60 years of full independence

November 26th, 2007 at 7:07 am by David Farrar

60 years ago on Sunday New Zealand became legally fully independent with the adopting on 25 September 1947 of the Statute of Westminster Act 1931. Lewis Holden blogs in detail on this issue.

I have been a supporter of moving to a Republic for many years – mainly for reasons of identity and relevance.  And the Republican Movement is made up of people from many different political persuasions, all with different motivations – but all agreeing on the desirability of change.

But the issue that now motivates me most strongly to move to a Republic, is that opportunity it will provide for NZ to adopt an entrenched written constitution to protect the public from parliamentary supremacy as we currently have.

Now this is a huge turn about for me.  I’ve spent two decades opposing NZ having a supreme law.  I’ve argued in favour of parliamentary supremacy and against having Judges able to strike down laws.  I’ve argued that our constitutional conventions are as strong as if they were were formal law, and the system works well.  I’ve argued one generation of MPs should not be able to bind the next.

Why have I changed my mind?  Well quite simply it has been the destruction of these constitutional conventions under Helen Clark.  The Electoral Finance Bill is just the latest in a long line.  At first it was just relatively minor stuff such as abandoning the concept of Ministerial collective responsibility.  Then it was more concerning as her Government stopped consulting with the Opposition on previously bipartisan appointments. An early indicator of her contempt for the rule of law came with the retrospective amending of the to keep one of her Ministers in Parliament.

Time after time it has become apparent that my previous trust in MPs to respect our unwritten constitution was misplaced.  The attacks on the Chief Electoral Office and the Auditor-General should have rung warning bells also.

And then finally we have the Electoral Finance Bill – the final death knell of the constitutional conventions.  It has now become a prize for the victor thanks to Clark.  The damage this woman has done to our country will never ever be repaired.  You can’t just turn the clock back and go back to the good old days.  Hence the only way forward is to put in place an entrenched Bill of Rights which can stop laws like the Electoral Finance Bill.  A supreme law which the Prime Minister cannot avoid by bribing a few key allies.  A President whose job is to make sure the Prime Minister obeys the law, and is not above the law.

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56 Responses to “60 years of full independence”

  1. Pascal (1,969 comments) says:

    The only problem is DPF that the EFB will most likely pass.

    And, because of the unfair boost in public funding it will give Labour and their allies in the next election they will likely win another election.

    Which will give them more opportunity to entrench themselves while silencing more and more of their critics.

    All the while issuing more half-baked, foolish bills based on personal whim and political acclaim, rather than actual research and with the best interests of New Zealand at heart.

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  2. GerryandthePM (328 comments) says:

    The final test of our Constitutional Monarchy will be whether or not the Governor General will sign the Electoral Finance Bill into law.

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  3. the deity formerly known as nigel6888 (852 comments) says:

    Would you trust Labour (aka Geoff Palmer) to draft a Constitution?

    How would you like President for Life Clark?

    NZ is starting to sound more like Venezuela every day this government remains clinging to power.

    Hyperbole? maybe, but add it up: We have had laws proposed to consolidate the government’s grip on power, intimidation of the police and armed services including removal of leadership, intimidation of the public sector and officers of Parliament, abandonment of the Privy Council for a domestic Supreme Court stuffed with activist lawyers, police raids on small towns to demonstrate the power of the state. Government intrusion into civil rights and social behaviour (smacking, civil union, smoking, etc etc).

    When a Government deliberately undermines the institutions and conventions of the State, what are we supposed to conclude?

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  4. dad4justice (8,302 comments) says:

    I think the EFB is a God send for the New Zealand republican party . You are making it very easy for us Auntie Helen ? Can’t wait to rip the jugular from the dithering cockroaches that infest our parliament building , fumigation time !

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  5. barry (1,317 comments) says:

    Aside from the old saying “if it aint broke, then why fix it” just image what the politicians will do if they get to have any say in the control of the republic.

    I can think of no reason why truning into a republic will have any positive influence on NZ. Just look at Ausy or Canada to see how succesful you can be without having to lower yourself to form a republic simply for ideological reasons.

