The Queen's only Royal Assent

Queen Elizabeth and Dame Te Arikinui Te Atairangikaahu - Photograph taken by John Nicholson, 1995, The Dominion Post Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library. Reference Number: EP/1995/4375B/33A-F

Picture: Queen Elizabeth II, the Maori Queen, Dame Te Arikinui Te Atairangikaahu, the Prime Minister Jim Bolger (left), and Douglas Graham. Photographed by Evening Post staff photographer John Nicholson on the 4th of November 1995.

On this day in 1995, Prime Minister Jim Bolger and Dame Te Arikinui Te Atairangikaahu signed the Deed of Settlement for the Waikato Tainui Treaty settlement in Ngaruawahia. Later that year, the Queen, while visiting New Zealand, gave Royal assent to the Waikato Raupatu Claims Settlement Act 1995.

Until recently I thought this was simply a case of the New Zealand Government making use of the Queen while she was in New Zealand on a Royal tour. However, Dr Matthew Palmer recounts that it was actually a way of the British Government ensuring they weren’t put in a difficult position:

Waikato-Taunui wanted the apologied that formed part of their agreement with the Crown, that settled the first major historical land claim in New Zealand, to be signed by Queen Elizabeth II and Maori Queen Te Ata-i-Rangikaahu, Queen to Queen. Such a precedent had significant implications for the Queen of New Zealand, who also happens to be Queen of a number of other jurisdictions across the world which ahve been sites of questionable Crown actions in history.

So, the compromise was that the Queen would sign the legislation giving effect to the Deed of Settlement, which contained the apology. That way, the legislation was signed on the advice of the New Zealand Government. The UK government could simply say “The Queen was acting on the advice of her ministers in New Zealand.”

This is not a criticism of the Queen. The Queen acts on advice - that’s the iron clad constitutional convention at the basis of the constitutional monarchy. It does underline the absurdity of the monarchy. We’re taking cues from the British government because they don’t want to be embarrassed, which really isn’t our problem.

Reference: Palmer, Matthew (2008). The Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand's Law and Constitution. Victoria University of Wellington Press. ISBN 978-0-86473-579-9.