Thank you Mr Speaker.
Can I start by acknowledging and congratulating you on your election as the Speaker of the House.
I also wish to say that in my time leading the wine industry, I thoroughly enjoyed working with you in your capacity as the Minister of Primary Industries.
I would also like to acknowledge the Kaikoura Members of Parliament that have gone before me; Tom Shand, Sir Douglas Kidd, Linda Scott and Colin King. I will endeavour to serve the electorate as well as my predecessors.
Mr Speaker, I stand here today honoured to have been elected as a Member of Parliament, privileged to represent the people of Kaikoura. As a first time candidate, I find it truly humbling that I was elected with a record majority. This is something I will never take for granted.
I personally judge my successes by the quality of the people who surround me, and to this end, my talented and hardworking campaign team are no exception.
I would like to acknowledge Campaign Chairman Tim Leslie. Tim is one of those special people who understands and enjoys politics, but chooses to stay in the background and promote others. Tim is in gallery today and I would like to take this opportunity to thank him for his hard work and wise counsel.
I would also like to acknowledge and thank my campaign committee, many of whom have travelled to be here today. The hours invested and kilometres travelled by you all were invaluable to the outstanding result we achieved.
The Kaikoura electorate is a reflection of New Zealand at its best – boasting strong forestry, aquaculture, manufacturing, aviation and tourism sectors. The area has a long and rich history; the oldest recorded archaeological site in New Zealand is on the Wairau Boulder Bank in Marlborough.
As the fourth largest general seat, the Kaikoura electorate covers 21,000 square kilometres.
With over 2,000 kilometres of pristine coast line, 40 per cent of the electorate area is administered by the Department of Conservation (DOC) on behalf of New Zealanders.
Kaikoura has a rich farming background, with Molesworth being the biggest landholding at over 180,000 hectares.
We also produce 80 per cent of New Zealand wine in the Waipara and Marlborough wine regions.
Most of the population lives in the urban area in the Northern part of the electorate, with the remaining population spread out over a long, narrow and at times rugged strip of land. From my home it is a four hour drive to the Southern tip of the electorate, with a long winding drive and boat ride to the Northern tip on D’Urville Island.
Mr Speaker, I was born on a Mid Canterbury sheep farm just South of Methven, close to Mt Hutt. I fondly remember that from our house on a clear day we could see the outline of the ski lifts.
My father was a blade shearer, and still holds the record for shearing the most full wool merino wethers in a day at Mt Arrowsmith in the Ashburton Gorge. Dad worked his way into the farm through shearing, and taught my brothers and I that we could have anything in life we wanted, as long as we worked hard for it.
While I was privileged to grow up being able to ski, it was a privilege we had to work for. We had to earn enough money to pay for our days skiing and weren’t allowed to go until the work was done. This meant early mornings and hard labour.
Those values of working hard and reaping the rewards of your endeavours are very dear to me and align perfectly to those of the National Party. That is why I am so proud and privileged to stand here today as a National Member of Parliament.
As everyone in this House knows, we can’t do what we do without the support of our families and I wish to acknowledge that.
I am very proud to have my family here, including my Mum and Dad, to share this special moment with me today.
I am married to Julie and we have three teenagers Hugo, Louis and Fenella who are also here today, as are Julie parents.
Julie and I started out together farming on the family farm, with Julie working as an occupational health nurse at the local Fortex freezing works. We both wanted to reach further up the value chain and the wine industry offered that opportunity. So we bought a half share in Julie’s family vineyard in Marlborough in 1994 and grew grapes on contract to local wineries.
It wasn’t long before we decided we wanted to take the next step and make our grapes into wine. This is an exciting process, to take the raw material that you grow with your own hands and process it into a finished product. A product that you can, if all else fails, drink yourself. Learning new skills along the way was great fun in the collegial atmosphere that typifies the wine industry.
However, having grown the grapes and bottled the wine the real work begins when selling it. The domestic market is too small to absorb all that New Zealand produces, which led us to become exporters. So we hopped on a plane and walked the streets of some of the world’s great cities to sell our wine. While we had fun along the way, this was a great challenge which taught me many lessons.
