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Defending the monarchy
This page identifies the arguments against a republic. Some are well thought out; others are factually incorrect. They all fall down on close scrutiny. This chapter looks critically at the arguments supporters of the Monarchy have used so far.
The arguments against a republic fall into three categories:
- Republics as a form of government;
- Republics are unstable
- Republics are less democratic
- Republics are less gender balanced
- A republic means a "politicised" head of state
- Electing the head of state will create instability
- The Monarchy works ("if it ain't broke, don’t fix it");
- The Monarchy is not broken
- The Monarchy is a source of stability
- The Monarchy limits the power of politicians
- The Monarchy costs less than a republic
- The Monarchy represents "our history and traditions".
- "Our" heritage is British
- Republicanism is anti-British
- New Zealanders benefit from living and working in the UK
Like monarchies, republics are characterised by diversity. Some are poor, politically unstable and dictatorships. Others are wealthy with long traditions of political equality and democracy.
Whether a country is politically stable has got little to do with whether it is a republic or a monarchy. A nation’s political history, wealth and geographic location are more accurate indicators.
The argument relies on a poor understanding of what a republic is. It often deliberately points to dictatorships and 'banana republics' as evidence that all republics are somehow flawed. They are often accompanied by examples of failed or unstable republics, or by extreme claims that New Zealand is heading for disaster if it becomes a republic.
Arguments against republics in general ignore the fact that a lot of unstable republics started life as unstable monarchies. Sierra Leone and Pakistan are good examples of this. Both were Commonwealth realms with the Queen as their head of state. Both had coups before they became republics. The Solomon Islands, considered to be a failed state by the UN, has the Queen as its head of state. A coup there in 2001 led to foreign military intervention.
The Monarchy was no use to Fiji in 1987. The military first ignored the Queen’s representative, then overthrew them, then appointed the former Governor-General as President. There is no sound basis to claim a republic by definition is unstable.
The 2008 Freedom House survey of democracies found that of the 28 "functioning" democracies in the world, the majority (16 countries) were republics, in The Economist's 2008 Democracy Index 12 of the 30 "full democracies" were monarchies, the majority were republics. The Global Peace Index 2009 found that 10 of the top 20 most peaceful countries were republics.
The type of republic voters choose reflects the cultural and political heritage of the country. New Zealand is politically stable and has an exemplary democratic record. We have high levels of wealth, education and literacy. Corruption is low; the rule of law is respected. Fairness and good governance are expected at all times. We share these traits with Switzerland (a republic) and Sweden (a constitutional monarchy).
Here's the results of The Economist's 2008 Democracy Index report for "full democracies":
|Country||Rating (out of 10)
|Republic of Ireland||9.01
|Czech republic||8.19||Parliamentary republic|
As with notions of political stability and democracy, it is problematic to link measures of gender equality to whether a country is a republic or monarchy. Ironically, there actually appears to be a strong trend toward republics being more gendered balanced. A 2008 study by the World Economic Forum compared gender equality around the world. Of the top ten countries, five were Republics (Iceland, Philippines, Finland, Iceland, Latvia) and five were Monarchies (Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, Denmark and the Netherlands). Of the top fifty countries, 38 were republics. New Zealand was fifth overall.
Becoming a republic will help New Zealand further improve New Zealand’s levels of gender equality. It will decrease the influence of the Royal family - a political institution that upholds inequality and which actively privileges men over women.
"The case for constitutional monarchy is not sentimental... It rests upon a solid constitutional base which provides a head of state who is politically neutral" — Former Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer.
Like many others this argument relies on presupposing the kind of republic New Zealanders will choose. In general, supporters of the Monarchy mean one of four things when they argue the head of State in a republic will become "politicised":
- That the head of state will have wide executive powers (as in Presidential republics);
- That the head of state will be a current or former member of Parliament (the "President [insert politician's name here]" argument);
- That the head of state will interfere with the day-to-day running of the government, in a partisan way (for example, a head of state associated with the Labour Party might somehow frustrate a National Government's legislative program).
- That the head of state will have a policy agenda.
Supporters of the Monarchy claim the office of Governor-General is 'non-political'. What they actually mean is that the Governor-General is 'non-partisan'. The Governor-General is a non-partisan political role. The office is part of the political and constitutional structure of a country and is therefore 'political'. It is 'non-partisan' in that it cannot show favour to any one political party or group. There only reason put forward that a New Zealand head of state would act any differently is that an elected head of state has a 'mandate'. This issue will be discussed next.
Governors-General are appointed by the Government of the day, and so their appointment is always a political decision. As outlined in the previous chapter, appointees often have links to the Prime Minister of the day. Despite these political appointments no-one has ever argued that the appointments were failures. The appointees all upheld the neutrality of the office.
It is unlikely that New Zealanders will choose a presidential republic. The office represents the state above and beyond changes in Government. The person who fulfills the role will be expected to act with great mana and dignity.
