History of the Governor-General

Page 8 – Uber diplomat?

From 1926, in accordance with decisions taken as a consequence of the Balfour Declaration, governors-general merely represented the sovereign in New Zealand. They stayed put and travelled no further than New Zealand’s outliers – Antarctica and its Pacific territories. In the 1990s, however, they acquired a significant new diplomatic role, representing the nation overseas.

What now?

New Zealand is a constitutional monarchy, though many constitutional experts consider it a quasi-republic. Colin James thinks the governor-general has taken on the appearance of a de facto president in a constitution he calls ‘republic-in-all-but-form’. It is an old theme. Back in 1856, Governor Thomas Gore Browne complained about ‘A constitution almost Republican’.

This came about because the Queen and politicians realised that, as head of state, the Queen of New Zealand cannot effectively represent this country in that role overseas.

Governors-general, however, can fill that gap. From the 1970s they made occasional state visits to Australia. Since the 1990s they have travelled more widely.

They now travel regularly and get head-of-state treatment. ‘No longer a figurehead, whose sole purpose is to sip tea with visiting dignitaries, the Queen’s representative in New Zealand is now an uber diplomat,’ journalist Rachel Pannett said in 2005, ‘walking the red carpet and chewing the fat with officials in countries as diverse as Germany, Chile, Malaysia, the Czech Republic and Bahrain’.

How to cite this page

'Uber diplomat? ', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/politics/history-of-the-governor-general/uber-diplomat, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 5-May-2023