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  6. reid (16,630 comments) says:

    If you analyse what the Bush Administration has done to abrogate the US Constitution which this and the last Congress has stood by and permitted, then you’re forced to conclude a written constitution is no protection. Rather, everything depends on the ability and willingness of the watchdog mechanism to step in and act when required. That’s the role of the monarch in our system and perhaps you could argue that the convention of not intervening needs review.

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  7. Kevin (1,122 comments) says:

    Agreed Barry.

    I am nervous about moving towards a republic because the two obstacles I see to it are (1) agreement on a constitution around the principle that “all people were created equal” and (2) having a powerful president. I would prefer a system where the president was a figurehead much like the Governor General. Even then the idea the HC or Dame Sylvia might end up president is repugnant. I would also fight against both republicanism and a constitution if the constitution contained any social engineering other than broad prinicples such as equality and freedom.

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  8. David Farrar (1,900 comments) says:

    The Governor-General has no choice but to sign the EFB into law.

    However with a constitution one could empower a President to refuse to sign any law which breaches the Bill of Rights and/or refer the proposed law to a public referendum.

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  9. Pascal (1,969 comments) says:

    Unless the president himself supports a law such as this.

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  10. GerryandthePM (328 comments) says:

    So the Crown is impotent?

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  11. dad4justice (8,302 comments) says:

    More like the crown are eunuchs because Miss Clark has been snipping bits here and there . She makes the rules and all the kiwi’s go thank you lemon face .

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  12. krazykiwi (9,186 comments) says:

    The final test of our Constitutional Monarchy will be whether or not the Governor General will sign the Electoral Finance Bill into law.

    [DPF]: The Governor-General has no choice but to sign the EFB into law.

    Really? I know the retrospective validation bill was signed despite cries of corruption… but would he sign a bill authorising the killing of newborns? I think not. So these is choice… it’s just a question of moral threshold.

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  13. krazykiwi (9,186 comments) says:

    #$%^ typos … again:

    The final test of our Constitutional Monarchy will be whether or not the Governor General will sign the Electoral Finance Bill into law.

    [DPF]: The Governor-General has no choice but to sign the EFB into law.

    Really? I know the retrospective validation bill was signed despite cries of corruption… but would he sign a bill authorising the killing of newborns? Of couse not. So there is choice… it’s just a question of tolerance threshold.

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  14. East Wellington Superhero (1,151 comments) says:

    I would agree with DPF if we ended up with a good constitution. My concern is that with a cohort of Left wing politicians, lawyers and bureaucrats we would get a constitution that would entrench all sorts of crazy things. There would be trade-offs everywhere. Do we really want Keith Locke involved in designing our constitution?

    An interesting comment by ‘GerryandtheMP’. With the current GG at least there is genuine scope for intervention when a corrupt government does something stupid. Some argue that someone on the otherside of the planet shouldn’t be involved in our domestic affairs? If that is true then we should stop signing up to every UN declaration and treaty under the sun.

    We live in an ever shrinking global community. The question shouldn’t be about WHETHER we have strong, even constitutional, relationships with others, but rather with WHO and HOW will we have these relationships.

    I also think it’s a bit naive to think that once we become a republic that all our consitutional problems will go away. For all we know they could get worse. Also, who says we have an identity problem and moreover, that becoming a republic will solve those problems?

    I think it’s safe to say that Queen Elizabeth II has been one of many great anchors of the West in the last two centuries. I also think it’s safe to say that the shared heritage we have with the former British Empire and today’s Commonwealth is far greater than a fraternity with UN nations, many of which have worldviews and character that are dubious at best.

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  15. Grant McKenna (1,160 comments) says:

    I suggest that we make the Governor-Generalship vest in the Kīngitanga, repeal MMP and replace it with a smaller proportionally elected second house, perhaps one that includes representation by interest groups [unions with a certain membership, business associations with a certain number of employees]- and recognise that constitutions do not defend democracy- participation does.
    If New Zealand is a republic, what would it gain?

    Tuheitia Paki, for Governor-General.

