The mighty Waikato: beautiful scenery; well managed & successful farms; thriving and vibrant provincial towns; diverse but united communities; and continual opportunity.
As the new Member of Parliament for the Waikato, I want to start by saying that it is an absolute privilege to have been elected to this role, and in such a magnificent part of the country.
A role that holds great opportunity & great responsibility. As a new MP, listening is a key part of this. My grandfather once said, “you have two ears & one mouth, use them in that proportion”. Congratulations to my fellow new MPs, I’m excited about the path ahead, as I’m sure you are.
The journey to be here was an exciting & rewarding one. A journey shared by so many people in the Waikato & beyond – by family & friends, by Party members, by the public who believe in our vision. Thank you all sincerely for your support.
Today, I want to share a bit of my background (my family, my upbringing, my experiences), why I am who I am, to touch on what brings me to this position. I want to share some of the wonderful aspects of the Waikato; and I want to outline some of my aspirations for both the Waikato & for New Zealand.
Firstly, I’d like to share that I felt, on entering this building, the mana, the prestige, the history of our nation. The decisions made by those who have come before, decisions that have shaped our country. One of those people was my Great, Great Grandfather, John Stevens.
A former member of this House, who spent a number of years through the 1880’s, 1890’s & early 1900’s, representing Rangitikei & then Manawatu.
For me though, Waikato has always been home. I was raised there, I have worked and played there, and now I’m raising my family there. As one of five children, I grew up in a competitive, family focused home where strong values were instilled in us.
Values such as: hard work and enterprise (& fair reward for it); taking responsibility for your actions; strength and importance of family; equal opportunity; and standing up for what we believe in. We were encouraged to use our initiative, to try new things and to ask questions.
We had a very rural upbringing, although my parents are teachers, and we were constantly interacting with the outdoors – generally racing around the countryside with skinned knees & bare feet. Hunting, camping, and fishing were regular activities.
I remember that when we would go fishing from the wharf, Dad needed to concentrate on the fish, of course, so he would tie a rope around my chest & secure it to a post on the wharf, easy retrieval in case I should fall in – yes, Health & Safety in action, even back then. That’s what I choose to believe anyway, and not that I was a burley pot in case the fish weren’t biting!
We would spend long summer days exploring on family farms, or in later years, helping with chores once we became useful. Or on crisp winter mornings, breaking ice on the troughs to use as a Frisbee, or watching the horses’ breath steaming as they were galloped around the track.
Those early years on farm were some of my best memories & developed into a true passion for the Primary Industries; a passion that continues still. I believe we were very lucky to grow up in such an environment, but then, really, it’s the typical Kiwi upbringing that so many of us are lucky to have had.
I’m proud to be Kiwi & I’m proud of the diversity that often reflects for each of us. For me, on my mother’s side, our ancestors arrived in New Zealand from the UK in the 1860’s, and my father’s parents arrived in the 1950’s from the Netherlands.
My hometown of Matamata was, & still is, a jewel in the Waikato crown. One of those great provincial New Zealand towns. I enjoyed my schooling at Matamata College before heading to Waikato University where I obtained a Social Science degree, majoring in Psychology.
During this time, I also trained as a Scuba Diving Instructor – as you do when living in the most inland city in the country. This degree and diving combination, as I’m sure you’d expect, naturally lead to becoming a dairy farmer… my journey has been varied!
The New Zealand Young Farmers organisation was a key part of my life for 13 years. It was through this organisation that I got my first governance experience. Young Farmers was a key contributor to my desire to become an MP. It developed that knowledge that the decisions we made could positively, or negatively, influence the experience of the grass roots members.
Making those calls with the best interests of others in mind, guided by our values. I get great satisfaction from helping people, from supporting them to learn to grow & to succeed. Acknowledging, of course, that success may be measured differently by each of us.
Over the years, my Primary Industries involvement has also led to opportunities to visit Australia, Japan, the UK, & Singapore. We are indeed global leaders in this space.
But with the increasingly disruptive technologies that are now emerging & the changing expectations of consumers, we must be more nimble, more innovative & more united as an industry & as a country, if we are to continue to succeed.
Winning the Young Farmer of the Year Contest was a highlight of my time in the industry. It had long been a dream. Achieving it was a reflection of the team of people helping me – their skills, knowledge & enthusiasm coupled with their willingness to impart that to me. As in so many pursuits, a great team will accomplish great things.
Working as a rural bank manager was a role I loved. Building an understanding of someone’s business, helping them achieve their dreams & aspirations was hugely rewarding. I learnt so much from them too, there is always another perspective. Alongside this, I was able to achieve my own dream of getting into farm ownership.
Having a background across dairy, sheep and beef, horticulture & agri-business is very important in a strong rural area like the Waikato. Having said that, there’s more to the Waikato than cows & crops.
