The Governor General Opens Parliament

The Governor General Opens Parliament

The monarchy in New Zealand is one of the most inclusive institutions in the world. Together, the Queen and the Governors-General clearly increase the profile of people often overlooked in politics. For example, women, visible minorities, and immigrants are never proportionally represented in parliament. Government in general is often dominated in the West by older, white men. Fortunately, this is changing, but the pace is slow. Right now, the monarchy can help change attitudes and allow people to demonstrate their full potential regardless of who they are or where they come from.

It is true that the current succession laws in New Zealand (and all the other Commonwealth Realms) favour boys over girls. However, there has been much discussion in several realms about changing this, so that the throne passes to the eldest child of the monarch, regardless of gender. Indeed, in October 2011 it was officially announced that this rule would be changed. New Zealand is actually taking a leading role in coordinating this. In the near future, girls and boys will have an equal right to inherit the throne. Several monarchies already do this.

Even under the old rules of succession, women have been well represented in the monarchy over the past 200 years. In that time, a Queen has reigned 60% of the time. Kings have only reigned for 40%. There is no other system in the world that has that gender balance. For example, over the last 200 years, there have been no female presidents of the United States of America.

Millions of children have grown up seeing the military salute Queen Elizabeth. They have seen elderly male politicians bow before her, and have seen her sign laws into force. She has shown that being male or female has nothing to do with your work.

The office of Governor-General is another area where role models can be found. New Zealand has had only two female Governors-General in its history. However, those two women held office for 11 of the past 18 years. The trend towards more female Governors-General is clear. While the trend for electing or appointing female presidents is also improving, it is still nowhere near as good as it is for Governors-General in the Commonwealth Realms.

The Queen has appointed Governors-General from virtually every ethnic background around the world. The Prime Ministers of New Zealand have not recommended very many people of different ethnicities for appointment, but Paul Reeves was the country’s first Māori Governor-General. Anand Satyanand is the country’s first Governor-General of Asian descent. This shows that the role of Governor-General is open to everyone based on merit, and ethnicity is not a concern. No doubt there will be many more Governors-General from many different backgrounds in the future.

Some people might argue that because Governors-General are not elected their claim to representing women or minorities is weakened. Of course, that’s absurd. The first female Chief Justice of New Zealand was not elected, and she is a role model. The first Māori Chief of the Defence Force was not elected, and he is a role model as well. These people, and many others, were appointed because they were hard workers and the best people for the job. The important thing is that children growing up today can look to these people as role models.

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