Do you want a republic?

Written By: - Date published: 7:30 am, October 15th, 2009 - 38 comments
Categories: Parliament, referendum - Tags:

Republicanism is a funny issue. Politicians tend to agree that it is inevitable that “at some point” NZ will become a republic, but no one is prepared to take the job on. Well, fate has tilted the table. Yesterday Keith Locke’s bill was drawn from the member’s ballot.

The bill sets out a two-step referendum process on whether to become a republic (see NRT for details). It’s not a radical proposal. The powers of the President would be the same as the present Governor-General. All that would change is that the President would be selected by a different process, and the vestigial ties to the English monarchy would be severed. It is aptly named the “Head of State Referenda Bill”, because that is all it affects.

In my opinion it is well past time for a republic. I hope the government takes the hint from fate and uses this as an opportunity to finally address the issue. But I suspect that it will squash the initiative. One Labour step in this direction, an independent honours system, has already been rolled back. Another step, replacing the Privy Council with our own Supreme Court, met with significant opposition. (How much of that was genuine, and how much part of the faux outrage pantomime that was used so relentlessly to attack the last government?) And of course, Key may well be wary of further antagonising his conservative base, still smarting over the Section 59 referendum and now no doubt the MTS victory over screening the rugby.

So, my guess is that Key will (as usual) punt the issue and have the government vote this bill down. But should he? What do you think – republic – yes, no, or doesn’t this (largely symbolic) change matter?

38 comments on “Do you want a republic?”

  1. gitmo 1

    I’d go for it doesn’t really matter.

    If the question is to be asked tack it onto the next general election so we don’t have to flush millions down the toilet running a referendum.

    Re the privy council/supreme court IMO that was a much different issue and rested on whether we believe a NZ supreme court and the judges thereon have as much legal nouse as what we could access in the privy council.

    • felix 1.1

      The cost is millions whether you do it at election time or not. You appear to have bought into a rather transparent bit of spin there my friend.

      • gitmo 1.1.1

        I think you’ll find that running them at exactly the same time would deliver significant savings.

        • felix

          The Chief Electoral Officer disagrees. As does the Ministry of Justice.

          • gitmo

            If there are no cost savings to be had holding a referendum at the same time as a general election you have to think that these people are incapable of holding a piss up in a brewery.

            • felix

              Of course there are cost savings – just not very significant ones as you suggested.

              From memory the estimates in the official advice were around 5 – 7 mil for a referendum at the general election and around 6 – 8 for a standalone referendum.

              The advice also noted that holding a referendum at the general election in 1999 created a lot of extra work for those working at the polling booths and considerably slowed the whole process.

              The only advantage I can see is that you probably get higher rates of participation but that doesn’t mean that anyone is any better informed about the issue.

              There may well be other arguments in favour on holding referenda at a general election, but “significant savings” just isn’t one of them. A couple of million every what – nine years? Quick, better hire a team of purchase advisors to have a look at that, eh?

            • Herodotus

              I think that some of the cost is for eductaing the masses on the topic, TV & Radio will be wall to wall public advertising.
              With a review on MMP and then this + voting. It will be far to confusing. I may mix up my votes. All this and a RWC, perhaps that is why there is a joint bid by the TV stations (Master stroke by JK) we can have all the political stuf at 1/2 time think of the absorbition rates. I hope that they also include on the referendum Who should be the next coach.

            • Draco T Bastard


              You need to hire more people to do the extra counting making the cost savings insignificant.

  2. The private members bills that have been drawn from the ballot this year have been fascinating. It is hilarious how the bill that will cause the most embarrassment to the government seem to be picked. It is good to see this trend continuing.

    Roll on the republic. Why we should have as our head of state someone on the opposite side of the world whose only qualification is being born in the right family is beyond me.

    If we really want a pluralistic society where worth is measured by ability and where privilege is a thing of the past then we should start at the top.

  3. Ron 3

    In favour of Republic, myself but it won’t get past the NZ public for mny years yet. The Honours system debacle illustrated this very clearly. The people waned to bow and scrape to a Sir or Dame in their St.. They still love “their” queen. Unfortunately I think the referendums will be a giant waste of money.

  4. Scott 4

    Yes please. We’re mature enough as a nation to stand on our own. We’re not “Little Englanders” any more.

    And anything that pisses off conservative types must be a good thing…

  5. BLiP 5

    No. Not until Maori say the Treaty of Waitangi is being honoured in law and in spirit.

