Service brings rewards

Service in the community brings its own rewards.

Mostly, volunteers do not make their way through sporting and community organisations seeking anything but the satisfaction of helping create the best possible environment; usually for their children at the start but later for their neighbours, friends and themselves.

It is true that in all walks of life, people find themselves thrust into prominence because of their endeavours. While they may have started in humble circumstances, leaders emerge in our society. And because our society is small in comparison with others around the world, we get to know these leaders on different levels.

The reintroduction of the knights and dames to our twice-yearly honours awards by Prime Minister John Key was not universally popular. There had been a feeling that Queen's Honours made New Zealand less of an independent nation by clinging to the apron strings of Mother England.

But Mr Key summed his feelings up in a letter to a Dunedin honours recipient last year when he spoke of the nation relying on citizens from all walks of life stepping forward, helping others, seeking new ways and doing things - reaching for their dreams and enriching the lives of others.

Those people named today in the New Year's Honours list are some of whom Mr Key spoke. They have walked among us, helping others as they reached for their dreams.

New Zealand has had its own honours system since 1996. It is made up of three orders and a range of other awards. Before 1975, New Zealand used the British honours system, and between 1975 and 1996 it used a mix of British and New Zealand honours.

The committee that conducted a major review of the honours system in 1995 said that it was a way for New Zealand to say thanks and well done to those who had served and those who had achieved. The committee believed such recognition was consistent with the egalitarian character of New Zealand society, and enlivened and enriched it.

The Order of New Zealand is this country's highest honour. It was instituted by Royal Warrant, dated February 6, 1987, to recognise outstanding service to the Crown and people of New Zealand in a civil or military capacity. Recipients of this award do not receive a title. Ordinary membership of the Order is limited to 20 living persons.

In 2009, Mr Key announced that titles were to be reinstated in the New Zealand Honours system. This meant the return of the titles of Knight and Dame Grand Companion (GNZM) and Knight and Dame Companion (KNZM/DNZM). Looking across the list of top recipients this year, there is an emphasis on business, the judiciary, philanthropy and sport.

One of the outstanding features of the honours in New Zealand is the lack of political motivation. Business people are rewarded for their efforts. Sports people receive their award for making New Zealanders proud and confident about competing on the world stage. The judiciary and the police are the face of justice in our community. Without those two important components, society fails. Long-serving members of our local authorities also receive public acknowledgement of their commitment to their communities.

Digging further down into the lists, there is an acknowledgement of the people who make the community a better place. Health professionals, writers, painters and musicians - to name just some vocations - have received recognition for enriching our lives.

Collectively, the awards announced today represent all of us. We serve, each in our own ways. Some people shun public recognition, but there comes a time when the outstanding achievements of individuals needs the recognition of their peers.

Today is such a day. While the recipients will no doubt enjoy the fruits of their labour, they also remain an inspiration to a new generation.