Thank you Mr Speaker.

Firstly, can I wish you a Happy New Year, and all the best for you and your family in 2024. It’s good to have a South Islander in Parliament’s big chair.

Can I congratulate the Rt Hon Christopher Luxton on leading the National Party into Government and becoming New Zealand’s 42nd Prime Minister. The Prime Minister, like me, has gained experience working in the corporate sector. I hope this stands us both in good stead to real deliver change for New Zealand.

To the Rt Hon Winston Peters. Congratulations on leading New Zealand First back into Parliament and Government. People can say many things about the current Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, but you can’t question his commitment to public service.

Congratulations to all the National Party and New Zealand First MPs elected. I look forward to working with all of you as we work for New Zealanders over the term of this Government.

That now brings me to the ACT team. To the Hon David Seymour, with the 2023 Election you have firmly cemented your place in ACT history. Having already rebuilt the Party to a multi-MP Caucus in 2020, we were returned in 2023 with more MPs and an additional Electorate. On top of that, ACT is for the first time in its history sitting around the Cabinet table and with a significant number of Ministers.

The Catholics have Saints, in ACT we have what some of us like to call ‘Icons’. These are people like Sir Roger Douglas and Hon Derek Quigley who founded the Party, Brian Nicolle who built it, Hon Richard Prebble who led it into Parliament, and Catherine Isaac who anchored it in classical liberalism. David, your place as an ACT Icon is now assured.

I also want to thank you for all the support, encouragement, and advice you’ve given and continue give me.

The election has delivered an extremely talented team of ACT MPs with different backgrounds, experiences, skills, strengths, and approaches. I couldn’t be prouder to sit alongside Cameron, Laura, Parmjeet, Simon, Mark, Karen, Andrew, Nicole, Brooke and David. I’ve never felt so welcomed and supported within a team. I know I’m going to learn so much from each of you.

To the ACT staff here in Wellington and Auckland - thank you for everything you do support us every day to ensure we can deliver for voters. Without you the ACT team wouldn’t be effective as a Party or in Parliament.

To the ACT board, members, and supporters – thank you. It is only with the hard work and effort of volunteers that a political party can campaign, grow, and thrive. It is your efforts that have delivered this ACT team to Parliament and into government. You should be proud.

To the almost quarter of million New Zealanders who voted ACT, thank you. We don’t take lightly the trust you have placed in us to deliver a better Government for New Zealand. I hope the start we’ve made is living up to your decision to support us. A special shout out to the electorate of Southland where I stood, and which delivered a very strong Party Vote for us.

To the new and returning members on the other side of the House, congratulations. It is important for our democracy that people are still prepared to stand for Parliament and take on this unique role. I look forward to working with all MPs over this term.

So, I stand here as the 30th ACT New Zealand Member of Parliament elected to this House. Given that we’ve only had 10 MMP elections, being an ACT MP, in one of the world’s only classical liberal parties with elected representatives, is a rare and unique honour.

And so how did I end up here? Was it something I’d planned to do for many years? Well, the truth is no. I have a reasonably simple approach to life – when an opportunity presents itself, grab it! 

I think this approach to some extent must have been shaped by my family and upbringing. I was born in Lumsden, Southland – my parents lived in Te Anau.

I very much enjoyed during the election campaign people coming up and telling me they were also born in Lumsden, like it is a secret club. I recently discovered there is a Wikipedia page dedicated to people there and I’m on there!

My parents had met in Te Anau a few years earlier, my mother working as a hostess on the boat taking people to the glow worm caves, and my dad as a guide in caves. 

While Te Anau was my mother’s hometown, dad had come there to teach at the local school.

My dad grew up in Dunedin with his younger sister Elaine. My paternal grandparents, Martin and Kath Stephenson, were Scottish, their families having come to New Zealand a generation before.

My mother’s parents, Alf and Therma Excell were of English descent, and after they were married, had moved to Te Anau to become some of the town’s first full-time residents. It was there that they had three daughters, my mother Dawn and her two younger sisters, Lynne and Cheryl.  

Before starting their families, both of my grandfathers, Alf and Martin, had served overseas in World War II. My grandmother, Thelma, was also in Women’s Royal New Zealand Naval Service.  

That conflict remains a defining moment in history, including in our own. It was because of the service and sacrifice of so many that we can stand in this House today enjoying the freedoms they fought for. I’d like to think my grandparents would be more than a little chuffed to see their grandson as an MP. 

I have many fond memories growing up of spending time with my grandparents in both Dunedin and Te Anau.

For a kid growing up in Southland, Dunedin seemed like the big city with its tall buildings, shops, and hydro-slide. I continue to have a fondness for Dunedin it is where I went to university and would again return later to be admitted to the Bar. It is also where the opportunity to practicing law with Judith Ablett-Kerr KC would present itself and it’s one I readily took. While I didn’t stay with law, I was thankful for that experience.  

Te Anau would become a second home, particularly in school holidays. A few years after I was born my dad accepted a position as the principal of Mimihau School, which is just outside of Wyndham. For those not from the south, it’s near Gore.

During our time at Mimihau my brother, Brad, would be born in Gore. He’s a bit more of a petrol head than me and I often wonder if being born in Gore was the start of that.

Mimihau would also mark the start of our family’s own “tour of Southland”. Dad would grab his opportunities and advance in his teaching career, often with mum also working at the same school. In addition to Mimihau this would see us living in Isla Bank in western Southland, Bluff – right at the bottom of the South Island, and finally Invercargill – I attended four different schools before I went to high school. Our family made many friends in these communities, many of which we still see to this day. I have no doubt also that the experience of moving schools, the need to make new friends, and fit into a new environment built a significant amount of resilience which would assist me in later life.

