Yesterday was not just the 100th anniversary of the Dominion of New Zealand, but also of the Dominion newspaper.
In their 100th anniversary editorial they endorse New Zealand becoming a republic:
For New Zealand, the journey will inevitably include becoming a republic. It is a step that the country needs to take, and take soon, as part of redefining itself to reflect the realities of the 21st century. If anyone now proposed a system of government where the head of state lived half a world away, who visited about once every five years and who had the job solely because her father had it before her, there would be few takers.
An informal poll suggests about 40 per cent believe New Zealand should become a republic, though there are differences over timing. That it is not more is surprising in a nation that prides itself on its independence, on its democracy, and on its egalitarianism. The suspicion must be that the only reason that New Zealand keeps a monarch is a belief that it cannot do better. That is mistaken. There are issues to be worked through – how much power a president should have, how he or she should be chosen – but New Zealanders should have confidence in themselves to do that, and to have one of their own as head of state.
One of the major reasons I hear from people on why they don’t want a republic is they don’t want Helen Clark as President, and with even fewer checks and balances on her. Putting aside the Clark has shown the current checks and balances are non existent (she retrospectively amended the Electoral Act to protect a Labour Minister), it annoys me that people assume the sort of people who want to be PM would be President. But Clark herself was asked yesterday whether she would like to be President as if that was likely.
It would be very easy to have a requirement in the law establishing the NZ Head of State that no person who has ever been an MP can become President, and fur good measure require say at least 75% of Parliament to agree to any appointment (if an appointment model is used) to make sure any President has broad appeal and is not a partisan.
I suspect people don’t realise that the nominal Head of State (QEII) would never ever interfere in a NZ political dispute against the PM, and that the PM gets to appoint and sack unilaterally the de facto Head of State – the Governor-General.
Helen Clark as PM is far more powerful in our constitutional monarchy than she would be under a Republic.
And while not wanting to beat up on Helen, I am disappointed she has one again declined an opportunity to show some leadership on this issue. Bolger knew in the 1990s that championing a Republic did risk losing support, but the whole reason you build up support is so you can spend it. Clark, I have no doubt, fully supports a Republic – but doesn’t want to expend any politcal capital on it.
The trouble with this approach is we have had republicanism by stealth, rather than by virtue of an informed and public debate. And this generates a backlash. Moves such as abolishing titular honours, changing the Oath, abolishing appeals to the Privy Council have all been done in an ad hoc fashion without a clear public mandate. Major constitutional changes should be decisions of the public, not just Parliament, in my opinion.
Anyway enough from me. Go and enjoy Dean Knight’s proclamation of a Republic.