Answering questions about becoming a Republic


As I watched coverage of the Duke of Edinburgh’s car crash I was reminded that this is a man who is in his late 90’s. I was also reminded that his wife, and New Zealand’s head of state Queen Elizabeth II is also over 90. With their great and advancing age, one must assume that they will be starting to wind down their official engagements.

And as they contemplate whether to, or how to wind down their engagements, New Zealand needs to be stepping up its national conversation about our constitutional arrangements once they depart.

I have never seen the need for a foreigner as New Zealand’s head of state. As a grown up nation that has a degree of civility lacking in many others, I believe New Zealand is more than capable of having its own head of state. However I know many people who do not believe New Zealand is ready to become a Republic, or that it is not needed or welcome.

I have mentioned my reasoning for a Republic, the process I believe would be necessary to achieve it and what it might look like in past articles. This article is more about addressing public concerns about how a Republic might look and function. This is part of the debate that is necessary to have in order to inform public opinion prior to any attempt at changing how New Zealand determines its Head of State.

What will happen to the Treaty of Waitangi and the settlements reached under a Republic?

Under a Republic, New Zealand will transfer responsibility for the Treaty of Waitangi from the Crown to the Head of State. The Treaty itself and the settlements reached with Iwi will not be affected in any way by this change. This is commonly acknowledged by the Monarchist League as well as the Republican Movement.

Will New Zealand be made to leave the Commonwealth should it become a Republic?

No. Most nations in the British Commonwealth are already Republics – India, Pakistan, South Africa, Singapore, Malaysia, Nauru, to name just a few. There are 52 nations in the Commonwealth and 36 of them are Republics.

New Zealand’s heritage is British

This is a fortunately dying tunnel vision argument that ignores the fact that New Zealand is now a multicultural nation with large Pacific Island and Asian communities. Nothing about becoming a Republic will change our culture – we will still play cricket and aspire to one day win the Cricket World Cup; Queen’s English will still be the dominant language and New Zealanders will still be as welcome as they have ever been in the United Kingdom.

Should New Zealand become a Republic, what are the types of Republic?

There are several types of Republic. The one that New Zealand is physically closest to in terms of governance is the Parliamentary Republic. This type means that the President would largely be a figure head with mainly ceremonial but also constitutional powers – greeting Heads of Government and Heads of State, appointing and dismissing Cabinet members and – heaven forbid this happen – enact any necessary declaration of war on a foreign power.

A Presidential Republic is more like the United States, where the President has a large role in the day to day running of the Government and may make key foreign policy decisions. This is in addition to the ceremonial and constitutional roles as mentioned above.

There are other types of Republic including Semi-Presidential Republic, where the Head of State takes responsibility for foreign policy whilst the Head of Government looks after domestic policy. Examples include France and Taiwan.

Other types exist as well, but these are the three types New Zealand would be most likely to vote for a number of simple reasons. New Zealand is not Islamic so therefore we cannot have an Islamic Republic. The best known such example is the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Peoples Republic and Democratic Peoples Republic are typically aligned with Marxist-Leninist politics and with the exception of the Peoples Republic of China and Laos Peoples Democratic Republic, all have failed.

Republics are unstable, so why have one?

So are Monarch’s. Tonga, one of the worlds last Absolute Monarchy’s was plunged into devastating riots in 2006 as a result of widespread anger at the lack of democratic progress in the Government.

Swaziland (now Eswatini) is another. King Mswati III is well known for leading a luxurious lifestyle that is increasingly the cause of internal unrest, as well as international criticism. He holds all the powers of the state, as well as holding control over the legislature and the courts.

 

Questions face the West; the East is rising – and New Zealand looks on


Today, by the time you read this, British Prime Minister Theresa May will know whether she is staring down the barrel of electoral defeat or living, albeit badly wounded to fight another day. It is hardly inspiring to look at the fog of mystery enveloping the United Kingdom as it struggles with Brexit in all its uncertainty. Do the Conservatives or Labour know what they are doing or meant to be doing? Most likely no more than the shop keeper, the bus driver, the school teacher, or police officer doing their daily duties.

Will the U.K. be ready for Brexit on 29 March 2019 or will it have to delay?

But if we look across the English Channel to France, where the Yellow Vest revolt has entered its tenth week and has forced President Emmanuel Macron to have second thoughts about some of his more controversial policies, are things any better? France rejected the left and the right when it elected President Macron after a failed term of Francois Hollande on the left and Nicolas Sarkozy on the right, in the hope that a centrist might make more sense. Nearly two years on, it is hard to tell whether Mr Macron has had any success or not.

Will the Yellow vests become like the protesters of 1968, who ground France to a halt?

And then there is America, partially immobilized by a Trumpian shut down that shows no signs of ending and is now the longest on record. Hundreds of thousands of Federal workers who were furloughed got no pay last week. Thousands of them will be starting to seriously think about looking for alternative work in order to keep their household upright; others will be digging into their savings and wondering how long they can keep going like this before joining the thousands who will have already started looking for other work. It will not be the Democrats or the Republicans that decide this, but the thousand of furloughed workers.

