Paul Swain has left the building

September 26, 2008

I interviewed Paul Swain, MP, just before Labour won its initial victory in 1999/2000. He was the spokesperson on IT and communications and although not a natural at either, he spoke clearly and plainly about what he saw was important.

After the election he became minister for both portfolios and also a couple of other minor things. Like transport. And corrections.

What I didn’t realise while I was badgering him about the slow rate of regulation in the telco sector (and he oversaw some shocking decisions, like the TSO reform and the hiring of Douglas Webb as first telco commissioner but also some extremely good ones, like the introduction of the Telco Act) is that he was also overseeing the complete overhaul of the financial sector to move New Zealand’s stock exchange from the wild west days into something you’d actually trust with your money.

He introduced the Takeovers Code and commissioned the first panel, which saw an end to the astonishing days where you could wake up to discover the CEO and financial boss of your company had sold their shares, and your company, to some other bunch of clowns, made a fat profit and left you in the lurch.

He also found time to have a perforated ulcer, nearly bleed to death inside Parliament House, chat up and eventually marry the Minister of Health’s secretary and then have a baby. Not too shabby.

He was also incredibly funny as his final speech to the House will demonstrate. He famously quoted Mike Moore on being an MP (“It beats working for a living”) and described the early morning flights over Auckland that dumped poison on the Painted Apple moths as “the mothafocka” which made me spit tea all over my keyboard.

He also stood up to the cabinet when Douglas Webb made his farcical and disastrous decision to reverse his draft determination into unbundling and to not recommend it for introduction. It was Webb’s first ruling as Commissioner and Swain’s arguments against it were overruled by the cabinet. It has taken the country nearly five years to recover.

He decided to get out of politics for that hoary old chestnut “family reasons” but this time he’s genuine. I remember him telling me one day about his first wife and young family and how he missed out on raising his kids because he was constantly on the road as an MP. He said he’d been given a second chance and wouldn’t make that mistake again.

You can’t say better than that.

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