Violence: New Zealand’s “Dark Secret” – Dame Sylvia Cartwright’s Farewell Speech



Violence: New Zealand’s “dark secret”

Thinking about emigrating to New Zealand because you’re looking for a lifestyle boost?

Perhaps you’ve not heard of the country’s dark secrets, not that anyone can blame you – that scenery conveniently takes centre stage!

How could a place so sublimely beautiful have an underbelly it wants to keep hidden from the rest of the world?

Take some time to read the outgoing speech from  Governor General, Dame Sylvia Cartwright, delivered in 2006.

Sadly not much has changed since then, if anything violence has become worse. The status of the NZ police force has deteriorated dreadfully as their budgets were slashed and “creative accounting” pushed down reported crime figures. For an example, read this reddit thread (found in our referrers list)  people in NZ talking about the casual violence they encounter.

If you find the following copy of Dame Sylvia’s speech too long you can read the gist of it here NZ- Harbouring Dark Secrets, The Age.

Five and a half years ago as I stood on the steps of Parliament to take my oath as the incoming Governor-General, I spoke of my thoughts for our country and its people. It was 2001, just over a year into the new millennium. The Cold War was over, and hopes for world peace were building. All new Governors-General speak from their own experience, and for me, recently emerged from the judiciary, that hope for peace was that it might take place first at home, here in this beautiful country of Aotearoa. My hope was that our exceptional international reputation would become a reality at home – that the efforts we were making internationally in peacekeeping and peace-building might be reflected locally in a better rate of health and human rights for all, particularly for the women and children of this country.

Since then, here at home, we have not managed to achieve peace. But perhaps that is a nirvana, always to be sought, never to be reached. The rest of the world, also, has not achieved the peace that just fleetingly seemed possible. There are new wars, new terrors, and New Zealanders have been caught up in them, either as innocent bystanders or as highly trained military personnel.

So what can I say today?

Over the five-year period of my tenure, I have had a unique opportunity to observe New Zealanders at work and at play, when we celebrate and when we mourn. I have mixed with thousands of fine, hardworking kiwis in New Zealand and in about thirty countries overseas. I have been privileged to look back on this country and see us through the eyes of around 20 world leaders. Our image hasn’t changed. We remain among the most highly respected nations in the world. We are known and admired for our ability to work in multilateral organisations such as the United Nations, ASEAN, the WTO and many, many more. We are respected for our willingness to work hard, and with all nations to improve the human rights and the living standards of those less fortunate than ourselves. We are respected for what we do through NZAid, and through the work of our NGOs such as VSA, World Vision and Red Cross, and particularly for the way we empower others through the work we do in the Pacific. Our record in race relations invariably gets a favourable mention, even though here at home we think we are not always doing so well. We are admired for good governance, for the absence of corruption, for our environmental standards, for our educational programmes, for the skills and expertise of our military, for the longstanding success of our small economy – sometimes when I am talking with the President of Germany or Vietnam, or the Sultan of Bahrain, I have to say, ‘but it’s not all that perfect in New Zealand.’ So we are also admired for our modesty and our honesty.

Our wonderful international reputation has been hard-won. It is founded on an unwavering commitment to principle and to the improvement of the human and development rights of all people. But have we honed these skills, like Christian charity, here at home?

Sometimes when I listen to a foreign leader praise our efforts in the environment or our willingness to assist those in war-ravaged countries, I hope that our dark secrets – for they remain hidden to the rest of the world – will never become known internationally. I am concerned that these countries that so admire us might soon learn that we have a terrible rate of family and other violence, that although we have one of the finest, least corrupt Police Forces and Court systems in the world, this violence remains unacceptably high.

We are a generous, well-educated people. We know we need children to populate our country, to give us the energy and innovation of youth, to use our formidable skills here and overseas. We need them to continue to show the world that we remain a forward-looking, enterprising nation. But we also need them to be healthy, happy, well-adjusted, well-educated and proud to be New Zealanders.

Eleanor Roosevelt said once:

‘Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.’

We need to focus for a while on the problems at home, and concentrate our world-class skills on resolving these issues that are our nightmare in the otherwise beautiful and peace-loving country we live in.

I am certainly proud of all our achievements. But we can never rest. We must review constantly our governance, our human rights record, and we must ensure that our democratic institutions remain robust. New Zealand has evolved over the last few decades into a State that is completely independent. It is important that it constantly protects this independence internationally, and at home. It is for example, important that the role of the Queen’s personal representative in New Zealand remains one known for its independence within our constitutional framework.

Most Governors-General will tell you of the joy to be had in the many facets of the role. They cover a wide range from the constitutional to the ceremonial and include a huge range of community activities. Like my predecessors, I have been privileged to be patron for around 160 organisations and have visited or hosted huge numbers of New Zealanders. The job has variety – one moment the Governor-General might be at a black tie event celebrating the accomplishments of the entrepreneurial or charitable, and the next hosting an awards ceremony for the achievers among those with Downs Syndrome. I have opened buildings and closed conferences. I have marvelled at the work of volunteers. I have been hosted by many groups and watched innumerable musical or operatic performances. Children’s items are always a pleasure, and usually contain surprises. I recall with nostalgia for instance, commenting to the principal of a school on a small girl’s wonderful performance, to be told that it was an inherited talent – her mother is an exotic dancer.

