Both the Commission Opening and State Opening of Parliament next Monday and Tuesday highlight the need to update New Zealand's Head of State. Both ceremonies are important traditions but ceremonial traditions need to slowly evolve to remain relevant and accessible.
The Commission Opening on Monday will see Members of Parliament sworn in and the Speaker elected. New Zealand's MPs are asked during the ceremony to say the Oath (or Affirmation) of Allegiance. Under NZ law a religious Oath is distinguished from a secular Affirmation.
The Affirmation asks "solemnly, sincerely, and truly declare and affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her heirs and successors, according to law". If they prefer te reo Māori they say "Ko ahau, ko ……e kī ana i runga i te pono, i te tika, i te ngākau tapatahi me te whakaū anō ka noho pirihonga, ka noho pūmau ki a Kuini Irihāpeti te Tuarua me tōna kāhui whakaheke e ai ke te ture" .
In the past some MP's have sort to change the Oath they say in order to register their disapproval. Standing Orders now state, however, that if a member does not say the Oath or Affirmation correctly they must withdraw immediately and may not sit or vote in the house until they have done so. The Speaker and the Office of the Clerk has specifically addressed the problem this Oath presents to those who support a republic:
While any person taking an oath or making an affirmation is expected to do so in good faith, the oath or affirmation of allegiance is not a promise to refrain from advocating a republican or a different system of government. It is a promise of allegiance to the Sovereign established according to law. It is perfectly consistent with the oath for a person to hold views favouring an alternative form of constitutional arrangement, always provided that any change that they support is to be effected lawfully.
The Oath/Affirmation is clearly out of date when many MPs are already thinking of removing the role of the Sovereign even as they say the oath. Ironically, the Speaker goes on to say:
...the consequence of taking the oath or affirmation of allegiance is that it is inconsistent for a member to take a subsequent oath pledging allegiance to a foreign power. To do so will result in the member’s seat becoming vacant.
The wording of the Oath can be changed but the more obvious issue is that New Zealand needs a Head of State who is from New Zealand. One that represents all New Zealanders.
MPs should either swear allegiance to New Zealand or New Zealanders (or to the Treaty or the constitution) or they should be asked to swear allegiance to the Head of State to symbolise their allegiance to all New Zealanders. Any of those options would be better than the current wording.
On Monday, 121 worthy New Zealanders will stand in the New Zealand parliament and pledging allegiance to another country's Head of State. 60 years ago it might have made sense. In 2014 it is plainly out of date. The oath reminds us why it is important to keep moving slowly but surely toward a Kiwi Head of State and a New Zealand Republic.
You can read more about both ceremonies including the quotes above at the Parliamentary website.