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Modern aspects of the role of the Governor-General of New Zealand
Nga hau e wha, nga iwi e tau nei, tena koutou katoa.
E nga mana, e nga reo, rau rangatira ma, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.
My greetings to you all, people who have gathered from near and far. To all honoured guests, to the speakers, my respects and, again, my greetings.
On the eve of my departure from the office of Governor-General, I have been reflecting on the office of Governor-General in New Zealand, along with the events and experiences I have been privileged to be a part of over the last 5 years.
In April 2001 I was sworn into office as New Zealand's eighteenth Governor-General. It was a deeply memorable and moving occasion. The ceremony marked the beginning of a remarkable five-year journey for me.
The weather was auspiciously fine and warm for a late autumn day. All the elements of the swearing in ceremony were symbolic - the venue being on the steps of parliament, the Maori welcome, the inspection of the Guard of Honour, the swearing in by the Chief Justice in the presence of the Head of Government, the Prime Minister, the Royal Salute, the precious korowai put around my shoulders, the National Anthem, the choir of school children behind me.
At the ceremony, as the Prime Minister welcomed me to the office, she said: 'The swearing in of each Governor-General is a significant moment in the history of our country. The institution of Governor-General has developed to become a uniquely New Zealand one. Those appointed are now always New Zealanders.'
In a few weeks time my successor, Judge Anand Satyanand, will be sworn into this 'uniquely New Zealand institution'. The first New Zealand born Governor-General was Sir Arthur Porritt, who took office in 1967 - almost 40 years ago. Having New Zealanders appointed as Governors-General is a comparatively recent development - but we could not now conceive of a British citizen coming out from the United Kingdom to serve for a term in office as our Governor-General.
Judge Satyanand will be our 9th New Zealand Governor-General. But besides the fact that New Zealand Governors-General are New Zealanders, what makes the office of Governor-General a 'uniquely New Zealand institution'? I hope I can provide some of that answer tonight.
I had been in office a very short time when I was asked to speak on the role of the Governor-General. This speech was one in the series of talks by public office holders run through the New Zealand Centre for Public Law. With only 4 months experience in the job, my speech necessarily took a historical overview of the office since 1840.
After the historical overview and stories of my predecessors, unsurprisingly I concluded that the profile of the office is a very different one to the time when Governors and Governors-General held considerable executive powers. The evolution of the role has resulted in an office today that is quite different from that in 1840.
Optimistically I asserted that a New Zealand Governor-General today contributes something quite different but equally important to the country. I saw that the value of the office of Governor-General would be measured by the extent to which it is seen by New Zealanders to reflect their national values and identity - and that it works as a unifying mechanism to that end.
Tonight I want to look at the office and role of the Governor-General in the 21st century in New Zealand, consider some of the modern aspects of the role, and the ways its uniquely New Zealand characteristics are demonstrated.
You will know that the Governor-General's role is often described as the 3 Cs - constitutional, ceremonial and community. These three roles are seen as overlapping.
I have spoken about the constitutional functions in a recent speech* and will not cover them again tonight. But I think there is a general understanding that these functions of providing constitutional authority and continuity are the prime reason for the existence of the role.
On a day-to-day basis, the majority of my time is spent on the other two Cs - the ceremonial and the community roles. I'm sure most people can conjure up a quick mental picture of what a Governor-General does in the ceremonial and community roles. They will have been present at, or seen photos of, the Governor-General, welcoming visiting Heads of State in the grounds of Government House, or at the State opening of Parliament, or at Investiture ceremonies where famous as well as lesser-known New Zealanders are recognised for their achievements or services to their country. The general public readily envisage the Governor-General playing a part in these kinds of ceremonies.
As for the community role - again from personal experience or media coverage, people will be able to picture the Governor-General hosting functions at Government House or out in the community, opening a conference or visiting a school.
The ceremonial and community categories are a useful and accessible construct for a number of purposes. But, reflecting on my role, I have found that the 'ceremonial' and 'community' designations go only so far in explaining and highlighting what is important about the role.
