Chris Penk MP: Maiden speech
Thank you for this opportunity to address the Parliament, Mr Speaker; I do so with great expectations and excitement. I
congratulate you and your fellow presiding officers on your respective appointments.
Let me begin by recording my gratitude to all who voted in the electorate of Helensville, including - but not limited to
- those who did so for my Party and me. I acknowledge and thank my opponents for a campaign that was robust but
reasonable, and frank but fair.
I also acknowledge all fellow Members of this House, including in particular the “class of 2017” (on both sides of the
aisle) and my National Party colleagues under the strong and principled leadership of Bill English.
It’s well known that my immediate predecessor as MP for Helensville was Sir John Key. I’m grateful for the advice he has
generously given me. During the recent election campaign it was observed by many that I have “large shoes to fill” if I
am (extending the metaphor) to follow in the footsteps of Sir John.
Nevertheless I shall endeavour to tread the path that appears to me, exercising my own judgement in accordance with my
own experience and worldview, to mark the surest way to health and happiness for the people of Auckland’s northwest.
The Helensville electorate is magnificent. I may be biased – and indeed it would be strange if I were not – but in my
view it represents the very best of our nation, comprising as it does fertile farmland, commanding coastlines, bountiful
bush, secure suburbs, flourishing forests and beautiful beaches.
My journey to Parliament has been at once atypical (including many voyages over and under the oceans of the world, on
which more later) and in other ways somewhat typical (including a career in the law).
I completed a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Linguistics at 19 years of age, having already by then
commenced a lifelong love of language. I find a happy home here in Parliament, an institution whose words are powerful
enough to be known as “Acts”.
Along with my BA, I had started a law degree but (in a victory for adventure over academia) I chose to “run away to
sea”, so to speak, rather than face classes in jurisprudence.
More specifically, I served in the Royal New Zealand Navy as an officer of the watch on HMNZS Te Kaha, an Anzac-class
I was also privileged to serve in the role of Aide-de-Camp to Her Excellency the Governor-General, Dame Silvia
Cartwright, travelling around New Zealand and abroad as a member of the vice-regal household. At 22 years of age, I was
(at least at that time) the youngest person in NZ to have held the role.
Already by then a keen student of public law, at Government House I had the considerable privilege of witnessing “royal
assent” being given to legislation. In a strict constitutional and historical sense, it is law-making power beyond even
that enjoyed by this House.
In 2004, I joined the Royal Australian Navy to fulfil my dream of driving submarines. The genesis of that dream is
unclear to me but may have been my boyhood enjoyment of the Jules Verne classic, “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”.
As navigating officer of a diesel-electric submarine, I was driving a hybrid vehicle long before most Green Party MPs
ever did. Every submariner knows that the best stories of the silent service are seldom told, those of hard times and
good times alike.
Through the looking glass known as a periscope, I saw things over a decade ago that are still as clear in my mind’s eye
today as though I’d viewed them only yesterday.
My service with the Australian Defence Force was completed with Operation Iraqi Freedom, when I was stationed on a
shell-scarred oil terminal. And so it was that I spent Christmas of one particular year a metaphorical stone’s throw
away from where the Euphrates and Tigris rivers of ancient Mesopotamia still meet and flow together into the Northern
Arabian Gulf, in turn not far from the little town of Bethlehem.
To the men and women of the Defence Force, I say “Victor Mike Tango” … along with “over” rather than “out”.
It was then time to return to NZ, where I completed my law degree. On admission to the bar I practised law, eventually
in a firm that I established with a business partner, Ong & Penk Lawyers.
My experiences on the long and winding road to Parliament have shaped me for good and, almost without exception, also
for the better.
Next, my heartfelt thanks to the National Party campaign team and executive committee of the Helensville electorate. I
owe my place here to each one of you. Our leader, Stephen Franklin is a great New Zealander who has served with the SAS,
the police force, St John and of course, as mentioned earlier, Sir John Key.
To all National Party members, supporters and of course our voters: thank you too. I acknowledge the Party President,
Peter Goodfellow and his fellow Board directors, including Andrew Hunt, who is also to be thanked in his capacity as
Chair of the Northern Region.
Others who have supported me strongly and kindly in various ways are too numerous to name but they know who they are. I
also know and it is my solemn resolution never to forget.
Mr Speaker, it’s my belief that family members of politicians should not generally be mentioned in Parliament, for a
number of reasons. The exceptions that prove this rule for me are Maiden and Valedictory Statements, being rare
opportunities to thank those who are nearest and dearest.
First, my eternal gratitude to the best parents a son could wish to have: Debbie and Stephen Penk. Both are teachers by
instinct and indeed profession, my mother at various levels in the schooling system and my father as a lecturer at the
Law School of Auckland University.
They raised five boys in a household that was not wealthy in a material sense – far from it – but one rich in love. They
taught me the overriding importance of fidelity, family and faith.
We were raised in West Auckland and I attended the local state schools, of which Kelston Boys High School deserves
particular mention as a favourable, formative influence.