That’s where my experience as a business owner; time working in the tourism sector; service in the NZ Army; and voluntary roles like the St. John Ambulance, enable me to better relate to and understand the diverse range of people in our electorate.
For anyone who has served in the military, I am sure you can appreciate the physical & mental adversity you are frequently presented with. For example, being tasked with Sentry duty – sitting out in the Waiouru tussock, in a hole in the ground at 2:00am, with the sleet driving horizontally, not having slept in three days.
And in the distance, you can see the Desert Rd, with occasional headlights twinkling through the sleet – and you wonder if the driver of that vehicle faces the same challenges you do. Or perhaps, rather than the biting cold, they’re biting into a hot pie; & rather than sitting in a hole, they’re sitting in a leather seat with a seat warmer. Character building moments.
I share these experiences & memories because they have shaped me. It’s the ‘why’ of who I am. It’s also the basis from which my own personal motto comes: If it is to be, it is up to me.
It’s about taking responsibility for your own journey. Driving yourself onward, challenging yourself & thirsting for more. Education is a lifelong experience – you can always learn something from the people around you.
Each day, we can wake up & be a better version of ourselves than we were the day before. But it requires courage, determination, a focused plan & hard work. It doesn’t mean being on your own though, I love working & succeeding as a team.
On that note, the most important team of all is my family. Thanks to my wife Hilary, to my parents, Ron & Sue, who are all present today. Thanks to my siblings, present & watching from afar.
It is a blessing to have the opportunity with my amazing wife, Hilary, to now raise our own family. We have two wonderful children: our beautiful Isobella, nearly two; and sturdy wee Arthur, who arrived only a month ago, shortly after the election.
An election with a young family is not easy, clearly, I have an incredible wife! I would like to acknowledge Hilary – it’s an honour to be your husband.
I love your strength, compassion, intelligence & beauty. You inspire me to be better every day. Actually, it’s our third wedding anniversary today. What more romantic setting could one desire to celebrate such an occasion?!
I love innovation & I thrive on a challenge. In politics, the job is never done. There is always something more that can be achieved, some competing need. I’d like to acknowledge Lindsay Tisch for his dedication as the MP for Waikato over the last 18 years.
His contribution to the National Party extends well before the time he spent as MP & I would like to extend my thanks for all that he & wife Leonie have done. I wish you both the best for the future.
In the Waikato, we have some exciting opportunities in front of us. We need to continue to capture the growth potential with ongoing significant investment in infrastructure.
The Waikato is of great strategic importance given our location in the Golden Triangle, as well as the diversity of economic potential in the region. I will help the newly minted Minister of Regional Development to keep this front of mind when looking for projects to support.
We have an opportunity to further empower our communities. I believe that education is the foundation of opportunity. Our communities are diverse, we are all different, which makes us all unique. But we are all equal, and we can all succeed, though success may look different for each of us. Those who aren’t currently succeeding need help & encouragement to do so, & I will work towards this.
We have an opportunity to strengthen relationships between rural & urban New Zealanders. The strength of the Waikato, & New Zealand, has historically been underpinned by the success of the Primary Industries. And although we now have a lot more diversity, the sector remains a significant contributor to our success.
Farming continues to evolve: how we farm now is not how we farmed 10, 20, 50 years ago and it won’t be how we farm 10, 20, 50 years in the future.
Primary producers are typically great at adapting to their changing landscape, but they need a supportive structure to facilitate this. The ongoing negative agenda being pushed by some groups is counter-productive & divisive.
Let’s work together. We must be sustainable – environmentally, socially & economically.
We have an opportunity to improve our tourism offering. There are so many amazing places in our region, places that are the envy of the country & indeed, the world. Places like Wairere Falls, Port Waikato, the Hakarimata Track, Hobbiton, Nikau Caves.
I ran the Athens marathon in Greece some years ago – a wonderful experience, but very commercialised. Likewise, climbing Mt Fuji, Japan’s highest mountain – a powerful, spiritual experience passing through the shrine at the summit, only to see a Coke vending machine atop the peak. That’s fine for them, but it’s not the Kiwi way. So many tourists come to New Zealand for our relatively unspoilt & raw beauty. Let’s showcase it more.
As I draw to a close, I am confident that my vision & values, my skills & experience, my enthusiasm & determination, will ensure that I am able to contribute to the success of the Waikato & to all of New Zealand.
To my Waikato constituents, I look forward to justifying the confidence you placed in me when you voted. It is my hope that I am able to add to the mana of this House & that after I am gone, some new, fresh faced MP will experience that same sense of awe, & be further inspired to make our great country, greater still.
That picture of the Waikato I shared at the start of this address: the scenery, the successful farms; the vibrant towns; the united communities & the ever-present opportunity.
This can and should relate to all of New Zealand. I am committing to making this picture, our reality. I look forward to serving New Zealand.
Remember, that every day, we can be better than we were the day before.