National | Government

Governor-General: 'Not there to instigate change'

Dame Cindy Kiro is New Zealand’s first Māori female Governor-General. However, she says her role is not to “advocate” for Māori but instead act on behalf of the Queen to maintain the integrity in the government.

"I'm not there to instigate change, I'm not there to observe it, I'm not there to comment on it, I'm to ensure the integrity of it all," Dame Cindy said on Te Ao with Moana, when the issue of constitutional transformation was raised by host Moana Maniapoto.

The one-on-one interview explored the powers and potential of the role to “ignite and excite conversations,” as well as the relationship between the Queen and Māori.

As Governor-General, Dame Cindy commands enormous powers including the ability to dismiss a prime minister, to dissolve parliament and call new elections, to refuse to assent legislation, and to refuse a request for an election.

However she says, they’re “reserve powers” and have almost never been used.

“In fact, I don’t think they’ve ever been used except in the normal processes of upholding the constitutional arrangements. So, when a term ends, I dissolve Parliament and, when a new government is formed, I swear in the prime minister and cabinet.”

Dame Cindy was sworn in as Governor-General last October. She has a PhD in social policy, was the first Māori female children’s commissioner, the first Māori executive director of Greenpeace and has held numerous university and government sector advisory roles.

Upholding Te Tiriti

Dame Cindy acknowledges that for Māori there has long been a conversation about the need for constitutional transformation especially when it comes to Te Tiriti but says it is not in her role to start that conversation.

“I sit now for the representative of the Queen who is the other signatory, the other part of this treaty and my job is to uphold that part of the treaty within the constitutional arrangements that we have.”

However, as a wahine Māori from Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Hine and Ngāti Kahu, she says there may well be expectations on her to uphold and respect Te Tiriti, especially since she has direct ancestors who were signatories to Te Tiriti on behalf of rangatira.

“That was certainly a part of what I was taught growing up by my grandmother, who grew up a part of her life at Waitangi, to respect Te Tiriti, to respect the covenant of that,” she says.

“I don’t personally feel any tension or stress. What I see is that we live with the reality of our past. We live with trying to respect the foundation of the country and how we’ve come to be who we are and the distinctive nature of the relationship.”

Investiture ceremonies on marae

Another role of the Governor-General is to take a lead role in public ceremonies including holding honours investitures.

Since Dame Cindy has fulfilled the role, there have been concerns about whether she will allow investiture ceremonies for new dames and knights to be held on their marae, including upcoming ceremonies for the last surviving member of the 28th Māori Battalion, Sir Robert Gillies, and tennis legend Dame Ruia Morrison.

She says it is a “case by case chance”.

“Some people make a request. Most don’t and that’s because coming to Government House is very special … I won’t commit to a blanket rule. I don’t think any Governor-General has but I know that Dame Patsy Reddy certainly was flexible about that and I’m willing to be flexible but I also have to be practical," she says.

“We’ve got to balance up a whole heap of things including the practicality of being able to do that and also whether or not it’s important to be able to host them at the Governor-General's residence to be able to show the manaaki to them.”

TE AO WITH MOANA – 8pm Monday on Māori Television and online.