E nga mana, e nga reo, e nga iwi huri noa o Aotearoa tena koutou, tena koutou tena koutou katoa. Nga manu tioriori e huihui nei, tēnei aku mihi māhana ki a koutou. Na reira, kia ora tātou katoa. Distinguished guests from across New Zealand greetings. And ladies, I extend warm greetings to you especially. I acknowledge: Your Worship Julie Hardaker, Mayor of Hamilton; Dr Julian Elder, Chair of SODA Inc; and Cheryl Reynolds, Chief Executive of SODA Inc—tēnā koutou katoa.
Thank you for inviting me and Janine to this SODA Inc reception, to celebrate women entrepreneurs. I will keep my comments brief - I know when entrepreneurs get together they want to get on with networking.
This year New Zealand will mark a key 120th anniversary. The event was a radical course at the time, and yet one that almost every other nation in the world has followed. In 1893 New Zealand became the first nation in the world to grant women the right to vote in national elections. And with that, New Zealand women gained the most fundamental of rights of citizenship.
Under the leadership of Kate Sheppard, later to become the first President of the National Council of Women, three petitions, each one larger than the one before, were presented to Parliament on women’s suffrage. It is amazing to think that the suffrage petition of 1893 had more than 30,000 signatures of women 21 and over.
In a time when communication and transportation were very difficult, it took real organisation to gather the signatures of about a quarter of all adult women from population of less than a million! Together men and women have continued to build Aotearoa-New Zealand.
Because of the connection with suffrage much of the focus of the contribution of women to New Zealand has been on government and politics. And with good reason too. In 2001, New Zealand was unique in the world in that all the constitutional roles – Head of State, Governor-General, Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, Attorney-General and Chief Justice – were filled by women.
New Zealand women have also excelled in entrepreneurship and business. Indeed, in 2001 two women held arguably the most prominent business-related positions: Chair of the New Zealand Securities Commission and Chief Executive of our largest NZX-listed company. Yet, even before women’s suffrage was won, for the earliest pioneers New Zealand was both a beautiful country and a harsh environment. The notion of “do it yourself” was born in those times and built on doing things together collectively and communally.
One of the women who was successful in those times was Mary Jane Innes. Her husband Charles, a brewer by trade, had a fatal flair for business, being bankrupted twice while running breweries. The circumstances of Charles’ death have spawned stories. It’s reputed that he died of heart failure, either in a bathtub or a beer vat!
When in 1888 Charles ran into financial trouble and was declared bankrupt, a public notice appeared in the local papers stating that “M J Innes” had taken over the management of the Te Awamutu Brewery. Mary Jane, a young mother, showed considerable business acumen, taking over the operations of the Waikato Brewery in Hamilton East as well. The Innes family acquired tenancy rights over the land and buildings and shifted to Hamilton, and eventually to this building.
Like many of those earliest pioneers, Mary Jane Innes, was never given the recognition she rightly deserved. Seventy-two years after her death, that is all about to change. On July 31, Mary Jane Innes will be inducted into the New Zealand Business Hall of Fame alongside fellow inductees: winemaker, Sir George Fistonich; construction businessman, the late Hugh Green; agriculture leader, Sir Dryden Spring; and real estate pioneers, the late Val Barfoot and Maurice Thompson.
The days when women had to shun the limelight in business are thankfully over. The number of women who’ve been recognised at investiture ceremonies is significant and in my time as Governor-General include people such as business-woman Dame Rosanne Meo, fashion week founder Dame Pieter Stewart, WoW founder Dame Suzie Moncrieff, and publisher Dame Wendy Pye. And last night we attended a dinner to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Huntly and Districts Business and Professional Women’s Club, which runs the successful biennial Huntly Artz and Design Festival.
The work of organisations like SODA Inc, also playing a key role in entrepreneurship and keeping, if you’ll excuse the pun, the business spirit of this community bubbling along and supporting women into business. I’m sure Mary Jane Innes would be proud to see a building that was once the focus of her business energies, now supporting the entrepreneurs of today.
I want to conclude by using a quote I used at the dinner last night. It speaks of legacy of the women who contributed so much to the world we enjoy today. While the comment was made by American Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second woman to sit on that Court, I think it is appropriate here as well. She once said: “I think about how much we owe to the women who went before us – legions of women, some known but many more unknown. I applaud the bravery and resilience of those who helped all of us … to be here today.”
And on that note, I want thank you again for the invitation and the hospitality shown to us. Kia ora huihui tātou katoa.