The world doesn’t owe us a living and we don’t need to, nor can we, afford to sell on price alone. New Zealand is a niche producer meaning we must seek out niche markets and extract as much value as possible. But this takes investment in marketing.
Mr Speaker, this highlights one of the issues facing New Zealand export businesses. Producing products is a capital hungry exercise and having produced something means you are only half way there. The real value is in the brand. Unfortunately marketing and a brand are intangible and something while potentially very valuable, may not be what financiers are likely to secure debt against. While Julie and I were fortunate to overcome this barrier, it is a real constraint on the growth and development of the export sector.
Foreign investment has been a point of debate through the 2014 election campaign. I would like to take this opportunity Mr Speaker to remind Members that without foreign investment the wine industry would not be where it is today.
Investment by foreign owned wine companies brought so much more than money to the table. They certainly brought much needed capital, but more importantly, they brought a route to international markets.
My journey into politics began in the wine industry. I got involved in the local Grape Growers Association and worked my way up onto the board of New Zealand Winegrowers, serving six years as Chairman of the Board until I stood down in late 2012. During my time in the Chair, wine exports grew from $600m per annum to $1.1B. This rapid growth and change brought about many challenges, but ones that I enjoyed tackling.
I am a proud member of the National Party Bluegreens as environmental sustainability issues have always been important to me. I remember as a boy on the farm helping Dad burn barley stubble and thinking there had to be a better way.
Sustainability is a major plank of New Zealand Winegrowers philosophy, and during my time as Chair we had a stretch target of 100 per cent of the industry being members of a sustainability program, whether that be organics, biodynamics or Sustainable Winegrowing NZ. I am proud to say that the industry achieved this gaol one year ahead of our target.
One of the keys to sustainable growth is undoubtedly irrigation, and I’m proud to say that I am a founding member and Chairman of the Southern Valleys Community Irrigation Scheme. This is a scheme that irrigates 4,500 hectares in Marlborough’s dry Southern Valleys.
One of the big opportunities in our electorate is the Hurunui Water Project with a command area of 42,000 hectares. When fully developed, the scheme has the potential to generate $470m in new GDP and create 3,300 new jobs in the wider Canterbury region. I will be working alongside the schemes promoters to help bring it to fruition.
Further North, the Flaxbourne Community are also considering their own irrigation scheme and I look forward to offering the benefit of my experience to help the community through the process.
Mr Speaker, I have had some experience as an advocate for local health services. In 2013 a paper to senior medical staff of the Nelson Marlborough DHB outlined a proposal to cut acute surgical and orthopaedic services at Wairau hospital in Blenheim, reducing them from 24 hours 7 days a week to essentially office hours - 5 days a week. This, given the distances involved, would have been dangerous and totally unsatisfactory to the local community.
I was one of four founding members of a group set up to oppose those cuts. With very little time we were able to attract 1,000 people to a public meeting, and as a result, the DHB gave an assurance that the proposed cuts would be dropped and instead instituted a DHB wide review of services. The results of which have given the community much heart and confidence in the future.
They say to win an electorate seat you need to burn a lot of shoe leather. In the Kaikoura electorate you also need a lot of Firestone rubber as State Highway 1 is the artery of not only the electorate, but a vital link for the South Island as well.
During my first term, I will be advocating for the replacement of the last remaining 1 lane bridge on Highway One at the Hurunui River. The time has come Mr Speaker for this to change.
A coastal feeder service out of Picton is also long overdue and something I have been advocating for some time now. There are significant savings to be made for exporters from such a service, and with the shipping industry moving to a hub and spoke model, the time is right. I will be working alongside Port Marlborough and the Marlborough District Council to make this a reality.
Recently there has been wide consultation on the future of the Marlborough Colleges. This is an exciting opportunity for the community to review the future of secondary education for the region. As a parent I welcome this and will work hard to ensure Marlborough receives the best outcome for our younger generation.
I am delighted to join a National-led Government that will introduce a bill to create a recreational fishing park in the Marlborough Sounds which will be managed by an advisory group made up of local interests. This is a major change in devolving management from a Government Department to local interests, drawing on a successful Te Korowai model in Kaikoura.
Mr Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to present my maiden speech. I look forward to working with you and all Members as we face the challenges that lie ahead.
Watch Stuart's Maiden Speech here