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Source: New Zealand Governor General

Kei aku nui, Kei aku rahi, Rau Rangatira ma

Tēnā koutou katoa

Tuia ki runga, Tuia ki raro

Tuia ki roto, Tuia ki waho

Tuia te here tāngata

Ka rongo te pō

Ka rongo te ao

No reira, Tēnā tātou katoa

Thank you very much for inviting me to speak to you about my term as Governor General, in particular, the international aspects of my role.

As many of you will know, the Governor-General’s role has been traditionally described as the three Cs – Constitutional, Ceremonial and Community leadership.  The International role was added in large part at the beginning of this century, in Dame Silvia Cartwright’s term.

Of course the constitutional function of the Governor-General’s role reflects the raison d’etre of the position.  But in practice, the ceremonial and community roles are what have filled the majority of my time, by far.

The ceremonial is possibly the most visible – State opening of Parliament, Investiture ceremonies for famous and not so well known New Zealanders, which typically take between five and six weeks of my time each year, with up to 40 separate ceremonies at GHA, GHW and one or two South Island venues, covering New Year and Queens Birthday Honours.

Then there is the Commemoration of special events like Waitangi Day, Anzac Day, national tragedies and times of national celebration. 

My community leadership programme has enabled me to focus on particular areas of our way of life and includes my role as Patron of over 140 charities and service organisations as well as visiting regions and meeting people the length and breadth of the country. 

At the beginning of my term I selected four lenses that I proposed to use to determine and prioritise the activities I would undertake in this community role.

They were creativity, diversity, innovation and leadership.  Though they are necessarily broad, I have found them a useful guide in determining how to allocate the time and resources of my office to the myriad of events that I am asked to attend or host.

Of more particular interest for this audience is the International aspect of my role.   Dame Silvia described it as ‘promotion of New Zealand’s identity and sovereignty as an independent nation’. 

Essentially, it covers the Governor General’s role as representative of our Head of State, both here on home soil and in other jurisdictions.   

After almost five years in the role of Governor-General I am qualified to reflect on that aspect of the role, though I must note that circumstances have conspired to keep me in Aotearoa much more than my recent predecessors.

The extent of travel by the Governor General is always determined by the Prime Minister and the Government of the Day and that can vary.

But over the past 18 months our closed borders due to the pandemic have, as you will appreciate, had a significant impact on the opportunities that I have had to fulfill the international aspects of my role and I don’t see much opportunity for that to change in the near future.

As it happens, the Trans-Tasman travel bubble opened up in time for David and me to go to Australia for a State Visit, to meet my counterpart in Canberra – and to also visit the Governor of Tasmania in Hobart, earlier this month.  A planned visit to Melbourne as a part of this trip  was cancelled by the recent community COVID outbreak and consequent pause in our connection with Victoria.

Given the commonalities we share, I was very pleased to have the opportunity to honour the tradition whereby the Governors-General of our two countries visit each other once during their terms. 

It was the first Head of State Visit that Canberra had hosted since the pandemic began and so we really felt as though we got ‘royal treatment’. 

Unfortunately, the appointed day for our Official Welcome was very wet and so the ceremonies, including the royal salute, were all conducted indoors. 

But I was delighted that our teams working together had arranged a unique commencement to the traditional elements of the ceremony, which combined a welcome to country from representatives of the Ngunnawal people, including a traditional dance accompanied by a didgeridoo, with a karanga and karakia from the Kaumatua and Kuia who work with our High Commission in Canberra.  It really felt special and a wonderful combination of the two cultures of our first peoples.

In my capacity as Governor-General of New Zealand’s Realm countries, I visited the Cook Islands and Niue early in my term.   In fact that was my first international visit as Governor General.

It was a time to celebrate how Te moana nui a Kiwa /the Pacific Ocean connects Aotearoa and Pacific Islands – and to acknowledge New Zealand’s special ties, responsibilities and obligations towards our Pacific whanau.

During the Tuia 250 commemorations in Gisborne two years ago, the stirring arrival of waka hourua and the emotional welcome of and by the Tahitian delegation, brought home just how close those historical, linguistic and cultural ties are.

Sadly, my scheduled visits to the other two realm territories – Tokelau and Antarctica – were both cancelled because of the pandemic.

A very enjoyable aspect of my role has been receiving the credentials of foreign diplomats to New Zealand and farewelling them at the end of their assignments.

