way of engaging, out of which emerges greater participation and faith in politics.

We start by listening to the people around us, taking them with us. The real politic occurs in the collective beliefs and actions of people in their communities.

And maybe it's time to consider making voting compulsory, as it is in Australia. The ancient Greeks, who gave birth to democracy, held that it was every citizen's duty to participate in decision-making. Let's have the discussion.

I spent the 1990s in Australia, and witnessed the rise of the Howard Government, a period of great internal upheaval, the rise of economic rationalism and shift to social conservatism.

A period characterised by attempts to silence the voices of many people and make fear and negativity the currency of the day. Where "so-called choice" for working people meant taking away their rights, new immigrants were placed in detention, indigenous people marginalised, crime used as weapon to drive through draconian laws.

This was when I learnt about the politics of dishonesty. And the politics of fear.

I don't want those sort of politics to emerge in New Zealand.

I'm in the Labour Party because it is committed to transparency; it does have values of decency, fairness and honesty at its core.
I want to articulate a vision that is greater than one of individual aspiration.

I do believe in aspiration, that all of us should have the best opportunities in life and be encouraged to get ahead. But getting ahead isn't just about material wealth, not just about individuals.

Doing well is about fulfilling your potential. But it's also about caring for the people around you, whether they're your family, whanau, or community. We're in this House today because we aspire. But I hope it's not just aspiration for our own personal ambitions, that it's aspiration for all New Zealanders.

Above all, I believe in community. Community is at the heart of what Labour means. With strong communities, you have social cohesion. You have people feeling connected, settled, being able to look outwards to what they can achieve.

I believe in a society where children are at the core of all policy decisions. Where addressing the causes of child poverty is at the forefront of all that we do.

Children are our future. They need the best environment to grow up in, and strong safe communities.

I also care passionately about our country's natural values and the importance of preserving them for the future. For me it's about the people and the planet. You can't have one without the other and it's the huge challenge of our time to reconcile the two.

It's a travesty this government does not consider it a priority to invest in a low cost means to make houses warm and dry. I think of the houses where small children are constantly sick with asthma and other respiratory conditions.

I think of the woman I spoke to on the doorstep of her un-insulated South Dunedin flat in mid-winter who did not get out of bed before midday because she couldn't afford to heat her home. Her story is common across South Dunedin. What a difference warm and dry houses would make to their lives.

In Dunedin there are 40,000 residential dwellings built before 1978 insulation standards, many of which need urgent attention.
Under Labour, the billion dollar energy efficiency fund canned by the National Government would have assisted families make their homes warmer, drier, healthier, reduced their power bills, saved energy and reduced carbon emissions.

Numerous speakers in the House this week have referred to this critical issue. I ask all members to press for an investment in insulation and heating of housing across New Zealand. We have the means to do it. Don't ditch this policy.

And I believe rail is an extremely important part of our future. It was the right decision to buy it back. I hope this Government will invest in Kiwirail, and acknowledge that integrated public transport is essential for economic growth and to reduce our carbon emissions. Getting more cars and trucks off roads is a public good.

I worked for 20 years in the communications industry. I started off as a journalist, and moved into public relations. I've worked in Australia and New Zealand, largely in the private sector.

I've run my own business for the last six years. I understand that small business is the backbone of our country. I also understand the importance of balance and fairness in the relationship between employers and employees to drive productivity.

Introducing a law that allows employers to fire workers at will in the first 90 days isn't about fairness. It's about exploitation and will create insecurity.

Instead of taking rights and protections away from ordinary people, we should create new opportunities. Let's use information technology to punch above our weight and drive economic growth.

Already, 1.5m New Zealanders are connected to the internet, a third of our workforce does at least some work from home, and there are 200,000 home-based businesses.

We need to pay more attention to building strong communities that provide people with better choices: the ability to work flexibly, live in well resourced communities with strong public transport links and good quality housing.

Mr Speaker, along with some other Labour colleagues, I too support a republic. For us to become a truly independent nation. The time is right for a public conversation about this important issue.

And we urgently need to openly discuss the role of government in our lives. National and Act say less, not more, get out of people's lives, private sector investment is more important than state investment.

Contrary to these views, I believe that most people look to government for stability, security, support, leadership and action. And for strong public services.

The 5th Labour government fulfilled those things and will be judged by history to have been a very good government, a strong and wise government.

I want to pay tribute to two important people in this Parliament, and in the lives of all NZers.

Helen Clark is the role model for generations of NZers. She embodies leadership, inner strength, courage and determination. She has kept our party strong and placed New Zealand high on the international stage.

Michael Cullen has made a huge contribution to our party's thinking, and to the shape of our country. A Finance Minister who took the tough calls and protected our future. His humour, sparkle and eloquence are not matched in this Parliament.

I look forward to serving under the able and energetic leadership of Phil Goff and Annette King, and to working with and learning from my caucus colleagues.

In closing, I pay tribute to my parents, Kinney and Shirley, who are here today. To my sisters, Judith and Katherine, you have always stood alongside me and from whom I draw inspiration.

To my little family. To Doug Lilly, my partner, my friend. We embarked on this journey together and I could not do it without you.

My two boys. Callum and Riley Curran, you are the most important people in my life. You are the future. You are the reason I'm here in this place, but your welfare will always be my first priority. I may be an MP, but I'm always your mum.

And finally to the people of Dunedin South. You will be my touchstone and my backbone. I will do my best to listen to you, involve you and endeavour to work with you to restore your faith in politics, strive to make opportunities for you to fulfil your potential and make our communities strong.

E aku rahi, e aku iti, koutou i areare taringa mai ki toku whaikupu tuatahi. Tena koutou katoa, ka huri.

 

 

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