Very early on in my tenure, when a child in a Primary school thought that the Queen lived in Waipukurau, I realised that it might be a good idea to provide schools with materials about the constitutional role of the Governor-General. This has been done with some success, and not a moment too soon. At about the same time, some other children in a small rural community, when asked about my role, recorded that I ‘wear a crown, live in the Sky Tower, eat toast for breakfast and work at Pak‘n Save’. We have now reached many thousands of school children, some by visiting their schools to emphasise the lessons in constitutional law and some through the website which is free to all.

The opportunity to be Governor-General of this country carries many responsibilities, but it is also one of great privilege. I thank the people of New Zealand for their willingness to allow me to hold this role. Prime Minister, on behalf also of Peter, may I thank the government for its advice to Her Majesty, which has resulted in the signal honour of each of us being made a Companion of the Queen’s Service Order. I must admit that I am relieved to receive this honour. During my first days at Government House, I found a QSO on my dressing table and, as I did not recall receiving it at any point, asked where it had come from. I was told ‘I think you will find, your Excellency, that this is yours.’ Well I never wore it, as I was terrified that someone would say ‘where did you get that from?’ These fears were justified when, just a few days ago, the Head of the Honours Secretariat came to the House and removed it. I felt vaguely as if I was being cashiered, but no doubt some day the mystery will be explained.

Prime Minister and members of the Executive Council. I have enjoyed working with you all and thank you for your advice and assistance. After many meetings of the Executive Council, I leave comfortable in the knowledge of a constitutional job well done. I have finally completed the task of promulgating one regulation for each fish in New Zealand waters.

Dr Brash, as the leader of Her Majesty’s loyal opposition, thank you for your courtesy towards me during the time that you have been in this role. Thank you, too, for the kind remarks you have made today.

There are many, many others who work with and support the Governor-General during her time in office. May I thank, all too briefly, the Clerk of the Executive Council, who I have greatly enjoyed teasing by suggesting from time to time that I might not assent to some legislation, and also the many officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, serving both here and overseas. You have had to watch as I stumble through the stately diplomatic dance, all the while wondering what I might say next.

I thank also the household and office staff at Government House, all of whom are highly professional, caring and fun to be with. May I mention in particular just one or two by name. 19 years ago a temp arrived to work with me for two weeks during the National Women’s Inquiry. I haven’t been able to get rid of her since, and neither has she managed to escape me. Nada Harvey, to all who know her, is always practical, supportive, professional, hard working and a wonderful friend to both Peter and me. I can almost forgive her for constantly snatching a wine glass off me whenever she sees a photographer.

Robert Sisson-Stretch has been a loyal and professional member of the staff at Government House for almost 40 years. I value greatly his assistance and discretion. Both Nada and Robert are now leaving Government House and I know they will be as sad to leave our many friends there as I am.

I am fortunate to have a wonderful family of four sisters and one brother, and of course Peter and I have many friends. Sadly, only a few can be here today but they, with my nieces, have kept me buoyant on many occasions. I couldn’t wish for a more loving whanau.

As is the custom, it now falls to me to thank my husband. Usually at this point the outgoing Governor-General speaks of the many sacrifices the spouse of the Governor-General has made. I have been trying to think of some, but I think it fair to say that as soon as I told him that the Prime Minister had asked me to consider this office, he has been enthusiastically part of the vice regal team. It must be said that as the first man to be the spouse or partner of a Governor-General there was not much precedent, but he learned fast. Peter, long ago, and for practical reasons stopped pulling his forelock when I walked past. Menus were often amended without my knowledge so he could have his favourite food, and strangely often, he would be busy on a day when there was a function that he thought might bore him. This was a pity as he has mastered the art of dropping off to sleep with a smile on his face in the hope that no one will notice.

I think I can summarise the extent of his sacrifice in his own words, delivered to friends the other night:

‘At the end of it all, it has been a wonderful time, with more to come. Like the little semi-retirement location Silvia has chosen for us in Cambodia.’

I want to acknowledge the contribution of my predecessors each of whom have shaped the office of Governor-General in their own special way. And I want to extend my very best wishes to my successor, and indeed to all those New Zealand men and women who will take up this office in the future. Thank you all for according me the great honour of this office, and thank you for being here today to say goodbye.

2 thoughts on “Violence: New Zealand’s “Dark Secret” – Dame Sylvia Cartwright’s Farewell Speech

  1. I guess it was one honest admissions amongst a great deal of propaganda. Coming as she does from the judiciary, she must be cognisant of the widespread corruption in New Zealand’s judiciary and police. Like most Kiwis, she is either extremely dishonest, too stupid to see the truth, or some incalculable combination of both.

Comments are closed.