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 Electoral Act 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.