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Hardie Boys, Michael --- "Neil Williamson Memorial Lecture: 'Nodding automation?' (some reflections on the office of Governor-General)" [2002] CanterLawRw 7; (2002) 8 Canterbury Law Review 425


Rt. Hon. Sir Michael Hardie Boys[*]

It is a privilege to have been invited to deliver this, the sixth, Neil Williamson Memorial Lecture, and it is a pleasure to be here to deliver it. Christchurch has many happy memories for us both. My wife was at Art School here, and during my years in practice I came here quite often. And of course for nine years from 1981 we lived and worked here, finally leaving with considerable reluctance.

Neil Williamson

It was only in the later of those years in practice that I first met Neil Williamson, not in court but around the council table of the NZ Law Society. Always an early starter, he arrived there a year before I did, and became President of his District Law Society here in Canterbury two years before I became President of mine in Wellington. When, after another two years, Christchurch became our home, Neil welcomed us as Crown Solicitor, an office to which he had been appointed at the extraordinarily early age of 29. It was a funny sort of welcome in a way, because on two occasions within a very short time he went to the Court of Appeal, very nicely of course, to have me put right on sentencing.

He was a model prosecutor, although of course his practice was more extensive than that, firm, fair, with an impressive simplicity about his presentation. That was his hallmark too when he became a Judge in 1985, at the relatively tender age of 46. We were colleagues here for the next 4 years, colleagues and good friends, and I was one of the many who were devastated by his untimely death in February 1996 at the age of 57. As I prepared these introductory words, I had before me Graham Panckhurst's moving tribute published in Canterbury Tales, aptly titled 'A very special man' which concluded with a comment by another of his friends, 'Neil wasn't just a lawyer, he was a saint'. Correctly understood, that was not an unwarranted description.

My Topic

My quandary when I am asked, as I was by Brent Stanaway, to speak on any topic I liked, was that there is really only one topic that I feel at all qualified to speak about these days; and for that very reason it's a topic I have talked about more than once around the country, once even here in Christchurch, to the Public Law class at the University. But that was almost 5 years ago now, when I was less than halfway through experiencing the topic. But now that the experience is complete, perhaps some reflections in hindsight may be of interest, possibly even of value. So, the topic is some reflections on the role of the Governor-General, derived from the experiences of a very full and very fascinating five years. The lead title I have given it, 'Nodding Automaton?' is not original. It derives from a Chief Justice of Pakistan who stated it as a proposition. But I have put it as a question, because I have no doubt that as a proposition it is quite incorrect. Perhaps since that far off day when New Zealand for all practical purposes achieved full independence — and so I go back much further than 1947 when we finally adopted the Statute of Westminster — from that time until relatively recently we have not greatly concerned ourselves with constitutional matters. But in academic circles at least, interest was aroused by the Whitlarn crisis in Australia in 1975, which threw into dramatic focus the powers of the Governor-General and the relationship between the Governor-General and the Prime Minister. In this country, the renaissance of the Treaty of Waitangi, the passing of the Bill of Rights Act in 1990, and talk of republicanism, have all aroused interest in our constitution, or rather in our lack of one. The powers of the Governor-General, however, were not given much attention until 1996, apart from what is still a very valuable contribution by Professor RQ Quentin-Baxter in the VUWLR of 1980. But in 1996 our first general election under MMP began to loom on the national horizon, and the realization came that the Governor-General might have a significant role to play, and so there was quite a flurry of interest and of speculation; and, both before and after the event, quite a body of material was produced. Quentin-Baxter clearly did not agree with the Chief Justice of Pakistan. What he argued was that the office has considerable constitutional significance, and that to ensure that its significance is understood and valued and not whittled away, it should be formalized in some way. He was thus writing about the constitutional role; as to be fair, was the Chief Justice. But this evening, I want to talk about the office in its fullness, hence the secondary title. The constitutional role is but one aspect of a much broader responsibility — and challenge. And for us, it was a joint responsibility and a joint challenge, which we shared together.

It is often said that the Governor-General's role is a threefold one: constitutional, ceremonial and representative, or as I prefer to put it, community. It is not always easy to know where one ends and another begins. The ceremonial role has a significance considerably beyond what the adjective might suggest, while the community role is, in day-to-day terms, probably the most important of all.

I actually had at first a different title for this lecture. It was: 'An awful job; a terrible job'. Those were the words with which a former prime minister greeted me soon after my appointment had been announced. But he was wrong, very wrong. Because it is a wonderful job, full of interest, of diversity, giving one an insight into our nation and its people that most of us can never have.

But as this is a legal occasion, I should concentrate on matters legal, and so I begin with the Governor-General's constitutional role.

