New National MP James Meager delivers powerful maiden speech telling the left they 'don't own Māori, the poor, or the workers'

New National MP James Meager has delivered a powerful maiden speech in Parliament, telling the left they "do not own Māori", "the poor" or "the workers".  

"No party and no ideology has a right to claim ownership over anything or anyone," he said.  

The newly elected Rangitata MP said that to some he may been seen as a "walking contradiction".   

"A part-Māori boy raised in a state house by a single parent on the benefit. Now a proud National Party MP in a deeply rural farming electorate in the middle of the South Island. But there is no contradiction there."   

He said those on National's side of the House were a "broad church" of "town and country, liberal and conservative, old and young, professionals and workers".  

"What unites us is our fundamental belief that it's the individual family unit that knows what's best for their family, not the state, not the government, and not us. That is why I stand where I stand today, on this side of the House."  

Meager said that he understood some in Parliament wanted to "disrupt and challenge the status quo".  

"But in doing so we must respect this institution, we must respect its traditions, and we must respect those who have come before us and who have cleared the way for our many voices to be heard."   

In what was the first maiden speech of the 54th Parliament, Meager spoke of how the state should be a "safety net" that helps when people fall "but which then gets out of the way when we're back on our feet and lets us get on with our lives".  

To highlight his point, Meager explained how he came from a "poor" family, but despite that "never went without". 

His dad (Ngāi Tahu) was a "little Maori kid who was kicked out of school at 14 and never told his parents", instead hiding in his bedroom and spending afternoons at the river until he could work at 15. He would go on to be a freezing worker for most of his life, Meager said.  

"Until yesterday he had never stepped foot in the North Island," Meager said.   

But his dad wasn't around for much of Meager's childhood, the new MP said.   

"That's put a strain on our relationship which has never healed, and which may never heal," he said.  

"But I don't blame him for that. We are products of our upbringing, we navigate through the world with the tools that we are given, and sometimes those tools just aren't fit for purpose. Forgiveness and redemption are words often over-used, but they're words that are fit for this moment.  

"We shouldn't judge people based on who they once were. We can only judge someone on who they are today compared to who they were yesterday. I know my Dad is making up for lost time. I'm so glad he's here today, and I love him dearly."  

James Meager.
James Meager. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Meager said his mum had worked as a cleaner, teacher and now at Countdown in Timaru.    

"I'm so glad she is here today, and I love her dearly. Mum and Dad split up when I was in kindergarten, so Mum brought me, and my younger brother and sister up on her own. A single mum in a state house on the benefit, with three kids. I know what it's like to be poor."  

He said he knew what it was like to grow up sharing a bedroom with his brother until he was 18, to walk everywhere because his family didn't have a car until he was nine, and he knew what it was like to see his father struggle with bills "and borrow money from his kid's school savings account".  

"My recollection is that yes we were poor, but we were never in poverty. Mum always made sure there was food on the table, clothes on our backs, and books in our school bags. Mum made sure schooling was everything. We always went to school. Every. Single. Day."  

He said it wasn't the state that "saved my family".   

"It was my Mum. She took responsibility for our situation. When we fall on hard times, as we all will at some stage, it's our neighbours and our community that should rally around in support. Only after does the state become our safety net, as the neighbour of last resort."  

He said the Government should create a system "which makes it as easy as possible for good people to make the right decisions".  

"But instead we have a system which creates broken families and turns good people into lost souls. It's not right. It must change," Meager said, before expressing his support for the social investment scheme that National intends to introduce.  

National's social investment approach involves intervening early to address issues in people's lives to ensure there will be better outcomes in the long run. This is done by using data to identify those who may need social services.  

"When we look at spending as an investment, rather than a cost, we can focus on outcomes that benefit not only the health and wellbeing of the individual, but also the back pocket of the taxpayer. That is what social investment does," Meager said.   

"If we invest thousands in supporting the first thousand days of a child's life, we can save millions in long-term costs that stem from poor health and poor education."  

Another change he wanted to see was allowing those who train in education and health in CANZUK countries to work in New Zealand as a right.