These welcome ceremonies are a unique mix of a Maori challenge and waiata from a defence force Maori cultural group, with a small military guard and band, outside on our South Lawn at GHW – at least when the Wellington weather permits it. 

This is followed by a formal ceremony inside where the new ambassador reads a speech outlining their intentions and aspirations for their role.  In the normal course, a Government Minister attends to advise me formally to accept their credentials.  I then respond with a brief speech about the links between our two countries and the opportunities for future collaboration.  MFAT Chief of Protocol then introduces their colleagues who are on hand to witness the occasion and finally we pose for official photographs.    We include the diplomat’s partner and family in these occasions, which is, I understand, a uniquely NZ approach.

Even these events were curtailed by COVID-19.  Last year we resorted to receiving credentials of several non-resident ambassadors by zoom.  It has been a real pleasure to be able to host these ceremonies in person again this year.  Indeed, we have at least two more credentials days scheduled in my remainining three months in office as we have something of a backlog – certainly of the Canberra resident ambassadors.

I have very much enjoyed these opportunities to meet Ambassadors and High Commissioners and to hear their insights on a range of matters.

On those occasions, I am frequently reminded that wherever we come from, we face the same existential challenges. The solutions require concerted action, which in turn will need to be facilitated by strong and resilient diplomatic ties.

When Heads of State or members of the Royal Family visit New Zealand, the Governor-General hosts their State Welcome at Government House.

In my time, I have hosted the King of Jordan, the King and Queen of Tonga and the King and Queen of the Netherlands, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

I have welcomed the Presidents of Germany, Ireland, Croatia, Hungary, Indonesia, Estonia, Poland, Chile, and Korea and the Governor General of Australia as well as the Premier of China, the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka and former President Barack Obama.  These have largely been splendid and most enjoyable occasions, often followed by state lunches or dinners in our Government House ballroom.

One occasion that didn’t go exactly to plan was the visit of the President of Hungary, HE Janos Ader, on 14 November 2016.    Unfortunately, earlier that morning Wellington was badly affected by the Kaikoura earthquake. 

While we were not affected at GH, we soon learned that most others were not so fortunate.  The Hungarian delegation had been evacuated from their hotel –  down 19 levels of stairs, in the middle of the night.  And the defence force guard of honour plus many of our staff were unable to travel to GH as many roads were closed. 

So the official welcome and state lunch had to be cancelled.  Instead we hosted the President and his wife for a small informal lunch, which was put together by a skeleton kitchen staff. 

Hungary does not experience earthquakes and I recall that our guests were rather shattered by their experience.  Understandably, the  opportunity for the usual wide ranging discussion was rather limited by their anxiety about potential continuing aftershocks.

Given the frequency of vice-regal interactions with international dignitaries, it is a logical development for the Governor-General to undertake high-level representation of New Zealand overseas. 

Looking back through our records, I see that former Governors General have represented New Zealand at many significant world events or commemorations.  For instance in 1989, Sir Paul Reeves went to Tokyo for the state funeral of Emperor Hirohito, and in 1992, Dame Cath Tizard went to Seville Expo 92, the King of Tonga’s birthday celebrations and the State Funeral of the President of Nauru.  Funerals for foreign Heads of State are frequently attended by our Governor General of the day.  Sir Anand – I recall that you had the privilege of attending the funeral of Nelson Mandela. I imagine that would have been an unforgettable experience. 

Sir Jerry attended the funeral of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in 2015 and I flew to Vanuatu for the funeral of their President in 2017.  Another significant funeral – that of the King of Thailand – also occurred during my term, but I was in Israel for the commemoration of the Battle of Beersheba at that time and NZ was instead represented by former Prime Minister Jim Bolger.

And of course commemorations and ceremonies, weddings and funerals  of members of our Royal Family have traditionally been attended by our Governors General. 

In normal times I would have attended the funeral for Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, earlier this year.  Instead, I delivered a tribute at our public memorial service in Wellington, which I believe was the only public memorial service able to be held for him in any realm country including the UK, due to the various lockdown protocols in place around the world.

It seems to have been in Dame Silvia’s term that a substantial international travel  programme was developed for the Governor General.  During her five year term she made official visits to some 30 countries to raise our profile and develop people to people links.  

This pattern of representing New Zealand through visits overseas to countries with whom we had particular connections continued through Sir Anand and Sir Jerry’s terms of office, and has, I believe, been very well received.

