I would like to pay my tribute to Geoff Braybrooke who died late last week. Although clearly he and I were on different sides of the political fence I acknowledge and respect him for his work in trying to get recognition of the Agent Orange problem long before it was fashionable to do so. In my experience timing in politics is everything and Geoff would have been hugely frustrated with his inability to progress the issue.
In late 1989 and with Labour in power he introduced a Private Members Bill calling for the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry into the extent that exposure to Agent Orange and the like may have had on the health of Vietnam veterans. He would have been disappointed that his Party would not agree to progress this as a Government measure but rather, forced him to take the Private Members Bill route. The Bill did not go anywhere and lapsed in the early 1990s. As I said, part of the issue was timing. In the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s there was no great public sentiment to address the issue.
But Geoff did not help his/our cause by once claiming in the heat of debate that, while in Vietnam, he shot VC with a crossbow. This led to his Parliamentary nickname of 'Crossbow' used derisively by MPs of all persuasions. I suspect Geoff regretted making the claim which was used by some to discredit VVets as a 'strange lot'. There is a lesson to be learned in making extravagant claims. They can sometimes come back to bite with a vengeance.
Geoff would have taken great satisfaction that 12 years after he first tried it was a Labour Government (albeit with huge prodding from Judith Collins) who agreed to hold a formal Select Committee Inquiry into the AO issue. He was also present in the House to hear the cross-party apologies that followed the signing of the MoU when he was honoured by being accorded a seat to the left of the Speaker on the floor of the House.
Geoff was an ex London Bobby who emigrated to New Zealand in the mid 1950s joining the Army to serve operationally in Malaya as a medic with 1 NZ Regiment and later in Vietnam with the Services Medical Team. He entered Parliament in 1981 as the MP for Napier, a seat he help for seven terms (21 Years). He was on the Right of his Party as a social conservative and campaigned aggressively against homosexual law reform which would not have endeared him to many of his Labour colleagues. In 1996 and following Helen Clark's election as Labour leader he briefly toyed with the idea of establishing a new Centre Party under the leadership of Mike Moore. Clearly that was not to be. In his final term he was elected Deputy Speaker. On his retirement he was honoured by the Queen being made a Companion of the Queens Service Order (QSO).
You knew where you stood with GB. He had friends across the political divide. There was always the bit of the WO2 in Geoff. I can remember in the March to Parliament, part of Tribute 08, and GB standing on the sidewalk as you approached Parliament and bellowing out his his best WO2 voice "come on you hairy-arsed medics show them (us) how to march" ... priceless.
Geoff, thank you for all your work on our behalf. Thank you for your service to New Zealand. Sleep well.