Thank you, Mr Speaker,

Over the years there have been several maiden speeches that have inspired people or moved them to tears, this probably won’t be one of them, but with luck, you may get a few laughs.

I have two great great great grandfathers who were members of this house in the early years of our democracy. In preparation for this speech, I did a bit of digging, hoping for some inspiration.

One of them was Alfred Saunders, well he was quite keen on prohibition, so I struggled to find a lot to agree with there. Universal suffrage however - I could agree with him on, and there’s one comment in a speech of his I did find quite pertinent - and I paraphrase - that “members of this house should try to only speak when they had something useful to add, that improved the knowledge of everyone” ....

I think that’s good advice – and probably worth repeating.

The other ancestor was William Cargill, well apparently, he wasn’t big on talking, hated Auckland (our capital at the time) and basically just wanted Otago and Southland left alone. It’s hardly surprising that Invercargill was named after him and his birthplace. This leaves me with talking about the subject I least like talking about, myself.

Firstly, I would like to thank those friends and family who have taken the time to come here today and listen, I would especially like to acknowledge my wife and daughters who rather than miss out on the first day back at school, are watching on TV.

It meant a lot to me to have them at my swearing in at Government house, I figured that occasion was worth missing a day off school. Listening to me prattle on for 15 minutes - not so much!

But seriously, I do want to pay a special debt of gratitude to them because as the other farming members in this house know, you aren’t just leaving your family behind during the week to deal with the usual issues that may come up in a family home, but also, they get to deal with thousand moving parts - that make up a working farm. Such as the herd breaking into the maize silage crop which I wish was a hypothetical example – but it’s not, the vandalism took place at one o’clock this morning…

I am truly fortunate that my wife and daughters can support me by handling all that. This isn’t new for them, if it wasn’t for my wife, I would not have been able over the years to engage in various forums and be involved in farmer advocacy. I have probably spent more wedding anniversaries at World Dairy Summits with farming colleagues than I have at home with my wife.

So, Audra, once again I am truly grateful for the support you provide to me, and to Michaela and Payton thank you for keeping me grounded and helping me recognise my place in the world which is just below two cats, a dog, and several pet day calves.

I would also like to pay tribute to my parents and brother and sister - It’s fair to say it’s not till later in life that you really truly appreciate all that your parents have done for you.

From my parents, I feel I learned a couple of important lessons. Farming during the 1980s was not easy. Today in this house we are concerned about inflation, but I’m sure my father would love to parody that famous line from Crocodile Dundee “this isn’t inflation, that was inflation”. People now days think that dairy farming is an easy get- rich- quick scheme. I can tell you that was not my childhood - 20% interest rates makes life hard, but it was a childhood where I learned all about work ethic, and community service from the example of my parents, who did every role from school boards, to school sports, to community service groups.

It would be remiss also not to mention my sister and brother. I am thankful that as children then teenagers and adults we have stayed close.  Given both are in agribusiness, we have run into each other quite a bit in the work setting over the years. So far just my poor sister has had to refer to me as Minister - through gritted teeth, I’m not 100% sure my brother will have that level of control - Sorry guys for making your lives awkward because of choosing to do this.

For me the path to Parliament is not one that I set out on. My education was very much run of the mill state schooling, from plateau primary school, to Maidstone Intermediate, and then to Heretaunga College, in Upper Hutt, my classmates were a mix of children whose parents were scientists at Wallaceville, civil servants, trades people, and even the head of the local Mongrel Mob, a real melting pot of New Zealand society.

From there aside from thinking I should probably go to university, I really wasn’t set on any path, in fact the decision of which University to go to was made more on the fact that a visit to Victoria University showed lots of hippy looking types playing hacky sack, compared to my visit to Massey, where the uniform of choice was red bands, rugby jersey and track pants -It was fairly obvious as to what culture was for me.

My degree choice of Agricultural Economics was based more on its likelihood of getting me a spot in the hostels than any particular career interest in Ag Economics. However, in saying that I did become very interested in all matters Agricultural Trade related, and international economics. My three years doing the degree very much laid the basis for my beliefs around the importance of free markets, and that fundamental level of efficiency that will come when you do not interfere and let the market do its thing. It also taught me that when you actually know what you are talking about, you don’t need to use big words, you can explain it in simple terms, that most people can understand.

As I went through my degree, I found that the thing I enjoyed the most about Uni, was working on the farm during the holidays.

After Massey I spent a year on a farm, at Mile 47 of the Alaska Highway in British Columbia. This gave me a real appreciation of just how special New Zealand is for farming, and again the importance of open markets to drive efficiency - not to mention a lifelong dislike of snow.

Coming back home, in 1997 it was into farming for me. This was a few years into the expansion of Dairy farming in New Zealand. The backdrop to my entire farming career has been this whole debate around farming and the environment. I sometimes lament that a lot of the debate seems to be stuck in 1997. Some have a view that things have to change, and I have constantly heard over the years that we have to change our farming systems. Newsflash – the difference between my first-year farming and today is like night and day.

Farmers are not afraid or reluctant to change, we are constantly looking for better ways to do things.

Change is a yearly thing, every year I, and many other farmers in this country are always trying something new in our farming systems, some work, some don’t, we adopt, we adapt, and its incremental – Like all good things… they take time.

