Peter Dunne advocates a Republic of New Zealand

DISCLAIMER: I am a supporter of a New Zealand Republic if a binding referendum finds New Zealanders to be in favour.

When Peter Dunne made his valedictory speech today, several weeks after quitting Parliament, he advocated that New Zealand become a republic. Mr Dunne, who has been an advocate for constitutional reform for the duration of his time in Parliament, has triggered a divided reaction on social media.

The Stuff media item has a poll, that I read at the time of writing this article, showed a narrow lead in favour of a Republic. Commentary was as divided as it was often ill informed, with many people not being clear on how a republic works or even why they opposed one.

So, below I ask and answer some key questions about New Zealand and the Republic debate. The answers to all these questions and more can be found and explored in greater detail in:

Holden L.J., “The New Zealand Republic Handbook”, 2009

What is a Republic

A Republic is a style of governance where supreme power is reliant on the consent of the citizens it governs. There is no hereditary leader like in a Monarchy where succession is passed on down through a royal family. In a Republic the President is either directly elected (such as in the United States), or by an elected assembly.

What types of Republic are there?

There are several types of Republic, notably the Parliamentary Republic, Presidential Republic, Islamic Republic and Peoples Republic.

Perhaps the most famous is the Presidential Republic, which is the style of the United States, where the President is not only head of state, but also the chief decision maker. New Zealand, whilst not being one, is closest to the Parliamentary Republic in that there is already a Parliamentary structure in place, headed by the Prime Minister. The role of a President would be most likely to appoint/dismiss Governments, receive heads of state and – heaven forbid – declare war.

The other two Republic types that are well known are the Islamic Republic and the Peoples Republic. Iran is an Islamic Republic with a Supreme Ayatollah who is the head of state and has influence on the President of Iran. The final one is the Peoples Republic, which variously includes – but is effectively the same in function – the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (North Korea), Democratic Republic of the Congo and the People’s Republic of China (China – not to be confused with Republic of China (Taiwan))

Will New Zealand have to leave the Commonwealth?

No. Numerous nations in the Commonwealth are Republics – Fiji, India, South Africa, to name just a few. As long as a member does the following it is a member of the Commonwealth:

  • Recognize the Queen as head of the Commonwealth
  • Respect the wishes of the people
  • Respect human rights, liberty, rule of law and free and fair democratic elections
  • Be a sovereign state

Why ditch the Monarchy if Republics are unstable?

Political instability generally has more to do with historical, social and economic circumstances rather than constitutional ones. Sierra Leone and Pakistan are Republics that started lives as unstable monarchies where coups were instigated before they became Republics.

Will the constitutional status of the Treaty of Waitangi be affected?

No. Responsibility will remain where it has been all the time: with Parliament and the Head of State, the only difference being a New Zealander would be head of state.


Ghahraman not misleading public

Today it has emerged that Green List Member of Parliament Golriz Ghahraman allegedly defended suspected participants in the Rwandan Genocide. It also emerged that in the reaction to this news, there are a frighteningly large number of people who either cannot or will not understand that defendants in court cases – big or small – have a right to a fair trial just like anyone else.

Not surprisingly the right-leaning commentators are jumping up and down. On articles on Facebook about this story, there have been people calling for Ms Ghahraman to resign. Others have suggested she should go back to Iran. Many of them I think have a thinly disguised contempt for an Iranian-New Zealand woman who has fled persecution and managed to build a successful life in New Zealand and established herself as a respectable person in the legal circuit. The accusations that she cleaned her Wikipedia article are not surprising in the least as anyone can try to amend it and sometimes information is put up that is not from a verified source. If Ms Ghahraman actually did do that, she did it at her own discretion and would have known full well the ramifications just like any other educated person attempting such an act.

The outrage that has been spouting on Facebook seems rather misplaced as well. It is almost as if it is some sort of unpardonable offence to be on the defence team for person accused of activities of a genocidal nature. It is almost as if ensuring that the accused bad guys are somehow not entitled by the reckoning of these commentators to a fair trial like any other human being is.

Where is the justice if for the victims if the accused are not put to trial so they can defend themselves and let the jury in a court of law determine whether or not they are guilty? Would these people prefer that an innocent person is found guilty by flimsy association whilst the ones who carried the mass murders, the rapes, the mutilation and everything else that went on continues on their not so merry way?

Ms Ghahraman would have seen injustice in her time in Iran and possibly in New Zealand as well. She might have seen criminals getting off free and continuing their crimes because the victims were too scared to come forward, particularly if the perpetrator was in some sort of position of power at the time of the offences. Who wins then? Not the victims. But nor do they win if an innocent person is tried, convicted and punished for something they did not do.