    Obviously, the Kīngitanga would change somewhat… but doing so would mean a great symbolic recognition of the role of the Māori people as tangata whenua.

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  16. East Wellington Superhero (1,151 comments) says:

    A racially based sovereignty? Are you serious?
    I am amazed at how quickly people forget history and the dangers of saying some races should be ‘more recognised’ than others.

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  17. Craig Ranapia (1,915 comments) says:

    Obviously, the Kīngitanga would change somewhat… but doing so would mean a great symbolic recognition of the role of the Māori people as tangata whenua.

    Oh, I see, invest the Governor-Generalship is a hereditary pseudo-monarchy whose authority (such as it is) isn’t even’t recognized by all Maori? There’s symbolism, and there’s spectacularly ignorant psychosis.

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  18. barry (1,317 comments) says:

    Yes ‘EastWellingtonSuperhero” – totally agree. We get heaps of crap from the UN and if people are worried about our constituional conection to the UK, then they should be having nightmares about the UN.

    Here in Hamilton we are going thru a process started by the council that would prevent “Youth detention facilities” (for rerpeat youth offenders – btu apparently they are safe ones !!) being setup just anywhere that the Wellington beurocrats want it – like in the middle of residential areas.. Now – you should see the representations by the various govt depts and maori health people. They all quote various UN conventions and rules that think theysupport them to be able to do – well virtually whatever they want to. Very insidious stuff and its all based on rules that NZer’s had nothing to do with or voted on.

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  19. Grant McKenna (1,160 comments) says:

    At the moment we have a racially and religiously based sovereignty- and the fundamental point that I was trying to make was that the Governor-General should be vested in indigenous communities as a symbol of their role in settling this land.
    At the moment the Kīngitanga is nominally open to all who participate- and there are a multitude of reasons why many iwi do not participate- but if it were to be negotiated that some form of symbolic authority were to be vested in it or an alternative structure then participation would occur- and even groups that have been alienated from our society, such as some of the Ngāi Tūhoe, would have reason to participate.
    And were the democratic principle to be used, with each iwi having one vote, we could have the fun of seeing Māori moderates trump radicals.
    Oh, and it may serve as a trade-off mechanism to get the Māori seats abolished.

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  20. East Wellington Superhero (1,151 comments) says:

    With all due respect to Craig,

    I am a fifth generation New Zealander. I was raised here, I studied here and have worked in New Zealand nearly all of my life. My family have farmed the land for generations. Both my grandfathers fought to defend New Zealand and I myself am a sworn member of the NZ Army. Thus I am concerned when people suggest that I, or any other New Zealander, is not tangata whenua. If I’m not a person of this land then what am I?

    You have fair comment on the hereditary nature of the monarchy. However, I would argue that it’s far easier for race to be used as a lever to create prejude and strife in a society.

    The 20th century taught us that indeed, the powerful few can have a spectaculary ignorant psychosis.

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  21. tim barclay (886 comments) says:

    I am all for a Supreme Law. I like the thought of having conservative Judges keeping an eye on things.

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  22. francis (712 comments) says:

    Think of our judges. Then think again.

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  23. David Baigent (172 comments) says:

    While I accept that the Governor General will have no option other than to sign it EFB into Law, I am sure that the URGENCY to have a commencement date of 1st January will be seen as objectionable.

    The particulars of the likely EFB in its final form will cause the GG concern even though passed by a Parliamentary vote.

    If this is the case then the GG could delay signature as a gesture.
    During this delay it would be reasonable for the GG to communicate with the Queen as a further symbolic gesture, in a highly visible way.

    Now is the time to prepare for such a possibility.

    This move would be very visible to all NZ voters and would be an obvious voter message that will be remembered (with help), as we get closer to Election day.

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  24. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    but..but..dpf..!

    i thought you lot were a certainty to win next time..

    and that five minutes after winning..the law would be repealed..

    and a ‘citizens-group’ set up to evaluate a re-vamped election financing regime..?

    wha’appened to those ‘certainties’..?

    but hey..!..here’s an idea (for free) for you nattys..

    campaign on promising us a constitution..

    a document that will (help) curtail political corruption..in it’s many multi-ideological forms..

    now..and into the future..

