Members of the Order of New Zealand and your partners - Welcome to Government House.
People often ask me if I enjoy being the Governor General and what I like doing most.
My answer is of course moderated by the age of the enquirer. A five year old is always most excited to know whether I’ve met the queen or various princes and princesses.
But my candid answer is that this role has given me opportunities to meet - and often to host – some truly remarkable people.
The Order of New Zealand dinner is one such occasion. It’s a great pleasure and privilege to host a dinner for members of the Order and their partners.
It is the highest and most exclusive order of our Honours system, and there are currently only 23 New Zealanders who hold it. Eleven of you are here this evening.
Trying to get all the members of the Order together is always a difficult task. Peter Jackson is currently overseas working on his documentary remastering the Beatles Abbey Road footage, and Richie McCaw is travelling nanny and support person for his wife Gemma and daughter Charlotte on the Black Sticks pro league hockey tour to the Netherlands.
Sir Don McKinnnon is also acting as support person for his wife Claire, who has just had a knee- replacement operation.
Around six ONZ holders are unwell or too frail to travel to be with us this evening, including a late withdrawal through illness from Albert Wendt, who is very disappointed he can’t be here. As is Lady Verity Charles, who is recovering from a fall and unable to join Sir Bob here this evening.
Most of you have attended Order of New Zealand dinners before. Indeed I think eight of you and your partners were at the last dinner in 2018.
I am especially pleased that we are joined this evening by Sir Lloyd and Lady Shirley Geering, Sir Bob Charles and the Rt Hon Helen Clark and Peter Davis.
I acknowledge the passing of two of your number since our last dinner. Sir Brian Lochore, who, together with his wife Pam, came to our 2018 dinner, was a towering figure in New Zealand rugby, who continued to lead and inspire long after his playing and coaching days were over.
And just last month, we paid tribute to the life of Mike Moore, a politician who made his mark nationally and internationally as Prime Minister, Director-General of the World Trade Organisation and as our Ambassador to the United States.
They were both much loved and respected by many New Zealanders and their loss is keenly felt.
The Order of New Zealand was established in 1987 ‘to recognise outstanding service to the Crown and the people of New Zealand’.
The list of members appointed in the 33 years since, shows that ‘outstanding service’ is not limited to a few narrow spheres of influence.
Certainly the ranks of the Order have included a number of eminent politicians, public servants and jurists as might be expected. However it has also included scientists, philosophers, writers, opera singers, a poet, a golfer, rugby players, Olympic athletes, a surgeon, artists, a ceramicist, an engineer, trade unionists, businessmen, architects, advocates for the rights of women and Maori, and a filmmaker.
Currently there is also a Cardinal, a Duke and even an Australian - Michael Duffy, the former Attorney-General of Australia.
(In case you’re wondering, Mr Duffy was instrumental in negotiating the Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement between Australia and New Zealand.)
The Order of New Zealand is a broad church and the diversity of its membership says something about us as a country.
That our highest order recognises achievement in all walks of life seems like a very Kiwi demonstration of egalitarianism.
What is also special is that each insignia has a whakapapa – a lineage that is developed each time it is bestowed on a new recipient. It’s a wonderful physical expression of mana and a link to those who have gone before. Legends like Sir Edmund Hillary, Douglas Lilburn, Dame Whina Cooper and Janet Frame.
Some of you are the first holders of your particular insignia – Jim Bolger is one. Others are the second or third generation of holders.
Sir Ken follows Douglas Lilburn and Alan McDiarmid - all three having been Professors at Victoria University.
Joy Cowley’s insignia was once worn by the great educationalist Clarence Beeby and then by artist Cliff Whiting.
Helen holds the insignia first bestowed on Sonja Davies. I think we’d all agree that they could both be described as fearless and formidable leaders.
I pondered for a moment on the thread that connected Sir Lloyd with the initial holder of his insignia – David Lange. And then I realised that, in their own way, they might both be described as iconoclasts!
You are all connected to each other, not just by the letters ONZ and the insignia that you wear, but by what you represent.
Alongside your achievements, you have been selected on the basis that you embody what is best about Aotearoa New Zealand.
Often foreign guests and diplomats express to me their admiration for New Zealand, especially noting our stable and balanced system of government, our sense of fairness, our tolerance and our continued support of an international multilateral rules based system and the rule of law.
They ask how these values and our commitment to a fact-based approach in dealing with crises and challenges, remain relatively intact, in a world where xenophobia and what philosopher Philip Kitcher describes as ‘vulgar democracy’ are gaining uncomfortably strong followings, even in so-called Western democracies.
Well, the answer lies in the experiences and history we have grown up with. Those values are represented by all of you here this evening. The thought leadership and courage that you have each shown in your own careers and the role models that you have been, and continue to be, for generations of younger New Zealanders. Your stories, and those of the ONZ holders before you, are your legacy for our country. Our current leaders truly do stand on the shoulders of giants.
I thank you for what you have done to make Aotearoa New Zealand a country to be truly proud of.
As host, it is my duty to speak. But on nights like this, when there is such a wealth of knowledge and talent gathered, I feel we have it the wrong way round. I should be listening to you as you share your wisdom and experience! David and I look forward to doing just that over dinner.
Kia ora huihui tātou katoa and Bon appetit!