Who do you think should be NZ’s next Governor-General?

July 25th, 2010 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Governor-General is our effective head of state, and we will get a new one announced around April 2011, to take office from August 2011.

Sadly our current constitutional arrangements means that the Governor-General is chosen solely by the Prime Minister. The decision isn’t even ratified by Cabinet, let alone Parliament. The PM can also effectively sack the Governor-General.

The Republican Movement is holding a mock nomination process for Governor-General, in anticipation of the day when more than one New Zealander will get to decide who the effective Head of State will be.

There is an information page here, and you can make your own nominations here.

I tend to favour former Judges, as they have generally been kept well away from partisan politics.

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Two bad votes from National

April 22nd, 2010 at 6:00 am by David Farrar

Very disappointed in two first reading votes case last night by the National Party.

The first was against the bill to allow a separate youth minimum wage (went down 5-117). Not only is this a u-turn from the previous position (National voted against Labour abolishing them in 2008), but it is bad public policy. The record high youth unemployment is partly due to young unskilled workers having been priced out of the market.

I wouldn’t be so annoyed if National was voting against it after it had been to select committee. But by voting it down, they are saying we don’t even want to hear the pros and cons of whether having a separate youth minimum wage could help get more young people into work.

The second bad vote is the party vote against the bill to allow New Zealanders to vote on whether or not they wish to be be a republic.

I’m really pissed off that they made it a party vote. National has had an authoritarian streak to it recently, where they are whittling down the number of issues MPs traditionally are not whipped on. They even want to remove conscience voting on alcohol. There are MPs in National (and many party members) who support NZ becoming a Republic, and they should have been allowed to say so.

And what is even more galling, is that National voted this down at first reading. I’m not advocating that the bill (in its current form) should have been voted into law automatically. But if National had allowed it to go to select committee, it would have allowed the public of New Zealand to submit on how they think the decision on republic vs monarchy should be made. That would have been an invaluable exercise.

National has denied us all the right to have our say – both on youth minimum wage rates and on our head of state.

I don’t have a problem with a party voting down a bill at first reading when they are ideologically against it (ie do not expect National to support a bill that made unions compulsory) or it seeks to reverse Government policy. But with most other issues, they are worthy of sending through to a select committee, so the public can have their say on them.

My thanks to the Labour (excluding Jim Anderton), United Future  and Green parties that supported the Republic Referendum bill, and supported allowing the public a say.

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National against letting people have a say

March 1st, 2010 at 3:53 pm by David Farrar

NZPA report:

A Green Party attempt to initiate a debate about having an elected head of state in New Zealand isn’t going to get very far.

MP Keith Locke drafted the member’s bill, which is on Parliament’s agenda for a first reading.

He had hoped it would get through the first reading so it could be sent to a select committee for public discussions, but Prime Minister John Key today ruled that out.

“We’re opposed” was his brief response when he was asked about the bill on TV One’s Breakfast programme.

Unless the Government supports members’ bills, they have no chance of getting through a first reading.

It can get through, if the Maori Party and ACT vote in favour of letting the public have a say, even though National doesn’t want people to have a say.

I’m incredibly disappointed that National won’t even vote in favour of the bill going to select committee, let alone allow MPs a conscience vote on the issue.

Regardless of whether or not you think we should stay with the monarchy, or become a republic, you probably agree with me that any decision is one that should rest with the people, not with Parliament.

Locke’s bill, would have been the first ever time that member of the public could submit to a select committee on what they think the process should be for New Zealander to eventually make a decision. Even if the bill did not proceed past select committee, just allowing submissions would in itself enable the public to have a say on how they think NZ should eventually make this decision.

If the Government is unwilling to let the bill go to select committee, then the Government should tell us what their process is for allowing New Zealanders to progress this issue. I don’t regard it as acceptable to just vote the bill down, and not outline any alternate approach to such an important issue.

I also hope that National MPs are allowed a conscience vote on this issue. There is no reason this needs to be party whipped. In both National and Labour, there are republicans and monarchists.

Many supporter of National are also Republicans. It will be unfortunate if the message the Government gives them is that the only way to have your say on this issue, is to change the Government.

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You don’t get a choice with monarchy

January 19th, 2010 at 10:03 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

As Prince William prepares to leave New Zealand, a poll of the Herald reader panel shows the 27-year-old in a neck-and-neck race with his father as the popular choice to succeed the Queen.

The survey – taken before the Prince’s three-day tour – found 33.3 per cent wanted Prince Charles to be the next monarch, with 30.2 per cent favouring William. But 29.4 per cent of respondents preferred a republic in the event Queen Elizabeth II died or abdicated.