In addition to such official visits of a diplomatic nature, Governors-General have frequently represented New Zealand at commemorative events around the world, and on significant state occasions, such as funerals and enthronements.

For my part, I was honoured to represent our country at Anzac Day commemorations in Anzac Cove and Chunuk Bair in Gallipoli in 2018, at the WW100 commemorations in Messines in Belgium, Le Quesnoy in France and Be’er Sheva in Israel, and at the D-Day commemorations in Southampton in June 2019.

Later in 2019, David and I attended the enthronement celebrations for Emperor Naruhito of Japan and went on to Korea for the naming of Aotearoa, the Royal New Zealand navy’s newest vessel, attending in my capacity as ship’s sponsor.

Governors-General have also traditionally travelled to support our athletes at Commonwealth and Olympic Games.  David and I were able to meet and support our athletes at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in 2018. 

However, sadly COVID restrictions will prevent us from attending the Olympics this year in Tokyo. Tomorrow I travel to Auckland to farewell our Olympic Team as they set off to compete in Games that will be devoid of any international spectators.

In non pandemic times, I believe that international visits by Governors-General can open the door to further development of bilateral relations and contribute to New Zealand’s profile in those countries. 

I was pleased to undertake an official State Visit to Malaysia in 2017 as well a short visit to Barbados that same year, in that latter case to acknowledge the support the Caribbean States had given to our successful bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council.

During his term, my immediate predecessor, Sir Jerry, visited several countries as part of the Government’s programme to seek support for our bid for that seat.

As I look back on my term and consider the highlights of my international role, the one that really stands out is the trip to Italy to officially open New Zealand’s pavilion at the Venice Art Biennale in 2017.

To my knowledge it was the first time a Governor-General has promoted cultural diplomacy overseas, and I will never forget arriving at the exhibition site on a Distodona, a special form of long gondola with 16 gondoliers to propel and steer it,  not unlike a ceremonial waka.

With me, was our biennale artist Lisa Reihana, whose astonishing exhibition Emissaries I was about to open.  We traveled from the grand canal and along the waterfront to the Arsenale, where Lisa’s magnificent exhibition was regarded by many as the standout show of the 2017 International Art Biennale.

We were both wearing kakahu, and the many symbolic references to waka and Aotearoa were not lost on us.

It was a proud and spine-tingling moment to reflect on the meeting of cultures, and highly appropriate given that her exhibition focussed on the interactions between indigenous cultures of the Pacific and our European colonisers.

Each of the international visits that I have undertaken has given me an opportunity to meet with our Heads of Mission and their teams in those jurisdictions.   On these occasions I have been able to support their work in a direct way by attending networking events and promoting New Zealand, often by giving a short speech to convey key messages from our Government. 

In some cases, these occasions also assist to raise the profile of NZ and our diplomatic post with higher levels of the foreign government than might otherwise be the case.

I am thinking for example of my trip to Israel where our non-resident Ambassador accompanied me to meetings with both their President and Prime Minister, as well as the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.  Similarly, following our Gallipoli commemorations, we flew to Ankara with our Ambassador for meetings with President Erdogan and the Speaker of the Grand National Assembly.

I also had the opportunity to continue cultural diplomacy, thanks to Sir Jerry in his role as our UK High Commissioner, to speak at a function for key cultural leaders in the UK as well as members of the UK – NZ Link Foundation, at the marvellous Oceania exhibition at the Royal Academy of the Arts in London in 2018.

Looking to the future, COVID willing, I imagine there will be renewed opportunities for Governors-General to serve Aotearoa New Zealand’s interests on the international stage.  I do hope so.   

While some might question whether the Governor General is best placed to carry out an international programme, I am firmly of the view that this is an entirely appropriate and indeed valuable role for an apolitical non-executive Head of State.

After all, when the Queen travelled internationally, and similarly now when the Prince of Wales and Prince William travel, they are representing the UK – apart from when they visit realm countries, where they will wear those representative crowns.

It is important for New Zealand to be represented internationally at Head of State level, just as Canada and Australia are, by their Governors-General.

Although our borders are currently battened down for public health reasons, once we are able to freely interact with the rest of the world, I would encourage the Government to reinstate the Governor General’s role as an international representative beyond commemorative and ceremonial events, to represent New Zealand values and culture to the wider world.