MP Gallagher leaves with sense of honour
Martin Gallagher, long-serving former MP for Hamilton West, talks to Bruce Holloway
Ousted Hamilton West MP Martin Gallagher feels like he has come through the political equivalent of a bruising rugby test.
"I'm washed out, exhausted, like a rugby player at the end of 80 minutes," a wan-looking Mr Gallagher told the Waikato Times, 10 days after being voted out of Parliament.
But defeat does not necessarily mean the longest-serving MP in the history of Hamilton West is completely out of the game.
"I'm glad they sent you and not (Times obituary writer) Roy Burke," he said. "I still have some life left in me. Just because I am no longer an MP does not mean I will cease to be active in this community."
Mr Gallagher, 56, said it was too early to say what his future plans were. He was more concerned with the fact his electorate workers, Maxine Gillard and Janine Joubert, were also looking for new jobs.
But he does depart with a sense of honour at having survived longer than anyone else in a notorious bellwether seat.
Mr Gallagher held the seat from 1993-96, and from 1999-2008, outlasting National MP Mike Minogue (1975-84) by three years.
Only Sir Leslie Munro (National, 1969-72) has given a Hamilton West valedictory speech in parliament.
Every other MP, from Dorothy Jelicich (1972-75), Minogue, Trevor Mallard (Labour 1984-90), Grant Thomas (National, 1990-93) and Bob Simcock (National, 1996-99), met the same electoral fate as Mr Gallagher, since the seat was formed in 1969.
"I also lost in 1996, so I am literally check-listing a reference point to the same gamut of emotions," Mr Gallagher said. "These are naturally very personal and need to remain that way.
"Relative to the massive swing against Labour in the provinces, Otaki and ourselves (Hamilton West) would have been the two best results.
"We did very respectably, and I was also very humbled by the personal vote, which was above the party vote."
Mr Gallagher was at his most emotional when Hamilton East National MP David Bennett brought him flowers the day after his defeat.
"(Wife) Gillian and I were extremely touched and didn't have a dry eye," he said. "It was such a personal gesture, such a human thing to do, and reflective of relationships you build that cut across any political differences. Notwithstanding our different political views in Parliament, David and I got on really well as MPs.
"I enjoyed the rough-and-tumble of debate in the chamber, but that never carried over into anything personal."
Mr Gallagher said it had been a privilege to serve for so long.
"The wonderful thing about democracy is that we can have this kind of conversation about how people voted or didn't vote, and we are not chucking molotov cocktails at one another.
"When I went into the room with Tim Macindoe's supporters and the National Party on the Saturday night, I noted there was far more that united us as Kiwis than divided us.
"The democratic result played out, but isn't it wonderfully civilised when you look around the world at other elections, or attempts at elections that the defeated candidate can go and acknowledge the successful candidate?
"First and foremost, my 12 years as an MP have been as a Hamilton MP. I am deeply proud to have been part of the Labour Government, but I have focused on trying to work with people of all political persuasions."
Mr Gallagher said he had had no aspirations to be a cabinet minister, but hoped he would be remembered as "a competent select committee chairman who didn't stuff up" and "a hard worker who did his best for Hamilton".
He chaired the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade select committee which oversaw the free trade deal with China, and for five years was chairman of the Law and Order select committee.
He will perhaps be most associated with a private member's bill to raise the drinking age. The Sale of Liquor (Youth Alcohol Harm Reduction) Amendment Bill never proceeded, but in a classic piece of politics, became the catalyst for a fundamental review of our liquor legislation.
"Primarily if there is a memory there, I hope I am remembered as a hard-working MP for Hamilton who was part of a team which developed improvements in our transport, health, science infrastructure."
Regrets? "I acknowledge that in Wellington I didn't get on too well with a lot of the press gallery because I was not a showman."
Mr Gallagher said Helen Clark would be remembered as one of our great prime ministers. "History will be a lot kinder to the outgoing government than the voters were, but after three terms there was a natural mood for change." He said he would be supportive of Mr Bennett and Mr Macindoe in terms of anything they achieved for the Waikato.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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