This argument is based on the view that an elected head of state would be elected on some sort of policy platform, a 'mandate' with moral authority to act. This mandate would therefore cause instability. Professor Noel Cox of Monarchy New Zealand has argued that electing the Governor-General would give them a "mandate" that would upset the "fine constitutional balance" between the Prime Minister and Governor-General and that an elected Governor-General would be a "potential rival" of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. The same arguments are applied to an elected head of state.
This argument assumes that an elected position would mean politicking along the lines of Members of Parliament or the Prime Minister. It ignores the reality that in a parliamentary republic the head of state does not have the ability to direct policy, make laws or interpret them. Their powers are limited. They can only appoint and dismiss Governments on the basis of the number of members each party has in parliament after elections, not whether they disagree with them or not.
In a parliamentary republic the head of state would be better able to prevent constitutional crises. There would not be the sort of meltdown in relations which causes such rivalry in the first place. There will not be an upsetting of the "fine constitutional balance" between the Prime Minister and the head of state because the head of state could hold the Prime Minister to account. The Governor-General is at the moment a "potential rival" to the Government and could cause instability by using the reserve powers.
Aside from the obvious political implications of conflict between the Prime Minister and the head of state (which the Australian example shows has occurred with a Governor-General), the nature of the office in a republic means that no Prime Minister would desire a situation where they came into open conflict with the elected head of state. The head of state, by virtue of being elected, would win. In contrast, the Prime Minister and the Governor-General currently have the power to dismiss one another. The potential for conflict between a Prime Minister and an elected head of state would be less than it is with the Monarchy.
Some have questioned whether an elected head of state would be able to function if the reserve powers remain undefined. As the Head of State Referenda Bill shows this is easily rectified by re-stating the existing constitutional conventions.
There is also a precedent within the Commonwealth for codifying the Governor-General's powers. In Jamaica the reserve powers of the Governor-General are set out in their constitution. In Trinidad and Tobago, a republic within the Commonwealth, the President's powers are similarly defined. New Zealand voters may choose to codify and define the head of states reserve powers in order to clearly prescribe how much power they exert over parliament on behalf of voters.
"The New Zealand monarchy... is broken. It is broken in this important sense: that it is one of a raft of wrong symbols" — Colin James, journalist and political analyst.
This argument is often expressed by the slogan "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". Supporters of a republic argue that New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements are broken. They are undemocratic, they no longer reflect the diversity evident in New Zealand society and they no longer provide clear constitutional safeguards.
New Zealand cannot claim to be a fully functioning democracy when voters are denied their right to choose the head of state. The Monarchy contradicts the values underlying New Zealand's national identity. New Zealand cannot claim to stand up for equality when the head of state is chosen using arcane and discriminatory practices. The Monarchy is broken.
When faced with a crisis, New Zealand's constitutional arrangements could easily fall apart. New Zealand is generally a stable society, but constitutional safeguards need to be effective in times of crisis. New Zealand's democracy may be functional under normal conditions, but in trying times things might be different. Like preparing for a natural disaster, it would be wise for New Zealand to prepare our constitutional arrangements for a potential emergency.
This argument is based on the argument that New Zealand’s democracy has always been stable. This is not the case. There have been many times in New Zealand’s history when land wars, social inequality, racism, industrial turmoil, protests, conflicts, and crises have undermined fair and effective government. Despite all of this, New Zealanders have always found a way resolve their differences and move forward.
Supporters of the Monarchy often state that because the Monarch is “above politics”, they do not cause the sort of division an elected head of state would. As we have seen, this division is largely fictional.
Instead the Monarchy has become a potential source of instability. It lacks the power and inclination to intervene in New Zealand politics when needed. The Monarch provides no check on the powers of Government and does nothing to protect democracy. The Prime Minister holds the power to appoint and dismiss a new Governor-General at will. This means the Governor-General is unable to act in times of constitutional crises unless the Prime Minister agrees. This is a recipe for future instability.
This argument is cynical and tries to capitalise on the low opinion many people have for MPs. Whether deserved or not, unfortunately there is a lot of dislike for ‘politicians’. In confidence ratings, New Zealanders often rank MPs below used car salesmen and voters are therefore suspicious of any constitutional change that might increase politicians’ powers. Some monarchists try and use this by deliberately implying that a republic will give more power to politicians. This is not true.
The Monarchy does not limit the power of Parliament or politicians in any way. In fact the opposite is true. Supporters of the Monarchy often argue that a republic would lead to 'more power for politicians'. This is based on the mistaken belief that the Monarch acts as a check on the power of Parliament. But when pressed for more detail it is never explained what power is being denied, or when it is being denied.
Neither the Queen nor the Governor-General has ever acted to check the power of the New Zealand Parliament. The Queen has never intervened in the politics of any the 16 Commonwealth realms, even in cases when they experienced military coups and other forms of constitutional break down. Her son Prince Charles once told a New Zealand MP that he does not want to get involved in any constitutional conflicts. Like his mother, Prince Charles knows any political intervention in New Zealand is likely to damage the Monarchy’s image here and at home in Great Britain.