    (and..y’know..!..

    just on that purely cyninal/political level..

    you need all the votes you can get..eh..?..)

    (yr welcome..!..)

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

    [DPF: National has promised to do it properly and have an independent body involved in changes if they win in 2008. However if one party gets away with doing it once, they’ll try to do it again.]

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  25. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    tim..it is your deepest ‘dream/superman-fantasy to be a ..

    “..conservative Judges keeping an eye on things..”

    rightously/wrathfully enacting/enforcing a ‘supreme’ law..

    (of yr own making..)

    eh..?

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  26. ben (2,384 comments) says:

    I used to believe a written constitution would help protect property rights, but I no longer do and I also wonder if it could be drafted by politicians in a way that protects us from them. You wouldn’t get something that looks like the US constitution, you’d end up with commitments to sustainability and the environment and even to particular groups in society. This gives all the reasons politicians need to cite to bring in things like the EFB.

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  27. Nigel (517 comments) says:

    Nice post DPF, I agree with the caveat that such a serious change cannot be rushed, but I agree this Government has rattled very hard public respect in the institution of Parliament and whether our system has enough checks and balances.

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  28. Frank. (607 comments) says:

    The sooner we become a republic the better. We cannot carry on under this ridiculous charade. We are not British Subjects and don’t owe any allegiance to the Queen.

    She doesn’t recognise me or anyone else in any formal manner. Send a petition as our Sovereign Queen and it is returned by the Queen’s Secretary to the Governor-General.

    We also need to have a written Constitution, determined by the people, to curb the rotten system of government and justice that we operate under.

    There is no reason this coming election that this matter cannot be the subject of a referendum (Binding just like the referendum on MMP that we expected after it had been trialled for 2 terms.

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  29. hinamanu (2,352 comments) says:

    “i thought you lot were a certainty to win next time..

    and that five minutes after winning..the law would be repealed..

    and a ‘citizens-group’ set up to evaluate a re-vamped election financing regime..?

    wha’appened to those ‘certainties’..?”

    Now, this is what I bought up the other day.

    When was the last time a new govt took away a previous administrations laws and policies to show its own substance. There is nothing new or unique about any govt any more. Clark is banking that even losing the election next year National won’t let go of the EFB When voted in. It just gives too much power and may well prove levels of corruption lying in our political leaders (better described as masters come 2009).

    The collusion between political parties in enforcing each others laws shows the high level of conspiracy that really runs this country.

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  30. RossK (275 comments) says:

    Very interesting post David. I have also always been skeptical of having over-riding constitutional law but I do think that our one house system does create enormous potental for abuse of parliamentary power and we are seeing it with the EFB. The reality is that the executive in NZ also controls the legislature. Given that control of the military and law enforcement agencies is also held by the Executive then I think that the argument for having more power in the hands of the judiciary is overwhelming.

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  31. Blue Bird (17 comments) says:

    A quick question in the middle of this very interesting thread
    I have been trying to find out about the attendance for the
    EFB march in Christchurch and I can’t find any references anywhere.
    Anyone got a link ?

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  32. GerryandthePM (328 comments) says:

    New Zealand has:

    The population of Melbourne

    The GDP of the Czech Republic

    The ego of the USA

    The political accountability of Fiji

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  33. holdenrepublic (34 comments) says:

    Well said DPF. I’m writing a follow-up, but your point, I think, is totally on the money. Under the constitutional monarchy our system lacks proper checks and balances. The Sovereign and Governor-General are constitutionally useless positions.

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  34. krazykiwi (9,186 comments) says:

    GerryandthePM – lol.

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  35. David Farrar (1,900 comments) says:

    As the march has yet to happen, it would be strange to have reports on attendance at it.

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  36. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    “But the issue that now motivates me most strongly to move to a Republic, is that opportunity it will provide for NZ to adopt an entrenched written constitution to protect the public from parliamentary supremacy as we currently have.”

