Is our own Head of State a constitutional priority?

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern recognises, like so many, that becoming a republic is inevitable. But she doesn't see it as a priority for her government. It is a common comment and many political leader's before her have said the same thing. Here at NZ Republic we do not claim that achieving our own Head of State should take precedence over social and financial issues like solving the housing crisis, ending child poverty and decreasing unemployment. We all know NZ has a lot of problems to solve. What we do say, however, is that, as a nation we must advance in all areas - culturally, social, economically, constitutionally. Constitutional clarity and a Kiwi Head of State it is one of NZ's main constitutional priorities.

Good constitutional change takes time. Becoming a parliamentary republic will take plenty of detailed discussion and planning and at least two referenda, All the more reason to start the process sooner rather than later. The proposed Head of State Commission to start setting out the options is the best way forward and there is no reason why it couldn't begin in 2019.

Let's not wait for the Brits to sort out all their Brexit negotiations and decide which Prince will be its next King. Let's do what we do well and just get on with making our own decisions. Let's make the change happen. Let's do it well.

What do we want from a Head of State?

As we move toward a New Zealand Republic, with a head of state based on the Governor-General, we can look to the present office holder to understand what we want our future Heads of State to do.

Dame Patsy Reddy has only been in the role for a few months so we cannot tell what she will do with her time at Government House. She appears unconventional in some respects but we have yet to see her in action as a cultural leader. She is well used to dealing with those in high office, with the famous and fortunate but we have yet to see Dame Patsy out and about connecting with every day Kiwis.

Regardless of how our Head of State is chosen (whether directly or indirectly) their proposed powers and role will be clearly prescribed. Ours will not be an American or Finnish or French republic. It will be a New Zealand Republic and it is expected the office holder will fulfill three key roles. As a constitutional role model and figurehead, as a top diplomat and as a cultural leader. Welcoming visiting dignitaries and officiating at constitutional ceremonies and meetings will be a core function of the role, but just as importantly will be the opportunities and expectation that our Head of State will be out and about talking to and hearing from New Zealanders from all walks of life.

Dame Patsy has announced she intends to visit all sixteen of NZ's regions within the next five years. Not exactly a hard goal to achieve given our size and really this is just something we would naturally expect from any Governor-General or Head of State.

She recently visited Nelson-Tasman with her husband Sir David Gascoigne and the official three day itinerary looked like the list of photo opportunities we tend to see whenever a royal couple pay their annual fleeting visit. Let's hope she is not going to fall into the trap of seeing herself as a stand-in aristocrat , cutting ribbons, tasting wine, and waving from window of her passing limousine.  It would be nice to see her delving a lot deeper into the full diversity of New Zealand society.   

We have yet to see Dame Patsy visiting those affected by this weeks earthquakes and time will tell what she does to stamp her mark on New Zealand's highest constitutional office. Regardless of what she does and how she behaves it will help New Zealanders get a better sense of what they want from a Kiwi Head of State.

Latest Poll: Majority of New Zealanders support change

Our latest poll is proof that our campaign is working. When asked what their preference was for New Zealand's next Head of State, only 34% of respondants wanted the next British Monarch. 44% wanted a directly elected Kiwi and 15% wanted a NZer chosen by a two-thirds majority in Parliament.

59% of New Zealanders can see that having a New Zealander in the role makes far more sense.

We have been polling the same question since March 2014 and 16 months ago we reached 47%. Since then we have seen two royal visits, the Brexit vote, the flag debate, the Rugby World Cup and the Olympics. Through out that time our message has been clear and consistent. Only a New Zealander can be New Zealand's Head of State and the best way to achieve that is take the position of Governor-General and turn it into the Head of State. 

Recently the Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae made it clear that he too thought it was inevitable that New Zealand will become a republic.

We still have a lot more people to convince to achieve that goal and we plan to carry on promoting our aims and working towards what is best for all New Zealanders.

The new New Year's Honours list

The Honours system is out of date and the best way to revitalise it is to change the way our Head of State is appointed.

Queen Elizabeth has nothing to do with the awards that are handed out at Queen's birthday weekend. The whole 'Royal Honours' system is administered by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and Government House acts on the advice of Parliament to award them. While some award winners like to think Buckingham Palace has given them the seal of approval it is misguided for anyone to believe the British Monarch has taken an active interest in his or her career. Believing a 'royal honour' is actually royal (and somehow more worthy) is an example of how disconnected many people are from the realities of our constitutional arrangements.

Recognising the value of people's contribution to society is an important part of New Zealand's cultural values but the way the current system operates does not reflect the core values of New Zealand society. We have a sexist system of Knights and Dames that privileges hetereosexual men over all others and a list of Queen's Service awards handed out in the name of someone that has not visited New Zealand since 2002.

It would be far more meaningful and of benefit to New Zealanders to have our own Head of State and a holiday weekend that celebrated life in Aotearoa. Handing out a second round of New Year's awards at Matariki would be a better way to recognise talented and committed Kiwis.  Whether some awards carry titles with them is something yet to de decided but copying Britain's out-dated and gendered class system makes little sense in a diverse and progressive South Pacific nation like ours.

Changing the honours system would not be difficult. Kiwis have a can do attitude and we can do anything we set our minds to. It might happen before we become a republic and , as an organisation, we would welcome any effort to review the honours system as long as it was done in a fair and open way.

For New Zealand Republic, however, the focus of our campaign remains very clearly on the main goal - a New Zealand Head of State and a New Zealand republic.

Savage