The description of the ceremonial role for a number of the years has read as follows:
'The ceremonial role covers the Governor-General's participation in public ceremonies as the individual who represents the state. This facet of the role is seen to include such duties as the opening of new sessions of Parliament, holding honours investitures, welcoming visiting Heads of State, receiving the credentials of foreign diplomats and attending Waitangi Day commemorations.'
This description is something of a grab bag of activities and duties. You will also have observed that the ceremonial description includes welcoming visiting Heads of State and receiving the credentials of foreign diplomats; but there is no reference to the Governor-General's role representing New Zealand internationally.
So how else might the ceremonial and community roles be described? My suggestion does not have the pizzazz of the 3 Cs and it is not intended a replacement for them. Rather it represents my thoughts on how I have approached the office of Governor-General, and how I understand New Zealanders interact with the Office.
So, moving from the 2 Cs of ceremonial and community, I propose four strands of the role:
firstly Promoting New Zealand's identity and sovereignty as an independent nation;
secondly Celebrating excellence, achievement and service in New Zealand;
thirdly Representation at significant events in the life and identity of New Zealand; and
fourthly Undertaking a community programme which is inclusive and recognises diversity
In addition to these four aspects, which are the public face of the role, I see a fifth strand of 'stewardship'. What I am referring to here is the stewardship role of the Governor-General in relation to Government House Wellington and Government House Auckland.
I will discuss all five of these strands, but as a role of particular interest to you I will spend a little longer looking at the first strand.1. Promotion of New Zealand's identity and sovereignty as an independent nation
In this role, 'Promotion of New Zealand's identity and sovereignty as an independent nation', the Governor-General represents New Zealand and New Zealand's interests. The responsibilities are undertaken both here in New Zealand and overseas. These responsibilities within and outside New Zealand are two sides of the same coin.
On the one hand in New Zealand, the Governor-General receives and hosts foreign Heads of State and a wide range of other dignitaries, receives the credentials of visiting diplomats, and has an ongoing relationship with the diplomatic corps. And on the other, the Governor-General travels internationally representing New Zealand's interests.
Both here and overseas the Governor-General represents New Zealand in the Head of State role. All occasions have strong elements of ceremony and protocol; most involve high-level discussions which may touch on matters of substance. All of them involve the Governor-General personally engaging with a wide range of people from countries around the world with whom New Zealand has a relationship. The Governor-General must be well briefed on international affairs and the important matters in New Zealand's relationships with others.
This has been a fascinating part of the role of Governor-General for me. It has been a privilege to represent New Zealand in this way and to welcome and talk with visiting international leaders in New Zealand. Overseas, in addition to meeting Heads of State and political leaders, I have seen the results of New Zealand's aid projects, helped raise the profile of New Zealand's education, trade and other interests, and met local women's groups.
I have taken my work to promote New Zealand and its interests very seriously. The meetings, ceremonies, interactions and overseas travel, as well as preparations and briefings, have taken up an increasing amount of time in my programme. I would like to acknowledge the invaluable support I have had from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade over the last five years in undertaking this work.
Although until now it has not been included in the description of the ceremonial role, international representation by New Zealand Governors-General is not a recent innovation. The extent of travel by any Governor-General has always been determined by the views of the Prime Minister - and the government - of the day.
New Zealand Governors-General have long made vice-regal visits in the Pacific. The advent of air travel enabled Governors-General to travel further afield. Sir Bernard Fergusson made the first vice-regal visit to New Zealand troops stationed overseas when he visited Malaysia and Singapore in 1966.
Over the last 25 years, however, representation of New Zealand overseas by Governors-General has evolved, and is now accepted practice. By way of illustrating this, I have been interested to see the parallels and echoes in the visits I have made with the visits made by my predecessors.
A few examples to give a flavour of this: You will know that last year Peter and I were privileged to be invited to Windsor to attend the blessing of the marriage of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall. The ceremony was very dignified and an occasion of great joy, followed by a relaxed and happy reception in Windsor Castle. So I was interested to realise that some 24 years earlier Sir David and Lady Beattie had attended the wedding of the Prince and Princess of Wales at St Paul's Cathedral in 1981.
In 1992 Dame Catherine Tizard represented New Zealand at the State funeral of the President of Nauru. In 2003 I, too, represented New Zealand at the State funeral of the President of Nauru (a different President!). On a happier note in 1993 Dame Catherine attended the King of Tonga's 75th birthday celebrations and in 2003 I attended the King of Tonga's 85th birthday celebrations.
