Back to top anchor

Combined Commonwealth Societies of Canterbury

Issue date: 
Thursday, 26 October 1978
The Rt Hon Sir Keith Jacka Holyoake, KG, GCMG, CH, QSO

Mrs Westrate, Ladies and Gentlemen:

My wife and I are honoured to be with you at this reception. Tonight we have here representatives of the Royal Commonwealth Society, the Royal Overseas League, The Navy League, The Victoria League and the English-speaking Union.

We could not find a group of men and women who are more loyal to their country and their Queen.

[Message from the Queen at Buckingham Palace.]

It is difficult to find words to express our gratitude at the honour bestowed on me by Her Majesty the Queen making me her Deputy here in New Zealand. It is a tremendous honour and we are doing our best to prove worthy of it.

It is now nearly a year since I became Governor-General and in this time, my wife and I have travelled from the far North to Invercargill. We have been overwhelmed, wherever we have gone, by the warmth that has been shown towards us - by Maori and Pakeha alike.

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 job for a quarter of a century.

However, there are a few 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 figurehead, with which New Zealanders can identify.

Every nation needs to have something which all its citizens can look to as representing their fundamental beliefs and values.

A nation is divided into sectional interests by religion, by politics, by culture, but the monarchy provides a focus which unites those interests. Our sovereign is free to serve all sections, just as under British justice, the law serves all.

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 product of constitutional monarchy, so 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. She has carried out her demanding task 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.

That is the Commonwealth of Nations.

I know you must share with me a belief in the valuable role that the Commonwealth is able to play in the cause of human understanding and world peace. In 25 years the Commonwealth has seen tremendous changes. In 1953 there were only eight independent member nations. When I first attended a conference of the Heads of Government of the countries of the Commonwealth, in 1961, there were 11 members. Today there are 35. Of those 35, 19 are Republics and four have monarchs other than Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. However, all 35 countries recognise her Majesty as Head of the Commonwealth.

There have been great changes in every sphere of life and the Commonwealth has changed, to conform to the new pressures and needs of the expanding membership and the changing times.

So it has changed - but it has also remained stable - stable in its fundamental objectives and beliefs. [Debates: Rhodesia - South Africa.]

In 1971, at Singapore, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting made a declaration of principles which ended: "We believe that our multi-national association can expand human understanding and understanding among nations, assist in the elimination of discrimination based on difference 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 states moving from being colonies to 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 other new states in other parts of the world.

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 - one quarter of the world total.

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 their principles and their desire to propagate them.

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

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

Let us remember what 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."

Ladies and gentlemen: let us remember those words, let us pass them on to the generation coming after us. Make them aware that the British lion still is capable of a roar when needed, as are its sister-countries scattered around the globe.

I congratulate you on the work your several organisations are doing to promote the spirit of the Commonwealth. And I wish you every success and enjoyment in your future endeavours.

Last updated: 
Friday, 9 January 2009

Help us improve the Governor-General website

Your feedback is very important in helping us improve the Governor-General website.

7 + 7 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.