The question facing America is how many vacancies in Federal jobs will have opened up due to furloughed workers quitting by the time this ends?

The dragon is rising. China is actively expanding its sphere of influence by building fake islands and then militarizing them. The old imperial vision of being a ruler of the high seas like Zheng He was in the age of imperial China is growing on President Xi Jinping, whose own ambitions are to create a dynasty not constrained by time limits rather than a President. As the dragon rises, so does the dystopian surveillance state that profiles hundreds of millions of Chinese using a vast array of computerized algorithms.

How much tighter can the Great Firewall of China get? Apparently the answer is quite a lot.

Nearer to home, one must wonder what will become of the Government of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Riddled by scandal, crippled in the House by infighting, petrified of Aboriginals, asylum seekers, environmentalists and the Labor Party, Mr Morrison’s Government is struggling to make it even to the last day that it can call a General Election, due this year. But even if Labor wins, it will have a huge job ahead rebuilding Australia’s reputation on the world stage, addressing the socio-economic circumstances that have made places like Sydney among the most expensive in the west.

But can it get rid of the following, whose departure is necessary for Australia to rehabilitate itself: former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, Minister for Environment Greg Hunt, current Prime Minister Scott Morrison, former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, among others?

Looking at all of this unfolding from afar it is easy to be smug in New Zealand. However we have little reason for smugness. We have far too many people dying on the roads; a weak justice system, education and social welfare reforms badly needed; stronger leadership on waste and other environmental issues and as the Queen and Prince Philip grow ever older, constitutional reform looms as an indecipherable shape on the horizon.

How will New Zealand address these many challenges? Will it continue looking on with a smug “she’ll be right attitude” or will we notice Godzone could do with a bit of work herself?

New Zealand should have a no deal Brexit plan ready


29 March 2019 is a day that many in Britain are probably looking at with increasing alarm/excitement/curiosity. It is a day that will potentially define the career of British Prime Minister Theresa May. It is a day that will be the culmination of nearly 3 years of roller coaster Brexit politics.

It will be – for better or for worse – the day Brexit happens.

It might also be a day that New Zealand businesses, politicians and diplomats are looking at with increasing interest/curiosity/excitement as well, albeit for different reasons. On that day or in the days following, New Zealand like the rest of the world will either see a peaceful transition to Brexit with politics, economics and society continuing about its business, or a messy one akin I am honestly not sure what New Zealand can do since I do not think British diplomats are any more informed than their political bosses as to the potential fall out should a no deal Brexit occur. But for the sake of this country we need to know what the likely scenarios are, draw up a list of potential sectors that might be subject to adverse effects and consider what support they might need.

Right now to me the metaphor about a canary down the mine shaft is hard to ignore. In this case Britain is like a canary that is going down a mine shaft which will shortly diverge in multiple directions and choosing the wrong one might result in Britain being in a shaft with carbon monoxide or methane.

But before Britain reaches the mine shaft junction, there are a few things that can potentially save them from a chaotic problem filled mess:

  1. Perhaps foremost is the ruling of the European Union court that Britain can exit the Brexit process unilaterally if so desires. That means provided enough politicians come together to make it possible, Brexit would be abolished and Britain remains in the European Union. The one very big catch here is that the hard line Brexiteers would fight tooth and nail to prevent something like this happening. Also Members of Parliament from electorates that voted to leave, but whom personally realize the need to stay would be in danger of being outed at the next election
  2. Whilst running out of time to make one happen, there seems to be considerable movement in support of a second referendum.
  3. Let us suppose just for a moment that British Prime Minister Theresa May does somehow manage to stumble, fumble and bumble her way to a deal that survives Parliament, would the voting public accept it or reject it

There are also Brexit deadlines that have to be met if none of the above can happen:

  1. UNKNOWN is the day for the rescheduled U.K. Parliamentary vote – it was meant to happen on 11 December 2018
  2. 21 JANUARY is the final day for Mrs May to send a deal to the U.K. Parliament
  3. 29 MARCH is the day that Britain formally exits the European Union

Mrs May has challenges. Can she muster 320 or more M.P.’s in the House of Parliament to get whatever deal is sent to Parliament for the vote, over the line? If she cannot and given that the U.K Parliament will probably rise soon for the Christmas break, how long will she have after it resumes and before the 29 January deadline to present something to Parliament does she have?

But back to New Zealand and our readiness for Brexit in whatever form it comes. Yes we should have a look at the potential flow on effects for New Zealand, especially if it cannot reach a deal with the European Union. Yes we should definitely expect turbulence in the days afterwards either way in the markets – the N.Z. Dollar might abruptly drop or rise.

Lessons from Europe and Singapore: Tourism – Part 2


Continued from Part 1.