    • r0b 5.1

      Interesting. Please elaborate. Does the “Crown” really have any practical impact on treaty issues or is it purely symbolic?

      Could not this be handled by a special clause in whatever legislation is passed such that the Republic has all the same treaty obligations as the Crown?

      • BLiP 5.1.1

        No doubt there are all sorts of clever little legal mechanisms, but why water down the original agreement. Need I remind you:

        Ko te tuatoru

        Hei wakaritenga mai hoki tenei mo te wakaaetanga ki te Kawanatanga o te Kuini Ka tiakina e te Kuini o Ingarani nga tangata maori katoa o Nu Tirani ka tukua ki a ratou nga tikanga katoa rite tahi ki ana mea ki nga tangata o Ingarani.

        We’re still waiting.

      • Rich 5.1.2

        It’s a complete myth that Ti Tiriti is in any way a personal treaty between the Windsor descendants and Maori. Hobson was a delegate from the quasi-elected British government, and the treaty was between Maori and the government of Britain – and hence its successors.

        “The Crown” is simply shorthand for that government. Today, ‘the Crown” is the Government of New Zealand, acting as a legal person. When we become a republic, The Crown will simply be replaced by “The Republic Of New Zealand” or similar words.

  6. fidolx 6

    its time for us to have a short clear debate about some people’s need to continually suck on the pap of ‘mother england’. As an immigrant from Scotland, having to give an oath of allegiance to the Queen rather than the people of New Zealand at my citizenship ceremony was the only thing that made me uncomfortable on a very proud day. Time for change was the cry of the media before the last election – now is time for a real change. Time for a Republic of Aotearoa….

    • Draco T Bastard 6.1

      There are, unfortunately, always some people who want to look to higher authority. They’re almost always conservatives.

  7. Absolutely, but then I am the Chair of the Republican Movement 🙂

  8. You can never go past Monty Python for succinct ridicule of privilege. This is from Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

    ARTHUR Well … I AM king.
    DENNIS Oh, very nice. King, eh! I expect you’ve got a palace and fine clothes and courtiers and plenty of food. And how d’you get that? By exploiting the workers! By hanging on to outdated imperialist dogma which perpetuates the social and economic differences in our society! If there’s EVER going to be any progress …
    OLD WOMAN Dennis! There’s some lovely filth down here … Oh! how d’you do?
    ARTHUR How d’you do, good lady … I am Arthur, King of the Britons … can you tell me who lives in that castle?
    OLD WOMAN King of the WHO?
    ARTHUR The Britons.
    OLD WOMAN Who are the Britons?
    ARTHUR All of us are … we are all Britons and I am your king ….
    OLD WOMAN Ooooh! I didn’t know we had a king. I thought we were an autonomous collective …
    DENNIS You’re fooling yourself. We’re living in a dictatorship, A self-perpetuating autocracy in which the working classes …
    OLD WOMAN There you are, bringing class into it again …
    DENNIS That’s what it’s all about … If only –
    ARTHUR Please, please good people. I am in haste. What knight lives in that castle?
    OLD WOMAN No one live there.
    ARTHUR Well, who is your lord?
    OLD WOMAN We don’t have a lord.
    ARTHUR What?
    DENNIS I told you, We’re an anarcho-syndicalist commune, we take it in turns to act as a sort of executive officer for the week.
    ARTHUR Yes.
    DENNIS But all the decision of that officer …
    ARTHUR Yes, I see.
    DENNIS … must be approved at a bi-weekly meeting by a simple majority in the case of purely internal affairs.
    ARTHUR Be quiet!
    DENNIS … but a two-thirds majority …
    ARTHUR Be quiet! I order you to shut up.
    OLD WOMAN Order, eh — who does he think he is?
    ARTHUR I am your king!
    OLD WOMAN Well, I didn’t vote for you.
    ARTHUR You don’t vote for kings.
    OLD WOMAN Well, how did you become king, then?
    ARTHUR The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held Excalibur aloft from the bosom of the water to signify by Divine Providence … that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur … That is why I am your king!
    OLD WOMAN Is Frank in? He’d be able to deal with this one.
    DENNIS Look, strange women lying on their backs in ponds handing out swords … that’s no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.
    ARTHUR Be quiet!
    DENNIS You can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just ’cause some watery tart threw a sword at you!
    ARTHUR Shut up!
    DENNIS I mean, if I went around saying I was an Emperor because some moistened bint had lobbed a scimitar at me, people would put me away!
    ARTHUR (Grabbing him by the collar) Shut up, will you. Shut up!
    DENNIS Ah! NOW … we see the violence inherent in the system.
    ARTHUR Shut up!
    DENNIS (calling) Come and see the violence inherent in the system. Help, help, I’m being repressed!

