Ka kite to the Governor-General?

By Tumamao Harawira

Former United Future MP Peter Dunne wonders if it's time for a change at the top



Is it time to do away with the position of Governor-General? That's the question posed by former United Future MP Peter Dunne today.

He says the Prime Minister is appointed by the Governor-General "but in reality the Prime Minister is of course elected by Parliament."

Captain William Hobson was the first governor of New Zealand appointed as the independent, personal representative of the monarch and in 1917 the title was changed to governor-general. The post was largely held by British aristocrats appointed by the British Crown,  but, since the early 1970s, the New Zealand government has been awarding the position to local prominent people, starting in 1972 with Sir Denis Blundell becoming the first New Zealander to be appointed to the office.

According to Dunne, the problem with the position is that it has no power.

"Technically, the Governor-General is the Queen's representative. In practical terms, the Governor-General is our head of state. So the Governor-General performs a number of ceremonial and constitutional function but has no executive powers."

Māori bond

Dunne says Māori should not be concerned about the place of the Treaty Of Waitangi and its bonds with the Queen. He says the Treaty will endure in New Zealand. "So the partnership that was embraced by Māori and the Queen, I think is more likely today and you have seen it through the Treaty settlement process, a partnership between the Government, that is the state, and Māori."

But to Māori, the position is traditionally seen as one of great importance, and bringing great mana to iwi whenever a Governor-General visits its lands, as Taiarahia Black o Ngāi Tūhoe recalls. In 2019, with the arrival of Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy at Maunga Pōhatu for the apology to the descendants of Rua Kenana, her words had a profound effect on Ngāi Tūhoe, he says.

"When the Governor-General arrived, you could feel the understanding of the people that the apology was very real. People like Peter Dunne haven't had land dispossession forced upon them and don't understand. When the representative of the Crown came, and said these words, that 'I have come here to bring you the royal assent' for the apology for the hurt caused to Rua Kenana and his descendants, how can Dunne understand that."
Taiarahia also said that New Zealand needs to uphold the mana of the Treaty of Waitangi. "The Governor-General should be made to take his or oath on The Treaty Of Waitangi. In the words of the song of Te Kōti Arikirangi's song about the Treaty of Waitangi, 'Alas for this unhappy night'."

In August of this year, a new governor-general will be announced as  Reddy finishes her five-year term.