E nga mana, e nga reo, e nga iwi o te motu e huihui nei, tēnei aku mihi nui ki a koutou. Kia ora tātou katoa.
A warm welcome to our distinguished guests from the Association of Former Members of Parliament; the Secondary Schools’ Essay Competition judges Professor Levene and Rosemary Scott – and of course to Isla and Olivia.
This close to the election, I imagine some members of the Association may be relieved to have avoided the trials and tribulations of the campaign – whereas others of you may be longing to be back in the thick of it!
You will no doubt be able to recall the experience of being a new MP, taking your place in the debating chamber, and getting your head around standing orders and the intricacies of the Parliamentary process.
Whatever your political persuasions, you shared a commitment to uphold the integrity of the democratic process, and to serve your fellow citizens.
Some of you were stars in debate. Some of you shone in Select Committee and some of you became Ministers or Speakers. You all had your place, and a valuable role to play.
You took on the challenges of long days, frequent travel, time away from family and friends, and mountains of written material to read and digest.
On behalf of my fellow New Zealanders, I thank you most sincerely for having taken on those challenges for your fellow citizens.
And I thank you, now that you are no longer in Parliament, for your commitment to promote greater appreciation of the democratic process in Aotearoa.
As it happens, my office often receives correspondence from people who assume Governors-General can and will overturn the results of parliamentary elections and bypass democratic processes.
They demand I immediately dismiss the Government and call for an election – or withhold my signature on legislation the writers deem to be objectionable – or over-ride judicial outcomes.
Given the sketchy public understanding of the roles and powers of Parliament, the Executive, the judiciary – and indeed the Governor-General, there is much merit in President Franklin Roosevelt’s observation that:
“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education”.
It’s a sentiment that particularly resonates for us in these times of misinformation and disinformation.
Here at Government House, our Visitor Centre hosts school groups and our educators work closely with their counterparts at Parliament to expand understanding of the parliamentary process and my constitutional role.
I appreciate Members of the Association are playing their part by visiting schools and contributing to the Ministry of Education’s curriculum development.
We are indeed fortunate to live in a country where citizens have the right to engage and participate in the political process.
We need successive generations of New Zealanders to value that right and to exercise it, for as Olivia rightly points out in her essay, such active citizen engagement and participation are vital if we are to have a healthy political system.
Isla and Olivia, congratulations for your success in the competition. I very much enjoyed reading both your essays, and there was much to think about, from the length of our Parliamentary term to your concerns about the impact of the culture wars on the political landscape.
I hope the thought and interest evident in these essays will translate into your own active engagement in the political process in the years ahead – and who knows, one day you might be members of the Association yourselves, after serving your own terms in the House of Representatives.
To members of the Association, thank you for administering the secondary schools’ essay competition, and doing what you can to promote understanding and appreciation of the democratic process.
I wish you every success with that mission.