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PM: Luncheon to farewell Governor-General

Wednesday 2 August 2006

Rt Hon Helen Clark
Prime Minister

Address at
State Luncheon to farewell
Governor-General Dame Silvia Cartwright

Banquet Hall Beehive

Wednesday 2 August 2006

This State luncheon is the formal opportunity for the government and Parliament, on behalf of New Zealanders, to thank Dame Silvia Cartwright for her service to New Zealand over the five years and four months she has served as our eighteenth Governor-General, and also to thank Mr Peter Cartwright for his support for Dame Sylvia through those years.

Dame Silvia came to the role from a distinguished and varied judicial career. I note in particular her work as chair of the inquiry into the treatment of cervical cancer and related matters at Auckland’s National Women’s Hospital. The Cartwright Inquiry and report marked a turning point in health professional ethics and accountability in New Zealand. Dame Silvia had also made an international contribution in the human rights field.

In New Zealand, we have high expectations of our Governors-General. We expect wise judgement in undertaking the constitutional functions; we expect to see leadership and service in the community; and nowadays we expect to see contemporary New Zealand reflected in the way the role is undertaken.

Dame Silvia has more than met our demanding expectations. She has undertaken her constitutional duties wisely and impartially; she has led and served in the community; and she has celebrated our diversity and strengths as a nation. Dame Sylvia has also had the ability to connect with people and communities right across our diverse country. As well she has a strong sense of humour – in my view a necessary trait for holding high office and keeping a sense of perspective about it.

Over the last twenty years, the practice has evolved of our Governor-General representing New Zealand overseas at ceremonial occasions, particularly in the Pacific. During Dame Silvia’s term, her skills and experience in international settings have been called on extensively as she has promoted and represented New Zealand and New Zealand’s interests overseas.

Dame Sylvia has travelled widely in the Pacific, to the other parts of the Realm of New Zealand - the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau - and also to Tonga, Samoa, Tuvalu, Nauru, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. On these visits she has built a strong rapport with many Pacific heads of government and state, and with Pacific communities.

New Zealand is a small country with wide global interests, and we must take every opportunity to promote those interests. Beyond the Pacific, Dame Silvia has made State visits to the Middle East, Latin America, South East Asia and Europe, representing New Zealand in the role of an apolitical, non-executive Head of State. Through these visits Dame Sylvia has been able to raise the profile of New Zealand’s trade, education, and other interests, and support the work of our posts overseas.

New Zealand’s Governor-General has an important relationship with the armed forces. Dame Silvia has supported the traditions, achievements and professionalism of the New Zealand Defence Force. She has also been keenly aware of the personal demands on those who serve overseas, and on their families at home.

In 2002 Dame Sylvia travelled to East Timor to meet New Zealand military and civilian personnel serving there. In 2004 she visited the Solomon Islands to reinforce our support for democratic and constitutional government, and to visit NZ Defence Force and NZ Police personnel serving in the Regional Assistance Mission.

In New Zealand, Dame Silvia has undertaken a broad-based community programme, travelling tirelessly around our country. She has been a gracious host to many at Government House in Wellington and in Auckland. There she has welcomed the Queen, members of the Royal Family, and visiting Heads of State; received the credentials of visiting diplomats; awarded honours at investiture ceremonies; and hosted New Zealanders at a great number of functions.

Both Dame Sylvia and Peter have supported and acknowledged the role of volunteers in our community, recognising the vital contribution and difference they make to the lives of others and their communities.

Many children and young people around our country have met Dame Silvia on her visits to their schools. As well through the Governor-General’s website, many more have learned about the Governor-General, and about Thelma – the VID – the Very Important Dog – who has tales to tell of the smartest kennels in town.

Through her initial school visits, Dame Silvia had become aware both of students’ limited understanding of the role of Governor-General and our constitutional arrangements, and the lack of educational resources about the office. Thanks to Dame Silvia, information to fill the gaps is now available on the Governor-General’s own website.

While in office, Dame Silvia has talked about matters of concern and importance to New Zealand in a principled and intelligent way. It does take great skill and care for a Governor-General to be a unifying figure above politics, while at the same contributing views to public discussion. Dame Silvia has shown us how such non-partisan leadership can be exercised.

During her term, Dame Silvia has brought a special interest and flair to the Governor-General’s stewardship role of the Government House properties. Government House Auckland is set in beautiful historic grounds in Mt Eden. The small size of this official residence and its limited facilities meant that previously the property was mainly used only in the summer months. Dame Silvia was a staunch champion of the restoration and redevelopment of the house, so that New Zealand’s largest city could be fully reflected in the Governor-General’s programme throughout the year. Government House Wellington has equally benefited from her care and interest in the preservation of heritage. Dame Silvia has also put great emphasis on ensuring that all visitors to the house and gardens find the experience an interesting and rewarding one.

I want to acknowledge especially the role of Mr Peter Cartwright in supporting Dame Sylvia. Never before have we had a female Governor-General with a spouse. Peter has had to carve out that role. Personally I have been full of admiration for the role he has played, and his willingness to travel extensively with Dame Sylvia and accompany her so often.

There is a heavy burden on those who serve in the office of Governor-General. Private lives are largely put on hold, and the incumbent and spouse live in a goldfish bowl. I thank Dame Sylvia and Peter for their willingness to serve in this way, and for bringing their integrity and stamina to the task. Thank you also for agreeing to serve these past additional four months in office.

Dame Silvia will soon take on a new and demanding role in Cambodia as a War Crimes Tribunal trial judge – a task to which she will bring her very considerable legal, judicial, and international experience and her abiding interest in human rights.

Dame Silvia and Peter – we thank you both for the time you have devoted to the office of the Governor-General and we wish you both the very best for the future.

ENDS

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