Herald and ODT disagree on a Republic

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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