Promoting New Zealand Inc: Dame Silvia Cartwright Reflects on the Role of the Governor-General in Promoting New Zealand in the World

By Cartwright, Dame Silvia | New Zealand International Review, September-October 2006 | Go to article overview

Promoting New Zealand Inc: Dame Silvia Cartwright Reflects on the Role of the Governor-General in Promoting New Zealand in the World


Cartwright, Dame Silvia, New Zealand International Review


The Governor-General's role is often described as the three Cs--constitutional, ceremonial and community. These three roles are seen as overlapping. There is a general understanding that the functions of providing constitutional authority and continuity are the prime reason for the existence of the role. On a day-to-day basis, however, the majority of my time is spent on the other two Cs--the ceremonial and the community roles. I am sure most people can conjure up a quick mental picture of what a Governor-General does in the ceremonial and community roles. They will have been present at, or seen photographs of, the Governor-General welcoming visiting heads of state in the grounds of Government House, or at the state opening of Parliament, or at investiture ceremonies where famous as well as lesser-known New Zealanders are recognised for their achievements or services to their country. The general public readily envisage the Governor-General playing a part in these kinds of ceremonies.

As for the community role--again from personal experience or media coverage --people will be able to picture the Governor-General hosting functions at Government House or out in the community, opening a conference or visiting a school. The ceremonial and community categories are a useful and accessible construct for a number of purposes. But, reflecting on my role, I have found that the 'ceremonial' and 'community' designations go only so far in explaining and highlighting what is important about the role.

The description of the ceremonial role for a number of the years has read as follows:

   The ceremonial role covers the Governor-General's
   participation in public
   ceremonies as the individual who represents
   the state. This facet of the role
   is seen to include such duties as the
   opening of new sessions of Parliament,
   holding honours investitures, welcoming
   visiting Heads of State, receiving
   the credentials of foreign diplomats
   and attending Waitangi Day commemorations.

This description is something of a grab bag of activities and duties. The ceremonial description includes welcoming visiting heads of state and receiving the credentials of foreign diplomats; but there is no reference to the Governor-General's role representing New Zealand internationally.

So how else might the ceremonial and community roles be described? My suggestion does not have the pizzazz of the three Cs and it is not intended as a replacement for them. Rather, it represents my thoughts on how I have approached the office of Governor-General, and how I understand New Zealanders interact with the office.

So, moving from the two Cs of ceremonial and community, I propose four strands of the role:

* promoting New Zealand's identity and sovereignty as an independent nation;

* celebrating excellence, achievement and service in New Zealand;

* representing the state at significant events in the life and identity of New Zealand; and

* undertaking a community programme which is inclusive and recognises diversity.

In addition to these four aspects, which are the public face of the role, I see a fifth strand of 'stewardship'--the stewardship role of the Governor-General in relation to Government House Wellington and Government House Auckland.

Promotion role

In the role of promoting New Zealand's identity and sovereignty as an independent nation, the Governor-General represents New Zealand and New Zealand's interests. The responsibilities are undertaken both here in New Zealand and overseas. These responsibilities within and outside New Zealand are two sides of the same coin.

On the one hand, in New Zealand the Governor-General receives and hosts foreign heads of state and a wide range of other dignitaries, receives the credentials of visiting diplomats, and has an on-going relationship with the diplomatic corps. …

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