‘My skills in reality TV hold me in good stead for my time in this House’: Erica Stanford’s maiden speech

In a passionate parliamentary debut, the new National MP says concern for the environment must not be seen as the preserve of the left, and hails the impact of generational change

Erica Stanford was elected to parliament as member for East Coast Bays. She wrote a candidate’s diary for the Spinoff during the recent campaign. Read her entries, and those of fellow new MPs Kiri Allan and Chlöe Swarbrick, here  – along with their maiden speeches.

I would like to start today by acknowledging and thanking the people of the East Coast Bays for their trust and their confidence in electing me as their representative to this Parliament. I am deeply humbled by the support that I’ve received from my community, and I am especially proud to be the first female MP for the East Coast Bays.

This is my first rodeo and, as a rookie, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to a great many people for supporting me on this ride into Parliament. In particular, I would like to thank my electorate chair, Scott Browne; my high school buddy, good friend, and campaign chair, Vernon Tava; and my dear friend and right-hand man – partner in crime – Tony Hannifin.

Today I must also acknowledge and thank my predecessor and former boss of four years, as well, the Hon Murray McCully. Murray was first elected as MP for the East Coast Bays in 1987—a day after my ninth birthday—with a slim majority of 311 votes. For 30 years, he was a hard-working and well-respected member for the East Coast Bays, evident by the fact that he left this Parliament with a majority of over 15,000, which is a monumental effort—and just shy of my first majority of 16,000. I jest, but I am well aware that I am fortunate to ride on the shoulders of this political giant. Of course, he will go down in history as our finest minister of foreign affairs.

I am who I am because of my family, and I owe them so much for their part in getting me here today. To my parents: thank you so very much for making me watch the 6 o’clock news every single night growing up. Thank you for coaching me through all of those debates and speeches, and for encouraging me every step of the way.

To my incredible husband, Kane—partner of 21 years: our names on the Rangitoto College 5th form speech trophy a year apart sum us up so well. While I pontificated over the relevance of the United Nations and the challenges and changes that I believed were required for a more effective organisation for 10 probably-insufferable minutes, he talked about bus drivers. You are the yin to my yang. We make a great team. Thank you for supporting me on this journey and taking charge while I’m away.

To my children, Holly and Alex: you guys rock. I am so very proud of you. Holly, you changed my world, and I am so very proud of all the accomplishments that you have made. Alex, my special little guy, you make my heart sing. My journey to Parliament has been a rather windy road, with my deviations along the way. My first job was stacking shelves on the night shift at The Warehouse for $4.50 an hour. As a telephone market researcher, that job helped support me through my political science degree at Auckland University. From there, I had three very distinct careers, and a short stint as a stay-at-home mother, the combination of which has provided me with many insights across the private and public sectors.

I worked as an export manager for two iconic New Zealand manufacturers. I spent a great deal of my 20s travelling through Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, promoting unique and innovating Kiwi products, from placemats to acoustic insulation. I know first-hand that the incredible reputation of our country and our people overseas is invaluable, and that we must continue reducing trade barriers to create a level playing field for our exporters and access much larger markets.

I stand for a confident, ambitious, and outward-looking New Zealand that sees the world as a field of opportunities, not a vast unknown to be regarded with fear and suspicion. We should be open to the world, not fearful of it.

After a short break to start a family, I took on a new career as a television producer of everyone’s favourite genre, reality TV. I worked on a number of shows involving noise control officers, dog control teams, and the lifeguards of Piha Rescue. I put it to you that my skills in reality television will hold me in good stead for my time in this House, whether that be for the “neighbours at war” across the floor, the explosive drama of the “marriage at first sight” between the Greens and New Zealand First, or this Parliament’s special edition of Survivor, with the member for Epsom.

From there, I worked for Murray McCully in the East Coast Bays electorate office, helping thousands of locals, businesses, and organisations navigate their way through the various government departments. This really was the pointy end of policy, and reinforced my passion for my community and for solving problems.

The East Coast Bays is a very special place, and it has always been my home. Kane and I raised our family a stone’s throw from where I grew up, swimming at Long Bay beach and traipsing through the Ōkura Bush. I was born and raised there, Kane and I met at Rangitoto College, and we were married on the bank of the Long Bay marine reserve. I play in a local hockey team, I chaired the local business association, and I have worked in the electorate for eight years. The East Coast Bays reaches from the majestic Ōkura estuary in the north — a pristine marine reserve and breeding ground for the Hauraki Gulf — to Murrays Bay in the south, where kids do sweet bombs off the new wharf in summer, and out west, to Albany, once orchards and strawberry fields, and now the bustling business hub of the North Shore.

We are home to Rangitoto College — the largest high school in New Zealand — High Performance Sport New Zealand, Massey University’s Albany campus, and Business North Harbour, the largest business association in the country. About half of the electorate was born overseas: we have thriving communities of South Africans, Koreans, Chinese, British, Dutch, and others. Our ethnic diversity makes the bays a unique, culturally rich, and interesting place to live. It’s a beautiful, busy, thriving place, and it’s growing at a rate of knots.

There are many things that I want to achieve for the East Coast Bays, and my priorities are to ensure that we accommodate for the growth and that we continue to deliver more classrooms for our local schools, some of which are at capacity. I’ll be advocating for better transport solutions for the somewhat-overlooked shore. I’ll be applying pressure to clean up our waterways that feed into the beaches that our kids swim in, to help protect our marine reserve for future generations and to preserve those precious green spaces that the Rural Urban Boundary has, up until now, been safeguarding.

