Back to top anchor

State Farewell Dinner

Issue date: 
Thursday, 29 November 1990
The Hon and the Rt Rev Sir Paul Reeves, GCMG, GCVO, QSO

In the 1960s when Jim Bolger was milking cows on the Kahui Road near Rahotu, Paul Reeves was shepherding his flock 10 miles to the north at Okato. The fact that tonight we are both sitting here in our respective positions suggests several things: there is mobility in New Zealand society, it pays not to know what the future may hold, and perhaps there was an X factors in the Taranaki mild at that time.

This morning I opened the first session of the Forty-third Parliament, tonight we are being dined out and at midnight I finish. I can't imagine a more remarkable way in which to conclude my term as Governor-General.

It is said that when the Duke of Wellington came out of his first Cabinet meeting as Prime Minister he exclaimed "An extraordinary affair! I gave them their orders and they wanted to stay and discuss them." I can say that the Prime Ministers of the day have always treated me courteously. Whenever I asked to see them they would come. In fact this ready co-operation has been characteristic of my relationship with Members of Parliament as a whole. We always enjoyed the Parliamentarian's Dine and Dance at Government House where we tried to provide a convivial setting for people who spend so much of their time being adversaries in the debating chamber.

We have been fairly informal but not, I hope, at the expense of dignity. When Sir Bernard Fergusson arrived in 1962, the ship berthed at Pipitea Wharf, he was received by the Administrator and the Prime Minister, he inspected a Naval Guard of Honour and was then introduced to Cabinet Ministers and their wives and the Chiefs of Staff. When we arrived in 1985, we commandeered a Government car to take us from the hotel to Government House, passed the Rolls Royce which with two ADCs was going the other way to pick us up and arrived at the front door of our new home unannounced and unexpected.

The truth is that nervousness creates its own situations. I was aware that the tenure of the Governor-General is legally most precarious. The office is held at the Sovereign's pleasure and the Governor-General is vulnerable to royal dismissal at the advice of Ministers who might wish to get in first before he or she exercises the reserve powers to dismiss them.

So, as many young people asked me, why did they choose you to be the Governor-General? Thankfully I did not have to answer that question. But why give up a position in the public arena and accept an office which has apparent constraints and about which many people have questions and hesitations? Undeniably the Governor-General remains a constitutional backstop of value in a country which has no written constitution within which is sovereign legislature is confined. The constitutional responsibilities are very important but I felt that there must be more to the office than that.

The Governor-General has the potential and opportunity to be a powerful symbol. By definition, a symbol brings people together. The opposite of symbolic is diabolic, the force which makes things fly apart. We live at a time when the possibilities of coming together or flying apart are both present. "My life and my death are with my neighbour" said Saint Anthony. Human beings share a common good which we have to explore and understand. Unity is a process of healthy questioning, supporting, challenging and accepting each other. These are things we don't do very well.

My wife and I have travelled constantly. The motto on my coat of arms is Whakarongo which means listen and that is what we have tried to do. People are not always articulate. In fact more is conveyed through the pauses and hesitations of speech than through its words. What Ivan Illich says is true: "It takes more time and effort and delicacy to learn the silence of a people than to learn its sounds."

Many people are enduring a lot of pain at the moment and not talking about it. The poor no longer feel they control their lives. Theirs has become a struggle for existence and yet they are entitled to life in all its fullness. On the world scene the socialist societies have not been able to sustain the means of life for their citizens. Some have been discredited by excessive centralism and inefficiencies. The scenario begins to sound familiar when I say that the predominant alternative is capitalism characterised by the so called "free market" economy. But market forces don't operate freely. They are controlled and managed to maximise capital and minimise costs. Adam Smith talked about the spirit of the market, the "invisible hand" as he called it. In New Zealand this same spirit has taken from the weak and the poor and offered them little in return. I am appalled by the rising number of unemployed people.

I know that the Government is deeply concerned for the economic welfare of New Zealand. But whatever we do must reflect the primacy of the social element in economic life. We may have to distinguish between what we need and what we want. But I would be looking for an economic policy which encourages participation, maximises the responsible use of resources for the common benefit and promotes human wellbeing and welfare.

Judging from the continuing shake-out of the 1987 sharemarket crash, a significant number of the corporate players in our economy cut a few corners. Serious fraud we call it. The major risk facing a corporation today is a loss of credibility, a loss of confidence of the public, the employees, shareholders and customers. In the word, the loss of its reputation. Most companies depend upon the trust of the public to do business and at the moment the public is not willing to give that trust. My advice to New Zealand business and financial communities is to place greater emphasis on the quality rather than the quantity of the results of management activity.

It is nearly 25 years since the repatriation of the office of Governor-General began. In that time the incumbent has thought, spoken and acted as a local and not as a visitor. My added twist has been the fact that I am a member of the Te Ati Awa tribe of Taranaki. As a group we have felt the blowtorch of history and yet my relatives have supported me consistently during my term. When I became Governor-General they handed me over to the Prime Minister at the foot of the steps to Parliament. This morning they met me at the same place and took me out to the main gate.

Taranaki has been bold enough to do a couple of things. One is to tease out our history which places us at the centre of our story rather than on the edge of someone else's history. We have a life aside from our interactions with the majority community. We have also brought our case to the Waitangi Tribunal. The Treaty of Waitangi is an umbrella under which we shelter even though it is ambiguous and in one instance contradictory. The uncomfortable fact is that the Crown was granted sovereignty in the English version while Māori retained sovereignty in the Māori version. The Treaty stands as a symbol of unities and disunities. Consequently it is an ideal basis for serious and searching debate. Here is a quotation from Andrew Sharp: "Should [the Treaty] ever come to mean only one thing and to indicate a single line of policy then that singleness of meaning and of purpose will have been obtained at the expense of bad history, bad law and bad philosophy."

I mentioned that I have travelled extensively. One of our games has been to find a place where Sir Bernard Fergusson had not been. It was very difficult. New Zealanders are very hospitable and at times my waistline has been testimony to that. I have learned that they also need to be convinced of something before they will accept it. In other words, they act out of conviction rather than a blind trust. It comes across as sturdy independence. They are also resourceful and they don't like people who put across airs and graces.

What I have just said could be a description of my wife Beverley. She has been my sternest critic and my most generous adviser. She also gave up a career as a schoolteacher in 1985. In fact, she has been giving up careers for me for most of our married life. The spouse of the Governor-General has an important role to play. My wife has responded to many requests from the community and has done it with style and grace. The cost has been that some of her other talents and skills have not been used. It is not a situation that should last too long. To her and to our three daughters, Sarah, Bridget and Jane, I owe more than my words can adequately express.

I have learned that faith is not a matter of conformity but involves choice, individuality and the acceptance of the consequences. Beverley and I have made our choices and consequently we leave for New York early in the New Year. It has been a tremendous privilege to be Governor-General of New Zealand but now it is time to go. Your presence here tonight is a great encouragement. We are very grateful.

Last updated: 
Thursday, 29 November 1990

Help us improve the Governor-General website

Your feedback is very important in helping us improve the Governor-General website.

4 + 3 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.