The Constitutional Role

A Constitutional Monarchy

New Zealand is a constitutional monarchy. In other words, we have a sovereign who acts in accordance with well-established constitutional principles. The basic, essential, principle is that it is not the monarch who governs, but the elected representatives of the people, the Parliament. As it has been succinctly expressed: the Queen reigns, but Parliament rules.

Nonetheless, the Sovereign is part of Parliament, and this is so in New Zealand by virtue of s 14 of the Constitution Act, which declares:

There shall be a Parliament of New Zealand which shall consist of the Sovereign in right of New Zealand and the House of Representatives.

This fact is expressed ceremonially in the State Opening of Parliament, at which the Sovereign, and here in New Zealand the Governor-General, although the Queen has done it here too, reads the Speech from the Throne, written not by her or him but by the Prime Minister, which outlines the legislative programme for the coming Session. Until quite recent times there was a State Opening every year, but now we have it only at the beginning of a parliamentary term following a general election. In England, the Opening takes place in the House of Lords, not the Commons, and here it takes place in the old Legislative Council Chamber, not the House of Representatives. Once the Governor-General is seated, Black Rod is dispatched to summon the members of the House to attend to hear the Speech. Charles the First is responsible for all this. In 1642, with 400 armed men, he invaded the House of Commons to arrest five parliamentary leaders. And that of course ultimately led to civil war. The Sovereign has been banned from the representative house ever since, remote though a repetition of such inflammatory conduct may seem. Of course, the Sovereign once did rule, and with absolute powers. They were the Sovereign's prerogative, exercisable by virtue of the fact of sovereignty. But much of our constitutional history is the record of the wresting of those powers by, or their voluntary surrender to, the Parliament, and the submission of the Crown to the Parliament, so that now the prerogative powers are largely exercised on the advice of Ministers, as elected representatives of the people. That is not to say that the Sovereign now has an entirely formal constitutional function. On the contrary, some of the prerogative powers remain exclusively with the Sovereign, and are exercisable without ministerial advice, and so are called the reserve powers. They are the ones necessary, in the terminology I like, to ensure the continuity and the legitimacy of government. In other words, the Sovereign has the very important constitutional function of ensuring that there always is a government, and that it in its turn acts in accordance with constitutional principles.

The most important of the reserve powers is the power to appoint — and to dismiss — a Prime Minister. Others are the power to reftise to dissolve Parliament, to force a dissolution of Parliament, and — this one is debatable — to refuse assent to legislation. I shall come back to them later.

The Office of Governor-General

All this is provided for in New Zealand in three ways: by legislation, by letters patent and by constitutional convention.

The legislation is of course our intriguingly brief Constitution Act 1986. Section 2(1) declares that the Sovereign in right of New Zealand is the Head of State. Thus for us she is Queen of New Zealand, and only incidentally, as it were, Queen of the United Kingdom. But the Queen's powers and authorities are delegated to the Governor-General, who is declared by s 2(2) of the Constitution Act to be her representative in New Zealand. Section 3(l) makes it quite clear that the Governor-General is a delegate and not a principal, for it states:

Every power conferred on the Governor-General by or under any Act is a royal power which is exercisable by the Governor-General on behalf of the Sovereign, and may accordingly be exercised either by the Sovereign in person or by the Governor-General.

The Act says very little more about the Governor-General. For a fuller statement of the delegation one must look to a document entitled 'Letters Patent Constituting the Office of Governor-General of New Zealand' dated 28 October 1983 as amended in December 1986. The constitutional relationship is nicely emphasized by the fact that these documents, signed, as they state, 'under our Regal hand' are nonetheless New Zealand documents, with the seal of New Zealand affixed, and promulgated under our Regulations Act 1936; you will find them as SR1983/225 and 1987/8. The Letters Patent declare that Her Maj esty will appoint a Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief, in and over the Realm of New Zealand, to hold office during her pleasure. The Realm of New Zealand is declared to include the Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau and the Ross Dependency. If the Governor-General is out of the country (and if it is to be for a State visit, or for more than a month, leave must be obtained from the Queen through the Prime Minister) or if the Governor-General becomes incapable, the Chief Justice, or failing him or her, the President of the Court of Appeal, or alternatively the senior Judge of that Court, acts, with the title Administrator of the Government.

The effect of the Constitution Act and the Letters Patent is that the Governor-General, or the Administrator, may exercise all the prerogative powers of the Sovereign, in addition of course to the powers conferred upon him or her by statute. The Sovereign would exercise these powers only by invitation.

An example is when the Queen herself gave the Royal Assent to the legislation incorporating the Tainui people's settlement with the Crown. She did that by virtue of s 16 of the Constitution Act, which states: 'A bill passed by the House of Representatives shall become law when the Sovereign or the Governor-General assents to it and signs it in token of such assent'. I may interpolate here that every communication sent direct to the Palace concerning a domestic New Zealand matter, and there are quite a number of them, from all manner of people, about all manner of things, is referred straight to the Governor-General, the writer being informed 'it is not a matter in which Her Majesty would interfere'.

