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PM welcomes Governor-General-designate

24 August 2000 Media Statement

PM welcomes Governor-General-designate

Prime Minister Helen Clark today welcomed the announcement that the Queen has approved the appointment of Dame Silvia Cartwright to succeed Sir Michael Hardie Boys as Governor-General of New Zealand.

"Dame Silvia Cartwright has made an impressive contribution to New Zealand at home and abroad as a lawyer and jurist, and as an advocate for women and women's rights," Helen Clark said.

"She was the first woman to be appointed to the bench of the High Court in New Zealand, and the first woman appointed as Chief Judge of the District Court.

"Dame Silvia came into national prominence in the late 1980s when she headed the inquiry into the treatment of cervical cancer and other related matters at Auckland's National Women's Hospital, in what became known as the Cartwright inquiry.

"Since 1993 she has been a member of the United Nations committee monitoring compliance with the United Nations Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

"New Zealand is extremely fortunate to have a person of Dame Silvia's calibre and background who is willing to assume the position of Governor General.

"The government conveys its best wishes to Dame Silvia and her husband, Peter Cartwright," Helen Clark said.

Sir Michael Hardie Boys will compete his term in March and Dame Silvia will be sworn in as Governor-General in April.




Dame Silvia Cartwright has made an impressive contribution to New Zealand society, both as a lawyer and jurist, and as a tireless advocate for women and women’s rights.

After graduating with a law degree from Otago University in 1967, Dame Silvia spent the next 14 years in practice in Dunedin, Rotorua, and in partnership in Harkness Henry & Co., Hamilton. She left private legal practice to become a Family and District Court Judge in 1981. In 1989, Dame Silvia was the first woman appointed to the position of Chief Judge of the District Courts. In 1993, she was the first woman to be appointed a High Court Judge.

Dame Silvia rose to national prominence during 1987 and 1988 as the Commissioner of Inquiry into the treatment of cervical cancer and other related matters at Auckland’s National Women’s Hospital (the Cartwright Inquiry). Her recommendations, accepted in full by the Government in August 1988, covered a wide area, including standards of research and treatment for cervical cancer, privacy for women undergoing gynaecological examinations and procedures, and ethical responsibilities and teaching standards for the medical profession.

In 1986 – 1987, Dame Silvia chaired a committee studying the effectiveness of funding for social science research. From 1977 to 1981, she was a member of the Commission for the Future. This government commission was set up to advise the government of the day on options for the development of New Zealand. The commission undertook a wide-ranging study, including demographic trends, the impact of migration and likely economic and constitutional trends.

In both her professional and private life, Dame Silvia has always been a strong advocate for women and their rights. In 1995 she and the former Chief Justice together chaired a Gender Equity Education Programme for all New Zealand judges. She hosted an international conference of women judges in Wellington in 1993.

Since 1993 Dame Silvia has been a member of a United Nations human rights treaty body. This Committee has responsibility for monitoring compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). During this period she has drafted General Recommendations for the Committee on women’s status in marriage and the family, in public and political life, and women’s rights to health. She has also been the Committee’s resource person during the drafting by the United Nations of an Optional Protocol to the Convention. This new complaints mechanism was adopted by the General Assembly in 1999.

Dame Silvia has supported a wide range of community groups. From 1978 to 1981, she was chairperson of the Waikato Marriage Guidance Council. She is the Patron of a number of community groups, including a community mental health movement and the Wellington Victim Support Group. She is an Honorary Vice President of the Family Planning Association and was an Interim Trustee of the New Horizons for Women’s Trust. She has also been the Charter President of Hamilton’s Zonta Club.

Over the last 25 years Dame Silvia has spoken at more than 40 national and international conferences and other events on a wide range of topics covering legal, constitutional, family, human rights, health and women’s issues. She has also contributed to a number of legal and other publications.

In The Queen’s Birthday Honours 1989, Dame Silvia was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for services to women.

Dame Silvia was born in Dunedin on 7 November 1943, the third of five daughters and one son, the children of Mr and Mrs Poulter. She was educated at High St School, Otago Girls High School and Otago University.

She married Peter Cartwright in 1969. A lawyer, Mr Cartwright is Chair of the Broadcasting Standards Authority and the Accident Compensation Appeal Authority. He has also chaired the Medical Practitioner’s Disciplinary Tribunal and the Indecent Publications Tribunal. Prior to undertaking these responsibilities he was a partner in a Hamilton law firm. Mr Cartwright has for many years had an involvement in bodies concerned with persons with disabilities, particularly intellectual impairment. Currently he is the Chair of the Donald Beasley Institute, a Dunedin based Charitable Trust which conducts research in this area.


The Letters Patent constituting the Office of the Governor-General of New Zealand declare that there shall be in the Realm of New Zealand a Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief who shall be the Queen’s representative. The Governor-General is appointed by the Queen on the advice of the New Zealand Government. The usual term of appointment is five years.

The Governor-General has three main roles:

 Constitutional

By convention, the Governor-General is, in general, bound to act on the advice of Ministers who have the support of a majority in the House of Representatives (the Government). The Governor-General signs Acts of Parliament into law and, on the advice of the Prime Minister summons and dissolves Parliament. The Governor-General also presides at meetings of the Executive Council and signs regulations. On the advice of Ministers, the Governor-General appoints members of the judiciary and Justices of the Peace; may exercise the royal prerogative of mercy; and signs the commissions of officers in the New Zealand Defence Force and the Warrants for Royal Commissions.

 Ceremonial

The Governor-General takes a leading role in public ceremonies, including opening new sessions of Parliament, holding honours investitures, welcoming visiting Heads of State, receiving the credentials of foreign diplomats and attending other important commemorations and public events.

 Community

The Governor-General provides leadership in the community. Governors-General are patrons of many charitable, service, sporting and cultural organisations. In a typical year the Governor-General will attend 400 to 500 community functions the length and breadth of New Zealand.


The present Governor-General, the Rt Hon Sir Michael Hardie Boys, will complete his term of office on 21 March 2001 and, as is customary, will be accorded a state farewell at about that time.

As is also customary, it is expected that Dame Silvia will travel to the United Kingdom to have an audience with The Queen prior to her swearing-in as Governor-General. The swearing-in ceremony will be held at Parliament Buildings in Wellington in April 2001.

During the short interregnum between the retirement of Sir Michael and the swearing-in of Dame Silvia, the Chief Justice will act as the Administrator of the Government.

The exact dates for these arrangements have yet to be determined.


Dame Silvia Cartwright will become the thirty-first representative of the Sovereign since 1840. Early in New Zealand’s European history, New Zealand had a series of colonial governors. The first modern day Governor-General was appointed in 1917. Governors-General and their terms of office are as follows:

Earl of Liverpool 1917-1920
Viscount Jellicoe 1920-1924
General Sir Charles Fergusson 1924-1930
Viscount Bledisloe 1930-1935
Viscount Galway 1935-1941
Marshal of the RAF, Sir Cyril Louis Norton Newall 1941-1946
Lt Gen, the Lord Freyberg 1946-1952
Lt Gen, the Lord Norrie 1952-1957
Viscount Cobham 1957-1962
Brigadier Sir Bernard Fergusson 1962-1967
Sir Arthur Espie Porritt 1967-1972
Sir (Edward) Denis Blundell 1972-1977
The Rt Hon Sir Keith Jacka Holyoake 1977-1980
The Hon Sir David Stuart Beattie 1980-1985
The Most Reverend Sir Paul Alfred Reeves 1985-1990
Dame Catherine Anne Tizard 1990-1996
The Rt Hon Sir Michael Hardie Boys 1996-

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