Celebrating New Zealand's Emergence: Brian Lynch Reports on a Day in Tribute to Sir George Laking and Frank Corner

By Lynch, Brian | New Zealand International Review, July-August 2005 | Go to article overview

Celebrating New Zealand's Emergence: Brian Lynch Reports on a Day in Tribute to Sir George Laking and Frank Corner


Lynch, Brian, New Zealand International Review


On 26 May 2005 the NZIIA hosted an all-day symposium in Wellington entitled 'Celebrating New Zealand's Emergence'. Attended by 135 people, it was held to mark the contributions that Sir George Laking and Mr Frank Corner made to the formulation and implementation of New Zealand foreign policy during their long and distinguished public service careers. The occasion also recognised the strong support they had each given the NZIIA at significant points along the way. The proceedings will be published in full by the NZIIA.

After carrying substantial responsibilities in New Zealand and abroad both men served a term as New Zealand Ambassador to Washington, before appointment to the most senior position of Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Head of the Prime Minister's Department. Sir George held the position from 1967 to 1972 and Frank Corner followed from 1972 to 1980.

In preparation for the tribute day, it was no light task to persuade either man that they should be the focus of attention at a function organised for the principal purpose of acknowledging their achievements. Once comfortable with the concept, they were asked to identify four or five of the notable highlights from their respective careers. The symposium programme was then built around the subjects they nominated.

Time constraints meant the list of topics covered could not be exhaustive. Those chosen were a reminder of how durable some core foreign policy issues have been for New Zealand. They have persisted through the years high on the scale of the country's overseas priorities. These are issues to do, for example, with what New Zealand had at stake in Britain's entry into Europe; the discharge of our custodial duty as a 'colonial power'; building ties with the emerging states of Asia and the Middle East; the dependence on enforceable international law; and the daunting business of fashioning and managing a relationship with the United States in its new post-Second World War super-power status.

Those were some of the points of interest covered in the symposium under the chosen title of 'Celebrating New Zealand's Emergence'. That heading sought to capture the deeply held and lasting conviction of both men that they had truly been 'present at the creation'. They had been privileged, they said, to have had the opportunity to participate in events that were of defining significance in New Zealand's growth as a nation.

Of no greater moment had been the way that New Zealand had grappled in the early post-war era with the stark reality that the global environment in which the country had to find its way had been forever changed. The manner in which a small, isolated and potentially vulnerable country addressed that new and uncertain world, and went about evolving its distinct national identity, was a theme that underpinned many of the presentations and much of the discussion during the symposium. …

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