Tēnā koutou e Te Whare. Mr Speaker, tēnā koe. First, may I offer my congratulations to you on your election. To the Prime Minister, tēnā koe. I offer you my congratulations and my thanks. It is under your strong leadership that we have found ourselves forming a strong, proactive, and durable Government. I also want to thank you for your personal encouragement. I remember a conversation we had when you visited Timaru close to a year ago now. The kind words of encouragement you gave me really made me believe in myself and that I had something to offer and knowledge to share, and now here I am today. I would also like to offer my congratulations to the new Ministers.
It is with immense pride and honour that I stand here in this House with all of you. What a privilege we have been given by the people of New Zealand to represent them and their hopes and dreams for the future. May we make decisions wisely, ensuring that we keep the people of New Zealand at the heart of every decision we make. We must remember that we are not here for our own personal gratification but to serve the people of our nation who have put their faith in us to make New Zealand a better place.
I am the eldest of three girls born to Jim and Margaret Thompson in Rotorua. I had a happy upbringing. Dad was a builder and Mum was a stay-at-home parent. We shifted around a lot for Dad’s work. I had lived in four different towns by the time I had turned 10—Rotorua, Paeroa, Whakatāne, and Gisborne—but the majority of my time growing up was in Gisborne, where I attended St Mary’s Catholic primary school and Campion College, and, finally, Lytton High School.
My parents owned their own home with the help of the State Advances Corporation scheme, and we were able to survive on one income. We weren’t rich, by any means, but we had the security of our own home and always had food on the table and wonderful gifts at birthdays and Christmas. Those things now seem like privileges to many families. I hope to make them normal, achievable expectations during my time in this House.
I shifted to the South Island in 1996 and live in the Rangitata electorate in a township called Hinds, where I owned and, up until recently, operated a small business, an early childhood centre. I established the business in 2008, and we have been growing from strength to strength, even extending the premises to keep up with demand.
I employ nine amazing staff, and I am so very proud to also be a living wage employer. Owning a business, particularly in a rural area, does not come without its challenges, and it hasn’t always been easy. However, one of my greatest commitments has been to be a living wage employer. It is possible to be a successful small business and pay an increased minimum wage, and even a living wage. A living wage allows families to support themselves better, to pay the bills, to put food on the table for their children, and to live with some dignity. I will always support that principle, for all of those reasons.
Together, small businesses employ the greatest number of New Zealanders, and their presence in the regions is the difference between survival and poverty for many. My experience allows me to contribute with some first-hand knowledge to any discussions about economic development in the provinces. I look forward to being able to contribute to this Parliament as a living wage employer and small-business owner, to ensure that we constantly recognise and acknowledge the role small businesses play in the economic landscape of New Zealand.
The Rangitata electorate is made up of four main towns—Timaru, Temuka, Ashburton, Methven—and several smaller townships, with Hinds being one of them. It is a beautiful place to live, with hunting, fishing, skiing, lakes, and the gorgeous Caroline Bay right at our doorstep. It is the agricultural hub of the South Island, if not New Zealand. But before I talk about that, I want to acknowledge the former member of Parliament, Jo Goodhew, for all the work she did for the electorate. I also wish to acknowledge Rangitata’s newly elected member of Parliament, Andrew Falloon. Thank you for being so good-natured along the campaign trail. I enjoyed our banter at the candidate meetings, where we joked about which one of us was likely to be slaughtered that night and about the copious amounts of water we drank. I wish you well.
Rangitata faces several challenges, with some very different to other parts of the country and some not so different. One of the big challenges is the difficulty finding people to fill the numerous jobs available there. We rely heavily on migrant staff, and that is why I am so supportive of this Government’s policy of developing a regional skills shortage list. A national, blanket list does not work for our region. Our needs are different to those in Auckland and other cities, and I commend this Government for recognising this and being proactive in its approach to this issue.
Bringing people into Rangitata and paying them decent wages will help us all grow economically, will offer the goods and services that people require in provincial New Zealand, and will develop cohesive and caring communities. We need the skills to keep our strong economy moving along, but it is important that we look to encourage our young people to train and undertake the jobs available in our regions. It is time to actively promote the regions and invest in them properly in order to make them thrive and be places that people want to move to and settle down in with their families. Investment in infrastructure is needed. Roading and better connectivity is vital for our businesses and communities to grow. These issues are not just campaign issues, but living, breathing, everyday issues.
