Canterbury MP's revealing and personal maiden speech

James Meager’s experience as part-Māori, growing up poor, and hailing from a family of freezing workers proves left-wing parties aren’t the sole authority of New Zealand’s marginalised communities, the National MP claims.

Meager, elected by the Rangitata electorate, has delivered a boldly personal maiden statement in the House yesterday afternoon as the first MP of the new Government to give his first address in the House.

The speech canvassed Meager’s, at times, challenging upbringing in Timaru with a father of Ngāi Tahu ancestry who worked 40 years in the freezing works after leaving school at 15, and a mother who held down multiple jobs while she raised Meager and his two siblings on her own.

“I know what it’s like to have your very first memory be of the police trying to coax you to come out from under the bed, telling you that everything would be okay.”

Meager insisted he and his siblings never went without and had “a great life”. However, he spoke of a complicated relationship with his father who “wasn’t around much growing up”, but was in the audience today in what was his first visit to the North Island.

“That’s put a strain on our relationship which has never healed and which may never heal. But I don’t blame him for that.

“We are the products of our upbringing, we navigate through the world with the tools that we are given, and sometimes those tools just aren’t fit for purpose.

“I know my Dad is making up for lost time. I’m so glad he’s here today and I love him dearly.”

James Meager was Timaru Boys' High School head boy and dux. Photo: Mark Mitchell
James Meager was Timaru Boys' High School head boy and dux. Photo: Mark Mitchell
Meager did briefly mention his own flaws without much detail. It’s likely a reference to his former relationship with alcohol and his personality while at university which he described in a 2022 Stuff article as “loud-mouthed, obnoxious and opinionated”.

Much of his speech paid testament to the efforts of his mother who, as a “single mum in a state house on the benefit” with “steel in her bones and grit in her soul”, ensured her three children were always fed, clothed and understood the importance of education - something that helped Meager become head boy and dux at Timaru Boys’ High School.

Meager railed against the suggestion that he was a “walking contradiction” - a part-Māori boy growing up poor who was now a National MP in a rural farming electorate - before taking aim at Labour, the Greens and Te Pāti Māori.

“Members opposite do not own Māori. Members opposite do not own the poor. Members opposite do not own the workers.

“We on this side of the House are a broad church. Town and country, liberal and conservative, old and young, professionals and workers.”

He shifted to promoting themes of personal responsibility and limited government.

“It’s not the state that saved my family, it was my Mum.

“Our system should be one which helps pick us up when we fall, but which then gets out of the way when we’re back on our feet and lets us lives our lives.”

Meager also advocated for National’s social investment model, relaxing accident compensation thresholds and allowing more overseas workers into the country to bolster the education and health workforces.

He also indicated his support for reforming the Privacy Act to better use information held by the Government to improve long-term outcomes in health, education, crime and drug and alcohol use.

He finished echoing similar words from Act leader and minister David Seymour who yesterday had a thinly veiled message for Te Pāti Māori and the Green Party about their actions in the House.

“Some of us are here to disrupt and challenge the status quo, I get that, I really do,” Meager said.

“But in doing so, we must respect this institution, we must respect its traditions and we must respect those who have come before us.”

Napier MP Katie Nimon also delivered her maiden statement, which had a strong focus on her family history and her ancestors’ involvement in transport, business and journalism ventures.

With a last name well-known to those from Hawke’s Bay, she highlighted her great, great grandfather starting the Nimon and Sons bus service.

She mentioned a story about her mother’s maternal great great grandfather, Thomas Wilmor McKenzie, who came to New Zealand in 1839 and shortly after his arrival, inadvertently strayed onto a tapu site in Wellington along with a friend.

To prevent them from being killed by Ngāti Awa chief Rira Porutu, a cloak was thrown over them by Porutu’s daughter-in-law Ruhia, to make them tapu.

She lamented the current culture of business promoted by previous left-leaning governments, which strangled small businesses.

“The argument for limited government is a strong one, which is one of the many reasons why I stand here on this side of the House,” she said.

“I don’t claim to have all the answers, but you can’t spend your way out of every problem, nor can you regulate your way out of it.”

Nimon cited the crushing impact of Cyclone Gabrielle on the region and criticised how major urban centres were prioritised over more rural areas that suffered more.

By Adam Pearse