"There's no substitute for hard work or determination."

That's the message Leith Comer wants to get out as he celebrates being made a Companion of the Queen's Service Order today.

Comer is one of many around the country named in the Queen's Birthday Honours. He is being recognised for his services to Māori, the state and local government.

"I'm honoured and extremely grateful to be given this award," Comer said.

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Comer was chief executive of Te Puni Kōkiri, the Ministry of Māori Development, from 2001 to 2013 and achieved many things in those years.

But Comer said he hadn't done it for the acclaim.

"There's no doubt recognition, acclaim and being valued are all drivers in why we do things but if they are the sole driver you're doing things for the wrong reason," he said.

Leith Comer, the former chief executive of Te Puni Kōkiri, the Ministry of Maori Development has been named in the Queen's Birthday Honours. Photo/Stephen Parker
Leith Comer, the former chief executive of Te Puni Kōkiri, the Ministry of Maori Development has been named in the Queen's Birthday Honours. Photo/Stephen Parker

"There's no substitute for hard work for determination, for being able to think clearly and identify what's important and focus."

Comer's list of achievements includes replacing the Closing the Gaps policy, providing input into the Māori Television Establishment Act, and the establishment of the Māori Tourism entity.

As chairman of Lakeland Health (now Lakes District Health Board) from 1992 to 1997, he helped establish the Tipu Ora Programme.

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He also helped establish the Rotorua District Council Te Arawa Standing committee and is now chairman of the Ngā Pūmanawa e Waru Education Trust and a member of the New Zealand Parole Board.

Comer believes the award is primarily for his work with Te Puni Kōkiri.

"We changed the thinking from looking at Māori as a problem, to Māori as potential ... We contributed to giving people an understanding that Māori were not a detriment to the economy but an essential part of it," he said.

Comer said it had been a privilege to serve under Helen Clark and John Key and two ministers of Māori affairs.

"While I didn't always agree with all their policies, I did agree with the way they came to work everyday to make things better for Māori."

While honoured to become a Companion of the Queen's Service Order, Comer said he was disappointed his late mother would not be there to share it with him.

"She played a pivotal role in how I turned out," he said.

"I came from a family which understood the importance of service, whether it be in the military, in education in church or to your own people. I felt a lot of things I've done have been in line with that.

"I get a lot of satisfaction in trying to make the lives of people better."

Comer has been invited to the Government House in Auckland or Wellington for a formal recognition in the coming months.