A republic New Zealand is overdue

JAMES SHAW
Last updated 08:51 12/11/2012
Prince Charles
REUTERS

TIME FOR A CHANGE? Prince Charles and Camilla are nice people but, like Charles' mum, not Kiwis.

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OPINION: Over the past 20 years, a slew of prime ministers have told us they believe it's inevitable that New Zealand will become a republic. Generally while ducking any chance of letting it happen on their watch.

If it is inevitable, what can possibly be holding us back?

Do we really prefer the lottery of genetics and the trappings of bygone years to the will of the people, simply expressed? Is it the pageantry and splendour? We have our own, should we want to spend up large on it.

Is it the special character of the royal few? Charles seems like a good bloke. He and I support many of the same causes. His heart is in the right place and he's coming to celebrate a special occasion for his mum. We can all relate to that.

We should wish them both and their family well and accord them every respect due a visiting foreign dignitary. Because in the end he is not a Kiwi, and nor is his mum. And we can't expect them to be. When England faces the All Blacks, which team should the British Royal Family cheer for?

So, when they visit our shores, why this pretence that they are our own special people and somehow in charge?

For a fully self-governing, mature nation to maintain the fiction of a monarchy that lives on the polar opposite side of the planet makes no sense.

For a multicultural, pluralistic, liberal democracy to personify itself symbolically in a hereditary monarch, is not merely illogical, it is bizarre. It is the relic of a bygone era, a political anachronism whose persistence is increasingly difficult to explain.

This is not to deny the cultural and intellectual inheritance that New Zealand has received from Britain. Our parliamentary system is modelled on Westminster, infused with a tradition of justice and rational self-rule that reaches back to the Magna Carta.

We have, if anything, done our Kiwi best to improve upon the model we inherited. We have pared away the vestiges that we don't need, and adapted to changing circumstances. Our system works for us because we have made it our own. And yet we haven't. Not entirely. Not quite. Why is that? It should be a simple matter to reform the means by which our head of state is selected. We could put it directly into the hands of the voting public. Or we could leave it to Parliament, as we leave it to them to appoint the governor-general. That seems to work pretty well.

Certainly it need be no more complicated than reforming how we elect our parliamentarians, which we did in 1996 and reaffirmed in a referendum last year. The rest of the machinery of government could be left intact to function as it always has.

The entity that we now call "the Crown" would have all the same functions, powers - and responsibilities. The status of the Treaty of Waitangi would remain as is. The change could be as minimal (albeit with a little constitutional tidying up) as changing the job title of the governor-general.

Call them what you like. The only difference would be that "Kiwi Number One", the one wearing the metaphorical fancy hat, would be one of our own. Representing, symbolising, and chosen by, us.

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James Shaw is a member of Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand and a Green Party member.


- The Dominion Post

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