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.


Cutting out plastics from the ecosystem

A few days ago the Government announced that it would progress the very welcome work that National did in its last days in office against microbeads. These tiny pieces of plastic are entering the natural ecosystem at a rate that has alarmed ecologists, with dissections of a wide range of wildlife being found with microbeads in their digestive system. With public interest in reducing plastics negative impact on the environment ramping up, it is time to look at how New Zealand has fared in addressing issues around our plastic obsession.

The Waste Minimisation Act 2008 sets out to achieve four particular aims:

  • The implementation of a levy on all waste to fund council, community and business programmes reduce the amount of waste they generate
  • Encourages in the first instance consumers, retailers, importers, producers and brand owners to take responsibility through stewardship schemes
  • Enable regulations to make it mandatory for reporting on waste and improve the availability of information to public, private sector and government agencies
  • Establish a board to provide regulatory advice

But cutting plastic bags and micro beads need to be just the start of a comprehensive move against single use plastics. One example is plastic straws which proliferate at all fast food restaurants, other eating establishments and are readily available at supermarkets and places like The Warehouse. Whilst there is a case for some plastic drinking straws remaining available with disabled people being identified as one group who would gain from their continued availability, could paper straws that biodegrade be a potential replacement?

Another one where changes could potentially happen are single use fizzy drink bottles – the 420ml, 600ml, 1.5L and 2.25L sizes – as these are sometimes suspected, of having bisphenol A, which is a suspected cancer causing carcinogen in its plastic. This has made me wonder if it would be possible to change the substances used in plastic to enable them to be more easily recycled or possibly biodegrade.

Around 8% of what goes to the landfill each year is plastic, and represents about 200,000 tons out of a total of 2.46 million tons.

When I was a child, there was a popular recycling programme that operated in a local supermarket car park where you could drop off your empty aluminium cans. In return the people operating the drop off point would weigh up the sack you had dropped off and pay back a set price per kilogramme. It was a good way to teach children a bit about recycling and economics at the same time. I wonder if such a programme would work today.

Compared with other countries, notably those in Europe, New Zealand somewhat lags behind in terms of recycling. This is not just across plastics, but also paper, aluminium and wood based products as well.

So, whilst progress is starting to be made again, it has much distance to cover before we really are a 21st century nation in recycling.

Protecting the whitebait fishery in New Zealand

Whitebait are a New Zealand delicacy. Every year hundreds of people try their hand at catching the tasty translucent morsels that enter our coastal waterways. On the market, a kilogram of whitebait may fetch N.Z.$90.

Whitebait patties are how most whitebait that are caught end up. Their popularity is enduring by virtue of the relative ease and speed of making them. They were the entree at the A.P.E.C. 1999 State Banquet held for the then United States President Bill Clinton and the Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

But whitebait are in danger of extinction. Their immense popularity, damage to their habitat and (this is debatable)over fishing of the delicacy, which have five subspecies in New Zealand – climbing galaxias, common galaxias, banded kokopu, shortjaw kokopu and giant kokopu┬áhave brought about severe challenges for a popular recreational past time. This has brought with it, talk of possibly closing the fishery for a period of one or two years during which there is a complete ban on whitebaiting, with the idea being that whitebait would be able to regain some of their population.

Whitebait habitat damage, and in particular their spawning grounds is the most serious threat they face. A spawning ground might be only a couple standard glass houses in area, but in that area tens of thousands of whitebait will be depositing their eggs, and the destruction of that one spawning ground might be the difference between whether or not that particular river/stream/creek/estuary/lagoon has a meaningful whitebait population the following year.

I and my father whitebait each year. We have no problems with compliance and follow local regulations specific to the Canterbury area and fisheries. We do it because we enjoy eating whitebait and are not there to make a profit from doing so, which some are – our purpose has always been to put food on the table, which is what I believe all hunting and fishing should be about. We do not leave any litter or other debris behind that might enter their habitat and cause adverse effects.

Pollutants entering the habitat – cigarette butts, plastics, and so forth – are another threat that needs to be considered. This is a general common pollution issue that should be dealt with separately by way of enforcement action by local council rangers. Fines and – most appropriately – making the offender participate in a rubbish clean up would be a good way of getting the message across.

No quotas exist for whitebaiters. It is debatable whether there needs to be quotas. One will immediately ask, if quotas exist, how are they going to be enforced and the only answer from hard experience is by ground enforcement on the spot. There would need to be many rangers enforcing the quotas and there is a possibility that they would – like anyone involved in law enforcement – possibly have to deal with hostile people. The quota size itself would also be up for debate. Sometimes several kilogrammes of whitebait might be caught each day, and then there might be none or little for several days or even weeks – nearly all we caught this year was taken in the final week of the season.

