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The mother figure of the Labour caucus, Annette King, has bowed out after 33 years.
King leaves as one of Labour’s most recognisable faces during some of the party’smost tumultuous periods including nine changes of leader and 11 elections.
King was a member of the fourth Labour government that transformed New Zealand, both economically and socially, under David Lange – and a senior Cabinet minister in the Helen Clark-led Labour government.
But the Rongotai electorate MP signed off with a special tribute to new Labour leader Jacinda Ardern: ‘‘I have a feeling you will lead the party for years to come and you are going to be one of our most loved and effective leaders and prime ministers.’’
King announced her retirement after making way for Ardern as deputy to former leader Andrew Little but she told Parliament during her valedictory speech last night that ‘‘after 15 years in Opposition and 15 years in government, it was time to go’’.
King’s farewell was attended by a who’s who of the Labour Party, including former finance minister Michael Cullen and Auckland mayor and former Labour MP Phil Goff.
King joined Labour after Norman Kirk led the party to victory in 1972 and was a key figure in both the 1984 Lange government and the fifth Labour government a decade later, led by Clark.
She stood for a seat in Wellington’s Rongotai electorate in 1984 out of a determination to see more women in Parliament. ‘‘We were sick of being the tea ladies. We wanted to make policy and make decisions.’’
Women made up only 8 per cent of MPS before that election – it rose to 15 per cent on election night.
But, decades on, women make up only 31 per cent of MPS. ‘‘That is not good enough. All political parties need to commit to making this place truly a house of representatives,’’ King said.
‘‘Women have waited long enough ... it is time for us to lead once again on women’s issues.’’
King also confessed some lesser known facts about her time in Parliament – including being dispatched to Paris as a junior under-secretary to mend relations over the Rainbowwarrior bombing.
She was also dispatched on an equally delicate mission by Clark – to tell the late Maori Affairs minister, Parekura Horomia, that he had to lose weight.