The poll is a silly one, as the public don’t get any choice in who the next Monarch will be. There is no choice. There is no decision based on merit or suitability. It is based purely on the line of succession.

The Queen has made it clear she will never abdicate, and Charles has made it clear he will become King. So if NZ stays a monarchy, when might we expect Charles and William to become King?

  • Queen Elizabeth II is aged 83. She is in excellent health. Her mother got to age 101, despite a rumoured high daily intake of alcohol. So we can assume QEII will make at least 100, so likely to reign until 2026.
  • In 2026, Charles may become King at the age of 78. Now his father is currently aged 88 and also looks likely to reach 100, so no reason that Charles wouldn’t also – especially as they get the finest healthcare in the world. So Charles may reign until 2048.
  • In 2048 Prince William would finally become King. Not as the charming young man who toured today, but as a 64 year old

This is one of the problems with a monarchy. They reign until they die.

The Dom Post editorial today says:

Green list MP Keith Locke has finally had his Head of State Referenda Bill, which he has waited seven years to have pulled from the members’ ballot, selected for debate by Parliament. It is to be hoped MPs will allow it to reach a select committee, so that those who feel strongly about retaining links with the British monarchy or electing a president as head of state can have their say.

Mr Locke believes strong arguments exist 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”. Monarchists disagree. They feel respect for Prince William’s granny, a woman who has dedicated her entire life to duty, unlike some of her offspring, and great affection for Charles’ and Diana’s elder son.

Though Parliament last considered our constitutional arrangements via a select committee inquiry only in 2005, it can do no harm to discuss it again.

The select inquiry was very wide ranging. Locke’s bill would allow New Zealanders to submit on what they think the procedure should be to make a decision on monarchy vs republicanism. For ultimately it is a decision for the people, not for politicians. The job of the politicians is to agree on a process to let the people decide.

UPDATE: Hopefully both monarchists and republicans can enjoy Cactus Kate’s letter home to the Queen from Prince William. Very funny.

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Locke on his Head of State Bill

December 30th, 2009 at 3:30 pm by David Farrar

Keith Locke writes in the Dominion Post:

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.

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Catholics and girls move up the order

November 26th, 2009 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Telegraph reports:

Gordon Brown has paved the way for sweeping changes to the 300-year-old law which prevents Roman Catholics ascending to the throne.

Mr Brown has made it clear he also wants to change the rule of primogeniture, which prevents women taking their place ahead of men in the line to the throne.

The Prime Minister will travel to a Commonwealth summit in Trinidad today and will raise the controversial issue fellow heads of government.

Good to see some modernisation. It has been bizarre that Catholics have been barred from becoming the New Zealand Head of State.

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Republic Referendum Bill selected in ballot

October 14th, 2009 at 12:20 pm by David Farrar

Keith Locke’s bill which would allow the public to vote in a binding referendum on our head of state has been selected from the ballot, after many years on the ballot paper.

I remarked a couple of weeks at the launch of the Republic of New Zealand handbook that Keith seems to be the only Green MP without the luck of the ballot, but this has changed now!

Keith’s bill is online here.

I hope all MPs will support it at first reading, regardless of their personal views on the merits of the monarchy vs a republic. This is about letting the public have a debate and a vote. Or at the least, all parties will allow MPs a conscience vote on it.

The bill would trigger a referendum at the next general election after it is passed, on whether to “continue with the Sovereign as head of State, or to change to either a head of State appointed by a vote of at least 75% of the House of Representatives, or a head of State directly elected by the people.”

If a majority vote for change, then a year later a second referendum is held between the two most popular options. So the first ballot would be a choice of three options:

  1. Vote for the Sovereign to continue as NZ’s Head of State
  2. Vote for a Head of State to be appointed by at least 75% of the house of Representatives
  3. Vote for a Head of State to be directly elected by the people

And the two most popular options would go forward to the second referendum. In all probablity this would be option (1) and one of the two other options.

The bill is not perfect, but is totally deserving of select committee consideration, so the public can have their say on whether they want there to be a binding referendum, and if so what form that should take.

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Three things on tonight in Wellington

September 23rd, 2009 at 1:30 pm by David Farrar

The New Zealand Republic Handbook is being launched at Parliament tonight.

The Handbook is a guide to creating a New Zealand republic and covers the issues of New Zealand becoming a republic plus the arguments for and against republicanism in New Zealand.

The launch is in the Grand Hall at Parliament. Drinks and nibbles start at 5.30 pm and speechs are from 6 pm to 6.30 pm. Speakers are Hon Peter Dunne from United Future, Phil Twyford from Labour, Hauraki-Waikato MP Nanaia Mahuta and Green MP Keith Locke plus Republican Movement Chair Lewis Holden. And so long as my dentist appointment at 10 am today doesn’t end up involving anaesthetics, I am the MC for the function.

