State Farewell

Speech to the State Farewell luncheon, Parliament Buildings, Wellington
17 Aug 2011

For photographs from the State Farewell, please click here

I begin by greeting everyone in the languages of the realm of New Zealand, in English, Māori, Cook Island Māori, Niuean, Tokelauan and New Zealand Sign Language.  Greetings, Kia Ora, Kia Orana, Fakalofa Lahi Atu, Taloha Ni and as it is the afternoon (Sign)

I then specifically greet you: Rt Hon John Key, Prime Minister and Ministers of the Crown; Dr the Rt Hon Lockwood Smith, Speaker of the House of Representatives; Hon Phil Goff, Leader of the Opposition; Rt Hon Dame Sian Elias, Chief Justice; Your Excellency Anthony Mongalo, High Commissioner for South Africa and Dean of the Diplomatic Corps; Distinguished Guests otherwise; Ladies and Gentlemen. 

I have just used this greeting, in the languages of the realm of NZ, for something like the 2000th time since I became Governor General.  During that time, Susan and I have had an opportunity to travel to all the corners of this very special realm, and to use each of those greetings with the people for many of whom they have a special resonance.  In New Zealand, we have travelled throughout the North and South and outlying islands, and also to Tokelau, Niue, and the Cook Islands in the Pacific.  Our journeys over the five years have provided a wonderful landscape of memories over which to look back.

But our most abiding memories will not be of places, but of the people of New Zealand, and their positive spirit and determination. In schools, businesses, marae, awards ceremonies and festivals, we have met, talked to and shared experiences with many New Zealanders and many communities, and have enjoyed time and again the many qualities that make our country and its people special – good-hearted concern for others, practical can-do attitudes, very often accompanied by good humour.

The collective strength of New Zealanders has been amply illustrated in the aftermath of the disasters and tragedies in Canterbury and Christchurch and at Pike River, and the loss of several lives in the New Zealand Defence Force. 

But the role of the Governor General also aligns with positive opportunities to recognise the contributions that people make –in good times as well as in bad.  Investing the first Victoria Cross for New Zealand and Anzac of the Year are examples of military contributions, and over the past five years we have been privileged to celebrate more than 2000 investitures to say "thank you" to people who have given outstanding service to the nation or to humanity– whether through voluntary community work or for professional and business contributions.

We have celebrated these New Zealanders on home soil, and when requested we have also had the privilege to represent New Zealanders’ interests abroad, to add value to New Zealand’s international relationships beyond negotiation of precise trade agreements or political compacts.  In this capacity we have visited Singapore, Timor Lesté, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands, and further afield Mongolia, India and Canada.  In each of those three countries we made the first visit by a New Zealand Governor-General.  We also had the wonderful opportunity of supporting New Zealand competitors in the Olympics at Beijing and the Commonwealth Games at New Delhi.

Visiting India was special for many reasons.  To return as representative of the Head of State to the land which my grandparents had left more than a century ago was personally meaningful,  but I think we can all reflect on the fact that New Zealand is a nation where anyone, regardless of their background, can achieve if they are prepared to work and contribute. 

Another standout moment was visiting the United Nations in 2008 with the Kahurangi Māori cultural group to receive the Franklin Delano Roosevelt International Disability Award on behalf of New Zealand’s initiatives in this area.   

Back in New Zealand, the closure of Government House in Wellington in late 2008 gave us an unparalleled opportunity to connect with people in many regions. We held investiture ceremonies in a variety of places from Christchurch and Dunedin through to a notable event in the public bar of the Duke of Marlborough Hotel in Russell.  At the end of the 30 month Conservation Project, we believe that the refurbished and strengthened House is a national treasure, and that everyone involved in the project can take pride in a job well done.  To be mentioned in this context of refurbishment and strengthening is the considerable work undertaken, mainly by officials with my approval and occasionally at my request, to change processes and practices in a way that one might expect a former Ombudsman to encourage for the Governor-General’s activities.