    Which is the best reason to stay right away from the issue. Do you really think any combination of this bunch of politically correct socialists, racists, anti-individual, anti-life, anti-liberty, pro big government, pro centralized power bunch of Stalinist self serving duplitious losers can be trusted with such a task?

    Can you ever imagine the document that would be produced and how far it would be from what is really needed? Forget it. Put the idea away for a generation or two until this pro-socialist state dependant predominantly communist political syndrome has run its course.

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  37. libertyscott (359 comments) says:

    Redbaiter hit it on the nail.

    There does need to be a written constitution to limit the state. However, many of the anti-monarchists advocating a constitution want it to do the opposite – they want to entrench an ethnically based state for starters.

    It is mindless to advocate a written constitution without saying what should be in it explicitly and what should NOT be in it. It is like saying it is a good idea to open a restaurant, without knowing what food you’re going to serve.

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  38. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    BTW, I have to make one further comment. I reject the idea that any document should be perceived as a “Bill of Rights”. Its not really about rights, its about liberty, and having liberty stolen from you. Talking of rights is too factional and will only end up diluting the main message of such a document.

    Its why I object to all this PC crap about the rights of indigenous people, the rights of wimmen, the rights of homosexuals blah blah blah. We’ll never get a unified force for liberty whilst focusing on such factional issues. You cannot have a universal commitment to rights whilst you want to exult certain groups. If you enhance the rights of one group, be they wimmin, blacks, queers or one legged dyslexic dwarfs from Patagonia, you automatically reduce the rights of another.

    I regret that so many discussions about the concept of liberty descend in to a discussion of (for example) homosexual rights. In the overall scheme of things, its divisive and it just does not matter. Its like complaining about having your play lunch stolen whilst the mafia run the neighborhood. If we truly want liberty, we have to focus on the big picture.

    The men who died at the Eureka Stockade weren’t fighting for wimmins’ rights. They were fighting for liberty against oppressive and corrupt government. The men who died during the war of independence weren’t fighting for the rights of homosexuals, they were fighting for the liberty of all men.

    NZers today, politically blinkered after decades of gradual Gramascian cultural change, just cannot see the big picture, and cannot grasp the concept of liberty in a way that would allow them to draft any defining constitutional document. They would produce useless PC socialist crap.

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  39. Blue Bird (17 comments) says:

    “As the march has yet to happen, it would be strange to have reports on attendance at it.”
    That would indeed explain it:-)

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  40. holdenrepublic (34 comments) says:

    “However, many of the anti-monarchists advocating a constitution want it to do the opposite – they want to entrench an ethnically based state for starters.”

    Lucky I’m not an anti-monarchist then…

    However, the point on “what should the restaurant serve” is a relevant one. The knee-jerk “we need a constitution” argument is not sufficient. Better procedures for amending the constitution are.

    Simply entrenching the Constitution Act 1986 and the Electoral Act 1993 would make the basic framework of our constitution supreme law. You could also add the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act to that. The only question then is what to do with the undefined part – the rules of how the head of state operates. I’m sure anyone looking at our dual offices of head of state would see, both being hog-tied constitutionally, can do with closer definition. You only get such definition, and more checks and balances, when a democratic, accountable head of state – a republic.

    The biggest benefit of a written constitution then is the paring back of parliament’s ability to screw the scrum and amend the constitution at whim. That is a better safeguard for liberty than the status quo, where a government may amend the constitution as they see fit.

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  41. gd (2,286 comments) says:

    As only a 2nd generation Kiwi I still feel an attachment to the UK and the Monarchy but no doubt my children dont feel that and my grand children will not.

    IMHO we need an Upper House as a minimum to keep a check on the government The past 9 nine has taught us that an out of control ego driven bunch of pollies can do incredible damage to a fragile democracy.

    We dont need 120 plus to govern us
    .

    We need a 60 seat lower house and a 25 seat Upper House. that will still give us a ratio of pollies to citizens abve many other countries.

    What we need is quality of governance not the low rent quantity we have now

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  42. PhilBest (5,125 comments) says:

    Redbaiter, well said. The best constitutions have always been drafted by the peoples who have freshly cast off the shackles of repression.