Sir Paul Reeves was the first New Zealand Governor-General to represent New Zealand at the ANZAC Day commemorations at Gallipoli. Both Sir Michael and I subsequently attended the commemorations at Gallipoli.
And so the pattern of Governors-General representing New Zealand overseas has developed. At the end of 2000 Sir Michael made a State visit to China. This was a significant visit focussed solely on the bilateral relationship and not associated with any specific event. From the start it was described as a 'State visit'.
During my term of office, and building on the success of Sir Michael's visit to China, I have been asked to make a number of State visits to the Middle East, Latin America, Europe and South East Asia. By the time I complete my term in August I will have visited around 30 countries including Germany, Russia, Thailand, Turkey, Malaysia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Jordan, Chile, Singapore, Vietnam, Korea, Ireland, Greece, the United States of America and our neighbours in the South Pacific.
The visits I have made at the request of the government have all been appropriate to the role of an apolitical, non-executive Head of State. The visits have been profile raising and focused on the bilateral relationship. They have emphasised the people to people links between the two countries. Over the past five years the approach to these visits has developed - the programme is now explicitly constructed to ensure that a broad range of New Zealand's interests is reflected in it - in other words a 'NZ Inc' approach.
New Zealand is a small country with wide global interests. To promote those interests we must seize every opportunity and deploy every available resource to make an impression on our international partners. Personal appearances and interaction by New Zealand's leadership with foreign friends is one of the most effective means by which we can do this. For this reason our Prime Minister and other Ministers travel widely and often.
It was felt that we should also be taking the opportunity in our bilateral relationships to make use of the special kind of contact a formal 'State visit', i.e. a visit by the Head of State, offers. Such visits provide a ceremonial context in which to underline, in a symbolic way, a particular relationship. They also provide the opportunity for us to have valuable 'face time' with the host Head of State.
The conversations I have had with my distinguished hosts are not occasions to negotiate specific government to government business but they go well beyond formalities and provide the opportunity to review across the board, the state of the relationship between our two countries. For this purpose Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials, for my background, prepare a set of briefs on all aspects of the relationship - political relations, trade, people to people connections, multilateral cooperation and any current issues between us. These could include, for example, the state of progress on bilateral negotiations on particular subjects - working holidays schemes, trade agreements, air services negotiations, military cooperation and so on.
It is not my role to attempt to advance the agenda in any specific way in any of these areas but my presence provides the opportunity to take stock and focus very sharply the attention of the top leadership of the host country on the current state of the relationship with New Zealand.
I am also able in a direct way to support the work of our posts. My visits often provide posts with the opportunity to assemble a wide New Zealand constituency in the host country for networking and promoting New Zealand interests across the board. I am sometimes able to convey on these occasions, through a short speech, some key messages from the New Zealand Government about how it regards the bilateral relationship in question. In some countries, where we do not have resident representation, my visits have provided a valuable opportunity for the posts accredited there to interact intensively with their government contacts and to achieve a high public profile for the relationship with New Zealand.
I have also supported New Zealand exporters by making visits to their outlets in overseas markets. In the education sector I have made a number of visits to overseas universities which have partnerships with New Zealand universities. During my visit to Viet Nam, for instance, I presided over the opening of the Victoria University teaching facility in Ho Chi Minh City attached to the Ho Chi Minh City University of Economics.
So, my overseas travel programme has permitted us to strengthen and promote bilateral relationships in all their aspects with a number of important international partners. But an occasional question has been raised as to the fit of the Governor-General's international travel role in relation to The Queen. Is there any inconsistency with Queen Elizabeth II being Queen of New Zealand on the one hand, and on the other the New Zealand Governor-General, the personal representative of our Head of State, travelling internationally in the Head of State role to represent New Zealand overseas?
The answer is conclusively no. Over the last half century, The Queen has delegated many of her prerogative powers, including the foreign affairs prerogative, to the Governor-General. In recognition of this, in 1983 when the Letters Patent Constituting the Office of the Governor-General were updated, the Governor-General's right to exercise The Queen's prerogative powers was specifically recognised.