MPs, parliamentary staff and press gallery are all welcome to attend. Around 30 MPs, from pretty much every party, have already RSVP’d but there is no need to do so if you work in Parliament. If you do not work at Parliament and would like to attend e-mail events@republic.org.nz so your name can be given to security.

After that Parliament should be debating the 1st reading of the VSM Bill which will restore to tertiary students the right to decide if they want to join a student association or not. Not that many laws result in more freedom, not less, so worth supporting.

And later that evening, we have Backbenches at the Backbencher, with live filming from 9.10 pm. MPs are:

  • John Boscawen, ACT
  • Keith Locke, Greens
  • Damien O’Connor, Labour
  • Pesata Sam Lotu-Iiga

Topics include how to spell Wanganui and what should be on Letterman’s Top Ten for John Key.

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National Republicans at Lunch

August 1st, 2009 at 6:50 am by David Farrar

I suggested a few days ago that any Nats at the party conference who are Republicans grab lunch with Lewis Holden (Republican Movement Chair) and myself to chat about getting an informal group going within National.

I’ve just realised I won’t be at lunch, as I’ll be helping with the vote counting program for the board elections. So don’t look for me, look for Lewis.

lewis

Lewis is the one on the right!

Alternatively just do what a dozen or so have already done and e-mail me to be added to a list of interested people within National.

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Are you a Nat and a Republican?

July 30th, 2009 at 10:31 am by David Farrar

The Republican Movement has members from pretty much every political party – from ACT to the Greens. Some of those supporters have set up an informal network within their respective parties to discuss republican and associated constitutional issues.

I’d be keen to get such an informal group going within National. I’m on the Executive of the Republican Movement, and the Chair, Lewis Holden, is also a Nat.

If you are going to be at the annual conference this weekend, and think that in the future New Zealand should move from the status quo to having a New Zealander as Head of State, make yourself known to Lewis or myself. I suggest we try and grab a bite together at Saturday lunchtime? Delegates, observers and MPs all welcome.

If you won’t be at conference but would like to be added to some sort of mailing list for “National Republicans” then drop me an e-mail.

I find the issue fascinating, because it is not just about do we want Prince Charles to be King of New Zealand one day. It is about would you appoint or elect a Head of State. What powers, if any, do they have. Do you also move to a written constitution? Do you entrench the Bill of Rights and allow laws to be judically reviewed against them? What limits should there be, if any, on parliamentary supremacy. Do we want to continue with the Pr

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Herald and ODT disagree on a Republic

April 30th, 2009 at 6:19 am by David Farrar

I prefer the Herald’s take:

Peter Dunne’s renewed call for New Zealand to have a referendum on becoming a republic was accompanied by a canny observation. “I am tired of politicians who say it is probably inevitable we will become a republic at some stage but who are unwilling to do anything to bring it about – that is extremely weak,” said the United Future leader.

No names were mentioned but Helen Clark is an obvious candidate for Mr Dunne’s list of loafers. So is Kevin Rudd, who has scotched the enthusiasm for an Australian republic voiced at his own Government’s 2020 summit.

So, too, is John Key. Both Prime Ministers have suggested that cutting free the monarchy is not a priority, given the many serious issues facing their countries. More likely, they see no political gain in committing to a process that would deliver this outcome.

Clark and Key are both republicans with a small r. They think it is inevitable and we should end up there, but will do nothing to bring it about. This is very frustrating for those of us who would like to see change earlier.

Any decision will be a matter for the public to vote on, but we deserve a debate and then a decision.

An increasing disconnection during her reign has added to the inherent oddness of this country’s head of state residing on the other side of the globe. New Zealanders have become blas’e about visits by members of the royal family. Buckingham Palace revealed a similar trait with its tardiness in acknowledging the passing of Sir Edmund Hillary.

The misstep was compounded in public perception when no member of the royal family attended the funeral of Sir Edmund, this country’s most eminent citizen and a man whose conquest of Everest provided a triumphant note to the Queen’s own coronation.

If a republic is, indeed, inevitable, why wait until the end of the Queen’s reign? Delay in the implementation of any good idea serves no good purpose. In the case of a republic, it only postpones the benefits implicit in the pursuit of a singular, unambiguous identity.

I’m pragmatic. I’d happily become a republic on 1 January 2010 which we could do by making the GG the Head of State and have him or her appointed by a super-majority (say 75%) of Parliament. But if one can onyl get majority support by having the move to a republic occur on the death of QEII, then I’m willing to wait.

