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.


The republic debate in New Zealand

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).



The unknown (but not the last) Governor General

Yesterday I came home from work to the announcement that a new Governor General had been appointed. I do not know whether I was more surprised at a person who was a complete unknown, or the fact that it had happened in the same week that we find out which of the two options will be our new flag.

I will be honest that until this day I had never heard of Patsy Reddy, much less knew that she is a Dame or what she did in her past.

To the credit of the Prime Minister, it would appear he has chosen a person from a very respectable background. Dame Patsy comes from a strong legal ground, with her work in Treaty of Waitangi negotiations and the recent report into the performance of the spy agencies. What type of style she will adopt as her persona in carrying out her public duties is another point altogether.

Perhaps the most striking part about this announcement was not the announcement itself but the reaction it drew from some quarters. United Future Leader Peter Dunne took to Twitter and asked if we were watching the presentation of the last Governor General, and admitting that he had been consulted. Whilst thinking that the end of the Governor General as an official position in New Zealand is approaching, I think Mr Dunne has jumped the gun in asking if this will be the last whilst the Queen is still alive.

I am a republican, definitely, and have blogged before about the style of republic that I want. However I am quite sure that simply walking away from the Monarchy without the mandate of a binding referendum is a quite dangerous approach to take, and one that stop me voting a republic. There is a time and place for that like there is a time and place for figuring out how to disband the Governor General’s office. But the time for neither is now.

Peter Dunne 01

Flagging Round One


So, New  Zealand has (not)spoken. After a year of trying to promote the flag choices, the referendum that was set down for a three week period from 20 November 2015 to 11 December 2015 has closed and the preliminary results are out.

Almost immediately it becomes obvious that there is a significant level of disenchantment with the whole thing across the spectrum by New Zealanders. Some republicans and monarchists alike have spoken out against the change – something one might not have expected since the current flag, which many including myself want kept (for the time being – more on that later)has a symbol of Britannia on it in the top left corner. The disenchantment though is about more than just republicans and monarchists somehow managing to agree on something for a change. It is about the fact that New Zealanders simply did not seem to seriously want this whole flag change exercise from the outset, no matter what Prime Minister John Key tells you.

Contrary to what Mr Key says, a Prime Minister probably would take it on in the future if there  was a clearly defined desire for a change – which there is not – but only if they were absolutely certain of the ground on which they stand. Mr Key appears quite certain of the ground he stands on, but the ground others stand on is quite different. And when some of my National Party mates, whom I normally disagree with on just about everything political come to you and say they agree with my stance on the flag, it is worthwhile pausing to think about why. They are well educated, and have been to university and can articulate clearly what they were saying, so there is no doubt I heard correctly.

So, here we are at the end of the first referendum. Option A (far right) has won, but the third place getter was not  a flag, but the casual votes. And more critically, less than half the total electorate actually bothered returning their ballot papers. What does that tell you, the reader, about this whole exercise? I have said before what I think of the exercise. However I would like to describe how I would run the process – if it actually had to happen (which for the sake of this we will assume the answer is “yes”):

  1. First, a binding referendum – I can see the reasons for Mr Key avoiding it, as a “No” vote would instantly have killed the whole thing – to establish, not just for the immediate benefit, but also the longer term benefit of New Zealand asking “Should New Zealand adopt a new flag”.
  2. If NO, then concede, but perhaps pass legislation that ensures a minimum period before this can be tackled again and the circumstances on which it can happen; if YES then:
  • Establish a panel to work out the procedure and announce it
  • Invite submissions of flag designs over a several month period
  • Eliminate the less succesful submissions
  • Announce a final four or five
  • A run off to narrow it down to two
  • A second run off to decide the final design
  • Have the Supreme Court certify it is final

Those are just my ideas. However, I think it is fairer. The process ACTUALLY being used makes the assumption New Zealanders want a change, which is wrong. No assumptions should be made, except that New Zealanders know what they want and if the result is close, then the referendum was too soon or more work needs to be done.

How N.Z. might become a Republic

This post is purely a hypothetical attempt at showing how New Zealand might become a Republic.

The republic debate is one that has been simmering off and own in New Zealand. It has had periods when politicians have advocated for a Republic and periods when there has been support for retaining the Monarchy. In his tenure as Prime Minister, former National leader Jim Bolger was an advocate for it, as was former Labour leader Helen Clark. Neither so much suggested it was imminent as an eventuality. Neither made serious steps in terms of getting New Zealand ready. And perhaps with good reason. Although the Monarchy took a hit in popularity when Princess Diana died and the Queen was viewed as out of touch with Britons, it staged a renaissance around the Queens 50th Jubilee.

I believe the time for a referendum on the issue should be after Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II dies. At that point Prince Charles is likely to succeed as heir to the throne. It should be done in two binding referendums. A simple majority of 51% shall not be sufficient because it would be a contentious issue – a super majority that cannot be overcome, such as 66% or 75% of votes will be necessary. The referendum process should be a two stage affair:

  • Stage One: A referendum asking IF New Zealanders wish for the country to become a Republic
  • Stage Two (only to proceed if the question in Stage One is YES): Ask what type of Republic we want, and run off the two most popular choices if there is a dead heat

Whilst organizing the referendums, there will need to be national debate about whether or not a Republic should be formed. It will need to be held in public, in the media and in Parliament. It will have to answer basic questions about why New Zealand should/not become one. When it comes to what the options are, New Zealanders need to know it can take several forms:

  • A Parliamentary Republic such as France – the President is largely a figurehead and the Prime Minister does the day to day running
  • A Federal Republic such as Germany – this would involve states with their own senates and a
  • A Presidential Republic such as the United States – the President actually has considerable powers and in some respects is the nations top diplomat

Other forms of Republic that are not likely to be considered by New Zealanders are an Islamic Republic, such as what Iran is, or a Peoples Republic, as China is.

In terms of which we are closer to, it is probably a Parliamentary Republic. New Zealand already has a Parliament and the Prime Minister from one day to the next is responsible for the running of the country, which is how a Parliamentary Republic would run. It is the version I would favour because the disruption in the process of forming is likely to be the least of the three likely options.