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Beyer's full speech: "The greatest moment of my life"

Thu 15 Feb 2007 In: Features View at NDHA

Valedictory speech by Georgina Beyer MP Presented to the New Zealand Parliament, 5pm, 14 February 2007 Georgina Beyer (drawn by Sasha McCoskrie) A RARE PRIVELEGE "It is a rare privilege for a member to be able to make a valedictory speech in this House. For those members who find themselves unsuccessful in an election, they do not get the opportunity. The odd member falls into disrepute and does not have the opportunity, necessarily, to make a final statement. But I do, and I am most grateful to the House for that privilege. I understand there is a sweepstake going around the Labour caucus at the moment, as to whether I might have changed my mind by the end of this valedictory, but I am afraid there will be a loser. This is my valedictory; as a member of the New Zealand House of Representatives I will depart officially this Parliament on Friday, 16 February. In light of that, I wish all members a happy Valentine's Day. I did not quite plan it to happen, necessarily, recognising what that date was. I have had a rare privilege, as we all do who sit in this House, to be a representative of electorates or of our parties through the party list. To serve in this House is indeed a rare opportunity for us all. I know that we all respect the grave responsibility that is handed to us by the people of New Zealand when we are elected to this House, and I acknowledge that. THE PUSH TO ENTER PARLIAMENT I would like to begin with some acknowledgements. A member does not arrive in this place without an awful lot of help and support, and trust and faith, from people. In 1998 I successfully retained the mayoralty of the Carterton district in the Wairarapa. I was approached by the New Zealand Labour Party to give consideration to running as its candidate in the seat of Wairarapa. That lobbying was spearheaded by a wonderful former member of this House, an icon in New Zealand politics and social history, Sonia Davies. A girl finds it very hard to refuse the kind of approach that she gets from such an iconic woman. I was not keen at first, I must admit, and I declined the invitation to run as a candidate. But I did accept the invitation to become a member of the New Zealand Labour Party. I subsequently, while attending a Hero Parade in Auckland, met with the Rt Hon Helen Clark, who further pursued my candidacy. And she was successful after that. I wondered, given my success in local government, whether I could push the barrow a little further and make it into the New Zealand House of Representatives as a member of Parliament. I am a transsexual. My achievements in local government had been historic internationally as the world's first transsexual to have been elected as a mayor. That was then followed up by a tremendous amount of support in my election into Parliament, which was also historic on the same scale—the first transsexual in the world to be elected to a parliament. I am very pleased and proud to say that I am now no longer the only transsexual in the world to serve in a parliament. When people have been asking me recently whether I have made a difference, from that count alone I think "yes." And it is not just me; it is the nature and character of our country and its fairness, in my belief, that we can look at a person and put aside some of the foibles and human frailties that occur in all or most of us at some time in our life, no matter what our beginnings have been. STRONG SUPPORT The support I received from the local Labour electorate committee in Wairarapa was tremendous. My campaign manager was Roger Beson. He was a tough taskmaster, I can tell the House, in respect of my getting around the electorate and promoting myself as possibly being its representative. I look into the gallery now and I see some of those faces up there of the chairs of the local electorate committee. I see Adam Floyd, I see Donald Simpson, and I see our current chair, Denise MacKenzie, sitting up there. I thank them all. I see Dave Morgan, who helped by being the campaign manager for the 2002 election. But beyond that it was the party faithful who first had possibly to bite their tongues at the suggestion that I might be a candidate for Labour, and they stood by me, they supported me, and they took me into the family. This is something that occurs to all of us, no matter what our party hue is. We become kith and kin when we come into this place. We forge strong relationships with our caucus colleagues and we learn how to be collegial amongst ourselves, no matter what our political persuasions are in this Parliament. This country is bigger than us all, and at times we have to cooperate in order to move forward. DIVERSITY EQUALS ROBUST DEMOCRACY But this is a House of Representatives and therefore the various views in the diverse country that we have need to be expressed and shown. The colour of this Parliament has certainly changed in that view. We have such a mix of representation in this House, whether it be ethnic, cultural, sexual, political, or whatever. There is a very good representation here in this House. Of course I was elected to a general seat. I am Maori, I am transsexual, and cover a number of minorities in that sense, and was successful. There again, it shows that we have a robust, democratic system in our country that does offer the opportunity for law-abiding New Zealanders who so wish to put themselves forward for public office, who will stand the scrutiny and the rigours of the life that we lead in this place. That is a mighty powerful thing. There are many nations in the world that admire our democracy, for [all] its faults. It is not absolutely perfect but it is coming reasonably close to it, compared to some jurisdictions around the world. THANKS TO THOSE WHO OPENED THE GLBT DOOR For the gay community of New Zealand, and certainly for the transgender community of New Zealand, my election was an inspiration but it did follow in the path, of course, of Chris Carter who is sitting next to me here, who was the first out gay member of Parliament to arrive, and also Tim Barnett who is sitting over here. These two individuals endured some of the more unpleasant nature of discrimination and prejudice, but they laid the path and through their own conduct they acquitted themselves well and have gotten on with their job, regardless of their being gay. This has to add to our country—that significant minorities can have a voice, can have a say, and can stand for representation in this House. The rainbow sector of the Labour Party, of course, was very important