A word now about constitutional conventions. These are rules, practices, understandings, about the way things ought to be done. The great constitutional writer AV Dicey called them 'rules for determining the mode in which the discretionary powers of the Crown (or of the Ministers as servants of the Crown) ought to be exercised'. But these days they go much further than that. They provide for the whole working of the governmental machine. They do not have the force of law, but a breach can have dire political or even constitutional consequences. The most important convention affecting the Governor-General is that, like the Sovereign, he or she must act on advice. This not only ensures that Parliament does indeed rule, but also it helps remove the Governor-General from political controversy, because the responsibility for decisions made on advice rests on those who give the advice. The advice may come from the Executive Council, from the Prime Minister, or from a minister. Usually there is no difficulty about this convention. But occasionally the advice may be unwelcome. One is entitled to question it, to put forward one's own view, but in the end, even if one is unhappy about it, one must act on the advice. The alternative is to resign. The principle of collective Cabinet responsibility, is in part intended to ensure that the Governor-General is advised by one voice, giving assurance that the advice received from an individual minister is indeed government policy.

The fundamental thing in all this is that the Governor-General has the responsibility to ensure the continuity and legitimacy of government and consequently the authority to exercise the reserve powers to this end. And to do that effectively, it is crucial that he or she be, and be seen to be, politically neutral and impartial.


The appointment of a Governor-General is made by the Queen on the advice of her New Zealand Prime Minister.

Just as the appointment is made on advice, so can it be terminated. The Whitlam crisis of 1975 highlighted this. It may be recalled that the Governor-General of Australia, Sir John Kerr, dismissed the Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam. But only just.

In Sir John Kerr's memoirs, which Sir Thomas Eichelbaum very thoughtfully lent to me after my appointment was announced — a kind and brotherly warning I thought — the scene is described quite vividly. Whitlam could not get supply, approval for spending the money needed to run the country. He had a majority in the lower house, but the upper house, the Senate, was against him. Kerr wanted him to call an election. Whitlam refused. I assume he knew he would lose, as in fact he did. The two faced up to each other in the Governor-General's study. When it became obvious which way the wind was blowing, Whitlam asked if he could use the phone. Kerr told him it was too late, and handed him his notice of dismissal, which he had sensibly prepared in advance. One hopes that that kind of situation is unlikely to arise very often. In the face of Sir Thomas Eichelbaum's friendly gesture, I comforted myself with the fact that we have no upper house.

People ask what instructions are given to a newly appointed Governor-General, what training. The answer I suspect rather depends on the person who occupies the position of Cabinet Secretary and Clerk to the Executive Council. For a number of years this has been Mrs Marie Shroff, who has a compendious knowledge of constitutional practice and procedure, and proved very helpful indeed throughout my term. In addition to giving very necessary initial guidance and advice, she accompanied my wife and me on a trip to Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom. To Denmark, to discuss with the Queen's Private Secretary and others the practical workings of their system of proportional representation, and their method of selecting a Prime Minister. To Ireland to talk to a number of people about the workings of coalition government, and how a government can change, as one recently had, without a general election — by the simple expedient of a coalition partner changing sides so that a new alignment had a majority in the Dail. And in the United Kingdom to discuss with academics at Oxford a variety of issues that could arise under MMP; but they said they were waiting to see what we would do. Finally, there was an audience with the Queen who dubbed me and with whom we had a very agreeable 45 minute conversation, but who did not give me any instructions.

The Exercise of the Reserve Powers by a Governor-General

It is of the very nature of the reserve powers that they are exercised without ministerial advice. That does not mean that the Governor-General has no one to turn to for advice should the need arise. There is, as I have mentioned, the Clerk of the Executive Council, who is independent and responsible direct to the Governor-General in this area; there is the Solicitor-General; and there are former Governors-General, and perhaps retired or senior members of the judiciary; but caution is needed here, for Sir John Kerr in 1975 was criticized for consulting the Chief Justice of Australia, but that was really because their constitutional arrangements may have meant that the High Court could have been called on to adj udicate upon some aspect of the matter.

Unless something goes badly wrong, the only reserve power a Governor-General is called on to exercise is the very important one of the appointment of a Prime Minister.

This is of course the mandate to form a government, and in 1995/6 it became an issue with the forthcoming MMP election. There was from the outset no question but that the person to be appointed had to be the one who, after the election results were known, was able to command sufficient support in Parliament to govern, at least for a reasonable time. But the issue was, how was this person to be identified? We found that the Danish method, which is similar to that in some other European countries, has some relevance for us, in that the Queen is publicly distanced from the political process, and the outcome is based on information that is in the public domain. Those basic principles seemed important for us too. But the way in which they are worked out in practice in Denmark is not appropriate for us; hence we had to formulate our own approach.