Some of you may be aware of the most recent example of this delegation - The Queen recently delegated certain prerogative powers to the Governor-General, which enable me, on advice of course, to receive overseas Ambassadors and to send New Zealand Ambassadors overseas. Letters of Credence, Recall and Commission, which were previously sent and received in the name of The Queen, are now sent and received in the name of the Governor-General.
At a practical level, when The Queen makes a State visit, she does so as Queen of the United Kingdom, on United Kingdom business. For the purpose of New Zealand's international relations the Governor-General represents New Zealand as Head of State. It is important for New Zealand - and Australia and Canada - to be represented internationally at Head of State level. In Canada and Australia the practice of using the Governor-General in the Head of State role in overseas travel is of even longer standing than in New Zealand.
Promotion of New Zealand's identity and sovereignty as an independent nation, the first strand in my discussion of the Governor-General's role tonight, is now an intrinsic part of the role of the Governor-General of New Zealand.2. Celebrating excellence, achievement and service in New Zealand
The second strand of the role of the Governor-General I have identified is that of 'celebrating excellence, achievement and service in New Zealand'. My work in this area has offered me wonderful opportunities personally to see and celebrate with others so much of value to New Zealand through the extraordinary contributions, achievements and actions of individuals in our society.
The association of the office of Governor-General with this strand of the role is fitting. Those honoured have been exemplars of service in their communities; the achievements of others in their fields of endeavour have been inspirational to us; others have contributed enormously to their professional or academic area - they all have enriched society.
The New Zealand Royal Honours System is one formal way in which New Zealanders are recognised for their service and achievements. As Governor-General I am Chancellor of the New Zealand Order of Merit and Principal Companion of the Queen's Service Order. It is therefore my privilege to meet and award these honours to New Zealanders at a number of ceremonies in Wellington and Auckland twice a year.
But the strand of celebrating excellence, achievement and service in New Zealand extends beyond our Honours system, and the ceremonial occasions attached to my role as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. There are a number of ex-officio roles for the Governor-General, and long standing expectations of Governor-General patronage and presentation at award ceremonies throughout the year and throughout the country.
For example the Governor-General presents honours from the Royal Humane Society of New Zealand, the Royal Society, the Duke of Edinburgh Awards and of course the awards for the Scouts and Guides, and the Boys' Brigade and Girls' Brigade.
The Governor-General is by custom invited to accept the office of Prior of the Order of St John or, as it is known in full, the Priory New Zealand of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem. The Governor-General presides over investitures and presents awards annually at ceremonies in the North Island and the South Island.
The Governor-General is also chair of the Rhodes Scholarship selection committee that meets annually to select the Rhodes scholars for the year. This function is a little different in that the Governor-General personally is actively involved in the selection process.
There are award ceremonies for many other organisations and events, both civilian and military, too many to name them all. The association with the office of Governor-General with the meritorious, with those who have achieved across society and with those who have demonstrated the best attributes of citizenship is a mutually enhancing relationship. New Zealand's appreciation of these citizens is endorsed and promoted through the prestige of the office and the personal presence of the Governor-General. At the same time the office of Governor-General is enhanced by the association as it reflects back to New Zealand the excellence and service in its midst.3. Representation at significant events and occasions in the life and identity of New ZealandThe third strand of the Governor-General's role I have identified is 'representation at significant events and occasions in the life and identity of New Zealand'. While this strand claims far less time in the diary, the events and ceremonies attended are central to the purpose of the role of Governor-General.The ceremonial programme to repatriate the body of an unknown warrior for burial in the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in 2004 was probably the largest commemorative programme ever undertaken in New Zealand. So many organisations and individuals worked extraordinarily hard to bring the events together. New Zealanders now have a focal point of remembrance for the sacrifice made by all New Zealand servicemen and -women. As Governor-General I was asked to give the eulogy at the internment ceremony. Twenty seven thousand New Zealanders have died in wars in other countries. One third still lie in unmarked places, or in the graves of the unknown. It was very poignant to consider how this young man - the Unknown Warrior - left his country almost ninety years ago and died with countless thousands of other young men on the Western front in France. Anzac Day and Waitangi Day are of course important fixtures in the calendar for the Governor-General. The