‘There is an issue I got wrong’ – MP Nick Smith took time in his valedictory statement to apologise for voting against gay marriage.
Video / Parliament TV
Retiring veteran National MP Dr Nick Smith has apologised for voting against gay marriage in 2013, saying the error was “all the more personal” with his 20-year-old son being gay.
Smith signed off on a 30-year Parliamentary career on Thursday, after announcing his shock resignation last week, citing an inquiry into a “verbal altercation” in his office.
He also indicated it was his desire to retire before the next election regardless, after losing his treasured Tasman seat in 2020.
During his valedictory speech in the house Smith said his decision in 2013 to vote against the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill was “an issue I got wrong”.
“The error is all the more personal with my 20-year-old son being gay.
“I wish to put on record today my apology to New Zealand’s LGBT+ community.
“I pay tribute to Louisa Wall, Fran Wilde and Amy Adams for their leadership that has improved the lives of my son and thousands of other New Zealanders.”
Smith first entered Parliament in October 1990 as the MP for the former Tasman electorate, and was until recently the longest consecutively serving MP.
He was part of a group of four National MPs under-30 dubbed the “brat pack”, which included fellow newbies Tony Ryall, Roger Sowry and former Prime Minister Sir Bill English, who were all present in the gallery on Thursday.
Despite the “strong friendships” many wrongly assumed it meant they agreed politically, he said.
“We have been on opposite sides of many of National’s policy, conscience and leadership debates.”
Also present were two other former National prime ministers Jim Bolger and Dame Jenny Shipley.
Smith spoke of entering Parliament as a 25-year-old, when he lamented a nation that had “lost its confidence and its way”.
“Our economy was a basket case with high unemployment, rampant inflation and high debt. Our best and brightest were leaving in droves.
“I do not wish to diminish the current challenges, but we are a much better country today.”
His first ministerial job was Conservation.
He paid tribute to current Conservation Minister Kiri Allan, recently diagnosed with cervical cancer.
“I know all in this house would want to wish the current Minister, Kiri Allan, a full recovery.”
He said he was proud advocating for the Kahurangi National Park in 1996, and went back for the 25th anniversary this year.
“The highlight was the noisy dawn chorus in the Cobb that was silent at the opening.”
Another highlight was initiating the process for establishing the Rakiura National Park in 1999.
Smith started the Blue-Greens group within National at a time when environmental activism lay strongly with the left. He has held the portfolios of Climate Change, Environment, ACC, Building and Housing and Education.
The future of conservation was at sea, Smith said.
He recounted his involvement in creating 17 marine reserves around New Zealand in “special places” like Kaikōura, Akaroa, Punakaiki and the sub-Antarctics.
While they were celebrated now, they were not so popular in the beginning, he said.
“Making the Poor Knights a no-take marine reserve in ’98 was very controversial.
“I required a police escort after a death threat was made.
“I was confronted only a few years ago at Whangarei Airport by this cheeky local who introduced himself rather unnervingly as the guy who had made the threat.
“He jokingly told me not to worry as he now thought it was such a great idea that he would shoot anyone who dare undo the reserve.”
Smith’s has been a career dogged by controversy. He resigned from cabinet in 2012 when the Herald revealed he had signed a letter of support for a friend, Bronwyn Pullar, who was having problems pursuing her own ACC case.
He became involved in a defamation case and a contempt of court case after advocating for constituents.
He has been “named” four times by the Speaker – the most serious penalty within the debating chamber. It is a modern record matched only by Winston Peters. He has been escorted out of the chamber by the Sergeant at Arms.
During his speech he acknowledged Speaker Trevor Mallard, with whom they’d had their “moments”.
The worst thing though was when he was “actually trying to be kind”.
Travelling with his wife Linley on the Speaker’s tour in Turkey, Smith said he had a “bad tummy bug”, and Mallard put them in a “flash Mercedes” for the 400km journey.
“It got complicated when the interpreter also switched to the van, leaving Linley and I with a driver who did not understand a word of English.
“My plight was trying to explain to a driver doing 130km/h in an escorted motorcade that I was desperate to go to the loo. It was an excruciating three hours.
“When we finally arrived at Istanbul Airport I tore out of the car so quickly for the toilet that I caused a security furore.”
The speech was layered with occasional political shade and his hopes for the future.
He rebuked the Green Party for its stance opposing genetic engineering which he said had held back science.
He also said he was disappointed at lack of progress for the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, which he’d advocated for but which fell over due to poor process and lack of consultation, particularly with Te Ohu Kai Moana which manages Māori fishing quota.
“This is about New Zealand – Māori and Pakeha, stepping up and doing our bit globally to better care for the world’s oceans,” he said.
He remained “unapologetically, an arch-conservative on drugs and alcohol”, and said he was pleased the cannabis legalisation referendum did not pass.
He said he was concerned about vaping, a “scourge” allowing another generation to become addicted to nicotine.
He urged his colleagues Simon Bridges and Michael Woodhouse to continue the campaign started with the Matthew Dow petition in Nelson, to get on with random roadside drug testing.
“Every month of delay costs another six lives.”
His most satisfying political chapter was the Key/English Government.
“We shared a vision of where we wanted to take New Zealand and we had built the strong relationships and policies in Opposition to work as a team.”
He spoke with a word of caution on the Pike River Mine tragedy, and political debate over recovering the 29 bodies.
“We were as gutted as the families and the nation to be told in 2016 that it could not be done. It was wrong in 2017 for Labour to promise to recover the men when, by then, 800 pages of technical reports said it was not possible.”
He gave his greatest thank you to his wife Linley, who was in the gallery, along with their “blended family” of Hazel, Logan, Samantha and Alex.
He also acknowledged his first wife Cyndy who supported him through six elections.
“She jokes that Linley got off lightly at five.”
In concluding he noted the positive changes in the House, including in age, gender and ethnicity, and “healthier” fact he was now “more likely to see colleagues in the gym than the bar”.
He lamented the “lameness” of select committees as “perfunctory rubber stamps” and called for a more collegial approach.
His last observation was an ode to his passion for the environment.
“This morning I woke to the birdsong of tui from my Hill St flat, and on my walk here, I saw a beautiful kererū in Parliament’s trees – something you wouldn’t have seen nor heard 30 years ago.
“It is this stunning wildlife, whether you are Māori, European, Pasifika, Asian or whatever, that helps define us as New Zealanders.
“May their birdsong forever be heard here at Parliament and across our land to remind us how blessed we are to call these islands home.”