I’m also grateful for the love and support of all my brothers, and my sisters-in-law, and acknowledge the presence of
Alex and George in the Gallery today.
There is much that I could say about my grandparents but I’ll focus briefly on the experience of each during World War
II. This is because the self-sacrificial ethos of their generation – rightly called “the greatest” by many – is typified
by such service.
My grandmother, Joan Penk, joined the Women’s Auxiliary Airforce. As a “WAAF”, I hope that she would be pleased that I’m
now able to represent an area that includes the RNZAF airbase at Whenuapai.
Her husband, my grandfather Harold Penk served as a medic in the NZ Army. A brave and devoted man, he was mentioned in
dispatches at the time and it’s my pleasure to be able to mention him in Parliament now as well.
My maternal grandfather, Prof Forrest Scott, PhD was a naval officer in the Second World War, who bequeathed us a diary
in which he describes the torpedoing and loss of his ship, HMS Springbank by a u-boat.
His wife and my grandmother, Helen Scott, was a schoolgirl evacuated from Dover during the Nazi bombings. Her
determination was amply demonstrated by obtaining a degree in mathematics at Cambridge University in the 1940s, an era
in which women were actively discouraged from studying such subjects.
I’m delighted that she will be watching on Parliament TV today, provided that the Silver Ferns are not playing a netball
test on another channel at the same time.
I will also always be grateful to my dear parents-in-law: Ken and Tjoe Choe. They are invariably supportive and
generous, not least of all because they allowed me to marry their eldest daughter.
I met my beautiful wife, Kim at law school. An excellent journalist specialising in online news, she has recently (at
least temporarily) exchanged the Fourth Estate for first-time motherhood, a role she handles wonderfully well.
Our son was born just two days prior to the recent General Election. Jokes about her being in labour and me being in
National were not made in her hearing at the time.
Some might say that I will be spending my days here, sitting on the backbenches of the opposition side of Parliament, in
much the same way that a newborn baby does: making unreasonable demands and unintelligible cries, often due to an excess
of hot air, from the other side of a room. I could not possibly comment.
Mr Speaker, I move now from the personal to the political:
I joined the National Party immediately on my return to NZ in early 2008. For several years I served on the electorate
committee of Paula Bennett, twice as Electorate Chair.
In 2011, I represented her in a Judicial Recount of the Waitakere election result. That was under my mentor and friend,
Peter Kiely, Chair of the National Party’s Rules Committee, whom I thank now for many years of help and encouragement. I
recall walking into that room with our candidate behind by 11 votes and we emerged several days later with her ahead,
and accordingly the victor, by 9 votes. I will never forget that fascinating intersection of law and politics.
Mr Speaker, my values are closely aligned to those of the National Party, as you might well expect, in particular our
emphasis on providing equality of opportunity and a strong belief in the value of personal responsibility.
Beyond that, I would like to offer some thoughts on an aspect of law-making that is seldom considered and understood
properly even less. It concerns a paradox of choice and freedom.
Every person has rights that are limited by reference to rights enjoyed by others. That much is generally acknowledged
as a matter of principle, although in practice we do not always protect every heart that beats.
But perhaps more complex and interesting is the paradox of making laws that ostensibly offer choice and freedom to a
person but have the actual opposite effect. By way of example, a person who is offered by the law (and accepts) the
choice of taking an addictive substance will suffer from a lack of choice as a result of doing so.
Much more could be said along these lines – and will be said, I’m sure – in the coming months.
I also wish to comment briefly on the present electoral-constitutional arrangements of this country.
It has become clear that MMP governments are now invariably formed in three stages, only one of which involves the
voting public and two of which do not:
- first, an election, of MPs to seats, by the people;
- second, a selection, of the government, by politicians; and
- third, a collection, of some (but not all) of the relevant parties’ policies, again by politicians alone.
Given such democratic deficit inherent in the rules of the MMP game, it is unfortunate that the people are given so
little opportunity to view the way in which the game is played at the second and third stages.
Mr Speaker, in my hope that this speech will be watched at least once on YouTube, by someone other than me, I have
effectively created a game of Maiden Speech Bingo.
In these 15 minutes I have referred to three Beatles song titles, three Charles Dickens novels, three books of the Bible
and three famous naval ships.
Each is significant to me in some way. You may recall that I began addressing the House with “great expectations”, one
of the Dickens novel titles of course, but the rest I will leave to anyone interested in looking.
I conclude my remarks with the motto of the submarine on which I served, HMAS Sheean, which was simply “Fight On”.
I emphasise those words for two reasons:
First, I do not resile from the adversarial nature of parliamentary democracy but I will fight fairly. A contest of
ideas provides the least unsafe way of making the least dangerous laws.
In Opposition, we have not only the right but, more significantly, the responsibility to oppose bad government policy …
even as we support any good policy that they may propose. A legislative chamber that is fiery is not a bleak house but a
Second, that motto – Fight On – speaks to the high value I place on resilience, persistence and determination.
Mr Speaker, even as I finish now I promise that I will, at all times, fight on.