E te Kura Kohine o Kirikiriroa e tu
Tenei au te hoki penei mai, i to koutou karanga.
Tenei hoki aku mihi nui, Ki a tatau i tēnei wa.
Thank you for inviting me to come back to my old school. It’s lovely to be here, even though it looks absolutely nothing like the school I attended!
You might be interested to know that it is 50 years since I arrived here as a nervous third-former, trembling in case my name was read out in assembly for a uniform inspection – and in awe of rather scary teachers, who wore academic gowns most days.
Our subject choices were extremely limited compared with what you can study today, and I can assure you that we didn’t have a standout rugby team – needless to say there was no rugby team!
Careers advice was also limited – we were directed towards teaching, nursing or secretarial work.
I wasn’t keen on any of these options and I wanted to experience the world outside the Waikato, so I decided to go to law school at Victoria University in Wellington. That was pretty unusual in those days (less than 10% of my first year law class was female). When I graduated I taught at the law school for a few years, despite my earlier aversion to a teaching career (I couldn’t get a job in a law firm) and then I joined a commercial law practice in Wellington, becoming that firm’s first female partner.
After five years in practice I moved into the corporate world, and subsequently took on both private and public sector governance or board positions. I also took on some Government advisory roles, including a very challenging but rewarding period as a Chief Crown Negotiator for Treaty Settlements.
When I was at Hamilton Girls High, I never, in a million years, imagined that I might end up being Governor-General. I didn’t know much about the role, though I had, from time to time, lined up to wave at a visiting Governor General who was always resplendent in a military uniform with many medals and an extraordinary plumed hat.
In those days, Governors-General were always men, and until Sir Arthur Porritt, who was our first New Zealand-born Governor-General, and the Governor General during the years I attended Girls High, they were usually English aristocrats.
I certainly didn’t have that sort of beginning. I started my life in small country towns in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty where my parents were country school teachers. I actually started attending classes when I was six weeks old as my cot was in the back of the classroom.
We moved to Hamilton when I was six and I went to Hillcrest Normal and Peachgrove Intermediate, before coming here.
I know that when old girls return on occasions like this, they are expected to give some useful tips and advice to the students.
First, since we have just had a General Election, I hope that all the 18-year-olds here today exercised their democratic right to vote last Saturday.
It saddens me when people choose not to vote, considering that so many people in other countries still can’t exercise that right.
As I’m sure you all know, New Zealand was a trailblazer for the rights of women to vote, so it would be an insult to the memory of our suffragettes if you didn’t take the opportunity to have your say in the future direction of your country.
I think it helps to understand how our system of government works, so I will briefly explain some of the responsibilities the Governor-General has around election time.
In August, at the request of the Prime Minister, I signed the proclamation dissolving Parliament and another document called a Writ that authorised the holding of the General Election.
I didn’t get involved in the campaigning because as Governor-General I represent our Head of State, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, and just like her Majesty, I leave the governing of the country to the politicians.
After the election, it is up to politicians to decide amongst themselves who they can work with, if one party doesn’t have enough seats to govern on its own.
My role as Governor-General is to determine whether a majority of MPs have committed their support so that a government can be appointed. In making this determination I will look for both “quantity” and “clarity” in the public statements made by the party leaders. “Quantity” refers to a government being able to show it will have enough votes to win a vote of confidence in the House of Representatives. “Clarity” means clear and public statements by the party leaders on behalf of their MPs, that they will support that government.
Once it is clear which party or parties can claim the support of a majority of the MPs in Parliament, then the leader of that party or coalition will come to Government House to request my permission to form a government. I appoint the new Prime Minister and then hold a ceremony at Government House to swear in all of the Ministers who will serve in the new Government.
After a Speaker has been elected by the Members of Parliament, he or she will come to see me at Government House to be confirmed in their role.
When Parliament commences again, I will attend the Opening session and read the Speech from the Throne. This speech is prepared by the newly appointed Government and will outline what the government is intending to achieve during its term of office.
These are just a few of my constitutional duties. In addition, I have ceremonial, international and community engagements. It would take me too long to detail all of the other things a Governor-General does, but if you follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, and check out my website, you will get a good idea of how varied and busy my programme is.
You will see the international visitors that I welcome – including Presidents and Royalty. The events that I host at Government House, and the places I visit, including the countries I go to as an official representative of New Zealand.
It is a huge privilege to represent New Zealand in this way and I am very lucky to be able to meet New Zealanders from all walks of life.
When you come to Wellington, please make sure you visit Government House, which is my official residence. We have free public tours.
The National Library is also a must-see. There is a beautiful new carved room for our important constitutional documents – the Declaration of Independence of 1832, the Treaty of Waitangi from 1840, and the 1893 Suffrage Petition – which led to the passing of legislation to give women the vote.
Understanding where we came from and how our modern nation began is important if we want to make good decisions about our future.
If you get a chance to go to Waitangi, do visit the new Museum there. It is absolutely stunning and one of the best places to go to learn about the partnership established in Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
Some of you will be leaving school soon and starting on the next exciting stage of your lives. My final words of advice – don’t be too worried if you haven’t worked out a career path yet.
Be bold, believe in yourselves and if an opportunity comes along and it seems really exciting – even if it is a bit of a stretch – grab it.
And don’t ever think that you can’t do something because you are female, because it simply isn’t true!
Kia ora, kia kaha, kia manawanui, huihui tātou katoa