The biggest change I have seen isn’t the physical one on the farms, but one of a mindset shift in many farmers looking at what more they can do. We have seen the growth of catchment groups, and I see dairy farmers talking with pride at how much fencing of waterways they have done. I recall speaking on a farming panel at the World Dairy Summit in Rotterdam, all the other farmers got up and talked about what they intended to do, whereas I was able to speak about what we had done… all without subsidies, a point that got a few laughs, but probably more grumpy looks from the EU farmers.  The biggest risk to further progress is ignoring this change. If the feeling amongst farmers becomes “Why do I bother to do all of this as nothing we do will be recognised” then they give up - they lose hope, they stop doing.          

“Farming will continue to evolve, we want to encourage that to continue to occur in a way that is sensible, practical, and affordable”. To quote a former colleague.

Early on into my farming career we moved to Feilding, and I joined Young Farmers, this led to my first representative role as the Manawatu District Chair, and then Regional Chair. The big thing at Young Farmers for me was being a contestant in the young farmer of the year, I remember watching each year on TV as a kid wondering how good you must have to be to make it to the grand final - never ever thinking it was something I could ever achieve.

Competing in the Young Farmers contest taught me several useful things, firstly with all the practical modules … stop … look at the problem. identify the issues … think out a plan … what tools do you need? … then enact the plan. As opposed to the “headless chicken” method, which I often see being utilised elsewhere. It was also my introduction to public speaking, and media. This is where I learned that kicking Pratley yards and swearing might make good television – but not necessarily good for the one doing the actual swearing!

Making the Grand Final in 2003, still ranks as one of the things I am most proud of in life. Young Farmers was also the place where I first met three current members of this house. A young Tim Van Der Molen – who was part of a dastardly plot to steal the Marton Young Farmers Club banner, Barbara Kruiger, who was an interview judge in my first regional final, and the then Rural Affairs Minister Damien O’Connor when I was on the National Committee.

In Young Farmers I was also the Rep to the Provincial Federated Farmers exec, so when I became old and infirm at the age of 30 it was a natural progression for me. It was a role where I got to be involved in some of the bigger picture issues for farming.

My reason for undertaking leadership roles in Young Farmers was a feeling I needed to pay it back for the benefits I gained from the contest, and with Feds it was about paying it back to a sector and a way of life I enjoyed - plus felt like I had something to offer.

I would like to acknowledge my former colleagues from Feds in the gallery, especially Katie Milne – and a few of them are sitting down here with me today. Miles, Mark, and Mike.

Thank you to all of you that I connected with over the years in Feds, thank you for sharing your skills and your intelligence I gained great experience from you all over the years.

My time in Feds has also prepared me for this role, from gaining knowledge around a myriad of issues, to trying to find compromise, amongst that broad church which is the Fed Farmers National Council. To the most difficult challenge of all, presenting at a Select Committee and trying to understand – What the hell did the question that they just ask me, actually mean in plain English?

When I started out in Feds it was with no real view that I would be the National President. I just did each role, looked at the role above, and felt that I had something to offer, and one step at a time I got there. While some of it has been challenging over the years, the thing that kept me going was all the thank you’s and the pats on the back from my community up and down the country. To me there is no more a satisfying conversation than the classic monosyllabic grunt, followed by a handshake, that’s my sort of chat.

And here we are, and just like at Feds, the opportunity presented itself, the stars aligned, and I knew I could contribute - And most importantly I should pay it back to the best country on the planet.

While my passion is for all things rural, and I while it could be argued if Farming is doing well, New Zealand is doing well. There is a bit more to it than that. All of New Zealand needs smart and pragmatic decision making - Rural NZ can’t pretend problems that happen in the towns and cities don’t affect us, they do.

Yes, we need a regulatory framework that gives farmers the confidence to invest, but every small business in New Zealand needs that, every single one of us with children needs an education system that will equip our children with the skills they need to succeed on a global stage, and the list goes on.           

It’s a huge privilege to be in this house, and help shape the future for this country of ours, but also it comes with a great responsibility to think those decisions through. The responsibility is probably no more evident than by the wreaths on the walls around us, each of those represents a decision made in this house that was paid for by other citizens. Especially poignant for me is the one to my left for Al Alamein, my grandfather served there, was captured and spent the rest of the War as a POW The thing I remember about my grandfather is his vege garden, it was huge and meticulously planned out, so that he always had food - He never ever wanted to have to rely on another human being for food ever again for the rest of his life -  I can barely comprehend what he must have gone through to be so determined on that front.

The portfolios I hold and the things we debate may not lead to such historical events as those represented around us, none the less, they can very well lead to huge impacts on individuals if we don’t get it right. You may have noticed I do like the odd bit of humour, usually at my own expense, but I do take these roles seriously.

Thank you to ACT party team especially David for believing in me, but mostly thanks for making me feel welcome and truly part of the team, and for all the support that has been offered and given from the candidates, Members and volunteers.

Special thanks goes to Mark Cameron, we are able to swap stories of what went wrong on the home ranch each day, and some days Mark gets to feel better, and some days it’s me.

Finally, to everyone in this house, I’m here to debate issues, to put my views and solutions forward - I look forward to playing the ball not the man…. or the woman.

Thank you for patiently listening to me, I am assuming this is the last time that will happen, but just remember - I am used to shouting instructions to people two paddocks away without a microphone, so trying to talk over the top of me, might not work.   

Thank you.

Press Contact

[email protected]