Sometimes third world countries are not suitable locations to have the trials of suspected war criminals or genocide participants. It may be because the country is still too unstable and a trial might open up wounds that are just starting to heal. It might be that the local judiciary is not in a position to carry out its responsibilities or not.

But does that mean Ms Ghahraman should be ashamed of defending a person who was later convicted? No. As a lawyer involved in a trial if you are not on the prosecution you will be on the defence. It would have been good experience for her and as long as she does the job to the honest best of her ability, conducts herself in a professional manner and complies with any court protocols, then I have two words and two words only: WELL DONE.

Simon Bridges’ hypocrisy

Today it emerged that National M.P. Simon Bridges has accused the new Labour-led Government of trying to avoid scrutiny. Mr Bridges was complaining about the number of National Party Members of Parliament that would be allowed to sit on Select Committees. It reminded me of a stunning piece of hypocrisy that happened on his watch in 2013.

In April 2013, as the then Minister for Energy and Resources, Mr Bridges (M.P. for Tauranga) introduced a Bill of Parliament to the House of Representatives. It was called the Crown Minerals (Crown Land and Permitting)Act, 2013.

The way in which this Bill of Parliament was forced through to this day in my mind is one of the greatest shames of the New Zealand Parliament. Mr Bridges must have had some idea that this Bill was going to generate significant opposition, during its passage through Parliament. The opposition that arose was indeed substantial. During the short period between the Second Reading and the Third Reading, a coalition of notable New Zealanders and organizations signed a petition trying to stop the passage of the legislation. Organizations that signed included Amnesty International, Greenpeace and 350 Aotearoa. Notable individuals included former Prime Minister and constitutional lawyer Sir Geoffrey Palmer, former Green M.P. Jeanette Fitzsimons and Peter Williams QC.

At the Third Reading, New Zealand First, which had been originally set to support the Bill of Parliament turned against it. In speaking against it their spokesperson N.Z. First List M.P. Andrew Williams informed Parliament that the party would not support its passage any furthe due to draconian changes introduced by Mr Bridges that included:

  • using the Royal New Zealand Navy as an arresting force
  • effectively criminalizing freedom of assembly on the high seas
  • disproportionately heavy fines

New Zealand First’s resistance was justified. Not only were the changes draconian, they were in a Bill of Parliament that was forced through with no scrutiny allowed by the Select Committee. No public consultation was permitted either and the Bill was pushed through under urgency, as a number of others during the early and mid years of the fifth National Government.

Following the passage of the Bill through Parliament and its controversial vote, I took action as a private individual. My first course of action was to contact Amnesty International and ask for advice on what to put in a formal complaint to the Human Rights Commission. One of their staff agreed to review my complaint and offer suggestions.

After about 6 weeks, I got a response from the Human Rights Commission. They agreed that on the surface as an individual I could say that my basic rights were infringed. They acknowledged the complicated matter of the law, but their basic premise was that this Act of Parliament was an unacceptable infringement on an individual’s basic human rights.

As a New Zealand First Member at the time I also decided to put forward a remit for the Annual Convention in Christchurch that year. I would propose that the party make it policy to repeal the Crown Minerals (Crown Land and Permitting)Act, 2013. It passed with overwhelming support. Delegates and M.P.’s told me at the time it was a good remit.

Based on the aforementioned Act of Parliament and the nature of its passage, which still annoys me to this day, I find it rather rich of Mr Bridges to be accusing the new Government of trying to escape scrutiny. Especially when Mr Bridges was found to have infringed the basic human rights of a private individual.

Is the Harvey Weinstein case the catalyst needed for abuse survivors?

Angelina Jolie. Anna Paquin. Allegedly sexually abused at the hands of Harvey Weinstein. The Hollywood producer best known for a range of films such as Kill Bill Vol. 3 and Teaching Mrs Tingle has been accused of abusing actors working with him on films.

Mr Weinstein is finished. Even if he is found to be totally innocent and that all of these ladies who have come forward and said he molested them are shown to be wrong, it will destroy him and his career. His company has fired him, which tells me they are taking the allegations seriously. Mr Weinstein is being investigated for 5 separate allegations of sexual misconduct and has now got a total of 40 accusers arrayed against him.

But here is the thing. Granted nothing has yet been proven the number of ladies from Hollywood and elsewhere coming forward and saying that Harvey Weinstein harassed them whilst working with him, are too many and too credible to be dismissed. None of these ladies as far as I can gather is out for money or revenge. They are simply coming forward because a social change is happening – the New York Times expose has done the job it was intended to do. It has shone a light into one of Hollywoods darkest spots and women are coming forward. A threshhold where women are simply standing up and saying “no more – he hurt me, like he hurt others and I am not standing for it”.