Whitebaiters are permitted to whitebait from dawn to dusk. They are allowed nets and gobi’s (nylon fencing on poles)that extend from the net to the shore. The combined net/gobi arrangement cannot take up more than 1/3 of a channel width and must be manned at all times. A whitebait net cannot be less than 20 metres from another whitebait net.┬áThe season start time varies from one region to the next – the Canterbury one started in mid-August and ended at sunset 30 November.

I don’t want any children I might eventually have or anyone else who has children to be denied the opportunity to show them an easy and fun – albeit sometimes patience testing – mode of fishing. So, let us enjoy our whitebait, but apply a bit of common sense and protect the habitats, don’t take more than you want to use and respect the other whitebaiters who have come to try their luck.

Common sense really.

Trump anti-Muslim tweets no help to religious tensions

Last week United States President Donald Trump was looking at videos from Britain First, an anti-immigrant hard line nationalist group in Britain of alleged Muslim offences. One was of a boy being attacked. Another was of a statue being desecrated and a third one was allegedly of a Muslim attacking a Dutch boy on crutches. Then he retweeted them, to the horror of British Prime Minister Theresa May.

By retweeting the videos of a known nationalist hate group, Mr Trump sent a signal to Muslims that he does not view them or their religion in the same light as he does other religions. He has in effect condoned hatred on a religion and its members when most of all the West should be seeking to understand the Islamic world better.

Mr Trump’s rebuttal of Mrs May’s criticism potentially harms the British-American relationship. Mrs May was right to point out that the retweets were highly and unnecessarily inflammatory. And this has given Mrs May and her Government some unlikely allies in places she might not thought them to possibly exist.

I am no fan of Mrs May who I think of as the “Maybot”, because she was perceived to have the empathy of a robot to the victims of the Grenfell apartment block fire. However, Mrs May was quite right to rebuke Mr Trump for retweeting those videos.

Mr Trump made two significant mistakes in his response:

  1. He was too lazy to find her proper Prime Ministerial Twitter handle and sent it to another person called who also just happened to be called Theresa May
  2. His put down of Mrs May would have spoken volumes about how Mr Trump views his relationship with Britain – being able and willing to put down America’s nearest and dearest ally, which is sometimes referred to as the 51st State of the U.S. is a hugely problematic indictment on him

American diplomats will be wondering how to undo the damage. For them such a slap in the face of the senior official of their most loyal ally will be staggering. America and Britain will survive this, but the reverberations will continue for awhile yet.

This should concern every other nation wanting peaceful rapproachment with the Islamic world. The so-called leader of the free world showing contempt for a perfectly valid warning about Britain First shows how little understanding Mr Trump has of diplomatic relations.

Or cares.


Don Brash entitled to his outdated opinion

Earlier this week, Dr Don Brash, former National Party leader and one time Leader of the Opposition, criticized broadcaster Kim Hill for speaking in Te Reo Maori.

Not surprisingly the backlash was strong as it was swift. But as hard on the ears as it would have been listening to that exchange on the radio and as deserving of the backlash as he was, Dr Brash was merely exercising in his context, Section 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: that to freedom of speech.

As old as Dr Brash’s opinion is and outdated it most certainly is he is entitled to it. In terms of being appropriate or inappropriate, there is no doubt that it is certainly that of a man who is insecure with New Zealanders exercising and growing their knowledge of Te Reo. There should not be any doubt that his opinion is that of a deservedly diminishing minority.

In similar respects, some have suggested my opinion of feminism is – shock, horror! – outmoded too. It has not yet been labelled that of a dinosaur or that of a misogynist and I hope it is never is, because that as we shall now see would be to completely miss my point. My opinion is that to be a supporter of womens rights you do not necessarily need to be a feminist. For me it is more a case of common ideals than identifying with that particular “ism”. Does that make me a chauvinist, or a sexist type of male? Definitely not as I support greater gender diversity; 26 weeks paid ma/paternity leave. I support in general moves to improve the numbers of women in corporate board rooms.

However I do see progress. The three most people in our political system are female. We have Governor General Patsy Reddy. We have Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. The Chief Justice is Dame Sian Elias. We have had females in charge of major corporations – notably Theresa Gattung in Telecom and in sporting codes where a perceived (and most probably true)old boys network exists, Raelene Castle in the New Zealand Warriors.

Likewise I do see progress. Many people in the National Party believe Te Reo should be compulsory in schools. Despite not being a National Party member or supporter, I agree that up to Year 8, it should be compulsory. There is no shame, contrary to the days when Dr Brash was in his youth when institutitionalized disregard for Maori saw it as a language taken away from them by the education system. Those days are now long behind us.

And so, as much as people rightfully think his opinion is from a time closer to the age of dinosaurs than mine probably is, Dr Don Brash is entitled to it. However dinosauresque as it is (and it is).