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After royal waves and smiles, a serious debate

Last updated 12:00 19/04/2014

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OPINION: The only thing the royals didn't charm was the weather.

It scarcely mattered to the crowds who turned out, come rain or drizzle, across the country to catch a glimpse, a word, or, in one Dunedin five-year-old's memorable case, a hug.

By the end of their 10 days, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George, had become Kate, William and George for many.

It would take a grumpy taxpayer to begrudge the estimated $1.2 million hosting costs given the pleasure written on so many faces.

The common refrain was that the royal couple were personable, down-to-earth and relaxed. Being attractive doesn't hurt, and neither does having a bubbly prince in tow.

Thirty years ago William was that bubbly prince on a New Zealand visit, but he has outshone his more awkward father, and Kate's natural poise and sense of adventure has her winning as much acclaim as Princess Diana.

Not that they are asked to do that much - smile, wave, shake hands and indulge in small talk - though that is a feat of endurance in itself. But a little royal celebrity goes a long way.

The couple arrived to a poll showing more New Zealanders favoured a Kiwi head of state, particularly in the younger age groups, but their appeal pushed any republican urges into the shadows.

That's not to say the debate has gone away, and nor should it.

There is something undeniably cosy about having constitutional links to the realm where many of our ancestors hailed from.

But in practical terms what else does our constitutional monarchy give us apart from the reflected warmth of being recognised by the Queen and her family, who might visit every five years so?

Some argue the constitutional monarchy is a bulwark against a system where Kiwi politicians would get access to a greater degree of power.

That assumes a replacement head of state would become a political office. But, as has been argued here before, the simple transfer of the current, limited and largely ceremonial powers of the governor-general to a non-elected president would prevent the role being politicised.

The trickier part would be to find the right person who could act as a symbol of national unity, but then again that symbol currently lives on the other side of the world.

Sir Edmund Hillary would have fitted the presidential bill, as would the current governor-general, Sir Jerry Mateparae. Whoever it is would not have the pulling power of the royal family, but that should not be a pre-requisite for the job.

New Zealand will always be linked to Britain, forged through historic, economic, family and sporting ties. Who knows, Kate, William and George may still visit even if we go our own way - if they haven't been put off by the weather.

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- The Nelson Mail

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