We need to give these ladies a fair chance to prove their allegations. We need a fair chance for any others who have been abused to come forward and say so, to tell the police – if they are prepared to go that far – and let the world know the real scale of Mr Weinstein’s offending.

But there are two huge flaws here. Mr Weinstein has completely denied all of the allegations. He has checked himself into his own luxury rehabilitation unit, which is not a good sign as it most probably has none of the parameters of a successful unit. And he is likely to be using his own money to fund it, meaning he has a degree of control over what he does and does not do in terms of recommended treatment. He could even simply pay off the employees.

Will Harvey Weinstein’s troubles be the catalyst for women across all professions to come forward and say they were abused? As horrible as the suggestion is, lets hope so. Lets get a true measure of the magnitude of the problem. Let us stop denying this goes on. We know it does

But let us go one step further. Men have been abused as well. Their numbers are unknown at this this point and this may have to do with the extreme stigma attached with coming forward and the lack of social assistance dealing with the mental consequences – it might have happened decades ago, but the memories might as clear as if the offending had just happened.

Let us stop beating about the bush. We have a sexual abuse crisis in New Zealand as well and we need to acknowledge it. We need to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice. If there are perpetrators of the dastardly types of crimes that Mr Weinstein has been accused of in New Zealand industries, they need to be ferreted out and brought to justice. The abuse survivors who had the horror of working with these people deserve nothing less.

Talking about bold policy, here is mine

Listening to Labour and National go at each other, both appear to be parties trying to land big hits against each other but only seemingly able to land superficial blows. Neither party seems to have a king hit policy or idea that the other one cannot respond to.

I have said before as have others that Labour need to release some bold policy in order to draw in voters. I find it hard to believe that politicians can be so bereft of ideas as to only think about ones that last to the next election. One might therefore ask, okay if you are so sure that politicians are bereft of ideas, what great ones do you have?

When a political party talks they have a short period of time to get the key points of their policy platform across to the media. Keep it clear and keep it snappy – bullet points are best in a print format. I will be focussing on the following over the next couple of weeks:

  • Constitution
  • Social Welfare
  • Jobs
  • Environment
  • Health

Reform does not always have to be economic. Constitutional and/or legal reform can have equally significant effects, and change anything from the structure of the legal system, to a nations constitutional arrangements and include such areas as type of Government, election frequency, a single House of Representatives or a bi-cameral arrangement.

At some point in the near future, possibly in the next couple of years and certainly in the next two decades, New Zealand will have to have this discussion. I would personally much prefer it to happen now on our own terms, so that if in case a need to defer for a bit longer arises, we can establish an appropriate temporary framework that can be dismantled or added to.

If it happens on terms that are not ours, that would suggest something major has happened, such as the reigning sovereign Queen Elizabeth II has died and the public are not happy with whomever became King. This could be problematic because politicians, whilst wanting to appear in tune with the voting public can often find themselves wanting to make changes when there is no public appetite, or the public want changes, but they insist it is just a vocal minority stirring up trouble.

What I suggest is not new, but I think it is visionary enough to be a departure from the discourse currently emanating from politicians and political commentators. Sir Geoffrey Palmer, former Labour Prime Minister, has likewise suggested that it is time to consider a formal constitution.

I agree with Sir Geoffrey. It is time to hold a binding referendum on the subject. It must be a binding referendum because ignoring it may spark a constitutional crisis of a magnitude not known to have existed in this country. It must also be binding because for all the transparency and relatively smooth functioning of the court system, there are some glaring loop holes, such as (but not limited to):

  • No clear cut legal mechanism for impeaching corrupted representatives who are not fit to serve another minute in office
  • Insufficient entrenching or other legal protection ensuring the key planks of our constitutional arrangement such as the Human Rights Act 1986, the Bill of Rights Act 1990 and the Constitution Act, 1986

I can see a time coming when support for a Republic will grow substantially. This is something I personally support as well, but for reasons ranging from love of the Monarchy, through to concerns about Treaty of Waitangi recognition must be addressed before this can happen and given the contentious nature of becoming a Republic is well known, only a binding referendum can give the result the due legitimacy.

It is probably too late to go back now, but New Zealand should have gone through a binding referendum phase to determine whether or not the country should have a Supreme Court.

So, this is one of my big policies. The extent to which it can play out will be determined by the outcome of the referendum. I envisage that if the answer is NO, then legislation be passed that sets in place the mechanism for revisiting something that believe will eventually have to happen one way or the other.