When I was at high school I was asked to do an essay for homework one night to prove my writing skill in Year 12 English. I was given a range of essay subjects to choose from. Not being terribly excited by any of the others, I decided to give one about whether New Zealand should become a republic a go. My mark if I recall correctly was not flash, but not terrible either (about 60%). Reading the teachers comments, I noticed he wanted me to explore more the reasoning around my decision. Although the mark was not as high as I had hoped for, it did set in motion my interest in New Zealand eventually becoming a republic.
So, why a republic?
In 1995 when New Zealand won the America’s Cup, a major feat for a little nation then with no more than 3.5 million people, I was a Year 10 student in High School. I had not yet really developed the appreciation I have today for the ins and outs of political governance systems, but I was not really impressed by the idea of an old lady 12,000 miles away ruling my nation, one that she rarely visits. Although my thoughts have definitely matured on the subject of Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II from those rather primitive ones of 1995, the basics remain the same.
It seemed odd then and still seems odd to me today that a nation as stable and able as New Zealand should need a Head State in the form of a Monarch nearly 20,000 kilometres away. We have developed into a nation that is the envy of many other countries around the world: stable, democratic and respectful of diversity. Although the Monarchists correctly say we are a peaceful nation, it stems in large part from addressing the grievances raised by Maori. It stems from surviving two big wars that gave us an appreciation for democratic rights, and it stems from understanding as a nation of immigrants that to reasonably comment on the origin of others, we must respect those who move here.
People worry that if New Zealand becomes a republic it would interfere with the Treaty of Waitangi and its applications. It would not. The new President and the Government would still have the same responsibilities. It is interesting to note a Bill of Parliament by former Green Party M.P. Keith Locke showed a way to negate any such interference by explicitly stating the responsibilities of the President. Although Mr Locke retired from Parliament some time ago, and the Bill never passed, it demonstrates that consideration has been given to this subject.
People worry that New Zealand would have to leave the Commonwealth if it became a Republic. Not so. India, Pakistan, Fiji, South Africa, Malaysia, Singapore, Nepal among others are all Republics and they are still part of the Commonwealth. Jamaica is considering becoming a Republic.
Australia is known to have a strong republican movement, but a referendum in the 1990’s that asked Australians whether or not they wanted to become a Republic did not give them the opportunity to determine whether or not they wanted a Parliamentary or publicly elected head of state. The referendum was therefore rejected. However many believe it is just really a matter of time before another referendum is held, and that provided the referendum does not have the mistakes of the previous referendum, would result in a Republic of Australia.
Republics are portrayed as being more unstable nations than those that are Monarchs. This is not altogether true. In fact Tonga, which was until it suffered severe riots in Nuku’alofa in 2006, was ruled as an absolute monarchy. The riots precipitated constitutional reform that increased the democratic power of the population. Substantial corruption existed and still exists in the Kingdom where a Royal funeral takes up a significant portion of the nation’s annual G.D.P.; where the national airline is owned by the head of state and the aircraft are sometimes not appropriately warranted or have safety issues.
The case for and against a republic is laid out in the New Zealand Republic Handbook (Holden L.J., 2009, pp18-25 and pp26-35 respectively).