So quite soon after my swearing-in on 21 March 1996 1 took the opportunity to make the first of a series of speeches in which I made it clear that I would not be calling on anyone to see if he or she could form a government, nor would I be rushing to make public statements. Rather, I would stand back, patiently, until it became clear which party, or combination of parties, was able to command a majority in the new Parliament on issues of confidence and supply. I would determine this from public pronouncements, so that the whole process was transparent, and I would then invite the leader of that party or of its major component to form a government and so be Prime Minister. The essential message was that the formation of a government is a political decision, and must be arrived at by the politicians themselves. This process was well understood by almost all the players in the 1996 general election, and I think by all of them in 1999, so that each time the appointment process was completed smoothly. There were though some anxious moments in 1996, for as you may remember coalition negotiations were protracted, and we were fast approaching the time limit set by s 19 of the Constitution Act for Parliament to be summoned. Would I talk with the party leaders to jog them along, or would I just wait for Parliament to meet and for one of them to move a vote of confidence. Would I make some public statement? Might I in the end, if there were an impasse, have to call another general election? Fortunately, of course, the coalition agreement between National and New Zealand First was signed just in time, and there was no question but that Mr Bolger was to be appointed Prime Minister.

But a year later Mr Bolger was ousted by Mrs Shipley, and for a time there was a question whether New Zealand First would remain a coalition partner. When they decided they would, it was obvious that Mrs Shipley commanded the confidence of the House and so I appointed her. Then came the general election in 1999, and the rapid completion of a coalition agreement between Labour and the Alliance, and so there was no difficulty in appointing Miss Helen Clark.

The occasion to exercise any of the other reserve powers would arise only if there were a breach of constitutional convention elsewhere, or if for some other reason there were a constitutional crisis. During the five years of my term, we had no such breach, and no constitutional crisis. We had several political ones though, requiring me on a number of occasions to dismiss a minister or to accept a minister's resignation, and appoint another, all on advice of course, but there was nothing that required me to exercise any of the other reserve powers.

We came the closest to it at the time of the collapse of the National/New Zealand First Coalition. For if New Zealand First had decided to transfer allegiance to Labour, and Labour had been willing to have them, and the two combined had been able to command majority support on confidence and supply, then much would have depended on what the Prime Minister, Mrs Shipley, would have done. She may simply have resigned, and provided it was tolerably clear that the new coalition would hold, it would have been my responsibility to appoint Miss Clark as Prime Minister. We would have had a change of government without an election, as had happened in Ireland. But Mrs Shipley may have asked for a dissolution and a general election. Had she done that, the situation may have become a little trickier. A Prime Minister's request for a dissolution should be granted, provided he or she has the confidence of the House. We have seen this happen only this week. But if that proviso is not met, and if it is very clear that a different alignment in the existing Parliament could govern, then the request is likely to be refused and that other alignment appointed to govern. This requires a very careful judgment, for if the new alignment does not last, the Governor-General can be in trouble, as was Lord Byng in Canada in 1926. He miscalculated, and lost his job. But fortunately my judgment was not put to the test. Miss Clark made it clear that she would not go into coalition with New Zealand First, and Mrs Shipley's ministry was able to carry on as a minority government.

And so even though I quite often had letters from members of the public urging me to dismiss the government, I had to disappoint them all. As I have mentioned, legislation is not enacted until the Governor-General or the Queen herself gives assent. Bills passed through Parliament are brought up to Government House for signature, each with advice from the Prime Minister that assent should be given, and each bearing a certificate from the Clerk of the House confirming that it is in order for assent. But there is little opportunity to read them carefully, or at all. That may not matter for, as I said earlier, the power to refuse assent may no longer exist. It has certainly not been exercised in modem constitutional history, since the days of Queen Anne in fact, and for that very reason some academics say that it is no longer extant. Others take a contrary view. This is a very interesting question, one which happily I was not called on to answer. Of course the fact that one may not like a particular piece of legislation is no reason for refusing assent. Perhaps one could refer back a particularly egregious error that one has noticed. But if, for example, Parliament by some aberration were to pass unconstitutional legislation, what then? The duty of the Governor-General is to uphold the constitution, yet refusal of assent could be seen as a political act, which itself could be unconstitutional. In those circumstances, as a last resort, with persuasion and threatened resignation having been to no avail, I believe the only course would be for the Governor-General to resign, leaving the government to find a replacement who was prepared to be a party to unconstitutionality.

