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Wellington Club Dinner

Issue date: 
Friday, 30 June 2017
The Rt Hon Dame Patsy Reddy, GNZM, CVO, QSO

image of Dame Patsy and Sir David with a portrait of previous Governors-General
Dame Patsy and Sir David with a portrait of previous Governors-General

Rau rangatira mā, e kui mā, e koro mā, e huihui nei, tēnei aku mihi māhana ki a koutou.

Kia ora tātou katoa.

Thank you for inviting me to speak this evening.  There has been a long association between Government House and the Wellington Club.  Right from the days when Governor Grey was a resident in the Club after Wellington became the seat of government.

I am now nine months into my term as Governor-General and I would like to use this opportunity to speak a little about my goals during my term in office.

As you will be aware, much of a Governor-General’s role is determined by ceremonial, constitutional and international duties, but there is an area where we have some discretion in our programme.

For want of a better descriptor, it is called community engagement.

It’s a chance for Governors-General to act for public good, by matching their interests and expertise to particular areas where they feel that they can make a difference.

When I was appointed, David and I worked together to develop a strategic plan to focus our engagement into areas which combined our own interests and where we thought we could add value.   Our aim is to shine a spotlight on the achievements of New Zealanders to build nationhood and a strong successful and vibrant Aotearoa New Zealand.

The four areas we have chosen are creativity, innovation, diversity and leadership. I will speak about three of them this evening. I am sure that, in this room at least, the importance of leadership is self evident.

First, why Creativity?  Because arts and culture are an intrinsic part of what it means to be human. Our creative spark is one area of human endeavour that is unlikely to be effectively replicated by a robot.

At heart, I subscribe to Mathew Arnold’s belief that we benefit from being exposed to the best that has been thought and said – and to that I like to add the best that has been sung, sculptured, constructed, painted, filmed, digitally mastered and performed.

There is extraordinary creative talent in Aotearoa/New Zealand.  We can take particular pride in what is unique to our country – Māori culture – along with the creative vitality that comes from so many cultures living side by side.

Recently, David and I were able to bring this arts and culture focus into our international programme, when we represented the people of New Zealand at the most prestigious of the world’s contemporary arts events – the Venice Biennale.

It was a truly memorable experience. A personal highlight was when I accompanied New Zealand’s artist at the exhibition, Lisa Reihana, in Venice’s longest, very precious and rarely used gondola, the Disdotona, along the Grand Canal to the exhibition site in the Arsenale.

The similarities of that gondola to a Māori waka, complete with its team of 18 rowers, was not lost on the New Zealanders who were present.

It was a moment of powerful cultural connection, and very much in the spirit of the Venice Biennale, where artists from countries of every political persuasion come together in a free expression of ideas.

Lisa’s exhibition, entitled Emissaries, is a profound exploration of cultural connections and cultural collisions. At its heart, it is about tolerance.

I am not at all surprised at the great acclaim that it has received. It is a worthy representative of New Zealand cultural diplomacy, not least because it is a technical and innovative tour de force.

As Emissaries travels to various prestigious galleries around the world over the next few years, it will live up to its name as a truly great emissary, both for New Zealand creativity and innovation.

That brings me to innovation.  Ingenuity is part of our DNA, dating from a time when the nearest spare part was thousands of miles away. It wasn’t surprising that the ethos of number-eight-wire “making-do” was so highly prized.

Sir Ernest Rutherford famously said of New Zealand “We haven’t the money, so we have to think”.

That still applies in the 21st century, and our tradition of ingenuity has morphed into sophisticated innovation – most recently seen in the Americas Cup win.

The expertise of Peter Burling and his crew, innovative in itself, was supported by innovative design and engineering.

I am very proud of this aspect of NZ Inc, and will put a spotlight on our creative industries, our science and technology – and on our game-changers and entrepreneurs.

As the late, great Sir Paul Callaghan said “100 inspired entrepreneurs could turn this country around”.

It’s a wonderful challenge, and one that I believe we can meet.

We have the acumen here to help us create a sustainable and prosperous future, and at the same time find ways to address major issues like climate change, predator control, environmental degradation, pollution, more efficient food production and energy use, and the eradication of disease.

The third area of focus of my community engagement is diversity.  That’s not particularly surprising, given that I am just the third woman to be appointed Governor-General (out of 21). 

My focus on diversity is not restricted to gender diversity. But logically, that should be the easiest area to attain parity.  However it does still remain stubbornly hard to achieve.  That’s particularly disappointing when you consider that females have comprised a majority of our population in every year since 1968.

I won’t recite the benefits.  I'm sure you’ve all heard them.

Suffice to quote the Institute of Directors’ view that a better gender balance in governance leads to “more robust decision-making, more effective risk management and better company performance.”

Unfortunately, knowing about these benefits doesn’t always lead to action.

For instance since 2015, New Zealand has actually slipped backwards in terms of the number of female board-members of publicly listed companies. Last year only 17% of NZX listed company directors were female.

Earlier this month, much was made of the fact that female judges were in the majority at a particular Supreme Court hearing for the first time. It was remarkable because only 32 percent of judges are women.  And only 24% of partners in law firms are women. 

That’s astonishing when you consider that in every year for at least the past quarter of a century a majority of the law students graduating from NZ law schools have been female.  

There are many other examples, too numerous to mention.  The unfortunate fact is that unconscious bias is still holding women back. A conscious decision has to be made at the highest levels to counter such bias and to ensure that career pathways for women are opened up, rather than blocked.

The state sector is leading the way, and now it is up to the private sector to follow suit.

If we want to normalise gender equality across society, with all the attendant benefits, I suggest that people in positions of influence need to show the way.

Wellington Club’s role in this process began in the the 1990s when women were finally admitted as members.  My predecessor Dame Cath had declined the opportunity to be an “Honorary” member of the Club when she became Governor General in 1990 for the simple reason that other women were not eligible to be members.  I understand the first women members were admitted in 1994.  That was more than a century after NZ led the way in allowing women the right to vote. 

Here we are some 23 years later and women account for less than 10% of your membership and I understand that there is only one female committee member.

Of course, gender parity is only one aspect of diversity. Unconscious and conscious bias thwarts the ambitions of too many people in our society, on the basis of race, religious affiliation, disability and age. To paraphrase one of your illustrious members, Dame Margaret Bazley, we get better results if we have a variety of perspectives around the table. Given that 25 percent of New Zealanders were not born in this country – we certainly have a diverse range of perspectives to draw on.

Again, acknowledging bias is the first step in working to bring about positive change.  All our institutions will benefit from being inclusive and reflective of the New Zealand of today.

The youthful founders of the Wellington Club in 1841 would be astonished to see the cultural diversity and sophistication of contemporary New Zealand – but I think they would be excited by it too. They understood the impulse that drives people to leave the countries of their birth, to start with a clean slate, and create a new life for themselves.

They would be delighted to see what a vibrant, cultural hub their fledgling settlement of Wellington has become.

The Wellington Club has been here from the beginning, and the leadership and acumen represented in this room will determine how their legacy is played out in the years to come.

For my part, I believe that, if the Club is to continue to be a prominent, and vibrant centre of Wellington society throughout the 21st century, a diversity and inclusiveness policy should be actively and enthusiastically embraced.

To take the liberty of paraphrasing another of your members and one of my predecessors, Sir Anand Satyanand, speaking of this club: ‘It has the opportunity to bridge the transformation from what was, to what is, and represent our capacity to meet what will be’.

Kia ora huihui tātou katoa.

Last updated: 
Wednesday, 12 July 2017

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