New Rangitata MP Andrew Falloon’s maiden speech focussed on the needs of the regions, and made it clear he’s not here to eat his lunch.
Thank you Mr Speaker. Congratulations on your election, and congratulations to your fellow presiding officers. I stand here today the proud son of Shirley and John, and grandson of Ron and Joan, Arthur and Eva. My family have sacrificed much for me to be here. My paternal grandfather contracted polio as a child, making farming a struggle for my father’s family on their farm just outside of Waimate. My maternal grandfather passed away at a young age, leaving my grandmother to raise three daughters on her own.
Gender equality was borne out of necessity – she did the work of two men, and raised three strong and independent women. She was a formidable woman, and had a huge impact on me growing up. My father spent much of my childhood growing his small business, so much of the heavy lifting of raising my sister Anna and I fell to my mother.
On top of looking after two kids, holding down a job, and being involved in a variety of worthy causes, she made the time to go to night school. She’s always been an example to me of the importance of education, and of lifelong learning.
I’m a firm believer that we are products of our environment. That the people we meet, and the experiences we have shape who we become. In that sense, I recognise my privilege.
I was born and raised in Ashburton, at the northern end of the Rangitata electorate, the sort of place you wouldn’t have thought twice about letting your kids stay out kicking a ball around the local park until sunset. The Rangitata electorate I’m proud to represent spans much of Mid Canterbury and South Canterbury.
Unlike the 20 or so Auckland MPs who have to share a pretty average rugby team, I’m spoilt with two strong Heartland teams. In the west we have the Southern Alps and Mt Hutt, rising high above the Canterbury plains below, with picturesque communities like Methven, Mount Somers, Staveley and Mayfield not far away.
Travelling south, the electorate cuts in to the east when you reach the Rangitata River, tracing the outskirts of distinct and diverse communities like Temuka, Orari, Winchester and Pleasant Point. Timaru, where my wife Rose and I live, lies at the southern boundary.
Home to a thriving port, major food processing and manufacturing plants, artisan cheese, craft beer, excellent coffee and of course Caroline Bay, the Riviera of the South. If you haven’t visited yet, to quote a questionable Australian marketing campaign: ‘‘where the bloody hell are ya?’’ You’ll often find me at the Rangitata Huts, outside of mobile phone coverage (my apologies in advance to the Senior Whip), hiking the coastal trails, or trying to catch some dinner.
Further inland are the towns and settlements of Fairton, Hinds, Wakanui, Winchmore and Ashburton Forks, all surrounded by rich and fertile soils, which help make Mid and South Canterbury a food basket for the world.
I went to my local primary, Allenton School, where my mother worked in the office for twenty years. After being sent to the Principal’s office just once I quickly learned that the growling I’d get from him would pale in comparison to what I’d get from her.
I started studying economics in Year 10, 20 years ago, and haven’t stopped since then. I credit this, and some exceptional teachers, with encouraging an early interest in politics.
More than anyone I thank Doctor Bruce Harding, my Year 13 English teacher, for fostering debate, treating us like adults, and goading me into arguing with him daily. He was a staunch Alliance supporter, so I’m not sure he’ll appreciate my thanks, or that I’ve gone on to become a National Party MP.
I had a year off, pulling pints in London and backpacking around Europe, and came home to study at Political Science and Economics at the University of Canterbury. Coming from Ashburton, these years in Christchurch, and stints in London and later Wellington were quite a shock. I’m still not entirely comfortable in big cities. Throughout High School and University I was home in Ashburton every chance I got. Working on dad’s cousin’s pig farm.
I learned more there than I’ve learned anywhere else. The value of hard work. An entirely new and colourful vocabulary. I’m still trying to unlearn it. But above all it’s given me an understanding of the huge importance of our primary sector, for jobs, for exports, and for what we eat and drink.
Following university I came to work in this place, never expecting I would be here nearly a decade. I worked on some fascinating issues. Auckland governance reforms. Foreign charter vessels. The International Convention Centre. Novopay.