Other Constitutional Functions

Let me briefly mention two constitutional discoveries I made early on, before I turn to more familiar topics. One was s 21 of the Constitution Act, which states that where a Bill provides for the appropriation of public money or a charge upon public revenue, it cannot be passed unless it is recommended to the House by the Crown. So from time to time a bundle of Bills arrives accompanied by advice from the Prime Minister that the Governor-General should make such a recommendation. And one does. Even more intriguing was the requirement of s 22 of the Public Finance Act 1989 that no money may be paid out of the Crown Bank account except in pursuance of a warrant under the hand of the Governor-General. When the first warrant arrived for my signature — they are in a large leather bound book in a wooden box — my eyes popped. It was for a huge amount of money, 8 noughts. My fears that we were heading for a national disaster were resolved when it was pointed out that almost every cent government spends is drawn from the Crown Account. Moreover, as required by the statute, the audit office had certified that the amount could lawfully be paid. And so without blinking I would regularly sign warrants authorizing the expenditure of tens, even hundreds, of millions of dollars. It put my own affairs into perspective.

Lawyers know about Orders-in-Council and Regulations, which are dealt with at meetings of the Executive Council, held almost every week. The Executive Council is established by the Letters Patent, as 'Our responsible advisers'. It is constitutionally the instrument by which the government as a whole formally gives advice to the Governor-General. Its members are appointed by the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime Minister; and it normally consists of all ministers. The Governor-General presides if possible, but if not, s 3A of the Constitution Act enables business to be transacted, with the Governor-General's signature being obtained later. There was a time when ministers used to don their most formal attire and come to Government House, where the Council would meet in a small room still called the Council Room. These days, Mahomet goes to the mountain. The minister responsible for each item to be dealt with is expected to attend, or have another briefed to give any explanation that may be sought. These meetings are an opportunity to talk to ministers, and to raise any issues that may be on one's mind. Unfortunately, perhaps because of the ever-increasing pressures of public life, or because the Council is no longer thought to have the significance it once had, very few ministers other than those responsible for agenda items attend. Lawyers will be familiar with the provision in s 406 of the Crimes Act 1961 for the exercise of the Royal prerogative of mercy. Here is a prerogative power incorporated into statute, in terms which make it clear that the power is not exercisable by the Governor-General personally, but by the Governor-General in Council, in other words by a decision of the Executive Council. There must have been some message on the prison grapevine at one stage during my term, for there was quite a rush of these, mostly cases of misplaced optimism, and of considerable misunderstanding. The procedure is that the Governor-General refers the application to the Minister of Justice who obtains an opinion from his Department.

The opinion in due course comes to the Governor-General and if it is adverse to the applicant, it is accompanied by advice from the minister that it should be declined. If it is favourable, an Order-in-Council is prepared, and duly approved at a meeting of the Executive Council. I do not recall disagreeing with the opinion and the advice, although I may have asked for clarification or reconsideration of some aspect. And at times I had some involvement in the preparation of the Order-in-Council.

Other important documents requiring signature include judicial and other senior appointments, and the documentation accrediting our diplomats to other countries. All of this signing is done on advice. One is entitled to question, to ask for more information, but in the end, even if one is unhappy about it, constitutional convention requires that the advice be acted upon. There is however another side to the obligation to act on advice. For one thing, the Letters Patent place on the ministers of the Crown the obligation to keep the Governor-General fully informed concerning the general conduct of the government, and to give such information as he or she may request with respect to any particular matter relating to the government of the Realm. Moreover, the Governor-General has, by ancient usage, the right to be consulted, the right to advise and the right to warn. This right and this obligation are given effect in New Zealand primarily through the Clerk of the Executive Council, who gives the Governor-General regular briefings, and acts as an intermediary between the Governor-General and the Prime Minister. In more recent years at least, meetings with the Prime Minister in person are relatively infrequent. Executive Council provides an opportunity to talk with those ministers who are present, while it has become a practice for all ministers to be invited to a private lunch at Government House. My experience was that relationships with ministers were always cordial, but in constitutional terms the relationship was more distant than I believe it is in some other countries. It would not surprise you to learn that the Governor-General receives a great deal of correspondence from unhappy people, people whose problems have not been resolved, but instead have been made worse, or even created, by the courts or by officialdom. It is not easy to know how best to deal with this. Sometimes it can be referred to someone who should be capable of dealing with it, or at least of explaining the problem and suggesting a response. Sometimes one has to devise one's own response. It would be all too easy to brush aside these people's problems, to give a bland reply, really saying nothing, or even to ignore them altogether. But I believed more was needed than that; yet in the end one often had to say that there was nothing one could do to help. Even a Court of Appeal Judge turned Governor-General has his limits.

Thus far I have been talking about the constitutional role, now let me turn to the Ceremonial.

The Ceremonial Role

As we have seen, the Governor-General is also Commander-in-Chief, an appointment which in constitutional terms is purely nominal. Except in times of national emergency it is largely ceremonial. But it has a very significant practical reality.

The defence of the realm is of course one of the basic functions of government, but the decisions as to how this is to be achieved are purely political. Hence the Commander-in-Chief was not consulted about the decision to send troops to East Timor, or to disband our air strike force. Those were political decisions.

