Outgoing Labour minister Poto Williams. Photo / NZME
Two of Parliament’s biggest champions of fighting family violence, and another renowned for her work in the environmental space, have signed out as MPs with rousing speeches calling for greater action.
There was much laughter throughout though, along with tears, for the trio – Eugenie Sage and Jan Logie of the Greens and Labour’s Poto Williams – with several jokes having the whole House in raucous laughter, along with a unique rendition of Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 by Logie’s supporters.
Logie and Sage entered Parliament on the list after the 2011 election – when the Greens gained a still-record 11.1 per cent – both stating they were reluctant MPs but each being inspired to get into politics to pursue their own passions.
They spoke ahead of Williams, one of the country’s first MPs of Cook Islands heritage, who is also retiring this year. She entered Parliament in 2013 after winning the Christchurch East byelection.
Williams spoke of how advocating for Christchurch residents affected by the earthquakes was her main initial drive.
She also spoke about previous work in family violence prevention and how she thought she’d be able to survive anything else as a result.
“Then I joined the Labour caucus,” she joked, referencing the inner turmoils of the party in 2013, lasting until Jacinda Ardern took over as leader in 2017.
She also drew some big laughs referencing “doing the haka on Willie Jackson” – likely about her publicly breaking ranks in 2017 about him joining the party, taking issue with his “Roastbusters” victim-blaming radio interview.
“Soz not soz, bro, sometimes you just need to be told.”
She then backed the joke up with a dig at Act Party leader David Seymour, saying sometimes she wished she had a cattle prod to “shut him up”.
After a pause, she corrected: “Just joking” – a clear reference to Seymour’s recent comments about sending Guy Fawkes into the Ministry of Pacific Peoples, which many have interpreted as him wanting to blow it up, but for which he has refused to apologise, saying it is just a joke.
Williams was also serious, referencing some of the difficulties in her time as Police Minister – she was the first of Cook Islands descent to become a minister.
Williams was appointed by Ardern after the 2020 election, a time of global calls for police reform following the murder of George Floyd. In New Zealand, this saw mass criticism over the Armed Response Trials, which predominantly focused on Māori and Pasifika communities despite being sparked by the Christchurch white supremacist terrorist.
At the time Williams, with a background in fighting family and sexual violence, was seen as a good fit. However, as crime increased post-Covid, she was seen by the Opposition as a soft touch in the role and came under intense pressure, ultimately being replaced by Chris Hipkins. Williams paid tribute to “Chippy” not only as current Prime Minister but for “coaching” her through Question Time during that period.
In acknowledging this, Williams said she had been subjected to “blistering scrutiny” in social and mainstream media, likening some of it to “bullying”.
She also took aim at her former sparring partner, National’s Mark Mitchell, saying while he and Labour’s Stuart Nash – also a former Police Minister – would “arm wrestle”, she was able to deliver record investment for police and get the ratio of frontline officers to New Zealanders down to 480 to 1.
Williams said as Police Minister she was also able to play an integral role in developing Te Aorerekura, the National Strategy to Eliminate Family Violence and Sexual Violence.
Logie, as with her two fellow MPs, acknowledged – albeit with some light humour – the difficulties of family life and being an MP.
“Kath, I need to particularly thank you for putting up with some of the worst dates ever including protests, election panels, vigils for murdered women and children.”
Both she and Sage referenced their former party co-leader Metiria Turei’s resignation, which occurred after she publicly admitted lying about her welfare situation as a solo mother and came under “unbearable” pressure.
Logie thanked her partner for supporting her “when I was struggling to breathe in the wake of Metiria’s resignation, feeling as if the bastards had won, and needing to be on TV in less than an hour”.
Logie said she was not initially interested in parliamentary politics, with politicians set on “one-upping each other”.
“I decided to stand for Parliament to stop yelling at politicians on the radio and now I’m leaving because I want to stop yelling at myself on the radio.”
Logie, who has drawn bipartisan praise for her work on women’s issues and addressing sexual and family violence, also referenced to Te Aorerekura, which she worked on in the early stages.
“Family violence and sexual violence are endemic in this country and sadly there is no one solution to changing this.”
She also called on the Government to end poverty: “Just tax the rich already” – a reference to the party’s wealth tax proposals, and Labour’s internal disputes over it.
As a cis-feminist lesbian, she said it was an honour to support the rainbow community.
The last decade had been a “renaissance for the women’s movement”, and she called for that to extend to the transgender community.
“Just look at the public joy celebrating the Football Ferns and Black Ferns and the Me Too movement. Strong movements bring people together, they don’t drive people apart.
“That’s why it has been so disappointing to also see the rise in transphobia in our communities and politics, activated from offshore.”
She signed out by calling for more people power.
“We need to stop thinking that politicians are going to fix things without stepping up to help them do it. No one in this place succeeds alone, our power is only ever derived from our communities, and the most meaningful thing we can do is honour that gift and give power back.”
Sage, meanwhile, said she had been spurred to be an MP after National in 2010 axed elected regional councillors on Environment Canterbury to install commissioners “more sympathetic to irrigation development”.
“Anger became action.”
Sage said in 2017 she got her “dream job” as Minister of Conservation, along with the role of Land Information and Associate Environment Minister with responsibility for waste.
She spoke of special work in conservationand efforts towards a plastic bag ban.
She made reference to East Coast iwi Te Whānau-ā-Apanui and Ngāti Porou, who gave a good lesson in how to lobby a minister.
“With the help of a helicopter, they dropped me deep in the forests of the Raukūmara Range to see how large numbers of deer had not only eaten out the forest understorey, but also stripped trees of their bark.
“I was close to tears seeing the collapsing forest.”
That resulted in Raukūmara Pae Maunga, a “tremendous Treaty partnership” with $34 million to undertake pest, goat and deer control.
Sage said a lingering frustration was a lack of action on marine conservation and took aim at the commercial fishing industry.
“Too many in the commercial fishing industry continue to deny there is a problem in fisheries management, and with methods such as bottom trawling.
“Thirty per cent of Aotearoa enjoys some protection from extractive uses as conservation land and waters. Why is it so hard to do the same at sea? Less than half of 1 per cent of our oceans are protected.”