in helping to promote myself, along with the rest of the out gay community within our party. They have been active. I mention this because it is significant for the gay community of New Zealand to realise that while we do grizzle and groan over some matters still yet to be resolved we have come an awfully long way, certainly under a Labour-led Government. But of course it started more than 20 years ago with homosexual law reform, which of course was presented by Fran Wilde, the then Labour member of Parliament. And the world did not collapse; in fact, if anything it was enhanced. But one has to imagine the liberation it gave many people in a very difficult time during the 1980s, after the emergence of HIV and AIDS and some of the dreadful stigmatisation that happened toward the queer community at that time, not only here in New Zealand but internationally. This country has moved on tenfold in that regard. VOTING FOR CONTROVERSIAL LEGISLATION I have to say that there has been support from around the House, and very serious consideration has been given to the issues that have come before us. I have been proud to be a staunch supporter of some of the most controversial conscience issues in this Parliament in the last few years, particularly prostitution reform, and of course the Civil Union Bill and its accompanying statutory references legislation that was passed a few years ago. I will not ever resile from having been a staunch supporter of both of those, and in regard to the Prostitution Reform Act I have to say that it is quite coincidental now that perhaps the British Parliament might be interested in looking at that, given the tragedies that occurred in December in Ipswich relating to prostitute murders there at that time. I think it is a piece of legislation that will work. It may need some review, and of course that is under way, in the future. But, again, the world has not fallen in unnecessarily, in my opinion, because of the passing of that legislation. If anything, we are all far more aware of a situation that frankly we were quite ignorant about beforehand, and perhaps we preferred it to be that way in some respects. A STEEP LEARNING CURVE As you serve as a member in this House, you cannot do all the duties required of you without incredible support from your staff. I look into the gallery now and I see my parliamentary executive secretary Karen Gibson, I see Sheryll Hoera-Lilo, who was my electorate agent in my Dannevirke office, and I see Jo Seddon who has been my electorate agent in my Masterton office over these last seven years. Except for Karen, who had had a term in Parliament, I think working for the Hon Neil Kirton at the time, Sheryll, Jo, and I started from ground zero. In that time we learnt the hard way how to service the electorate of Wairarapa. I am grateful to all of you for the service you have given, not only to myself but to our constituents and to the Parliament, frankly, in helping in the democratic process. I will acknowledge you a little later in a more personal fashion when I have concluded this speech. For all the people who have felt inspired by my presence here in Parliament, I am grateful for that compliment. People have said to me: “Just exactly what have you achieved?” I mentioned before that my election to Parliament was inspirational in itself, and that alone is one thing, but I have supported what I believe has been a programme of a Labour-led Government since 1999 that I am most proud of. THE FORESHORE AND SEABED LEGISLATION The only legislation that I had difficulty with, and it is well known, was the foreshore and seabed legislation, which threw me into a bit of a corner at that time. I am Maori but I held a general seat. My electorate wanted me to support the Government but I was listening to my tupuna, I was listening to my whanau, who were not in support. We all experience from time to time being torn in this way. At the end of the day I did not have an electorate that would support me, should I have left the Parliament or defied my party. I was nearly going to go with Tariana [Turia, Maori Party co-leader], but I have been saying more recently that there is something to be said for loyalty, and occasionally the rigours of Parliament and the political discipline that we have to acknowledge and adhere to sometimes means we have to humble ourselves, and in that case I did. The party is bigger than I am, who we represent is bigger than I am, and indeed the job we have at hand is bigger than I am, so I humbled myself and acquiesced on that particular matter. But I have been given kind permission, of course, to be able to express my view and I hope I give a balanced view on that. I have been most proud to have been under the leadership of the Rt. Hon Helen Clark. This has been a historic three terms for Labour. That I should have been part of it has been a tremendous honour and a tremendous privilege. THE MEMBERLESS MEMBER Before I conclude my speech, you are waiting for some witty remark. I can tell you I have been trying to rack my brain for something such as that. In my maiden speech I made a flippant comment that became synonymous with Georgina Beyer. I will repeat it. I stated at that time that this was the stallion that became a gelding and then a mayor, and now, as it was at the time, I have found myself to be a member. Can I say to you at this point that while I have relished the opportunity of being a member in this House, I am glad I do not possess one! "THE GREATEST MOMENT OF MY LIFE" Finally, I want to thank the constituents of Wairarapa for their support as their representative for two terms. I am thankful for the kindness I have received from many thousands of New Zealanders in my daily life as a member of Parliament. I will always be a person who will have the utmost respect for our democracy. I have been pleased and proud to be a positive participant in our society. I am so glad that I have been able to redeem my more lurid past and practice the proper rights of being a citizen of this country. I could ask for no more than that, and whatever my future holds, this will have to have been the greatest moment of my life. Thank you." Editor's note: This speech transcript was based on a raw text kindly provided before their usual deadlines by Parliament's Hansard office. thanks the Hansard office for their early release of this important document to us. We have made only minor changes for clarity, indicated by square brackets. The headlines are's. Georgina Beyer MP - 15th February 2007    

Credit: Georgina Beyer MP

First published: Thursday, 15th February 2007 - 12:00pm

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