Top soldier and family settle in

20:04, Sep 01 2011
Jerry Mateparae
FAMILY HOME: Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae and his wife Janine, Lady Mateparae, at Government House.

He has been the country's top soldier, headed up our team of spooks and is now the Queen's man in New Zealand – all powered by herbal remedies.

Sir Jerry Mateparae upgraded his lieutenant-general rank to governor-general after a grand ceremony at Parliament this week.

But the former defence chief's first real day on the job was mired in controversy as allegations surfaced that the military misled the Government over its operations in Afghanistan. His son pointed out the reports on the internet before a whirl of media interviews began.

"That would be news to me," he said of the claims. "And I've had two jobs where I would expect to know."

Sir Jerry and wife Janine appeared much happier talking about their shared interest in homoeopathy. The 56-year-old revealed he had not taken a sick day since 1998. "We've practised a certain way of looking after ourselves which has been very good for me."

After Sir Jerry was sworn in, they celebrated with a party back at renovated Government House. The couple are settling into the sprawling 100-year-old Newtown mansion and making it a home for their two daughters and three sons, aged 14-35.

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"That was the other thing that was neat about yesterday," he said. "After the ceremony, seeing five teenage boys on the front lawn playing rugby."

In his new role, he wants to celebrate service personnel, the voluntary sector and youth.

Predecessor Sir Anand Satyanand urged him to "enjoy the five years because they are very, very special", he said.

His almost 40 years in the army had highs and lows. "Losing people both on operations and at home in accidents, that's the absolute low points. The high points are visiting soldiers, sailors and airmen and women doing their job, representing New Zealand in so many parts of the world. I enjoyed my time in the service but I'm enjoying having left that part of my life."

Last year he helped deliver a Defence Force review to the Government, which he lists as an achievement. It outlined savings of about $300million and led to the loss of more than 300 jobs.

But he insisted: "The other side of what's happening now is the investment ... the whole tenor of the thing is that there is not a drop in investment in the Defence Force."

Leaving the GSCB after a few months was not without regret, as he was looking forward to working with its staff. "I had some things that I wanted to do."

After such a long time in the public service, he is adept at avoiding tricky questions. Asked if New Zealand should become a republic, he responded: "That's not a choice for me. That's a choice New Zealanders will make."

Challenged further, he added "like a lot of a things, I have a view," but politely declined to share it.

The Dominion Post