My parents had decided that my brother and I should only have one high school and so we both attended James Hargest High School, now James Hargest College. 

I really enjoyed high school - it is my recollection that I never had a single sick day during my entire five years. Our high school year group also seemed to all get on particularly well and I’m delighted to have some of my high school friends here today in the gallery.

I think it was during high school that I became more and more became aware of current events and politics. I had grown up during the fourth Labour government and the significant and necessary reforms they made to advance New Zealand.

After high school I wouldn’t live in Invercargill again, but still consider my hometown. It is still home for my brother Brad, his wife Lizzie, and my three nephews Scout, Dustin and Murphy. Scout is continuing the family tradition of attending James Hargest. 

My parents would continue to happily live and work in Invercargill for many more years. Sadly in 2010 my mother Dawn would pass away after a short illness. She was an extremely determined woman, always willing to try something new and ensure my brother and I had a great up bringing.

I’m sad she didn’t get to meet her three grandchildren, and numerous nieces and nephews, or my partner Alex, but her presence is always with us. I also know mum would have been extremely proud of what Brad and I have achieved.

Dad would eventually leave Invercargill after he retired, moving to Te Anau. There he would again find love marrying Robynne in 2022, and we would gain an extended family. It’s great to have you Dad and Robynne here today.

In 1993 I went to the University of Otago where I studied law and had the quintessentially “Scarfie” experience.

In the same year as I started university, Sir Roger Douglas had published Unfinished Business and then, along with Hon Derek Quigley, founded the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers.

It was over those early years of university that I discovered what I believed in, that I was a classical liberal, and I found my political party. The ideas of individual freedom and personal responsibility. That the role the State should be limited. Government shouldn’t be doing anything the private sector could do more effectively and efficiently, and of course, low flat tax. These all resonated with me.

So, while I might have explored my sexuality, trying both sides before picking a team, I’ve never done that with my political parties. I joined ACT New Zealand on its formation, and went on to campaign for the party at four General Elections, work for it – thanks Priscilla Tate – and be twice elected to the ACT Board.

In November this year, ACT will be thirty years old. And while it makes me feel a bit old, it’s a significant achievement that Brooke, who was just over a year old when the party was formed, has only ever known a political landscape with ACT.

I’m proud that I’ve only ever voted ACT, supporting the party even in the bleakest of times when the liberal flame was almost extinguished.

In 2006, I embraced the opportunity to work overseas and moved to Australia. That would result in an extremely fulfilling career, the majority of which was spent in the medicines sector.  

The medicines industry is a great example of the power of private investment and the capitalist system. These companies are everyday harnessing science, collaborating with stakeholders, and getting investment to deliver the latest in medical treatments. It’s a great example of where the private sector is doing something no government can, could or should. No government could manage the complexity, let alone accept the considerable cost and risks involved.   

My work in the medicines industry also allowed me the opportunity to work with various patient communities, and some of their healthcare professionals. This has been extremely rewarding as I got to understand the day-to-day issues of people living with various diseases. I also learned of the importance of the patient's say in healthcare decisions.

Thank you everyone in the health sector and the patient community, particularly those who I’ve had the pleasure of working with. I know what a difference your efforts are making every day.

I’m committed to working with David to deliver a modern, efficient, and effective medicines access process so Kiwis can get the world’s best treatments. We won’t be able to do this alone and I look forward to continuing to collaborate with all those in the sector.

And so, after my long association with ACT, and background of my work in Australia, that around the middle of last year a series of conversations took place about the possibility of me standing for ACT.

In addition to my history with ACT, I also reflected on what I’d learnt in the past 17 years. I’d been responsible for strategy and held leadership roles. Knew about government and public policy. Many times, I’d aligned people on a common goal, developed a strategy to achieve it, and then worked with others for an outcome.

I knew that no company’s place in the world was certain and that to be great they must continue to innovative, understand their customers and stakeholders, and compete for capital and talent.

I thought these could be useful skills and insights to help address the significant challenges New Zealand faces. And in the end, I didn’t have a compelling reason to say no. So once again I embraced another opportunity and stood for ACT.

So here I am.

We live in an increasing complex and global world, and we must ensure New Zealand doesn’t fall further behind its peers. I’m here to play my part in re-thinking how government operates and delivers for all Kiwis. And while I’ll bring a classical liberal lens, I’m always willing to speak and work with any stakeholders who share our desire of a better government for a better New Zealand.

Finally, there is one person I’d like to talk about, my partner Alex. Almost 14 years ago, Alex and I met in the way which is now so common, online.

Alex is an amazing person - great company, super intelligent, funny, and incredibly kind and caring. He’s also always taken an interest in my professional career.

Alex is my greatest advocate. He’s my cheerleader, sounding board, and provider of advice and feedback. Alex provided me much feedback on my performance on the campaign trail. I look forward to tonight’s debrief on this speech.

I want to thank Alex’s family, his dad John, brother Paul and wife Visjna, and his nephew Kiwan and niece Talia for welcoming me into the family and being understanding of us moving to New Zealand.  

Alex – thank you for joining me in this next chapter of our lives – I love you very much.

And while ACT has a number of principles and values there is one I’d like to read to you all:

“Each person must be judged as an individual by reference to the person’s own personality, character and actions and not as a member of a group defined by race, gender, sexuality, religion, political belief or other group characteristic.”

And so it is on my own merits, as everyone should be, that I want to be judged by my time in this House.

Thanks to everyone who is here today to support me. And with that, it’s now back to the business of a better Government for a better New Zealand.

Thank you Mr Speaker.

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