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Ivan Kwok 1941-2020

18 June 2020

Kua hinga tētahi totara nui a te wao nui a Tāne | A great totara has fallen in the forest of Tāne

Former Treasury Solicitor Ivan Kwok’s life was remembered on Friday 12 June at Pipitea Marae, Wellington. He made an enormous impact on New Zealand particularly in the area of Crown-Māori relations and exemplified the very best in the public service.

Ivan Kwok ONZM used to say there are two types of lawyers – those who find problems and those who solve them. According to Christopher Finlayson QC, Ivan was firmly in that latter camp.

At his tangi at Pipitea marae, tributes for Ivan flowed from key New Zealanders he had worked alongside in his 45 years at New Zealand Treasury. These included Sir Bill English, Grant Robertson, Mr Finlayson and Deputy Treasury Secretary Struan Little with tributes relayed from Sir Michael Cullen.

Ivan was remembered as a calm, wise mentor to many and described as a taonga for Treasury. After graduating with a Masters of Laws from Victoria University of Wellington in 1964, Ivan went into private practice for approximately 10 years with his own firm Clapham Kwok before joining Treasury as an in-house lawyer in 1975. He rose to the position of Treasury Solicitor which he held for 14 years. Following this his job title was Principal Advisor (or roving trouble-shooter it was said) and he was described by several people as fulfilling a role where no-one was quite sure what he did but it was essential that he continued to do it.

Mr Robertson described Ivan as the finest public servant, who was fearless and warm. He said he was a key player in many recent notable settlements including the Central North Island settlement and was a quiet giant who had a huge hand in shaping Aotearoa New Zealand.

Mr Finlayson noted his ability to distil a complex issue to its simplest form providing clarity and reassurance. He also described Ivan’s complete absence of ego and that his sole attention and focus was instead on the issue or problem itself not on his role in it.

Sir Michael was unable to attend but sent a message via his former private secretary Kirsten Hagan that he was a most effective public servant dedicated to the good of Aotearoa New Zealand. He played a pivotal role in the Crown- Māori relationship and was a true public servant who demonstrated kindness, humility and integrity in every transaction.

Ivan was described as having a passion for Te Tiriti and the relationships that flowed from it and would sum up his own enormous contribution to the work of the Treasury as “duty”. When lauded for his broad role as public policy official and rangatira, he would apparently say with good humour “I’m just the lawyer”.

We honour Ivan and his work and are pleased to be able to show a small snippet of him sharing his wisdom thanks to Atawhai Tibble’s interview with him in 2018.

This tribute first appeared on the website of Juno Legal.

Last updated on the 18th June 2020