Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced Dame Cynthia (Cindy) Kiro will be the next Governor-General of New Zealand.
From 2003 to 2009 Dame Cindy was the Children’s Commissioner, and holds a PhD in social policy and an MBA in business administration.
She has been an associate professor and head of Massey University’s school of public health, and has a role at the Royal Society.
She will take office as Governor-General at a ceremony on Thursday 21 October this year, after Dame Patsy Reddy’s five-year term ends on 28 September with a State farewell to be held on 6 September.
Ardern announced the decision in the weekly post-Cabinet media briefing at 3pm this afternoon.
“Dame Cindy will take up the role of Governor-General in October and remain in it for a five-year term,” Ardern said.
“Over many decades, Dame Cindy has demonstrated her passion for the wellbeing of children and young people, as well as education and learning. I know she will bring that same commitment to all New Zealanders as Governor-General.
“I very much look forward to working with her.”
National Party leader Judith Collins welcomed the appointment, saying she had previously worked with Dame Cindy, who had made a significant contribution to New Zealand in education and health, and worked to advance and promote research and scholarly activity in science, technology and the humanities.
ACT leader David Seymour said the party wanted to congratulate Dame Cindy and wish her all the best in the new role.
Dame Cindy ‘absolutely committed’ to serving New Zealand
Standing alongside Ardern at the briefing this afternoon, Dame Cindy said she is “proudly Māori and I’m also part British”.
“So I bring, with this unique marriage, an understanding of the foundational basis of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and its place in our history.”
She said she accepted the position with a “huge sense of gratitude and humility” and as an opportunity to serve her country.
“It’s a great honour,” she said.
“Aotearoa New Zealand is not only my home, it has been my home the whole of my life. It is an extraordinary and beautiful country … and one that I’m absolutely committed to.
“I was born to a very poor family. My mother was born in a hut with a mud floor in the far north. My father was born in the north of England in a coal-mining town. I know what it takes, hard work and dedication and perseverance to actually succeed in life.
“I’ve used that academic success as a way of progressing through life while also raising a family and trying to contribute to my community.”
“I appreciate the struggles that people have in their lives and the road they have to travel to reach their goals and their aspirations and ambitions. It doesn’t matter how hard or how high those are, we all know that it takes a lot of work.”
Dame Cindy said she has accepted the position under existing constitutional arrangements, accepts them and will serve the Queen.
She said the idea of service was an old-fashioned one, but still an important one.
“This notion of service has really gone to the heart of everything I have done in the past. It’s been a career of service, especially for children and young people, but mostly for those people who don’t have a voice to speak for themselves.”
Dame Cindy said that, as Governor-General, she would focus on children, people in poverty, and people with complex high needs.
“I’m a really strong believer in the importance of knowledge but, more importantly, of wisdom. Wisdom is the distilled knowledge born of experience and ethical behaviour”.
“The past two years have been truly challenging for this country in many ways, but we’ve really proved that we can come through using good knowledge and wisdom.”
Ardern said the Queen approved of the appointment and told her she thought Dame Cindy was “wholly suitable”.
Samoa election crisis
Ardern was speaking on the same day Samoa’s constitutional crisis deepened, with the party that commands the majority of seats locked out of Parliament.
Under the constitution Parliament must sit within 45 days of an election and today is the last day for this to be possible.
Ardern said New Zealand would encourage “all parties and political leaders” to uphold the election outcome and the decisions of institutions including the judiciary, and the rule of law.
“Our strong view is that we hold a huge amount of trust and faith in the institutions in Samoa. In their judiciary, in their democracy and, of course, in the outcome that the election delivered.
“Our call would simply be for all those things to be upheld.”
She said New Zealand was not in a position to be playing “any interventionist role” and despite the fact there was a “changeable” political situation, the situation was reportedly calm and in line with calls from political and faith community leaders.
Constitutional change in New Zealand
Ardern said that while she believed New Zealand would one day become a Republic, she had “never sensed urgency” from New Zealanders for change, nor had it been presented to her as a priority, and so Labour as the government would treat the issue as such.
She said the government had been doing work on four-year term limits, but wanted to involve other parties in the discussions and that would be the next step.
“It will be this year that we take that consultation with other parties.”
Four year terms would not start at the next election, they would push it out to make sure it did not advantage any particular party.
Thanks offered to Dame Patsy Reddy
Ardern gave thanks to Dame Patsy, New Zealand’s 21st Governor-General, for “her dedication and service” over the past five years.
Dame Patsy succeeded former Chief of the Defence Force Sir Jerry Mateparae in the role in 2016.
Dame Patsy is a lawyer who recently worked with Sir Michael Cullen on a review of New Zealand’s intelligence and security agencies.
She told RNZ upon appointment she was “stunned” when contacted to take up the role.
“I asked ‘why me’? This was not a role that I’d ever imagined I might hold,” she told RNZ in 2016.
Collins also thanked the incumbent Governor-General.
“I would also like to acknowledge and thank Dame Patsy Reddy for her time as New Zealand’s Governor-General. Dame Patsy has done a wonderful job and has left a fine legacy for Dame Cindy to follow.”
However, the ACT party offered criticism, saying Dame Patsy had “taken to lecturing the public with politicised speeches”.
“If she wished to participate in debates about the future of New Zealand she should have run for office, not been appointed to it,” Seymour said.
“ACT’s hope is that Dame Cindy Kiro will take more inspiration from the Queen, staying above politics and protecting the integrity of the office. We wish her well.”
Decision a surprise for Dame Cindy
Dame Cindy said she had not been expecting to be named the next Governor-General.
“When the Prime Minister asked me and met with me a few weeks ago, I was certainly not expecting that she would ask me to be the next Governor-General.”
She said she was only allowed to tell one person, her husband, that she had been chosen for the appointment.
She said her appointment would mean a big sacrifice for her husband, who works at as a doctor treating people with high and complex needs, but he told her it was an amazing opportunity.
“I know this impacts him and all our family and it will impact us for a long time to come, probably for the rest of our lives.
“After the initial shock and, also, the huge sense of gratitude and humility at being asked, we agreed that this was really an opportunity to serve our country.”
Ardern said there had been a long list of potential candidates for the role of Governor-General
“I’ve been a bit frustrating in that I’ve had a long list. I’ve taken the process very seriously.”
“I wanted to ensure that in the role we had someone who brought integrity to the role, that had a mana and a values base that New Zealanders have respect for, and could look to, should any constitutional issues arise in New Zealand.”
Ardern said she had a long list of things to talk about with Scott Morrison when they meet on Sunday.
“We’re going to have to move pretty quickly but I think we’re making the time available. Our intent is to make it really productive.”
“We’ll be looking for some tangible things to take away.”
Her fiance, Clarke Gayford, will meet with Jenny Morrison while the leaders speak, Ardern said.
She said the Queen was “genuinely moved” by the amount of time New Zealand spent reflecting on Prince Philip after his death last month.