On the other hand, the Services themselves place considerable store by the role of Commander-in-Chief, and are anxious to have him or her present on every important occasion, as well as visit ship or camp or base as often as possible. Returned servicemen too place great store by the vice-regal connection, so that it is traditional for the Governor-General to address their annual conference. And of course there are Anzac Day and Armistice Day commemorations. Having no service background myself, I availed myself of as many of these opportunities as I could, and found them most enjoyable. The association with the Services is also maintained by the appointment of promising young officers to act as aides-de-camp, each serving for a year or so, whose task is basically to ensure that all one's arrangements work smoothly and without unwelcome interruption. Another most agreeable ceremonial duty is to receive the credentials of newly arrived ambassadors. They come to present letters of credence, addressed by their head of state to Her Majesty as Queen of New Zealand, by which their appointment is declared, and the Queen's protection and goodwill are requested on their behalf.

Credentials ceremonies are held every month or so, and are done in a particularly New Zealand way, with a happy blend of the formal and the informal. It is usual to receive more than one ambassador on each occasion, and the procedure is that at 10 to 15 minute intervals an ADC and an officer from the Ministry of Foreign affairs bring them, their spouse, and often their children, along with senior members of their staff, to Government House. On the forecourt there is a challenge and welcome from a Maori group provided by one of the Services, there is a guard of honour, and then the party is brought through to the drawing room where the Governor-General stands on one side of a large rug and the diplomat on the other, with spouses, a Cabinet Minister representing the Government and others ranged about. The ambassador reads a prepared speech (one or two memorise it) referring to the relationship between his or her country and ours, and then presents his credentials and the letter of recall of his predecessor. The Governor-General reads a speech in response, there are introductions and hand shaking all round, that party leaves while the next one comes through, and when all is done we have lunch. These are very happy occasions, and greatly appreciated by the diplomatic corps, with whose members the Governor-General can have a very agreeable personal relationship.

1 should add that High Commissioners of Commonwealth countries that have the Queen as Head of State do not present credentials, simply because the letter of credence is in effect a request by one Head of State to another to receive and treat well the former's envoy. But we give them a welcome and a lunch nonetheless.

The ceremonial role provides many other invaluable experiences and insights. One is of course being host to visiting Heads of State and other senior people from overseas. The number of these is quite considerable. The Queen did not come during my term, but Prince Philip, the Princess Royal, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward all came to stay with us at Government House.

President Clinton's historic meeting with President Jiang Zemin of China took place at Government House, Auckland, but neither of them stayed with us. They preferred hotels, where there is more room for entourages and doubtless better security. So did the third State visitor at the time of APEC, President Kim Dae Jung of Korea, and the number of other Heads of State who visited us, including the Presidents of Mongolia, Hungary, Ireland, Argentina, Chile, and Peru; while we retain strong memories of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Metropolitan of Constantinople, the now President of East Timor and Kofi Anan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, among many others. Some we would see quite briefly, over a cup of tea; for others there would be a formal lunch or dinner, in the ballroom or the dining room at Government House in Wellington, or in a marquee on the lawn of Government House in Auckland, for that house, given to the nation by Sir Frank and Lady Mappin, is a family home with superb grounds, but rooms not large enough for a gathering of any size. These are all occasions of courtesy and goodwill more than anything else, and so the political or trade or other issues that the visit is really all about are not discussed in any detail.

That is the case too with the State visits that are undertaken overseas. More than in the past it is being realized that the Governor-General can play a very helpful role by demonstrating in a personal, one-to-one way, the goodwill that exists or that we wish to encourage between our country and another. While not the head of state, one is received very much as if one were, and there is manifest appreciation of the fact that the visit is being made. Thus Mary and I were very warmly welcomed on our State visits to Turkey at the time of the Anzac Day commemorations in 1998, and to China towards the end of 2000; and again when, soon after, we went to Crete for the annual commemoration of the Battle of Crete in May 1941, and then to France on the 80th anniversary of the end of World War One, a visit which prompted President Chirac to invite me to meet him, and then to extend an invitation, which we were able to take up, to visit French Polynesia and New Caledonia.

Visits to many of our neighbours in the South Pacific have been made regularly by our Govemors-General, but it was the first time the French connection had been established. We went to Samoa in 1999 on the occasion of their Independence Day celebrations, and to Fiji a couple of months later. That was a sad visit as it turned out, for our host was Prime Minister Chaudry, and we had made a point of congratulating him on his electoral success and the Fijian people on implementing the new constitution drafted by a team under the chairmanship of Sir Paul Reeves. We did not meet George Speight.