Five years ago I outlined three key themes for my term of office: for people to embrace opportunities inherent in New Zealand’s growing diversity; for them to engage with our communities; and for them to enhance civics knowledge.  On the first two—diversity and community engagement—I believe New Zealand to be doing well, despite the occasional controversy that erupts in the media.

I think though that New Zealanders’ knowledge of civics could be strengthened.  Many communications requesting the Governor-General to sack the Government or to refuse to sign a particular law arrive frequently, along with requests for inquiries to be conducted into things like parking meters and energy-efficient light bulbs, and a recent request for advice on how someone might fast-track their ambition to become Governor-General!  I think it is desirable for New Zealanders to have a better understanding of our system of governance.

Despite good work by the Electoral Commission, it also continues to be disappointing that so few New Zealanders vote in local elections and that the turnout in general elections continues to decline, even if it is still higher than most other similar democracies.  In seven years’ time, we will mark 125 years of women’s suffrage, the date that all adult New Zealanders, regardless of race, religion, income or gender, were able to vote in national elections.  New Zealand was the first country in the world to take this step.  We promote this international first to the world—and I suggest it is an area where we might practise more what we preach.

In concluding, I want to offer thanks, first to you, Mr Key and members of the Executive Council for your support and for your hospitality at today’s luncheon. Thank you Prime Minister for your kind words earlier and for the State gift we have received, which will be treasured.  I would add to this my thanks to my predecessors in office whose example has been excellent and whose support has been greatly appreciated.

I would also like to thank you, Mr Goff, as the Leader of the Opposition, for your thoughts, and also fellow members of the House of Representatives for your support through the last five years.

There are so many people who support the role of the Governor-General in their work which makes it difficult to name some for fear of leaving others out.  I do, particularly, want to thank Rebecca Kitteridge, Clerk of the Executive Council, and her colleagues in the Cabinet Office, for ensuring I was always appropriately advised on constitutional matters.  The staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade have also given invaluable advice and information, both in New Zealand and abroad, as has the New Zealand Defence Force, and the staffs of Parliament and the Ministry of Justice.

I want to thank Niels Holm, Official Secretary, your predecessor Rob Taylor, and the team that Susan and I affectionately refer to as “Government House Inc.”  From the household to the programme staff, we could not have achieved as much as we have without their attention to detail and efforts to uphold the highest of standards.  They have often gone the extra mile to ensure that we were delivered, on time, and fully briefed.  Sterling examples of this have been our Kaumatua, Lewis Moeau, and Kuia Hiria Hape who, following the death of John Tahuparae, have all made the Māori dimension of the role something far reaching and enjoyable.

Finally, there is Susan.  When we decided to take on this role, we agreed we would do it together; wherever possible we have done just that.  Susan has however, been much more than a congenial supporter. I have constantly relied on her advice and feedback.  She has also actively extended the Governor-General’s role by promoting three themes: children, initiatives to enhance the environment, and volunteering. 
So to the end.  It has been an honour and a privilege to undertake this role, and we leave, having built on the fine work of our predecessors, with many wonderful memories.  Some stones do remain unturned – no picture of the Chatham Islands is yet on the nightly television weather forecasts, New Zealand’s premier cricket venue is still sited on a road named Rugby Street, and there are still no traffic lights or road markings at the intersection just outside this building where Museum St runs into Bowen Ave. It is nevertheless time for us to move on.  We wish our successors, Sir Jerry and Lady Janine Mateparae, all the best as they take the role forward. It can be respectfully said that, after a run of Governors-General, it will be a positive change to have a General governing.

And on what we trust is a suitable note of thanks and farewell, I will close, for the final time, in New Zealand’s first language offering everyone greetings and wishing everyone good health and fortitude in your endeavours.   No reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, kia ora, kia kaha, tēnā koutou katoa.

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