The ODT disagrees:

Calls for New Zealand to become a republic sound again as the noise of the bugles of Anzac commemorations drift into the distance.

The timing is somewhat coincidental. It is also the time of the Queen’s actual birthday, which is why this debate often flares up at this time of year.

Mr Key, like other observers, has noted the inexorable trend towards severing New Zealand’s last ties with Britain and its monarch but does not see any need for change any time soon.

This is the sensible, pragmatic approach, recognising that our current constitutional arrangements work well.

If the system is not broken then it is hazardous to try to “fix” it.

Although New Zealand’s titular head lives in a land far off geographically and increasingly distant in other ways – and hereditary rule is an anachronism – what is wrong with that when such arrangements can and do work?

There is an opportunity cost.

New Zealand’s healthy democracy is built on the Westminster system and its “unwritten constitution”, and constitutional monarchy has adapted to and survived the rigours of time.

We saw with the Electoral Finance Act that a healthy democracy doesn’t trump a parliamentary majority that will pass the Electoral Finance Act, retrospectively amend the Electoral Act and strike out valid lawsuits.

The current constutional arrangements give the PM immense power. The PM can get the GG sacked at whim. The PM effectively unilaterally appoints the GG.  Having the effective Head of State appointed by a 75% majority of Parliament would reduce the power of the PM, and that is a good thing.

For a start, the process towards a written constitution, a prerequisite for a republic, is daunting.

Would New Zealand return to an upper and lower house? Would the president be elected at large or appointed? How would the Treaty of Waitangi fit?

Would referendums be required on the place of the treaty which, after all, was between the Crown in Britain and Maori chiefs and, like all treaties, was to solve specific problems in a specific time?

Mostly red herrings. I actually would like to see NZ have a written constution that would make it harder for MPs to take away my freedom of speech. But the move to a republic could be done by a few extra clauses added to the Constitution Act 1986.

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A constitutional examination

March 22nd, 2009 at 9:08 am by David Farrar

The HoS reports:

Top constitutional lawyer Alison Quentin-Baxter and Dundee University law professor Janet McLean will spend three years examining strengths, uncertainties and inadequacies in the country’s constitutional arrangements that will be published as a book.

The Cabinet Office is recruiting a legal researcher who will be based in the office and have access to its files.

This is an excellent thing to do. Events of recent years such as the shattering of the bipartisan convention to major changes to the Electoral Act have shown how uncertain our unwritten constitutional conventions are.

Even minor conventions such as Cabinet collective responsibility have been watered down that they no longer really exist. In fact some say they never did – it was always just a pragmatic practice, not a convention – so where is the line?

For me the most outraegous behaviour, in constitutional terms, was when a narrow majority in Parliament retrospectively amended the Electoral Act to keep Harry Duynhoven in Parliament despite the fact he was no longer eligible to remain an MP, and should have had to contest a by-election to be re-elected. When MPs can amend the Electoral Act by narrow majority to stop an election, we don’t have a lot of protection – just the Governor-General and they can be effectively sacked by the Prime Minister at whim.

Hence one reason I support having a Head of State who can not be sacked by the PM at whim, and a written constitution.

The research was hailed as “very positive” by former Governor-General Dame Cath Tizard, who for six years was the Queen’s representative in New Zealand.

The project would help New Zealand avoid getting into a muddle in the future, she said.

“My instincts are towards becoming a republic but I would want to ensure the change went smoothly. The Australians just barged into it and stuffed the whole thing up. Nobody had thought through the consequences.”

The research is not linked to NZ becoming a republic, but I agree it will be very useful to have had it done so that any future change can be well informed.

Yesterday, Prime Minister John Key emphasised that the book was an independent project. “I’ve made it clear that I think New Zealand will eventually become a republic but I have no plans to push that forward and it won’t happen on my watch.”

I think the logical time to have a vote on change is when the Queen dies. Hopefully that is many years off.

Quentin-Baxter said the book would spell out the constitutional law and conventions regarding the power and influence of the Queen and her New Zealand representative, the governor-general. The authors would note any areas of confusion or controversy, but would not propose law changes.

One “shadowy” area, for example, was what power the governor-general has in forming a government if an MMP election produces a stalemate. …

The book would be neutral on the question of whether New Zealand becomes a republic, she said.

However, if New Zealanders voted in a referendum to have their own president to succeed the Queen, it would be an “indispensable guide” in working out where changes to our constitutional arrangements were needed.

Yep it sounds very useful. Not useful in the sense of something you can eat or drive, but useful for policy wonks!

