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Biennial Conference of the English-Speaking Union

Issue date: 
Friday, 28 April 1978
The Rt Hon Sir Keith Jacka Holyoake, KG, GCMG, CH, QSO

Mr Martin, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am honoured to be with you tonight at this dinner which, marks the opening of your biennial conference. And this is your Diamond Jubilee year, which makes it an even more auspicious occasion.

I am honoured to be your patron in New Zealand. And I feel this most strongly because the English-Speaking Union, has always strongly stated its fealty and loyalty to the Crown and our Queen.

We have just heard a most eloquent address by the National President, Mr Alister Martin, and I agree entirely with his closing remark that we have to no right to believe that our life will ever be simple.

It's hard for me to express my feelings at the great honour bestowed on me by her Majesty the Queen, but may I assure you of this: There can be no pleasanter duty than to represent her Majesty in New Zealand.

I have been Governor-General for nearly six months and both Lady Holyoake and I have been overwhelmed wherever we have gone at the warmth that has been showed towards us by the people of New Zealand. In fact, we have spent today in Hastings where we were given a civic welcome by that city, and it was a heart-warming experience. And now, to round off what has been a magnificent day, I am called on to speak to you tonight.

Your objectives as members of the English-Speaking Union of the Commonwealth are to strengthen friendly relations among the peoples of the United States, the United Kingdom, and other nations of the Commonwealth. With mutual respect for heritage, tradition and aspirations, by the interchange of people, knowledge and ideas. Also to foster understanding and friendship with other countries through the use of the English language.

I would like to spend a short time talking about what I consider are three very important topics in which you are vitally interested. That is, the role of the monarchy, the role of the Commonwealth in the world today, and British justice and the English language.

Last year, during Her Majesty's Jubilee Tour of New Zealand, our people turned out in their hundreds of thousands to express their pride in being New Zealanders, and their enthusiasm for the way in which their Queen has carried out her exacting task for a quarter of a century.

However, there are people in New Zealand today, who claim that the monarchy has no relevance, that it is undemocratic, that it is an anachronism. I believe that the most important thing that the Crown does for the average New Zealander is to provide a symbol, a figure-head with which new Zealanders can identify. A nation is divided into sectional interests - by religion, by culture, etc. But the Monarchy provides a focus which unites those interests. In New Zealand, the Monarchy is just as much a part of our national tradition as it is in Britain.

Our system of Government and our legal system, are the children of constitutional monarchy, and for all New Zealanders the Monarchy is a part of their daily lives, whether they realise it or not.

Queen Elizabeth has been on the throne for 25 years, and she has a vital and difficult role to play, one she has executed with ability and dignity. The world has seen a tremendous change in that time, but Her Majesty remains as a symbol of stability and continuity, - a symbol of those values which are worth preserving.

There is another institution, which has grown, and developed over the past 25 years, which exemplifies these two aspects of stability and change, i.e. the Commonwealth.

I know you share with me a belief in the role that the Commonwealth of Nations has to play in the cause of human understanding and world peace.

Change and stability

In 25 years, the Commonwealth has seen much change. In 1953 there were only eight independent member nations. In 1961 there were only eight independent member nations. In 1961, when I attended my first meeting of the Prime Ministers of the Commonwealth, there were 11. Today there are 35. Of those 35, 19 are republics, and four have Monarchs other than Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.

There have been great changes in every sphere of life and the Commonwealth has changed too, to satisfy new pressures and new needs. So it has changed, but it has also remained stable - stable in its fundamental objectives and beliefs.

In 1971, at Singapore, the last meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government that I attended, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting made a Declaration of Principles, which ended: - (Quote)

"We believe that our Multi-National Association can expand human understanding and understanding among nations, assist in the elimination of discrimination based on differences in race, colour or creed; maintain and strengthen personal liberty, contribute to the enrichment of life for all, and provide a powerful influence for peace among nations".

These principles have not changed. The Commonwealth has also helped to provide a stable environment for countries moving from being colonies to accepting full independence. By sharing the experience of those that went before them, most Commonwealth nations have made the transition smoothly, without suffering the birth pangs experienced by many other new states.

The Commonwealth is unique in the world community for a number of reasons. No other organisation provides such a cross-section of mankind. The Commonwealth contains representatives of every stage of economic development from the very poor to the rich and industrialised.

It has nations from six continents and five oceans with a combined population of over 900 million people. All that it lacks is a superpower - and that, I believe, is no cause for regret.

The Commonwealth is a free association. There is nothing holding it together except its members' faith in its principles.

Almost any other alliance, be it the European Economic Community, the Warsaw bloc or the Organisation of African Unity, serves specific sectional interests.

The Commonwealth does not have any purely sectional interest to pursue, and I believe that this is its great strength, allowing it flexibility and freedom.

We live in a changing world and I think the words of Sir Winston Churchill are appropriate: -

"We may profit by experience, we may broaden into new knowledge: we need not shrink from that ceaseless change and evolution which is the condition of life. But we should make each step good as we go and frequently look back on the past to learn the wisdom of our ancestors and to present unbroken the threads of tradition and ancient custom which are the priceless heritage of the British race".

And as that statesman of immense influence, Field Marshal Jan Smuts said:

"The British Empire is the greatest stimulant of organised freedom which the world has ever known. By geography, by experience, by practical idealism, by political maturity, by character, the British have a part to play which no other race could do so well."

The British spirit has found its manifestations in great soldiers, great sailors, in men of action, men of contemplation, but above all there are some of us who like to think of England as the mother of free institutions and of free men.

Magna Carta, the Habaeus Corpus Act, and the Petition of Rights are three of the great milestones of human progress. The common law of England has gone to the four corners of the earth and the eternal principle which lies behind the common law of England has moulded and guided and fashioned English-speaking people around the globe.

The pioneers of New Zealand brought the laws of England with them when they established their settlements in this country.

It is only a little more than a century ago since the first Parliament of New Zealand was opened here at Auckland and men from the homeland put into operation the laws applied there.

Today New Zealand absorbs people not of our own race, - refugees, many of them, from oppression which is foreign to our way of life. We pass on to them the British way of life, - her freedom, her ideals of sport and tolerance, and fair play.

The newcomers learn our language and end up thinking much as we do - worshipping without fear. Speaking their minds freely and unopposed by tyrannical edicts: secure under the banner of democracy.

I like to think that law and order are part of the character of the best type of Englishman and, if you are familiar with that type, you know that his life is based on self-discipline. He prizes his individual freedom as a rich gift, but he knows that the enjoyment of his freedom must be based on discipline.

We are all aware of events in the past 50 years, which have shown us the dreadful results of lack of self-discipline among the people. And the equally terrible results when the law and order are forced on the mass of the people by tyrannical dictators.

The tragic mistakes of the past must never be repeated. Finally, ladies and gentlemen, I cannot let this occasion pass without some reference to the English language. Maligned and mutilated as it may be, the fact remains that the English language, beautifully spoken or written, has had more influence upon the destiny of the world than all the arrows, lances, rifles and guns or bombs ever made. It is the language into which our Bible was most wonderfully translated. It has given us the richest prose and poetry of any nation. Of the many invisible bonds that unite the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and the United States, none is more strong and enduring than the English tongue.

I congratulate you on the part you play in advancing it and preserving our traditions and for your loyalty to the Crown and to our Queen.

Ladies and gentlemen, I take great pleasure in being able to declare your Biennial Conference open and I leave the last word to that epitome of Englishmen, Sir Winston Churchill: when asked what he though of the English-Speaking Union he replied: "I am an English-Speaking Union".

Last updated: 
Friday, 9 January 2009

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