Wednesday, October 6, 2010

October Political Commentary (1): Birthright or not?

The recent controversy initiated by Paul Henry's comment of whether Sir Anand Satyanand "is a New Zealander", together with the fallout from this seemingly trivial comment, prompted me to write this rather reactionary commentary.

Those of you who know me should be aware that TV watching is not a normal part of my life, however I do have a liking for Paul Henry who, like Paul Holmes, has the old fashioned quality of speaking whatever their heart says. This is especially precious in today's increasingly phlegmatic society filled with overt political correctness. Still, sometime one has to admit that many broadcasters are ill-informed about the political status of New Zealand, which in itself is a huge puddle of muddy water.

Let's hope that I shall not lose momentum while writing this series. I will modify completed sections heavily so do expect to find differences over time.


Prior to any meaningful discussion on the complex topic, we must first review Being my usual lazy self, I choose to present a modified section stolen from Wikipedia:
"As the sovereign is shared equally with 15 other independent countries in a form of personal union and resides predominantly in her oldest realm, the United Kingdom, she, on the advice of her prime minister only,appoints the governor general to carry out most of her constitutional and ceremonial duties for an unfixed period of time—known as serving At Her Majesty's pleasure—though five years is the normal convention. Once in office, these individuals maintain direct contact with the Queen, wherever she may be at the time."

In Simple English, Govern-General is a government-appointed person who acts as the Queen's stunt in her distant lands. The exact role of the regent in a constitutional monarchy will be better discussed in its own chapter. Meanwhile, I have summarised the history of the post in New Zealand:

  • There had been 35 past Governors-General under various titles.
  • Most of the early ones came from the mother country as professional administrators or later, retirees from various public or military offices. The first "Kiwi" Governor-General is probably Lord Freyberg, who was born in England and moved to New Zealand at  the age of two. The last one to have born in Britain was Bernard Fergusson, a former army brigadier whose father and two grandfathers had all served on the same post in the past. 
  • Every Governor-General since Arthur Porritt are all born in New Zealand except Sir David Bettie who was born in Sydney; nevertheless Arthur Porritt had close ties to the British Royal House during his medical practice and is probably closer to his precedents than it appears.
  • Most people mentioned here are high-class professionals such as doctors, lawyers, officers, etc.
  • Much to the point John Key made during the interview where all hell broke loose, it is usually unwise to appoint a career politician to the role of Governor-General, obviously because their previous alignment with a certain ideology is simply not suited to the non-partisan nature of our head of state. Hence I find the notion of former legislators becoming the Governor rather bizarre. The most recent example has to be Sir Keith Holyoake, who was made the Queen's representative while serving as a government minister and MP. Guess who did it? Muldoon.  
  • Overall, there is no written eligibilities for this job, and in the historical context, nativism is only a recent feature yet it seems to become the accepted norm. 
This is in stark contrast to Canada, which is a similar bi-cultural society. The established tradition is to rotate between Anglo and Québécois candidates as a sign of fairness. Nevertheless the last two Governors General appointed by Liberal governments were both foreign-born females of humble upbringing.

This concludes the mini-discussion on the history of the office. Next post will focus on its various functions.

To be continued.