After a seven-year wait, my Head of State Referenda Bill, designed to let New Zealanders decide who should be their head of state, has finally been pulled from the members’ ballot.
I hope to win enough support in Parliament for my private member’s bill to send it through for select committee consideration.
Sadly National is voting against letting the people have a say. It may still pass though, if all the other parties support it. It would be the first time the people of NZ would be able to submit on what they think the process should be for resolving the issue of our head of state.
There are strong arguments for change, not least that we are now a confident, independent nation in the South Pacific. Having a head of state in Britain does not match who we are in the 21st century.
And our economic and trading future is with our neighbours, not Europe.
My bill provides a choice of three options – the status quo and two republican options. The most popular republican option is probably a directly elected president (selected by single transferable vote), but I have also included as an option a president selected by 75 per cent of Parliament. I wanted all the options on the table for people to debate before a vote.
If none of the three options gains 50 per cent support, the bill provides for a runoff referendum between the two leading options.
So it would probably be a run off between the status quo and the most popular republican option.
This separation of royal roles has produced an interesting constitutional dilemma for British politicians trying to change the rules of royal succession, so that they don’t give preference to male heirs. If the British Parliament made such a change, and the New Zealand Parliament did not, the king or queen of New Zealand could end up being a different person from the king or queen of Britain.
I always say that if we have to have a royal family, we should invite Princess Madeleine of Sweden to become our head of state!
Some New Zealanders worry that we might end up with the wrong person if we elect our head of state: perhaps a celebrity who doesn’t know much about politics or, at the other end of the scale, someone too politically aligned.
My view is that we can trust the people to elect a head of state acceptable to the nation, as Ireland has in election after election. Former Irish president Mary Robinson went on to do well as the UN high commissioner on human rights.
The other thing you can do is ban any current or former MP from being elected President, if one is worried about a politician being President.
At present the governor-general lacks some independence, because he or she is appointed by the Government, has to take advice from the Government, and can be sacked by the Government. An elected head of state would not be so constrained from acting in an impartial manner.
This is a key issue, that many people do not realise. The Prime Minister can sack the Governor-General at whim, and appoint a new one without approval or even consultation with anyone.
Having a NZ Head of State, would reduce the power of the Prime Minister.