Kāore te kūmara e kōrero mō tōna ake reka
The kumara does not speak of its own sweetness
He aha te kai a te rangatira? He kōrero, he kōrero, he kōrero.
What is the food of the leader? It is knowledge, it is communication.
On 12 November 2021, IPANZ will be holding its annual conference. The focus of the conference is on the key challenges facing the public service, both current and future. It is a conference designed to provide public service professionals with the opportunity to pause, listen, reflect, and learn together.
The conference begins with an address given by the Hon. Justice Joe Williams, in honour of an exemplary public servant, Ivan Kwok. The focus of the lecture is on one of our greatest challenges and opportunities – realising a real partnership between Māori and the Crown.
The whakataukī “kāore te kumara e kōrero mō tōna ake reka – the kumara does not speak of its own sweetness” could have been composed for Ivan Kwok. He was a man of great humility, warmth, and kindness coupled with a sharp intellect, the ability to see possibilities rather than constraints, and a desire to make a difference. One of the pre-eminent legal minds of his generation, he always gave respect to whomever he was listening to – whether it was a new graduate or the prime minister.
But it is in his relationship with iwi leaders, his work to further a true partnership between Māori and the Crown, that Ivan provides us with both challenge and hope. Here was a man who was not tangata whenua but who was respected across te ao Māori. Why? Because Ivan believed in listening deeply to understand, in the true power of conversation, in engaging early, in people over process. Ivan demonstrated that by sitting down together and understanding each other’s interest at a deep relational level, the Treaty partners could find new and different ways of working with each other – ways that benefited Māori and the nation as a whole. He aha te kai a te rangatira? He kōrero, he kōrero, he kōrero.
Ivan’s tangi, which was held at Pipitea Marae, was attended by iwi leaders, past and present ministers of finance, and other dignitaries. Many spoke of Ivan’s “sweetness”, of the huge legacy of this humble public servant. It is my hope that the Crown–Māori relations lecture, given in Ivan’s honour, will become part of this legacy – that the kōrero generated by this address will help sustain a new generation of public sector leaders as we take on the challenges of the future for the benefit of all.