As I mentioned earlier, the Realm of New Zealand includes Tokelau, Niue, the Cook Islands and the Ross Dependency, and all of these are visited at least once during one's term of office. What contrasts they present. Tokelau comprises three small atolls, no more than 200 metres wide and 5 metres above sea level, each with no more than 500 inhabitants, for most of the Tokelauans live in New Zealand. You can get there only by ship, and here the Royal New Zealand Navy proved its worth; the alternative is sleeping on the deck of the inter-island trader. Tokelau is largely self-governing, but has been very dependent on New Zealand advice as well as funding, and is being pushed a little reluctantly towards a greater form of independence. My task on our visit was to discuss with the village elders, many of whom had no English and I suspect had never left their island, the constitutional, legal and other implications of their future. That was no little challenge for me, and for them too.

Niue has had self-government for 25 years, but its population too has emptied out to New Zealand, and it has many problems. We opened a fine tourist hotel while we were there. But I believe it has few guests. Niue is not easy to get to.

The Cook Islands are independent to all intents and purposes, in a relationship of what is called free association with New Zealand, which means that we will come to their aid in defence and foreign affairs and other respects if asked. They have a Queen's Representative, almost but not quite a Governor-General, and are jealous of his status, and indeed of that of their nation. As a result, and by contrast with Niue, communications with the Palace are simply transmitted through the Governor-General without the requirement of support from New Zealand.

The Governor-General's opportunities to influence events in Antarctica are rather limited, and so one must be content with a fairly fleeting, but utterly memorable, flying visit. Each year, one signs a special form of delegation of gubernatorial authority to the leader of our team at Scott Base, but I am not aware that he has ever had to exercise it in any significant manner.

People have often asked me what was the most memorable experience of all, and I find that an impossible question to answer. But high in my list would come the twice yearly series of investitures, when on behalf of the Queen it was my privilege, to invest fellow New Zealanders named in the New Year and Queen's Birthday Honours lists. These were always joyful, often inspiring, occasions, for the achievements, the skills, the dedicated service to community and nation that were acknowledged on these days were beyond anything I had imagined. I was sorry when I no longer had the opportunity to engage in the wonderful piece of theatre entailed in dubbing a knight.

1 particularly enjoyed wielding the sword over the head of former judicial colleagues, and seeing the look of apprehension, prompted I suppose by the thought that my aim might be as wide of the mark as some of my judgments.

There was one special occasion, never to be repeated, soon after our own awards for bravery had been instituted. On that day, many acts of heroism over a number of years were all recognized in the one ceremony. Several were posthumous awards, and were received by close family members. Others were earned by apparently very ordinary people, who had shown quite extraordinary courage. This was a day when tears were not far from many eyes.

Investitures, and other award ceremonies, are also an aspect of the community role, and I now turn to that.

The Community Role

In many respects, the Governor-General is a representative in all aspects of the role. Constitutionally he or she represents the Sovereign. Ceremonially, he or she at times represents both the Sovereign, as in investitures and in receiving diplomatic credentials, and at times the nation, as in receiving visiting heads of state or on a State visit to another country. But also, to adapt the words of Sir Ninian Stephen, former High Court Judge and Governor-General of Australia, in the community role the Governor-General can be said to represent the New Zealand nation to the people of New Zealand.

Particularly now that our Governor-General is a bom and bred New Zealander, he or she is the more readily seen as symbolic of the nation; as someone in whose office the diverse threads of national life can be brought together and expressed; as a symbol and expression of national unity, of national identity, even of national purpose.

