Is $1m royal tour value for money?

Royal visit to cost at least $1million

Last updated 10:00 05/04/2014
royal tour
NZ-BOUND: The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George.

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The royal tour will cost us at least $1 million. PHILIP MATTHEWS asks if it is value for money.

Will anyone rain on the royal parade? A nine-day visit to New Zealand by Prince William, Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge and 8-month-old Prince George is imminent, so you might expect some organised opposition. Not protests or riots necessarily, but at least a hint of public disagreement.

Where is it? Polling quoted by those pushing for a New Zealand republic puts support for our own head of state at 40 per cent. That is a decent minority. Yet the republican cause stays remarkably low-profile.

Last month the New Zealand Republican Movement announced that it was rebranding itself as the New Zealand Head of State campaign. Kiwiblog seems to have been the only media outlet - to use the phrase loosely - to carry the news, and that's because its owner, David Farrar, is on the Republican Movement's council.

This was a rare occasion when the Kiwiblog community was in nearly unanimous disagreement with its leader. Comments usually go Farrar's way but in this case, they were almost entirely against. Most went no further than raising the spectre of Helen Clark or Michael Cullen or even Jim Bolger or Peter Dunne as a possible New Zealand president ousting a future King Charles.

"I would rather have a whacky (sic) eccentric as head of state than some colorless (sic) politically correct drone," wrote a Kiwiblog regular.

So much for the political blogosphere. Part of the problem for the Head of State campaign is that the issue is largely abstract for most. Replacing a hereditary head of state with our own seems like a highly principled ideal that may make little difference to everyday lives. Mortgages and power prices or an act of constitutional reform?

Would it make more sense to base a campaign around the cost? Republicans in the UK estimate that the monarchy costs British taxpayers [PndStlg]202.4 million per year, which is around five times greater than the official figure. By comparison, monarchies elsewhere in Europe are much cheaper, according to a Republic report. In Netherlands, royalty costs [PndStlg]88m. In Denmark, [PndStlg]10.5m. In Spain, just [PndStlg]7.4m.

Within that cost to taxpayers, Republic counts lost revenues from the Duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster, which add up to [PndStlg]37.7m.

Still, if the royal family are Britain's most expensive beneficiaries that's Britain's problem. And there is also the argument - a spurious one - that the monarchy is a boon to tourism.

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Bring it closer to home. The nine-day visit that starts on Monday has been estimated as costing New Zealand taxpayers a cool $1m.

Prime Minister John Key produced that figure last month when interviewed on TV3's Firstline. The estimate is based on the six-day visit by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall in 2012, which cost New Zealand taxpayers $776,000.

The Department of Internal Affairs released a cost breakdown after the tour. It showed that New Zealand and Australia shared the cost of putting Charles, Camilla and their 15 staff, including Camilla's personal hairdresser, on flights between London and Singapore and that the Royal New Zealand Air Force flew them from Canberra to Auckland and Christchurch to Singapore, along with internal flights.

Other incidental costs covered by New Zealand included "scoping assessment visits" at $21,000, accommodation and meals at $61,000, media communications at $36,000 and salaries at $287,000.

Amazingly, that trip came in under budget. The estimate that time was $1.05m.

The Prime Minister can not be more specific this time. When asked about a breakdown of that $1m, and about whether a cost benefit analysis has been undertaken, a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister said that "the Department of Internal Affairs will release information about the total cost after the visit has occurred".

And that $1m is ballpark stuff, really.

"The Prime Minister has indicated previously that the visit is anticipated to cost something in the region of $1m in total."

Is it value for money? Taxpayers Union spokesman Jordan Williams sounded slightly alarmed to be asked.

"It's not really a fiscal issue," says Williams, who became infamous when he questioned the value of around $550 of travel spending by Green MP Mojo Mathers.

The Taxpayers Union is divided on the head of state issue. Williams' fellow co-founder, David Farrar, is of course a staunch republican. Williams describes himself as "more of a monarchist".

Besides, $1m for a tour every year or so may not be so bad because "the alternative is a full- scale president or something like that," Williams says.

"In comparison, the monarchy is quite inexpensive."

Not so, says Head of State campaign chairman Savage. The campaign advocates a transition of the Governor-General position into a new New Zealand head of state.

"There would be almost no difference" in cost, Savage says.

The Head of State campaign is not opposed to a royal tour but wonders instead about its actual value to New Zealand.

"The question we're asking, more to media than anything, is what is this tour actually for? This visit is designed to promote the royal couple and is a chance for New Zealand to use their celebrity status to promote New Zealand."

In that context, the royal visit is like a version of the Hobbit films or the Amazing Race episode that featured New Zealand, only for a slightly different demographic. The country will be summed up by Queenstown scenery, Auckland yachts, Christchurch ruins, Dunedin rugby, Peter Jackson's planes and other highlights.

"It's deeply ironic that Kate Middleton (the Duchess of Cambridge) has never even been to New Zealand before, but somehow it's expected that she will one day have a constitutional role," Savage says.

Also, "we can still invite the royal couple to come to New Zealand when we have our own head of state".

Note that Savage is saying when rather than if. The Head of State campaign senses that it has historical inevitability on its side. It plays a long game.

Some have felt that a New Zealand republic would become a serious question once the present Queen died and Charles took over. The populist appeal of William and George has probably pushed that decision back by a few more decades.

But popularity is a red herring, Savage says, because the issue comes down to the right of New Zealanders to be able to choose their own head of state "rather than being told who their head of state is going to be".

The argument is a little more advanced in Australia. The Australian news website Crikey has estimated that the 10-day Australian tour that follows the nine-day New Zealand jaunt will cost their taxpayers at least A$2m.

Presumably New Zealand gets the same royal entourage as Australia, which Crikey reports includes "Kate's hairdresser, three press officers, an orderly and a nanny". As in New Zealand, they will be flown from city to city by the Air Force. The 16 hours of internal flights alone are worth A$272,000.

Republican Greg Barns described it "as a very expensive exercise in letting us all know that no Australian can be head of state".

He added that "they ought to pay for it. They're hardly over- taxed. The royal household is worth billions."

The same could be said about the trip to New Zealand. Within their nine days in New Zealand, the royals will enjoy three full days off.

In other words, we're not just paying for them to have a holiday, we're paying for them to have a holiday within their holiday.

- The Press

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