The Sovereign has little or no leeway to refuse to sign a statute into law. In fact the argument has been made that he or she would have to sign their own death warrant if so advised. The way the Monarchy operates hands power on a gold platter to politicians. Through the Royal prerogative, the Monarchy allows them almost unlimited powers.
If New Zealand's elected representatives are regarded so low, our system of government needs improving. Part of the problem may be an ineffectual head of state. While a republic cannot provide all the answers to this problem, presidential elections in the Republic of Ireland have shown that a non-executive head of state tends instead to lead a wider national conversation about where the country is heading. If this occurred in New Zealand then New Zealanders may choose to direct this conversation toward the behaviour they expect of parliamentarians. They might also empower a new head of state to raise the standards of parliamentary behaviour.
Government House, Wellington. A future President of New Zealand would more than likely use it as their primary residence - saving the taxpayer.
It is claimed by supporters of the Monarchy that the institution costs New Zealanders "virtually nothing". This is not true. The monarchy requires the New Zealand taxpayer to maintain the Governor-General.
The head of state of a New Zealand republic need not cost any more than the Governor-General. There would not be any need for extra advisers or a "presidential palace". The Governor-General has adequate support staff, there is no reason why the number of staff would change.
In any case, the cost of the monarchy is hardly a good reason to keep it. There's no point keeping something because it's cheap. If the monarchy doesn't provide New Zealand with a head of state of its own, yet will still have to pay the upkeep of an office that does everything the head of state is meant to do anyway, that is a problem. A republic would rectify this situation, the de facto head of state would become the actual head of state.
Monarchy represents "our traditions and heritage"
The argument relies on a selective and narrow definition of New Zealand’s heritage. While it is true that New Zealand was once a British colony we are now a very diverse and different country. Our cultural traditions are from Maori culture, from the Pacific, from the Netherlands, Australia, Europe, Asia, India, and North America. In the last twenty years immigrants from Africa and South America have added their own cultural heritage to New Zealand society. When people say ‘our heritage’ they usually mean only British history and traditions. They ignore all of the other cultures in New Zealand, including Māori.
Nothing about republicanism will remove the influence of British culture from New Zealand. Shakespeare will still be taught in schools, cricket will still be played, British music, film and the arts will still be popular. The Monarchy will not be written out of history. Becoming a republic will uphold important British traditions of democracy, the rule of law and selection by merit.
Labelling republicans 'anti-British' is a silly argument and relies on the myth that Britain and its Royal family are inseparable — that ‘everyone in Britain loves the Queen’. Around 30% of British voters currently support Britain becoming a republic. There is a republic movement in Britain just as there is in Australia and Canada. In fact, there are more republic supporters in the UK than there are in Australia and New Zealand combined.
Most of New Zealand's constitutional and legal links to Britain have already been severed. All that remains are a few provisions relating to regency and the succession. The move to an elected head of state is the next logical step in New Zealand’s progression toward full nationhood. The Queen's role as Queen of New Zealand does nothing for New Zealand, it does not stop the British Government from slapping a carbon tax on New Zealanders visiting Great Britain, and will not stop the abolition of ancestry visas. The Monarchy is constitutionally useless and symbolically flawed.
Anyone with an understanding of Great Britain's history will know that the Monarchy was briefly abolished from 1649 - 1660, but it has survived because Great Britain became a "disguised republic". The Magna Carta, Habeas corpus, the Petition of Right, the critical wins of Parliament in the English civil wars, the Act of Settlement and the Bill of Rights 1688 were all fought over curtailing the Monarch's powers. It is no coincidence that the British Monarchy, stripped of its powers, survived where more absolute monarchies in Spain, France, Germany and Russia did not. In addition, most of the great thinkers behind the American war of independence were English — John Locke, Edmund Ludlow and Thomas Paine. Robbie Burns, the famous Scottish poet, composed a number of openly republican verses. Republicans in Great Britain draw on this long tradition.
British and New Zealand Passports.
Working holiday entitlements are not linked in any way to the Monarchy. In addition New Zealanders travelling in countries with no New Zealand embassy or consulate office can, in an emergency, contact the nearest British embassy or high commission. This is because all members of the Commonwealth (whether they are monarchies or republics) agree to deal with their citizens on a government to government level. A republic would not change this arrangement.
Ancestry visas and immigration rules for citizens of Commonwealth countries are currently under review in Great Britain. This has nothing to do with becoming a republic. Under the current rules, New Zealanders have an entitlement to live in Britain by ancestry, if a grandparent was born there. This is unlikely to last much longer. Great Britain now has open border arrangements with 26 European Union countries. This relationship and changes to immigration controls will soon end Britain's arrangements with its former colonies.
There are no good arguments for keeping the Monarchy. It is of no benefit to New Zealand and does more harm than good. Electing a New Zealander as head of state is the final step in the long road to full independence.