Kia ora koutou. Nga mihi māhana ki a koutou. Nau mai haere mai ra ki te Whare Kawana o Te Whanganui-a-Tara.
My very warmest welcome to you all to Government House Wellington, and in particular to:
Hon Michael Wood, Minister for Transport
Commissioner Andrew Coster, New Zealand Police
Heads of New Zealand Defence
Mr Peter Mersi, Chair, New Zealand Search and Rescue Council
Mr Graeme Pomeroy, Chair, NZ Land Search and Rescue Incorporated
Ms Kirstie Hewlett, Chief Executive, Maritime New Zealand
Tēnā koutou katoa.
It’s a real pleasure for me to host representatives of our Search and Rescue sector tonight – and to acknowledge the critical role you play in Aotearoa.
I know I’m not who you were expecting this evening As you may be aware, Dame Cindy is in the United Arab Emirates, offering her condolences to Sheikh Khalifa’s family on behalf of New Zealand following his recent death.
As a doctor in the remote Falkland Islands, I was often involved in the management and the retrieval of victims of accidents by boat, plane and road, so I know well the challenges you face on a daily basis.
Weather conditions, difficult terrain, the pressure to act fast, keep people safe and get a good outcome. And the unexpected challenges: not many people know a kitchen door repurposed as a makeshift stretcher will not fit in the back of a standard 110 Land Rover!
So, I have enormous respect for those of you who face these dangers and stresses regularly and often at a moment’s notice, and in Dame Cindy’s absence, it is a privilege to host this event.
New Zealanders like to think of ourselves as being adventurous, inspired our greatest heroes, including Sir Edmund Hillary, who learnt his craft climbing in the Southern Alps; or Dame Naomi James, who established new records in solo round-the-world sailing.
We have successfully sold Aotearoa as the adventure capital of the world and we are fortunate to have the wonderful taonga of our natural landscape on our doorstep.
And every year, more of us are venturing into that wilderness.
I note that next season’s hut passes for the Milford Track were snapped up faster than Adele could sell out Mt Smart Stadium; such is our eagerness to experience the outdoors and emulate the experiences of our forebears.
My wife and I can count ourselves amongst the many who have enjoyed the great walks, and I have spent a great deal of time sailing the open ocean – fortunately without any mishaps, or none that I am going to admit to!
Like you gathered here tonight, I know how quickly a beautiful day in Aotearoa can turn inclement, or how easily a short walk can end in a disastrous fall.
Even the most well-prepared people can quickly become lost, injured, or find themselves in a life-threatening situation.
In the past year, this was a reality for over 1500 people, resulting in tens of thousands of hours dedicated to search-and-rescue operations.
Thankfully, these people found themselves in the care of experts – the almost 12,000-strong specialists and volunteers who make up New Zealand Search and Rescue – people who can bring specialist expertise, physical skill and technical support to the task of finding and rescuing people in distress.
The number of organisations represented this evening is a testament to the sheer complexity of those search and rescue operations.
Tonight we will hear the stories of people who have demonstrated outstanding courage, skill and quick thinking in their responses to save lives in perilous situations.
I am sure all New Zealanders are deeply grateful to have NZSAR personnel who are prepared to drop everything to assist strangers in peril.
Whether you do so voluntarily, or on a professional basis, the skillsets you bring to New Zealand Search and Rescue have helped thousands of New Zealanders in harrowing circumstances.
It is satisfying to know that you can save lives and ensure that people in life-threatening situations make it back to their loved ones.
My sincere thanks to everyone here this evening from the search and rescue sector. Congratulations to the award winners and I wish everyone here the very best for the year ahead.
Kia ora huihui tātou katoa.