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Attorney-General Finlayson

November 20th, 2008 at 10:12 am by David Farrar

The Herald profiles the new Attorney-General Christopher Finlayson:

“I’ve always thought it was a really interesting job. As I’ve got involved in law more and more, you see that the poor old Attorney-General is the most-sued person in the realm and you see the sort of responsibilities he or she has.

“It’s an ancient office and it has huge responsibilities. I regard it as, frankly, the highlight of my career to get the job.”

Chris will be a very popular choice within the legal fraternity. He is or was a member of the High Court’s Rules Committee and has appeared before the Privy Council close to a dozen times.

An advocate for constitutional convention, Mr Finlayson says he has a “pragmatic rather than an emotional view” on republicanism. His own view is that “the time will come” for New Zealand, especially given Australia’s move in that direction under the Rudd Government.

“I’m very loyal to the current monarch but I’d be in the camp that says on the demise of the Queen there will be a number of countries in the Commonwealth that will be reviewing their constitutional arrangements and that’s probably a good thing. If so, it won’t be an anti-British thing. It’s just New Zealand’s evolution as a country.”

Sounds sensible.

Mr Finlayson is also likely to be involved in any review of electoral finance laws after his party repeals the Electoral Finance Act, although the exact plans are “something the Cabinet will have to look at”.

“What I really disliked about that act was this notion of third parties, that the public and representatives of the public were some kind of interlopers into the political game which was really for the politicians.

“I found that profoundly offensive. We are the servants. It’s the public’s electoral system.”

Absolutely. Labour and its allies tried to hijack it for their own gain.

It was also “atrociously drafted”. For the law reform fanatic who has worked for 30 years to become the Attorney-General, that is perhaps its worst sin of all.

Is there a word beyond atricious?

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Poor Prince Charles

November 14th, 2008 at 9:55 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports how much Prince Charles dislikes touring New Zealand:

The Prince wrote to friends at the time that if “one more New Zealand child asks me what it’s like to be a prince, I shall go demented”, the Guardian newspaper reported yesterday.

Charles will become King of New Zealand when the Queen dies. As readers will know, I prefer Republic with a written constitution.

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Presidential Voting still open

October 2nd, 2008 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

There’s still one month left to vote for your preferred President, in the fictional President of NZ Election.

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Elect the President

September 16th, 2008 at 9:45 am by David Farrar

Over 1,300 people voted in the initial ballot for the yet to be created position of President of New Zealand. The ten candidates have been reduced to five. Those who dropped out were:

  1. Sir Douglas Graham
  2. Sir Robert Jones
  3. Sir Kenneth Keith
  4. Don McKinnon
  5. Vincent O’Sullivan

The five remaining candidates are:

  1. Professor James Belich
  2. Jim Bolger
  3. Dr Claudia Orange
  4. Dame Kiri Te Kanawa
  5. Sir Wilson Whineray.

Both lists are in alphabetical order.

Voting has now opened for the final ballot to select a President from the five remaining candidates.

You can vote online here. It is a ranked preferential ballot, so rank your top choice “1″ and your bottom choice “5″. Voting closes on Friday 31 October 2008 so we will get to find out who our fictional President is a week or more before we find out who his or her Prime Minister will be :-)

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Vote for your Head of State

August 15th, 2008 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Voting is now open in the first round of elections for New Zealand’s next head of State, organised by the Republican Movement who would like such an election to be for real.

The candidates are here.

You can vote in round one here by ranking the candidates from 1 to 10. The top five candidates will go through to a second round of voting. This round closes at 12 pm on Monday 15 September 2008.

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And the nominees are …

August 1st, 2008 at 12:38 pm by David Farrar

The Republican Movement has announced the top ten nominees for the position of President of New Zealand. A mock election will be run online later this year. The nominees are:

  • James Belich
  • Jim Bolger
  • Sir Douglas Graham
  • Sir Robert Jones
  • Sir Kenneth Keith
  • Don McKinnon
  • Claudia Orange
  • Vincent O’Sullivan
  • Dame Kiri Te Kanawa
  • Sir Wilson Whineray

The first round of voting will see five candidates eliminated. Then there will be a series of further votes until there is a winner.

I’m not sure who my preference would be at this stage. Possibly Dame Kiri as she would be wonderfully politically incorrect at times!

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Nominate a President

July 7th, 2008 at 11:29 am by David Farrar

One day New Zealand will be able to choose a New Zealander as Head of State. We’re not quite there yet, but to get people thinking about it, the Repubican Movement has opened nominations for New Zealand’s 1st President.

Just go on through and nominate the New Zealand you would most like as our first NZ Head of State.

The top five nominees will then be announced, and a series of votes held to select a winner.

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