Rau rangatira mā, e kui mā, e koro mā, e huihui nei, tēnei aku mihi māhana ki a koutou. Kia ora tātou katoa.
I specifically acknowledge: Te Kaiwhakawā Tumuaki o Aotearoa - the Chief Justice of New Zealand - the Rt Hon Dame Sian Elias - tēnā koe.
Distinguished guests, it is a great pleasure for Janine and me to welcome you all to Government House this evening.
As my term as Governor-General nears its end, I am taking opportunities to acknowledge and thank people who play significant roles in our public institutions – people who serve New Zealanders. Acknowledging the pitfall in quoting others, I think Justice Helen Winkelmann captured the quintessence of the service of our judiciary when she noted “Judging is a human role, as judgement is necessarily a human faculty. But judges are also human, they won’t always get that right”.
Tonight it is Janine’s and my pleasure to host you, who put a human face to the law, and who in my opinion get it right most of the time. After all, as one clever wit put it: “law is the only game where the best players get to sit on the bench” – a judge no doubt!
I am acutely aware that my three immediate predecessors had a much firmer grasp of what you all do. Indeed, my only real experience of your world was when I once appeared in a district court. I hasten to add that was as a soldier’s friend. The miscreant was one of my soldiers who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time doing the wrong thing!
Looking back in time, the shifts in the legislative powers of Governors, and then Governors-General, reflect the shifting constitutional relationship between Britain and New Zealand.
It is difficult for us to imagine a time when Governors could amend legislation and send copies of all legislation to Britain for approval or further redrafting or amendment. Although I am aware that Sir Anand Satyanand and Dame Cath Tizard had occasion to query a draft.
Today, we take it for granted that New Zealand has autonomy when it comes to making our laws. And, when it comes to applying the law, New Zealanders assume, or rather expect, our judiciary will uphold the rule of law and make decisions that are considered and, as Caroline Kennedy put it, “independent of the political winds that are blowing”.
My constitutional role as the Governor-General has been an opportunity for me to learn more about the law in New Zealand, and to participate in a unique way in its application. From giving assent to legislation to exercising the prerogative of mercy, to appointing judges and acknowledging their service on their retirement; it has been a privilege to be associated with people who are competent, fair-minded and ethical and a legal system that last year was ranked sixth out of 102.
I am reminded of the connection between the judiciary and the office of Governor-General each day as I walk down a back-of-house corridor in Government House. There are nine photographs of former Chief Justices who, when the Office of Governor-General has been vacant, or the Governor-General incapacitated, or outside the country, have attended to the administration of the Government’s business.
During my time Dame Sian, and other senior members of the judiciary have acted in the Administrator’s role. I think it has worked to our mutual benefit.
As Governor-General, it has been my privilege to confer honours on those who have rendered outstanding service to the Crown. I acknowledge the presence of Hon Dame Ellen France, and also the Hon Sir Ronald Young and Judge Sharon McAuslan, who were recognised in the recent Queen’s 90th Birthday Honours List.
As is the case honours recipients from the judiciary tend to stand out because of the eminence of their service and, or the length of their service. Two are especially memorable, though sadly so. The first is the posthumous recognition of Sir Robert Chambers and the second is the special investiture for Judge Les Atkins; both acclaimed jurists, both decent men, both taken early.
I am also reminded that Governors-General and judges are meant to have impeccable credentials – to be upstanding citizens with a strong sense of public service. My three immediate predecessors confirm that. In the case of members of our judiciary, I appreciate that taking on a significant, challenging and onerous responsibility in the service of all New Zealanders, needs courage, compassion, discernment, and a commitment to apply the law in the full glare of public opinion. And public opinion can be fickle.
Accordingly, tonight is an opportunity to thank you, on behalf of all New Zealanders, for taking on the responsibilities and commitment, as outlined in your oath of office, to “do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of New Zealand, without fear or favour, affection or ill will”.
On that note I would propose a toast to New Zealand’s judiciary – we acknowledge that true freedom requires the rule of law, a justice system that is fair and a judiciary prepared uphold the rule of law and the foundations of our civil society.
Please take this evening’s dinner as a well-deserved opportunity to relax with your colleagues and guests – and to enjoy the hospitality of Government House.
Kia ora huihui tātou katoa.