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?