The cost of the monarchy

The NZ Herald reports:

New Zealand is missing out on vital relationships and economic benefits by keeping the Queen as its head of state, says a former top diplomat.

Peter Hamilton, a former Deputy Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade, said his 35-year career had brought home the missed opportunities caused by having the Queen as the country’s titular head.

“We little realise in New Zealand that we have a head of state who – no fault of hers – cannot represent and advocate for us in any meaningful manner internationally.”

It’s a good point, highlighting one of the problems of sharing out Head of State with dozens of other countries. The sensible thing is to retain our links with the Queen by having her as Head of the Commonwealth – but not as Head of State of New Zealand.

Mr Hamilton recalled being invited during his time in Berlin by the British ambassador to an official dinner during Queen Elizabeth’s state visit to Germany.

“It was a grand occasion, but it came as a shock to me to realise that here was my head of state in Berlin and she was completely unable to fulfil a key part of the role required of her – to represent in this case New Zealand’s interests in Germany.

When the Queen is outside New Zealand, she represents the United Kingdom, not us.

While New Zealand’s Governor-General can make official visits overseas, Mr Hamilton said, there was considerable international confusion on the role and status of the position.

“I can think of one European country which has a monarch as head of state which will never receive our Governor-General as equivalent to their monarch, because they know our actual head of state resides not too far away across the Channel.”

Saying “who cares?” missed the huge effect such visits could have on opening doors for New Zealand business, supporting international negotiations and campaigns and advancing the nation’s economic interests.

A New Zealand Head of State could be a dedicated Ambassador for New Zealand and our interests.

Who might be our head of state would be a decision for all New Zealanders, but the transition should happen gradually, he said.

A simple first step would be to keep the system used to appoint the Governor-General but without reference to the Queen.

My preferred option is to have the Prime Minister recommend a Head of State to Parliament, which must be passed by at least 75% majority (which would mean only someone without a partisan party background would be approved).

Mr Hamilton said New Zealand would not have to leave the Commonwealth, and royal visits could continue under that relationship.

Would be the best of both worlds.

The Herald has printed the full speech of Peter Hamilton. One extract:

‘Ok, and who is your Head of State?’

This is where the discussion gets tricky.

‘Our Head of State is Queen Elizabeth. She is represented by a Governor General in New Zealand’.

‘Governor? Why do you have the British monarch as you Head of State. Aren’t you independent?’

‘Yes, well, it’s historical, we were a British colony but we aren’t any more. In NZ, she is not the British monarch but ‘Queen of New Zealand’.

At this point, the conversation ends, with a glazed look in the eye of the person you’re talking to. They are much too polite to say it, but they wonder how a country can be independent and still have a foreigner as Head Of State. It would be inconceivable in their own situation. There is no point in trying to prolong the discussion. Perception is everything. I have found people in Asia, the Middle East and Europe particularly confused about our international persona.

And Hamilton sees a more international focus for a NZ Head of State:

Moreover, we are underutilising the office of Governor General. His or her role is no longer just domestic, although we tend to see it as limited to this.

The Governor General should be tasked to undertake a much more active role of international representation for New Zealand to complement the work of the Prime Minister and other Cabinet ministers, to open doors for New Zealand business, to support our international negotiations and campaigns and to advance our economic interests. The Governor General should be visiting our key bilateral partners much more actively than is currently the case. To not utilise the office of Governor General in this manner is a wasted opportunity.

Admittedly, it will be much easier for the Governor General to do so, and have far greater impact, when he or she goes as our actual Head of State and not as the representative of one.


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