After 1000 speeches in the House, 2000 questions asked or answered and 10,000 days as an MP, Bill English has address Parliament for the last time in his 27-year career.
English spoke in front of a full House of MPs, and a gallery full of former MPs, officials and his family on Thursday afternoon.
For forty minutes, the former Prime Minister reminisced about his almost three-decade stretch as a member of Parliament.
His speech was as funny as it was moving – mixing anecdotes and stories from his past with acknowledgements and tributes to people who have helped him along the way.
“These unshaped islands, on the sawyer's bench. Wait for the chisel of the mind,” English said, quoting late New Zealand poet James K. Baxter.
“On March 13, when I officially resign, it would have been 10,000 days since I was elected… I am satisfied that every day I took my turn at the chisel,” he said.
English’s highlights as an MP include his eight-year tenure as Finance Minister, taking control of the Government’s books at the time of the Global Financial Crisis.
“It was my job,” he said, “to understand what the decision makers were doing. It was a global crisis so that meant global decision makers and to help explain to New Zealanders how we were going to find our way through what looked to be very difficult circumstance.”
Those main decision makers were Reserve Bank Governors, he said.
“If there are people put on earth to make Finance Ministers look interesting and charismatic, it’s Reserve Bank Governors,” he joked, with former RBNZ Governor Graeme Wheeler watching and laughing from the public gallery.
English also helped steer New Zealand through the devastating 2011 Christchurch earthquake.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern paid homage to his efforts in both occasions during the election last year.
Almost missed out on being an MP
English also joked about almost missing out on being an MP at the beginning of his career in 1990.
He planned to log a nomination form to represent the Wallace electorate an hour before the 5pm deadline in Gore, but English was informed at 11am the deadline was actually 12pm.
“I found myself stranded in Gore with enough signatures, but not the deposit – I had no chequebook and no car.”
He ran into one of the local banks and said: “give me $200 cash now!” After a few “awkward questions” the clerk got the manager, who happened to be a member of the National Party.
The manager said: “look just give him the bloody money, we will sort it out later.”
English got to the electoral office at 11:55.
“If the manager had followed the rules if any other number of things happened … there would have been no National candidate on the ballot and I would have spent the rest of my life driving trucks in the outback of Australia.”
Reminiscing about 2002
But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for English.
In 2002 he led National to it’s worst ever election defeat, bringing home just 21% of the vote.
He joked about this, saying his intense and bloody training for the “fight for life,” where for charity English competed in a boxing match, was a great practice run for that election and the period beyond.
“The composure that I learned under the tutelage of my [trainer], about how to stay composed while you’re taking the punches made all the difference to the capacity to lead my party through a very difficult period.”
English will be the first to tell you that he “got up again,” as he famously stated last year, in reference to clawing his way back to the top of the National Party.
After nearly three decades, he became Prime Minister in late 2016 after John Key’s shock resignation.
English acknowledged him in his speech, saying Key’s leadership made it a “pleasure to go to work every day.”
“He was almost as good as he said he was sometimes,” he said, to a chorus of laughter from the House.
English stood down as National’s leader and as an MP last month and the baton was passed to Tauranga MP Simon Bridges after a Caucus vote.
English congratulated Bridges, saying he has his full support – “you have the qualities to be a very effective political leader.”
He said he was proud of the work he had done with social investment and with the Maori and Iwi leader’s group.
His only regret after 27 years was “we were ready to do some good stuff if we had been re-elected but that’s politics.”