And it is my community from which I draw my inspiration. I am inspired by parents in the electorate, who make great sacrifice for their children, to ensure that the next generation has opportunities that they did not. I’m inspired by businesses like Rex Bionics and Sealegs marines in Albany, who are taking on the world and punching above their weight in typical Kiwi style. I’m inspired by people who get together to preserve and protect our environment, like Restore Deep Creek, Friends of Ōkura Bush, and the Long Bay Great Park Society. I’m inspired by people who go above and beyond the call of duty, like our local high school principals and our famous bird lady, Sylvia.

In my electorate, every day I see people working hard to do great things, to protect our place, and to provide for future generations. I want to work in a Parliament that gives these Kiwis — all Kiwis — opportunities to succeed. Where you’re brought up influences your values and so, too, does how you’re brought up.

My parents have played a huge part in shaping the values that have guided me through life and will, indeed, guide me in this Parliament. My father arrived in New Zealand from the Netherlands as a five-year-old, with his parents and three brothers. Like so many immigrants, they came to this country in search of a better life, willing to work hard, embrace their new country, and make sacrifices to achieve their dreams. Despite having very little and losing his father at a young age, Dad worked really hard at school, and later took a job at the local freezing works to support himself through flight school, so that he could achieve his dream of flying for his new nation’s airline. His 40 years of service and elevation to 747 captain at Air New Zealand are testament to the fact that there is no substitute for hard work and the fruits of your labour are a direct result of the effort that you put in.

My mum worked in our family business, growing hothouse grapes for export. Those long hours she spent in that intolerably hot glasshouse were to pay for the school fees for my brother, sister, and me to give us the best start in life. Thank you, Mum, for your sacrifice, for your hard work, and for making me the kind of mother that sacrifices everything for my kids.

Perhaps one of the most valuable things I inherited from my dad is that famous Dutch pragmatism. I come to this House with an open mind. My outlook is not restricted by the blinkers of inflexible political ideology. Rather, I am a firm believer in the importance of constantly scanning for those great ideas that can so often lie in the periphery of your vision. I am interested in what works.

An example of something that works, and one of the great success stories in my electorate, is the Vanguard Military School. Vanguard is a partnership school that has been incredibly successful in helping young people who have not done well in the mainstream education system. Not only were many of these young people not succeeding academically, they told me they had lost any belief in their own ability to succeed. This school, quite simply, has turned their lives around. I sat down with the students form Vanguard and I have seen for myself the confidence and the hope in the eyes of these young people who now have futures that they can look forward to for the first time. That is why I find it very troubling indeed that this Government has plans to shut down these schools purely on the basis of rigid political ideology. If we are serious about helping young people with dramatically different backgrounds and experiences, then we cannot continue to rely on the same old approaches done in the same old way.

The backdrop to my childhood was sausage sizzles, cake stalls, and garage sales to raise money for one community project or another. But it was my parents’ work to protect the Ōkura Estuary from a proposed tip site in 1980s that had the greatest impact on me. Ōkura is officially recognised as a jewel in our backyard, part of a pristine marine reserve bordered by a protected native forest and a walking track visited by over 70,000 people a year. But had it not been for a group of passionate locals and environmentalists who fought for over a decade this would be an environmental disaster zone. The battle was one of the defining moments for the electorate. It led to the protection of the Ōkura native forest and the establishment of the Long Bay Marine Reserve.

I’d like to pay tribute to the many different local conservation groups who fought and continue to battle to protect this very special place. I’m sad to say that the potential removal of the rural urban boundary will likely mean that your work is far from over. I am committed to continuing work with the many environmental groups in the East Coast Bays, to muck in with you, to help you, and to promote the work that you do, because our greatest treasure is this beautiful land. In the immortal words of Neil and Tim Finn, “we glisten like a pearl at the bottom of the world”, but we can’t take this for granted. It is a priority for us to restore and preserve this great treasure.

It’s always bothered me that environmental protection is cast as somehow a leftwing issue. Conservation — the care and the protection of nature — is part and parcel of the conservative political tradition to which my party belongs. I, for one, don’t believe that capitalism and environmental protection can’t sit together. The reality is that environmental protection is a priority for all of us. To solve the challenges that we face in our generation and the ones to follow, we need to go beyond conventional political boundaries. I’m interested in what works. We need a successful economy to pay for the choices we make to protect our environment. We need a diverse economy to add value to our world-class primary produce and to tread more lightly on the land. We need to cooperate across sectors and across parties so that the good work of one government is not undone by the next.

Sir, I come to this House believing in freedom, personal responsibility, and achievement through hard work and determination. And I believe that, as a society, it is our duty to help those most in need. If we are to improve the lives of all Kiwis, we need a society that fosters these values. We must be ambitious in our thinking and aspirational about what we can achieve: open to the world, not fearful of it; flexible in our approach and focused on what works, no matter where the idea comes from.

Mr Speaker, I love seeing the world through my children’s eyes. I love seeing how “normal” can change so much from one generation to the next. It will be normal for my children to have a young female prime minister. It’ll be normal for them to have their marriages defined by love and not by gender. It’ll be normal for them to think about sustainability in every aspect of their lives. Sir, I relish the challenge of working on policy that will continue to place us on the right side of history.

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