Generally the old town quarters of Ghent, Brugge and Ypres was cleaner than you would expect to find cities in New Zealand. I do not know what litter ordinances any of these places had in place, but little evidence of litter was found around them. This is important for all three, as tourism is a significant part of their economy.

Belgium towns have a lot of bars and cafes with a different culture to New Zealand. Namely if anyone drinks alcohol – and I did see a lot of people doing so – they would generally order something to eat as well. It could be something simple such as fries or a proper meal. All of them are bike friendly, and one could hire scooters for several hours or a day. Canal tours of various descriptions existed and seem to be well patronized.

The Hop on/Hop off bus is a well developed concept in all of the big cities – London, Stockholm, Goteburg, Brussels, Amsterdam and Singapore all have their own versions. The number of routes varied from one location to the next – Brussels had two lines – the No. 1 and No. 2 lines; Singapore has the Red, Brown, Yellow and Blue lines. All operated a pass system where one purchased a pass that would give them access to the network for 2-3 days or 5 days. It was an easy way to get around the city. The European cities also have a “_______” (enter name of city) City Pass that gives you access to the major attractions. Like the Hop on/Hop off passes they were set to last 2-3 days or 5 days.

I do not know if such passes exist in New Zealand, but it would be an easy way to ensure tourists used the public transport networks if it was too difficult for them to hire a rental car. In Auckland for example an “Auckland City Pass”, might include the Sky Tower, Auckland Museum, Auckland Zoo, Kelly Tarlton Sea Life Aquarium and so forth. The Hop on/Hop off route would have no trouble covering all of those in a reasonably quick time.

One thing that was notable in European cities was their charge for using the toilet. Many public places charged and I assume it was just their way of funding the up keep. Given – even if it was not necessarily said so – that it was polite to purchase something in the bars, cafes and restaurants that one would find themselves ducking into to relieve themselves, it did result in some otherwise unintended beverage and food purchases. On the other hand the bars, restaurants and cafes that I/we ducked into were not so fussy but we repaid them by having a round, a small bite or something whilst on the premises.

Given in some districts there is a small rate payer base, but high tourist numbers, such as the Mackenzie District in the South Island, a 0.50c fee for using the toilets would not be out of place. It would enable the charging council to keep a tighter rein on council rates as user pays would be a fairer model than simply making the whole district pay. With the summer tourist season coming up and local government elections due again next year, it will be interesting to see whether councils think about such approaches or elect to make the rate payers cough up more money.

Lessons from Europe and Singapore: Transport – Part 1


This article and the next few following it, is based on my experiences from a recent holiday in Europe.

One of the first things I did upon arrival into London was be shown how to ride their transport system. My mate Dave who has been living in London with his wife met me at Heathrow Airport. He made sure I had an Oyster card, which would enable me to ride on the buses. Each day Dave and I got a ticket from Maidenhead into London Paddington railway station. From there we either went walking or used the Oyster card to get on the bus network. Both seemed to be well used no matter which direction we went.

Integrated light right/bus platform at Skansen, Stockholm. (R. GLENNIE)

But it was in Sweden, in Stockholm and Gothenburg that I was able to see a well organized rail and bus system at work. I was able to experience the fast train from Stockholm Arlanda, which travelled into the central city at 180km/h and took about 20 minutes. It was also amazingly quiet inside. From central station it was just a short walk to get onto light rail going in all directions or the buses, which shared platforms with the light rail (see photo). Again, all seemed to be well patronized. I could buy a pass for several days which expired shortly after I left.

Could such systems work here? In Auckland I think the population is big enough that a scaled down system could, but there would need to be a change in the mindset. It would also need to overcome reliability and supply (capacity)problems that still need work done on them. It would need to look at Gothenburg whose population is around 1.5 million, rather than Stockholm.

Wellington has a well used railway system as it is. I am not sure that other than improving what already exists, and being a city of 400,000 people I am not sure that the demand for a larger more comprehensive network already exists. It would be challenging given the city’s geography essentially confines development to two distinct corridors.

What of the South Island cities?

Neither Dunedin or Christchurch are big enough for this sort of planning. Where Christchurch’s strength lies is in its bus network, which is a work in progress. Badly damaged in the earthquakes and let down by some poor planning decisions a spoke and rim network similar to what already exists, but with wider reaching bus services, is the way to go.

Dunedin is further compromised. Its population of 120,000 might be strengthened by a core bus system with an exchange along its one way street system. Its hilly terrain, which includes the steepest street in the world (Baldwin Street) means limitations exist in terms of geographical layout options.

The rise of petrol prices, caused both by taxes being introduced and high international tensions is not likely to bring any relief at the petrol pump any time soon. Whilst biofuel has potential, it is likely to be a complementary source instead of a replacement for petroleum and political reluctance to invest in such sources is slowing its introduction down. That only serves to prolong the pain in peoples wallets.