This means that it is crucial that the Governor-General be, and be seen to be, aloof from party politics and political controversy. The distinction between what is and what is not appropriate for the Governor-General to do, or say, is not always easy to make. Certainly there must be no indication of a view on a matter of party political difference. Yet most issues of significance may be thought political, if only because political parties have differing views about how to deal with them. Such issues as defence, education, the family, the well-being of our young people, the environment, the Treaty of Waitangi, the challenges of multiculturism, are all topics in which politicians rightly have much to say. But to debar a Governor-General from speaking about such matters as these would be to reduce him or her to mouthing empty generalizations or boring banalities. I doubt that anyone would be willing to take office these days if that kind of limitation were insisted upon. Nor do I think the people of New Zealand would wish it. Sir William Deane, whose term as Governor-General of Australia more or less coincided with mine, once said that the Governor-General is entitled to raise concerns and to explore issues of national importance; but not to debate solutions, for solutions are the domain of the politicians. Even then there is room for difference of opinion as to where the boundary lies. But as a general proposition I fully endorse it. Representing the nation, one is entitled, indeed one ought, to discuss matters of importance to the nation, for consideration by the people, and hopefully by their parliamentary representatives. As Dame Catherine Tizard once put it, the role is one of affirming certain ideas and ideals, of asserting civic virtues, those qualities that sustain a civil society. Of course, this involves a subjective assessment of what is significant, and of what should be said about it. But that is inevitable. It is surely not to be expected — although at times I found that it was expected — that in order to be representative the Governor-General will hold every opinion, or even be sympathetic to every opinion, far less endorse every opinion, held by every New Zealander, or even considerable numbers of them. All that can be expected is that the Governor-General will be sensitive to public opinion, and will be judicious, yet not squeamish, in speaking, and that while each will have his or her own particular interests and concerns, he or she will not be unduly idiosyncratic. The community role takes one to all parts of the country, to meet all manner of one's fellow New Zealanders. To represent the nation adequately to the people one must — and it is a privilege and often a joy to do it — must lend one's support to the good and worthwhile things that are being done and to the people who are doing them. You have the opportunity to encourage new endeavours, or the ongoing work of old established organisations, or new talent, young musicians, artists, sportspeople. Sometimes, you go to share tragedy and grief, but mostly, you are invited to share a community's or an organisation's delight in the completion of a project that has taken time and effort and money — a new community hall perhaps, or a museum, or a school building or a medical facility. Or you are asked to open a conference, perhaps an important international conference, or to attend a prizegiving or an A & P show, or to come along and see what is being done by a social service agency, or an iwi trust, in a home for the aged, at a University. Or it may be a great anniversary, such as Otago's and Southland's Sesquicentenary, and later yours here in Canterbury, not to mention the 80th birthday party we gave for Sir Edmund Hillary. Or one can just visit, show interest and support and give encouragement. Sometimes the visit is initiated by invitation, sometimes by one's own request, to a school perhaps, something I did quite often, at times I gather to some initial consternation. In all these ways one has the opportunity, available to few others, to share in the life of the nation where it is actually being lived. One can thus learn of aspirations and achievements, of problems and disappointments, and then perhaps share them with others in the same kind of endeavour, or take up their concerns in an appropriate quarter, or tell their story to a wider audience when one speaks to a service club or another kind of gathering.

There are some things that traditionally are expected of you. For example the Governor-General is the Prior of the Order of St John, and is expected to preside at certain meetings and investitures. The Governor-General chairs Rhodes Scholarship selections, is the Chair of the Waitangi National Trust Board, the President of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award, the Chief Scout, the Patron of the Boys' Brigade and the Girls' Brigade. You are likely to become patron of over 200 organisations of one kind or another. All of them are worthwhile, and almost all of them are interesting and rewarding, but you cannot do everything, and you have to make your own decision as to how available you are going to be.

The relationship with the Maori people is a particularly important one, for so many of them see the Treaty of Waitangi as a personal covenant with the Sovereign, and the Governor-General as representing her in that personal relationship. The fact that for Treaty purposes the Crown partner is the government of the day, is not always readily accepted, and there can be some interesting encounters as a result. Nonetheless, we experienced true warmth of welcome wherever we went, and we visited many marae, from the splendid Turangawaewae at Ngaruawahia, home of the Maori Queen, Dame Te Ata-i-rangi-kahu, to the most northern of all way up near Cape Reinga. With some initial misgivings, I agreed to hold several investitures on marae, but never regretted having done so, for they were all huge celebratory occasions, not just for the immediate family but for the whole iwi and beyond.

Then of course there was Waitangi, the birthplace of the nation, where more than anywhere the annual commemoration of the signing of the Treaty ought to take place, and where, contrary to the impression the media gave, we had no real difficulty at all. I was delighted to be able to lead the Crown party back to Waitangi in 1999, and was very disappointed that a government policy decision meant that I could not return in 2001. But I made up for that this year. On the other hand, the original move away from Waitangi gave the opportunity, which has been built on right up to the present, to hold a well attended and very significant representative celebration at Government House in Wellington.

Now that we have New Zealanders as Governors-General, the role has developed and expanded. This is in large measure, I suspect, because people are more than ever keen to see the person in person, and to talk with him or her, to share with him or her. For with a home-grown Governor-General, people are likely to be more at ease — this is someone some of them may know, who is likely to see things as they see them, to appreciate what they appreciate, to understand their particular concerns. To respond to as many of the requests as possible can be quite exhausting, but it is very worthwhile, giving one an appreciation of our people that is vouchsafed to few.


I trust that by this rather personal memoir I have shown that the Governor-General is no nodding automaton, no mere nibbler of cucumber sandwiches, as one young person told me she had thought; but that the office has an important and developing role to play in our national life — not just the constitutional role as representative of our Head of State, but as representing the nation in a ceremonial way, and as representing the people to the people.

It is a privilege to have had the opportunity to undertake that role, and as well to share some of its experiences with you this evening. My successor has been at Government House for over a year now, and I am sure will be finding her new life as challenging, as interesting and as rewarding as I did. I have no doubt that at the end of her term she will look back upon it with equal pleasure.

[*] GNZM, GCMG, QSO; Governor-General of New Zealand, 1996-2001.

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