Governor-General must play a role in the ceremonies for these two pivotal dates in the New Zealand calendar and beacons of New Zealand identity April 2005 marked ninety years since the ANZAC troops landed on the Gallipoli peninsula. We have all seen how younger generations now join willingly in commemorative activities in New Zealand and at Gallipoli. In responding to the stories of that generation's sacrifice, they show an understanding of their history and who they are as New Zealanders. Waitangi Day is equally important in defining our national identity. This year I attended my last Waitangi Day as Governor-General. It was a special occasion for me, one that was also memorable for the very successful function held for the first time in the beautiful gardens at Government House Auckland. Throughout the country, New Zealanders enjoyed relaxed multi-cultural celebrations and a record number of people participated at festivities at the birthplace of our nation, Waitangi.In 1932 the Treaty House and grounds at Waitangi were gifted to New Zealand by the then-Governor-General Lord Bledisloe. Since that time, successive Governors-General have been Chair of the Waitangi National Trust Board which has the responsibility of maintaining and developing the estate as a place of historic interest, recreation and enjoyment. The role of Chair is one which has taken up a considerable amount of my time. The Trust Board meets several times a year and we have worked through some important matters over the last five years. The treaty grounds and the Trust have won a number of tourism and business awards over the past few years and I have greatly enjoyed the opportunity to be involved in the developments at Waitangi. I am particularly pleased to have been part of a major development programme at the treaty grounds that will enhance the Waitangi experience for all visitors and enhance their understanding of Waitangi and the Treaty of Waitangi. 4. Undertaking a community programme which is inclusive and recognises diversity
The fourth strand of the Governor-General's role is the community programme which I have called 'undertaking a community programme which is inclusive and recognises diversity'. This covers many functions held at Government House and also the programme of visits to places around the country. It is both a challenging and rewarding part of the role.
The challenges comes from managing inherent tensions:- how to find the time to be comprehensive in the community programme while meeting the cumulative and compounding expectations in other parts of the role
- how to balance principled proactive programming and responsive programming arising from invitations and requests so that the overall programme is meaningful and substantive
- how to ensure that at the event level the programme is purposeful and relevant
- how to manage expectations - there is only so much one Governor-General can do
- how to recognise and prioritise the importance of events- how to say something of substance without appearing to be partisan- how to be seen as unifying, yet move beyond the clich - how to check and reassess that the community programme is reflecting community interests and the breadth of New Zealand society.
This responsibility is much more than tea and sandwiches and the ribbon cutting that some might associate with the role. It can be a lot of hard work for the Governor-General and the team at Government House. Each Governor-General will bring something different to this role and approach the work in his or her own way.
But for me the rewards have come from the extraordinary opportunities I have had to work and move in almost every facet of New Zealand life. My knowledge of the country has been greatly extended. I have attempted to visit as many communities within New Zealand as possible, on regional visits lasting anything from two to five days. I have been South, North, East and West; to Stewart Island and Cape Reinga, to the Chathams and Taranaki. My understanding of the richness and diversity of New Zealand communities has grown, and my admiration and pleasure in the enduring qualities of character of my fellow New Zealanders continues.I have been able to bring into the programme emphases that are important to me and that have connected the community programme with other aspects of the Governor-General role. As the international travel role has grown, I have been able to involve different ethnic communities in New Zealand - for example before my State visits to Korea and Viet Nam I held functions for the local Korean and Vietnamese communities at Government House, establishing connections and networks which are beneficial for both established New Zealanders and newer arrivals in our beautiful country. I am also grateful to have had the opportunity to give some speeches on matters which are of deep and abiding importance to me. It is part of the job - as Governor-General you are asked to talk to numerous groups. Although there are constraints around what a Governor-General can say, nevertheless there is a unique opportunity for the Governor-General's voice to be heard. From time to time I have spoken out on issues close to my heart. This might not have pleased everyone but nevertheless I feel it has been my responsibility to speak up particularly for those who cannot speak for themselves.
The community role of the Governor-General is demanding and fascinating. In the end it is for New Zealanders to determine whether the community programme has reflected their values and interests.
Lastly, I want to talk briefly about the fifth strand in the role of the Governor-General, and that is the 'Stewardship of Government House'.
