I just got around to watching last week’s valedictory speech by my local MP, John Hayes. It brought home to me (not that I was really in any doubt) that the Wairarapa is losing an exemplary parliamentary representative.Hayes has been in Parliament for three terms and increased his majority each time. He has been a ferociously hard-working MP, putting in long hours and travelling vast distances in one of the country’s bigger rural electorates.
He has fought hard for local causes. Masterton’s Makoura College would have closed in 2008 without Hayes’ dogged resistance. Now its roll has doubled and despite being a decile 2 school serving a predominantly low-income area, it’s achieving NZCEA results that exceed the national average.Hayes has also lobbied tirelessly for local irrigation schemes and was the key player in negotiations to re-establish a Masterton-Auckland air link – still not confirmed – after Air New Zealand abandoned its service.
Those are all reasons to respect him, but his valedictory speech reminded me of another one. Hayes has always spoken his mind, possibly to the detriment of his political career.His departing comments were characteristically blunt, although delivered without rancour. While praising his colleagues across all parties for their hard work behind the scenes, he was critical of Parliament’s toxic atmosphere. He recalled visiting the Swedish and Danish parliaments, where MPs debate issues respectfully, and wondered why we couldn’t do the same here.
He gave the media a serve, too, and asked why anyone would consider a life in politics when they risked being publicly pilloried for every minor slip-up.A former diplomat who played a crucial role in the negotiations that ended the disastrous Bougainville civil war of the 1980s, Hayes also talked about a parliamentary visit to Israel that led him to conclude that most Israeli politicians weren’t remotely interested in settling things with the Palestinians. He didn’t refer directly to the current conflict in Gaza but said: “To Israelis, I simply ask you: have you no humanity?”
Whether you agree with him or not, these are not sentiments one expects to hear from a National Party backbencher – not even in his last days in the House. But it was a typical example of Hayes speaking his mind, and it helps explain why he was never greatly favoured by the party hierarchy.People who speak their mind in politics are often considered a liability by their leaders, even if voters respect them for it. National rewarded Hayes’ honesty with a consistently low place on the party list, well below seat-warmers and useless blowhards like Tau Henare.
Hayes will be missed. It remains to be seen whether the candidate National is putting up to replace him, winery owner and former international banker Alistair Scott, is made of the same stuff.