But what I’ll remember most are the people. My colleagues I worked with, all of whom were here because they wanted to make New Zealand a better place. Mr Speaker, traditionally maiden speeches are a time for new MPs to talk about what they want to achieve during their time in Parliament. I recall once reading a speech by Roger Douglas, the architect of free market reform in the fourth Labour Government.
In it he called for the state-backed construction of carpet manufacturing plants across the length and breadth of New Zealand. I can only hope my vision for our country stands the test of time a little more. New Zealand is a wonderful country, but I believe our best days are ahead of us.
I’m here because I want to contribute to make that a reality. I’m not here to eat my lunch. I want to see New Zealand continue to develop into a small, confident, outwardly focussed country. A country that remembers its history, but looks to the future.
A country that overcomes challenges rather than becoming consumed by them. As the world grows smaller and as technology advances, the things that once held us back, like our distance, become less important, and for biosecurity and our environment, become our strengths.
Our population, too small for a sizeable domestic market, means that we have to trade. To quote one of my colleagues – New Zealand companies are barely out of nappies before they have to start selling offshore.
That’s why I’m a strong supporter of free trade – we cannot hope to become prosperous and successful as a country of 4.7 million people trading with ourselves, and turning our back on the world. The benefits of trade are enormous.
Where that’s most felt, isn’t Ponsonby or Panmure, Khandallah or Karori; it’s in regional New Zealand. On the back of the China Free Trade Agreement, trade with China has tripled in the last decade. Half the pizzas in China are topped with mozzarella from Fonterra’s Clandeboye plant in my electorate. We now need to redouble our efforts in new and growing markets like South America and the Middle East, and do much more in Africa. I’m incredibly nervous about talk of cutting migrant numbers.
The local economy is growing strongly in my area. We simply don’t have enough people to do the jobs that are available. A large cut to work visas would stall growth in the regions.
We have to move away from blaming migration for the social ill of the day. Mr Speaker, the world is changing rapidly. It’s important we continue to offer an education to our young people that will help prepare them for a future we cannot today imagine.
We have world class schools and universities. But I am concerned there is a notion prevalent in too many of our high schools that their role is solely to train kids to go to university.
Farming and the trades have to be given a far more equal weighting when educating our young people about their career options.
Mr Speaker, we have much to be proud of. We are a vibrant, multicultural society. We are addressing past injustices. But we can’t rest. In the last year more than 600 New Zealanders took their own lives. There’s no single answer, no silver bullet to fixing that.
I was pleased that the last Government set aside $100 million as part of Budget 2017 to investigate new approaches – we have to accept what we have now isn’t working.
When 600 of our fellow Kiwis are dying at their own hands we have to say this is unacceptable. When I was in my late teens and early twenties three of my best friends took their own lives in tragic circumstances.
I’m sorry that I couldn’t do more for them. It’s a feeling that doesn’t go away. I was fortunate that it was about this time, when I was at University, I met someone who helped me through it. I wouldn’t be here without her.
Her name is Rose, and the best moment of my life was when she agreed to marry me. Mr Speaker, before I end I have a few people to acknowledge. No campaign is run by one person and the most successful campaigns have too many people to thank. But there are a number of people without whom this wouldn’t have been possible.
My family are here in the Gallery today, and they’ve been nothing but supportive, despite I think a healthy degree of scepticism about politics and politicians.
Thank you for your support, and for listening to me prattle on for years about stuff you couldn’t care less about.
Thank you to my campaign team: Jess Letham, Mark Oldfield, John Hunt, Colin Truman, John Driscoll and Allan Booth. My campaign chair Alison Driscoll, still not a single disagreement in seven months, a pretty remarkable achievement, particularly for me. Fellow Rangitata candidates: Olly, Jo, Tom and Mojo; thank you for a good natured campaign. I learned something from all of you.
It’s great to see Jo here as a Labour list MP, but incredibly sad that Mojo Mathers wasn’t high enough on the Greens’ list to return. To my predecessor the Hon Jo Goodhew. Thank you for being a constant source of advice and guidance, and for the job you did as our local MP for many years. Finally, to my wonderful wife Rose.
Thank you for joining me on another journey.