Becoming an MP is not a pathway I intentionally headed down, but it is a result of the many directions, twists, and turns that my life has taken. My background is in education. I qualified as an early childhood teacher, and went on after some years to run my own childcare centre. I am extremely passionate about education and, in particular, early childhood education. As a centre owner, I have seen first hand the issues we are faced with. We need to focus more on quality rather than quantity for our youngest learners. This is largely my motivation for putting myself forward as a candidate, but it is not solely about that. I want to see our tamariki thrive. I want to see child poverty eliminated in my time here. I want every child who comes through my preschool door, or any other preschool or school, to grow up with the same opportunities as the child next to them, regardless of the type of job their parents do or where they live.
I said I wanted to see our tamariki thrive. Too many of our young people are living in despair, suffering depression or other mental health issues, and unable to ever see a positive future for themselves. This has to change. Our beautiful young people need to know that they can look to us to be a Government that shows kindness, compassion, empathy, and support. I want our young people to grow up with a sense of hope, to know that they can be that shining light, and to stand up and be whatever they dream they can be. We will give them the opportunity to have a world-class education that will set them in good stead for whatever direction they may take in life.
Education has enabled me to get where I am today. It needs to be free and accessible to everyone. It is the one thing that overcomes every disadvantage with which a child might begin life. It could mean the difference between living a decent life and contributing to society in a positive way, and ending up in our overcrowded prisons. Whether it is first, second, or third chance education, it remains the most transformative influence in our lives, and that transformation benefits everybody, not just the well-educated individual. To that extent, education at any level is a public good. Education, commercial entrepreneurship, decent wages, appropriate health services that are available when they are needed, and security for families are issues dear to my heart, arising from my own experience and values.
I want to take the opportunity to thank some people who have been an integral part of my journey to Parliament. Thank you, firstly, to the voters—the people who voted for the Labour Party and who voted for me. Thank you to the Rangitata Labour electoral committee and local Labour branches. I acknowledge your support, fund-raising efforts, and friendship. To my fantastic campaign team, Glen Cameron, Phil King, Marie MacAnulty, Carol Brown, Janine Watkins, John Everist, John Gardner, and Matt Luxton, and to all our awesome volunteers, I owe you a huge amount of gratitude.
I want to acknowledge the Christchurch Labour team and the Hon Megan Woods, Poto Williams, and the Hon Ruth Dyson for all your wonderful support, and to the Hon Damien O’Connor, who offered me his words of wisdom and warm advice—in particular, the advice he gave me when I phoned one day to talk about my nervousness about addressing a particular group at a candidate meeting. His advice: “Harden up.” So I thank you for that. It is advice I will always remember.
Maryan Street, you have been worth your weight in gold as a mentor. You have been invaluable. I don’t just consider you as a mentor anymore but also as a friend, although I will still harass you often for advice.
To my new colleagues and friends—”class of ’17″—congratulations to you all. I am so lucky to be part of an amazingly talented team of people.
To my dad, Jim, whose political views are the complete opposite of my own, our phone conversations over the past year have allowed me to work on my debating skills, so I thank you for that. Thank you for your love, support, and encouragement. I love you dearly.
To my sisters, Melissa and Teresa, thank you for your support.
To my husband and family, who have put up with my absences over the campaign and now you do it all over again, I thank you.
To our children, Levi, Kelsey, Matt, Ollie, and Cam, I do this for you and for your children in the future. I want to leave this place knowing that I have given it my all and that New Zealand is a better place for it.
My husband, Matt: you are my rock—my greatest support. You have been there for the highs, the lows, the tears and grumpy moods—and yes, there’s been a few of those. You encourage me when I need it and push me to believe I can do it. I know this hasn’t been easy for you, but I am so thankful to you. I love you.
To my stepdad, Tony: I adore you and thank you for all your support.
I especially want to acknowledge my mum, Margaret, who, due to her health, can’t be here today, but I know she is watching. I dedicate my maiden speech to you. I am who I am today because of you. I have watched the battles you have so bravely fought over the years and continue to fight now. You are the strongest, bravest, most determined person I know. Nō reira, tēnā koe e taku whaea. Aroha atu.
[And so to you my mother, thank you. Love you.]