    • Ianmac 8.1

      Brilliant Micky. Says it all.
      However I am sure that John Key’s third wish was to be a Sir. There is no way that he would jeopardise that!

  9. I honestly can’t decide either way, what I do find intriguing is why the right are so keen for it at times. Presumably becoming a republic would entail some kind of constitution and a court that has power over parliament. I wonder what a court might say about the Treaty of Waitangi?

    • Draco T Bastard 9.1

      Becoming a republic doesn’t necessitate a written constitution. This bill leaves our government unchanged.

    • Ari 9.2

      We already have a constitution, which includes the Treaty of Waitangi. It’s just not a single codified document.

  10. barry 10

    I dont know which is best.
    With the current system we have a stable head of state (not the person – the instituion); it really, really cheap; its non-political and the system is respected.

    Its also -at first glance – apparently anachronistic. But a bit of examaination shows that the Commonwealth has been pretty successful as an organisation (it certainly has a lot more repect that the increasingly corrput UN) and its hard to find examples of where the current system has gone wrong.

    Im uncertain about what method we would use to run a republic however. It would inevitably involve heaps of politics and to be frank Im not that impressed with the various republics around the world. Why would we run ours any better. (you have to exclude Australia and Canada from the comparison list – as they are really an association of states rather than a single country. Candian states can dis-associate if they wanted to by vote. Australian states have their own Governor General – except the NT and canberra and a couple of other bits)

    Then we are left with:
    Japan – corruptiuon and neoptism
    USA – enough said (not a lot to aspire to in the US system)
    China – did you say human rights?
    France – possible, but their restaurants close for lunch.
    Germany – mmmmm. Theyd follow hitler if he came back.
    Italy – yea – right.
    Most of Latin America – No thanks
    India – did you say human rights again?
    Russia – see china and india and pakistan and afganistan and most arab states.
    most of Africa – Ah – now heres some opportunities for – well almost evrything thats wrong with the human race.

    You see – not a lot to get excited about here in regard to how republics actually turn out despite the best intentions.

    Except switzerland – where they vote for almost everything – even for the acceptance of new residents into your canton. But that would never work here – It would mean that we would effectively have compulsory and binding referendum – and that wouldnt do.

    So I cant see what there is to gain in the short run. Maori wont allow it anyway.

  11. Rich 11

    Eventually, we’ll run out of monarchs. The Windsors will fail to produce a succesor who isn’t criminal, gay (nothing wrong with that as far as I’m concerned, but the Sun would disagree) or with a florid psychiatric illness.

    So the Brits (or the English, because they might be the only ones left) will suddenly have to scrabble with an alternative to monarchy, and come up with an appointed president or some such.

    We’ll then suddenly have to wake up and find ourselves a 21st century form of government, because (as happened with the Statute of Westminster) the colonial option will have been taken away from us.

  12. Heck I would like a republic and a President, we should adopt the American system.

    • Daveo 12.1

      Even America doesn’t impose the American system anymore when it rebuilds countries it’s invaded.

    • Ari 12.2

      The American system is terrible in oh so many ways. The executive presidency has been and continues to be a constitutional disaster that, at best, some presidents choose not to abuse.

      One of the big PR problems of republicanism is getting people to not associate it with the american executive-presidency arrangement.

    • Cal 12.3

      Ugh no way would I want the American system! I’d prefer the Icelandic one, which seems to be what Keith Locke is suggesting. Nothing too radicle, but a change all the same.
      It’ll probably happen once we’ve had to put King Charles’ mug on our coins.

    • Pascal's bookie 12.4

      How would the US system even work in a country as small as NZ?

      Would the regional councils become States?

      • felix 12.4.1

        I think Brett really means he wants more country & western bars and grid iron teams. (He also thinks it means we’d have Obama as our president.)

  13. Herodotus 13

    According to Machiavelli we should go with either Sparta (Greens may not support the Militiary and the “Maleness” of the society, but their non ownership and communial living may get a tick) or the Venician style (Also Greens may not agree on the immigration concept of both!). We tried Rogernomics as a theory put into practice why not try a Political theory to see if it will fly?

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