In New Zealand we are fortunate to have two very different Government House properties in Wellington and Auckland as official residences of the Governor-General. Government House Wellington and Auckland are both the official home of the Governor-General and family, as well as the venue for many functions and ceremonies for New Zealanders and for visiting Heads of State and other international dignitaries. The Queen and members of the Royal Family usually stay at Government House when visiting New Zealand. As well as their functional uses, the properties have both heritage and symbolic value.
The main Government House Wellington will celebrate its centenary in 2010. It is a large and complex project to ensure the property is well maintained and its heritage fittingly celebrated, while at the same time ensuring it works well as a residence, as an office and as a function centre. The building is a category 1 Historic Place.
The experience of our visitors to Government House is enhanced by vistas of the garden from the house and the opportunity to wander outside - on the fine days in Wellington. The gardens are superbly maintained and have recently attained the status of Gardens of National Significance by the National Gardens Trust. I would like to pay tribute to my predecessor, Sir Michael Hardie Boys, who was deeply involved in the redevelopment of the grounds that we all enjoy today. The planting of natives has been a priority and they now account for around 65 percent. The exotics in the garden have their own history and stories. For example, the focal point of the sweep of lawn at the front of the house, used for State welcomes, is a pair of Blue Atlas cedars planted by The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh on their first stay at Government House in 1954.
Government House Auckland has been the official residence of the Governor-General in Auckland since 1962 when Sir Frank Mappin generously gifted the property to The Queen for use as Government House. The property on the slopes of Mount Eden has a beautiful and historic garden with expansive lawns. Some of the trees in the garden date from the 1870s. Only a few such long-established gardens have survived anywhere in New Zealand. The garden contains some of the lava outcrops that were once a feature of the area, still covered in places by vegetation that was also once typical.
The government has recently funded the redevelopment of the Auckland house and it now has a versatile additional function room - the pavilion - with doors opening out into the verdant expanse, framed by ancient pohutukawa, of what is called the Governor's Lawn. The pavilion has a contemporary, Pacific feel to it and yet it flows seamlessly from the old sections of the house.
It gives me great pleasure that many more Aucklanders and others can enjoy the use of Government House Auckland as a venue in the future. That is, of course, largely the point in maintaining both these properties. They belong to all New Zealanders, and as many people as possible should have access to them.
Over the years, we have managed to increase visitor numbers at both houses substantially. We have done so by having an increasing number of open days, particularly in Wellington, more garden tours, and by hosting diverse functions for all sectors of the community. Over the past five years, we have had close to 130 thousand visitors to the two houses.
When visitors come to Government House they are often attending functions inside and they are able to move around several rooms and look at what we have on display. We want what is there to be of interest to all our visitors - New Zealanders and our international guests. It should reflect our vibrant contemporary culture as well as our history. I think we are working well to achieve this at Government House, but it must always be refreshed and be a work in progress.
So what is the Governor-General's role? The Governor-General is neither funder, nor caretaker. The properties are managed by the Crown and funded by appropriation, and all funding proposals are subject to the appropriate scrutiny. The Governor-General has no direct responsibilities or role in this. But the Governor-General is, I suggest, a steward of these properties for New Zealanders and future Governors-General. As a steward, the Governor-General has an influential leadership role ensuring that these treasures are well-cared for, so that future generations may enjoy them.Conclusion
I hope my reflections tonight have provided some insights as to the uniquely New Zealand characteristics of the office of Governor-General.
All the responsibilities undertaken and roles played by the Governor-General are about New Zealand and New Zealanders, and for New Zealand and New Zealanders:
- providing constitutional authority and continuity
- promoting our interests externally;
- celebrating achievement and service;
- being a part of the symbolically significant events in the life and identity of the nation;
- including many New Zealanders in a community programme which reflects national values and identity;
- being a steward of the Government House properties.
I have been privileged to serve in the role and meet so many New Zealanders who have been generous of spirit and with their time. It has been an enriching 5 years. My very best wishes go to my successor and to all those New Zealand men and women who will take up the office of Governor-General in the future.Tena koutou katoa.
*'Our Constitutional Journey', Speech to the Legal Research Foundation, Auckland, 9.5.06
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