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Speech

Farewell State Lunch

Issue date: 
Saturday, 31 March 2001
Speaker: 
The Rt Hon Sir Michael Hardie Boys, GNZM, GCMG, QSO

Prime Minister, Members of Parliament, and all you ladies and gentlemen who have done us the honour of coming here today. E nga mana, e nga reo, e nga hau e wha, e nga iwi e tau nei, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.

First, may I thank you, Prime Minister, for this occasion, and for your kind words. Thank you too, Mrs Shipley, for yours. My thanks too, Prime Minister, for the generous gift of which you have given us this token; it will I am sure be of great use, even if also a source of considerable frustration. But is not life like that?

Thank you too for the advice to Her Majesty, which has resulted in us both being accorded the honour of Companions of the Queen's Service Order. I am particularly happy that my wife has been recognised in this way. For the role of spouse of a governor-general is no sinecure, and for one whose chief delights were the privacy of family and the quiet concentration of painting, the change was dramatic and not a little traumatic. Yet Mary has been wonderful, in her own doings and in the support she has given me. Whatever I have done, we have done together.

I must, too, record my thanks to the staff at Government House. They have cared for us exceptionally well, but more importantly they have maintained the highest standards in welcoming and looking after our guests, the thousands who come to the House each year; they have ensured that the buildings, the furnishings and the grounds are always in immaculate order, as befits what my predecessor was wont to call State House Number One. Government House is a considerable enterprise, and it has been conducted with great efficiency and no little devotion. I am grateful that the financial means for doing all this have been readily available.

Prime Minister, for a boy who grew up on the cliffs above Evans Bay, the invitation to become the Queen's Representative was met with momentary terror and lasting astonishment. The latter emotion, I am sure, was quite widely felt, although hopefully not so enduringly. One can never be sure, though. I was told the other day of a school class that was asked the name of the Governor-General, and the only response was from one bright lad who confidently said "George Speight."

I have understood that my qualification for this appointment was the belief that I would know how to manage government formation after our first encounter with MMP. Fortunately, the qualification was not put to the test. We had no constitutional crisis, nor have we had one since. This demonstrates, surely, our political maturity. It means too that the Governor-General's constitutional role has been a fairly formal one. The Letters Patent constituting the Office of Governor-General direct that the Governor-General is to be kept fully informed concerning the general conduct of the government of the Realm, and while in New Zealand we have taken that a little less literally than elsewhere, I certainly have appreciated such opportunities as I have had of meeting with the three Prime Ministers and the many Ministers who have held office over these five years. I must also express my appreciation of the very able assistance given to me by the Clerk of the Executive Council, and others in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. They have been a frequent source of valuable advice and information. New Zealand is well served by the many public servants of their calibre.

A feature of the Governor-General's role, unfamiliar to the more recent of us, is that the Governor-General is Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces. I have enjoyed that greatly, and take this opportunity to pay tribute to the commitment, the enthusiasm and the abilities of those who serve us on land, on the sea and in the air, at home and in the many places overseas where our servicemen and women are making an internationally valued contribution to the restoration of peace, and the rebuilding of shattered communities. They are worthy heirs to New Zealand's magnificent tradition of military service. One of our most memorable experiences ever was standing on the beach at Anzac Cove at dawn on Anzac Day 1998, and then on the heights of Chunuk Bair on a cold and wet afternoon, so redolent of the heroic tragedy all those years before. I was delighted when that tradition was honoured last year by Her Majesty's grant of the title "Royal" to the New Zealand Returned Services Association.

The Governor-General has another special relationship, and that is with the Maori people, many of whom still see the Treaty as a personal covenant with the Crown. I remain proud of the contribution the Court of Appeal, of which I was a member, has made to contemporary understanding of the Treaty relationships and obligations. Nonetheless my knowledge of things Maori had been very incomplete, and how much I have learnt as I have been welcomed onto marae, and met and talked with Maori throughout the land. I counted it a privilege to lead the Crown back to Waitangi on 6 February 1999, and to return the following year. Some of what I have read since about my reception has rather bemused me, and I fervently hope that my successor will very soon be able to return to that historic and symbolic place.

The past five years have been times of very considerable change in many aspects of our national life. They have been interesting times, perhaps occasionally verging on fulfilment of the old Chinese curse. Most obviously there have been the constitutional change to MMP, and the change in political attitudes that this has necessitated.

