- The Debate
- Get involved
- Constitutional review
- The Treaty of Waitangi
- Commonwealth membership
- Common Cause
The Republican Movement supports New Zealand's continued membership of the Commonwealth of Nations - we believe New Zealand should move from Commonwealth realm to a Commonwealth republic.
Flag of the Commonwealth of Nations
The Commonwealth of Nations is a voluntary association of states, the successor to the British Commonwealth and British Empire that came before it. Almost all of the 52 members of the Commonwealth today are former British colonies or protectorates, of those 30 are republics, 15 have Governors-Generals like New Zealand and seven are local monarchies (including the United Kingdom). Queen Elizabeth II is the titular Head of the Commonwealth, and head of state of 16 of its members. If New Zealand were to become a republic, we would still recognise the Queen as Head of the Commonwealth.
New Zealand, officially a British colony from 1840 - 1907, and then a Dominion from 1907 - 1947, has been a Commonwealth realm since we ratified the Statute of Westminster (1931) in 1947.
New Zealand will remain a member of the Commonwealth
Members of the Commonwealth in 2006. The majority of members of the Commonwealth are republics, but recognise the Queen as Head of the Commonwealth. Click for larger image.
Sometimes it is claimed that if New Zealand becomes a republic, we will automatically lose our membership of the Commonwealth. Supporters of this claim used to rely on a minor formality required by the Commonwealth to argue our membership of the Commonwealth is at risk should we become a republic.
This formality was that all members who choose to no longer have the Queen as head of state must re-apply for membership of the Commonwealth. It was abolished in 2007.
The only way New Zealand's membership of the Commonwealth could be terminated would be if a Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting (CHOGM) vetoed our membership. This is unlikely for many reasons: firstly, the process of exclusion is usually by majority votes of Commonwealth members at CHOGM, as was the case with Nigeria in 1995.
Secondly, there isn't anyone to veto New Zealand's membership anyway, and those that would are suspended or have quit the Commonwealth. In the past, a number of Commonwealth members that have become republics have been excluded from membership at a later stage. The two examples are South Africa (in 1961) and Fiji (in 1987). In both cases, each state chose not to re-apply for Commonwealth membership at the next CHOGM because of government policy (apartheid in South Africa and a military government in Fiji).
In both cases each country might well have been vetoed by CHOGM, however each state sought to prevent this by simply not re-applying. Neither of these situations applies in New Zealand - we do not have the African Commonwealth members against us, nor do we have a number of upset South Pacific Commonwealth neighbors.
Secretary-General of the Commonwealth confirms
During the 1999 republic referendum campaign in Australia, supporters of the monarchy claimed that Australia's membership of the Commonwealth would be threatened if Australia became a republic. In response to these claims, the then Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations, Emeka Anaouku, issued a statement on 3 November 1999 (two days before the referendum) stating:
"Let me make it absolutely clear that, whatever the outcome of the referendum, there is no question of Australia's membership of the Commonwealth being in doubt."
In the lead up to the 2006 Commonwealth Games the Australian Republican Movement approached the then Secretary-General of the Commonwealth (and former Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand), Don McKinnon, to confirm the precise situation of republics within the Commonwealth. His letter of 9 November 2005 states in part:
"Let me confirm that a country's position as a member of the Commonwealth is unaffected by a constitutional change in its status to become a republic; ever since the London Agreement of 1949, republican forms of government have been entirely compatible with Commonwealth membership; any constitutional change in Australia to become a republic would not affect its membership in the Commonwealth."
Two Secretary-Generals of the Commonwealth have now confirmed that Australia's membership of the Commonwealth wouldn't be affected by its republican status.
Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting confirms
The security of New Zealand's membership in the Commonwealth should we become a republic was again confirmed by the 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Uganda. The meeting issued an official communiqué on membership. The communiqué stated:
Heads of Government also agreed that, where an existing member changes its formal constitutional status, it should not have to reapply for Commonwealth membership provided that it continues to meet all the criteria for membership.
This confirms once more that any change in New Zealand's status as a constitutional monarchy does not affect our membership of the Commonwealth.