As Helen Clark left Parliament for the last time, she was draped in a permanent reminder of her years in politics - a feather cloak that once belonged to the late Maori Queen Dame Te Atairangikaahu.
Hauraki-Waikato MP Nanaia Mahuta placed the cloak on Miss Clark's shoulders yesterday as she bowed out of a 27-year career, nine of them as prime minister.
Minutes earlier, Miss Clark had spoken of the importance of settling Maori land grievances and her friendship with Dame Te Atairangikaahu, who died in 2006.
"As one who grew up on a farm on raupatu land in the Waikato, where our family's presence felt like it had been for ever, I cannot even begin to imagine the scale of loss felt by Waikato Tainui from the mid-19th century, but I hope that I and my government have played our part in putting right," she said.
In a valedictory that was essentially a rundown of her almost three decades in politics, Miss Clark did not use the word legacy, but laid it out anyway. She spoke of overseeing the introduction of KiwiSaver and the superannuation fund, policies aimed at sustainability, social changes such as civil unions, and an emphasis on arts, culture and heritage.
She recalled the joy of becoming prime minister in 1999, but made light of her darkest days as Labour leader a poll in 1996 that saw colleagues urge her to stand down.
"It put Labour on 14 per cent and me on 2 per cent as preferred prime minister. It doesn't get much worse than that. I am only surprised that concerned delegations of colleagues didn't beat a path to my door more often."
Her parting shot at National was oblique criticism of its decision to bring back knighthoods. "I deeply detest social distinction and snobbery, and in that lies my strong aversion to titular honours," she said.
As she spoke, the man who led the delegation but later became her most loyal lieutenant, Michael Cullen, sat by her side. Dr Cullen leaves Parliament at the end of the month.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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