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Bill English’s decision to call it a day on politics is a loss for National and New Zealand. I rate him as the most effective Parliamentarian of my generation.

He represents the best of Kiwi values. His farming roots kept him grounded. His years at University and Treasury developed his sharp intellect. He respected hard work. He consistently reminded officials: “it’s taxpayers money not the Government’s money”.

His experience as both a previous Health and Finance Minister ensured he balanced the need to grow the economy with improving public services.

Family is at the heart of Bill’s life and social views. He was the primary caregiver for his and Mary’s youngest child long before it was trendy. I am in awe that he has given 25 years to public life in tough ministerial roles while also successfully raising six children.

Bill’s wife Mary gave him a far broader perspective of New Zealand’s changing ethnicity. Her large family of 13 children came from Samoa to Wellington with little but an aspiration for a better life.  Her work as a GP helped keep Bill connected with the front line of our social services.

Bill applied these strong family values to his work. Many on the left of politics think the state can be a substitute for loving parents. The role for Government is supporting and strengthening families of which Bill supported many innovations. A good example is free GP visits for children and Nelson’s Young Parents School at Auckland Point.

Bill’s greatest contribution is steering New Zealand through the Global Financial Crisis and $20 billion cost from the Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquakes. No Government has left its successor with as good an economy. Unemployment is down to 4.5% and 10,000 new jobs have been created each month over the past two years. Government debt is at just 22% of GDP, less than Australia, the UK and the US. The cost of living rose less during his nine years than any Government in New Zealand history. The Government has healthy surpluses that is enabling big increases in household incomes on 1 April as well as improvements in in education and health services.

Election 2017 will go down as an odd result with Bill English securing many more votes and seats for National than any other party.  Bill English accepted the unusual outcome with good grace. Winston Peters responded to Bill’s retirement with spite and venom. This contrast speaks volumes about their different characters.

National faces the choice of who to lead for the next decade. We need someone with both business nous and a strong social conscience. We need new energy but also experience. I welcome the views and advice of Nelsonians at nick4nelson@parliament.govt.nz

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