Anne Tolley reflects on her work in politics as she bows out

8:39 pm on 30 June 2020

After 34 "fantastic" years in politics East Coast MP Anne Tolley is retiring to spend more time with her family.

Anne Tolley May 24 2016

Anne Tolley (file photo). Photo: RNZ/Elliott Childs

Earlier this year Tolley said she would not be contesting the East Coast seat and was hoping to step into a new role as Speaker of the House if National was successful in the September election.

However, she has now decided to retire from politics.

Tolley said she has had a fantastic career and mostly loved every minute of it.

"It is an enormous privilege to represent your community, in both local and central government, and I am very grateful for the opportunities that has provided for me," she said.

"However, it does require huge support from your family, and I have been so fortunate to have that support over the years, from my wider whānau and especially from my husband Allan.

"I have described him as a political widower, left at home too often, taking second place to my job. It is time to put him, and the family, first."

Tolley began her career in politics in 1986 when she was elected to the Napier City Council. She joined Parliament in 1999 as a list MP and first won the East Coast electorate in 2005.

While in Parliament Tolley served as the first female National Party whip, and was also the first woman to hold the role of Minister of Education.

She has also served as the Minister of Corrections, Police, Children, Local Government, Tertiary Education, the Education Review Office, Social Development, and as deputy speaker.

Of her long career, Tolley said her highlight was winning the East Coast seat five times.

"It has always been important to me to get around our smaller communities as well as Gisborne and Whakatāne, to ensure their voices were heard and considered, and the election results always tell you if that has been successful," she said.

Tolley cited achievements in education, police and corrections as other highlights.

She introduced trade academies for students to learn trades while at school, as well as service academies preparing students for employment in the armed forces and wananga-based secondary education.

"I realised in the global financial crisis we risked too many of our young people leaving school because it wasn't relevant for them," Tolley said.

"Many of them learn kinetically, making things, and there was an opportunity to get them started on a trade before they left school and drifted. Of course, it has been a huge success and grown and even this new government have expanded it."

Tolley said she loved being Minster of Police and New Zealand was lucky to have well-trained police committed to preventing harm.

"They were coping with outdated technology, and I was pleased to provide iPhones and iPads for them to communicate, and of course that has enabled photographing crime sites, taking statements from victims immediately, all of which can ease stress on victims and aid prosecutions," she said.

As Minister of Corrections, she set a target of reducing reoffending by 25 percent.

"We introduced mental health assessments and education assessments for each new prisoner, set up massive training and educational opportunities, and New Zealand's first working prison," she said.

"I remember in Christchurch prison we took Housing NZ homes that had earthquake damage and refurbished them to replace in new suburbs, and the trainees were in high demand by employers they were so well trained."

Tolley also had the opportunity to improve the lives of children taken into state care, which she said was her biggest concern while in Parliament.

She said these children were the most vulnerable, and had their lives "woefully damaged" by the state.

"Most of our prisons are filled with ex-state wards," she said.

"To dig out the real issues of unaddressed trauma, constant moving from home to fostering, lack of education support, mental health support and even health support, was shameful. To make it worse we then dumped these kids out into the world at 17 and expected them to get on with it."

Tolley said as the Minister of Social Development she set about reforming the system and it was her "great regret" she wasn't able to oversee the implementation of the reform, but the current minister had done a great job.

"The other big piece of work I started, with colleague Amy Adams, was to bring a whole-of-government focus on family violence," she said.

"We brought 12 or 13 agencies together to start sharing information, working with the victims, and addressing the rehabilitation of perpetrators.

"Again, the current government have built on that work, and implemented most of the plans we laid down in trials," she said.

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