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  43. PhilBest (5,125 comments) says:

    Bainamarama will probably get Fiji quite a good constitution.

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  44. Falafulu Fisi (2,179 comments) says:

    Phil U said…
    tim..it is your deepest ‘dream/superman-fantasy to be a ..

    Phil, be careful in your comments because you’re contradicting yourself. It is you who is dreaming superman fantasy. You know, with your belief in mysticisms and psychics, you’re dreaming superman fantasy, since superman doesn’t obey physical laws, exactly as psychic claims of premonition and blah, blah, blah. It is you who dream & believe in fantasy and not tim. Anyone who believes in mysticism lives in a fantasy world.

    Have you subscribed to the Listener magazine yet? They have excellent regular columns in astrology, faith healing & psychic readings.

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  45. Andrew W (1,629 comments) says:

    Getting rid of the monarchy is usually the first move of tinpot dictators, in that respect Helen has been a little slow.

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  46. Andrew W (1,629 comments) says:

    The EFB is one area that the impacts of political systems that favour partys over individuals shows through, MMP strengthens partys by forcing MPs to conform.

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  47. holdenrepublic (34 comments) says:

    Only in Africa Andrew. In Europe the case was almost always the opposite – for example in Greece, Turkey, Italy, Germany and Spain you had monarchies abolished following periods of authoritarian government, and in the latter two cases attempts at re-establishing them when fascists came to power (only Franco succeeded).

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  48. Andrew W (1,629 comments) says:

    Nonsense holden, there are plenty of examples in Europe of tinpot dictators coming to power on the ousting of monarchys (though those monarchys often had plenty of faults of their own) Lenin and Napoleon being two example.

    Don’t get me wrong holden, I am not a monachist, I do think though that, as some have suggested above, removal of the monarchy when the likes of Clark is in power would see many of the opportunities for authoritarianism that would be presented utilised by the powers that be.

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  49. barry (1,317 comments) says:

    See latest Herld headlines:…

    UN declares taser is torture.
    Shows how lowlevel this republic discussion is. Worry about the UN.

    Now – I didnt vote for the UN and the UN does nothing to control the bums who get tasered – so for me Im more worried about the UN than where the head of state might reside.

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  50. Swampash (114 comments) says:

    Redbaiter said: “The men who died during the war of independence weren’t fighting for the rights of homosexuals, they were fighting for the liberty of all men.”

    Well… except for the black ones.

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  51. grumpyoldhori (2,362 comments) says:

    Well, as a strong supporter of the crown, thank you for the list for HMs head lopping company.

    A few more republicans to be shortened up.

    Good god people, you trust parliament to pick
    a president to look after our interests, are you
    bloody mad?

    As for the Maori king, hmm, as a Ngapuhi I
    have my doubts.
    But, on the racial issue of the king, he is of
    mixed blood so that argument against does
    not hold.

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  52. thehawkreturns (162 comments) says:

    The first thing you must do BEFORE suggesting Republicanism is to fully describe the alternative and get broad agreement for it.
    DPF – you have failed to do this. There is no suggestion of substance to respond to. In fact, I have a yet to see a workable Republican solution for this country no bigger Sydney or North West London. Why pay the cost of a Presidency? Why have more local politicians clinging to power and the baubles of office?

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  53. David Farrar (1,900 comments) says:

    Oh at the right time I will detail some proposals, and in fact other bloggers have started on this. The point of the post wasn’t to convince people to move to a republic today. but to explain that what has happened in recent years has strengthened my conviction about the benefits of change.

    Anyone who cites the cost of a presidency is almost trivialising the issue. I mean at worse one is talking 0.01% of GDP and at best it will be cheaper than having a Governor-General and a Monarch.

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  54. Tina (687 comments) says:

    Alas, a written constitution will be a feel good dissemble of generalisations that will lead to rule by an emerging class of judicial activists.

    But no matter.

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  55. hinamanu (2,352 comments) says:

    Tina,,

    You usually say what you mean.

    which is good, because what you say is no small matter.

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