There have been the changes in political fortunes and their reflection in legislation and administration. In our commitment to East Timor we have undertaken the most extensive military operation in 50 years, while at the same time we have embarked on a major change in the emphasis and structure of our defence force. We have introduced our own way of honouring the heroes among us with our community honours and our bravery awards. We have seen the continuing flourishing of Maori culture and social and political aspirations, while at the same time the multi-ethnicity of our people has become more and more pronounced. We are becoming a much less quiescent society, as greater numbers of us question what has been taken for granted, and demand accountability and at times retribution. Unhappily, we have found ourselves continuing to slip in relative prosperity and educational achievement and economic competitiveness. We have become much more acutely aware of the extent of disadvantage among us, of the fragility of a significant proportion of our young people. We have entered into a new millennium with fireworks and hope.

To hold the office of Governor-General at any time is an enormous privilege, but particularly so during times such as these. The privilege is not really because of the status and trappings that go with the office, for those are transient, ending today in fact, but because of the opportunities the office opens up; opportunities to experience New Zealand and its people, opportunities hopefully to contribute something to the well being of our nation. Life on the Bench, 15 years of it, gives one a very one-sided picture, largely a negative one. But in these past five years we have seen so much of the other side of the picture, the positive side. We have travelled extensively throughout the land, and have come to appreciate even more the magnificent natural heritage that is entrusted to our care. We have met many thousands of New Zealanders, of all ages, of such a diversity of cultural origins, achieving for themselves, serving others, striving for a better and more caring society; a whole galaxy of talent and skill that enriches our lives and of which any nation could be proud. Often we are humbled by their dedication, often inspired by their achievements, always reassured that, provided we nurture them, our future is in good hands.

Nurturing them, and managing and coping with the changes, requires, I suggest, some positive affirmations. As our Governors-General are now born and resident and experienced New Zealanders, they are, I believe, able, indeed it could be said that they have an obligation, not only to support and encourage every fine initiative, but also to speak to their fellow citizens of the things that concern them as New Zealanders, and in doing that to affirm the values and to articulate the aspirations that they believe lie at the heart of our society. That is necessarily a subjective exercise, but one that should be undertaken nonetheless.

I have endeavoured to do that, to share the exhilaration we so often feel, and at the same time to talk about a certain unease that lies beneath the exhilaration. It is an unease caused by the contrasts of which I am too painfully aware, between the advantaged and the disadvantaged, between potential nurtured and potential unrealised, between talents utilised and talents thrown away, between the many needs and the limited resources available to meet them.

Sometimes I have told a story, and I trust you will forgive me if I tell it again. There were two adventurers trekking through the jungle when they realised they were being stalked by a tiger. They took all the evasive action they could think of but it was useless. The tiger was coming closer. Then one of them took off his pack, took out a pair of running shoes and put them on. His friend was incredulous. "You don't hope to run faster than that tiger do you?" "No", was the reply, "only faster than you."

There are many tigers out there, quite closely related to each other actually - poverty, unemployment, underachievement, drug or alcohol dependence, boredom, feelings of worthlessness, alienation. They stalk our streets, sneak into our homes and our schools. Their special prey is our young people. For too long, too many of us have put on our running shoes and looked after ourselves, leaving the tigers to claim their victims. And we can see the victims in our courts and prisons, abused at home, sleeping out on the streets, dropping out of school, youngsters without purpose, even taking their own lives.

There are no instant solutions, but I have urged that there are at least three things we can do. One is to affirm whenever we can the crucial importance of the family. Another is to practise and to teach the values of community, that realization that we belong to one another and depend on each other and are responsible to each other. Our rights, so regularly asserted and vaunted, are but one side of the coin. So many people say to me, can we not as a nation find and agree upon and affirm some of the basic moral principles upon which our civilisation has been built. And a third, and very practical thing we can do, and it is especially pertinent to mention it in this, the International Year of the Volunteer, is to give much more support to the numerous voluntary organizations, so many of them tackling the problems of our young people, who are almost always struggling to manage with totally inadequate resources.

Prime Minister, Mary and I were entrusted with a great responsibility. In discharging it as best we could we have had many unforgettable experiences. We are proud to be New Zealanders, and proud to have had this opportunity to serve New Zealand. For all its faults, and all its problems, and there are many of them, this is a wonderful country to grow up in, to live in and to work in. Our potential is enormous. Let's be sure we realize it.

My successor Dame Silvia Cartwright takes office in two weeks time. We wish her well, and as much happiness, interest and satisfaction as these past five years have brought to us.

At the weekend, we had a family gathering at Government House and one of our granddaughters was heard to say to a cousin; "We won't be able to come here any more. This house has been sold." Prime Minister, we promise to vacate before settlement date.

Kia ora tatou katoa.

Last updated: 
Friday, 9 January 2009

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