Who do Government Ministers work for?

Ask any government minister who they work for and the most likely answer will be something akin to 'for New Zealand' or 'on behalf of New Zealanders'. 

That is how it should be. New Zealanders elect parliamentary representatives to serve in parliament. The Prime Minister appoints a cabinet (and Ministers outside of cabinet) and they take the required oath and are given the right to command the various ministries of state.

None of that will change when New Zealand has its own head of state. What will become clear is that Members of Parliament and Ministers of 'the Crown' are there to work for the people who elected them. Power and sovereignity will still be held collectively by the people of New Zealand and the right to use that power will be assigned every three years to the various New Zealand citizens who have earned the right to do so.

Today, all of the ministers appointed by the Prime Minister travelled to Government House, the seat of constitutional authority, to become members of the Executive Council. Despite the portraits hanging on the wall the whole ceremony had nothing to do with the British Monarchy. The conventions originated in the UK but New Zealand has since adapted them for its own purposes.

On paper the Executive Council advise the Governor-General. In actuality the Governor-General is there as a figurehead.  The whole Executive Council is run out of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet where the Secretary of the Cabinet Michael Webster is also the Clerk of the Executive Council. The Head of Government looks after the running of the country. The Head of State is there to make sure power is in accordance with laws and conventions of New Zealand.

Under our proposal for transitioning the position of Governor-General into a democratically selected position (and so becoming a republic) the basic functions with respect to the Executive Council will remain. Ministers will travel to Government House and New Zealand's Head of State on behalf of the people of New Zealand will ask them to repeat the oath

“I, [name], being chosen and admitted of the Executive Council of New Zealand, swear that I will to the best of my judgement, at all times, when thereto required, freely give my counsel and advice to the Governor-General for the time being, for the good management of the affairs of New Zealand. That I will not directly nor indirectly reveal such matters as shall be debated in Council and committed to my secrecy, but that I will in all things be a true and faithful Councillor. [So help me God.]”

Athiests may not like the last part of the Oath but the issue of Oaths and how they worded is a separate (but related) issue. At some point in the transition to a republic the various oaths and affirmations will have to be amended to account for the change. Those things are the finer details and can be decided upon after the first indicator referendum when the proposed Constitutional Commission would look at the issue of what needs to change in order to bring a republic into effect. For now the core of the head of state campaign is very simple. Parliament and the Cabinet works for New Zealand and only a New Zealander can be New Zealand's head of state and represent the sovereignity of New Zealand.

When to change the flag

In the debate over the proposed flag referendum it is important to avoid confusing the question of whether to change the flag with the question of when to change the flag.

National promised the flag referendum if they were re-elected and they were. So at some point in 2015 or 2016 New Zealanders can expect to vote in an indicator referendum. The government has yet to release the full details but is understood to be in favour of a two stage referendum process with an independent, or cross-party, group established to guide the overall process.

Some are calling the debate a distraction and not necessary. Even those who are fully in favour of New Zealand one day adopting a new flag are against it happening when, in their view, "there are more important priorities". Those who oppose any flag change agree with them. They either want to stop the referendum or stop a vote in favour of change.

Our campaign is all about giving New Zealanders their own head of state but we also support a new flag - if that is what New Zealanders decide. When that happens and what that new flag might look is, again, for voters to decide.

We are focused on the substance of change rather than the symbolism and believe the turn the Governor-General into an independent head of state is an important priority. Clearly New Zealand will not be constitutionally independent until we have our own head of state.

We welcome, however, the discussion of national identity that will accompany the flag referendum. The flag debate will see New Zealanders engaging in widespread discussion as to what it means to be an independent and sovereign nation.  There will be talk of post-colonialism and nationhood. About what it means to be a New Zealander.

Referendums highlight the importance of open and democratic decision making and as an organisation we are committed to keeping New Zealanders fully informed with relevant and reliable information.

To assert there are 'other priorities' than flag change or head of state reform is understandable but it misrepresents the widespread nature of progress and political change. New Zealand has many pressing social and economic problems that have to be addressed but it also has democratic and constitutional reforms that need to happen as well. We have to make progress in all areas and not fall behind in one just because we are busy fixing another.

Reforming the office of head of state, and ensuring Government House is working on behalf of all New Zealanders will take many years and that process has to start sooner rather than later.  It is not the same kind of priority as child poverty or increasing illiteracy but it is still a priority.

New Zealanders deserve an fair and effective head of state. One that reflects the diversity of contemporary New Zealand.

The flag debates are going to happen with the next two years and the more New Zealanders who are involved the more productve they will be. Whether we get a new flag, and when we get a new flag, is something only New Zealanders can decide. In either case the debate will be a chance for New Zealanders to decide what their priorities are.











Post Election Planning: AGM 2014 is this Saturday

AGM 2014 is next Saturday, September 27th 2pm to 5pm,

Library Cafe, 55 Princes Street, Onehunga, Auckland.

Refreshments will be served. All members are welcome and encouraged to attend.

The election is over and National has promised a flag referendum. 

If you have ideas on how to improve the campaign then please send them to info@republic.org.nz and they will be added to the AGM agenda (available from Thursday 25th).

Read our policy statement and reference your ideas to the relevant section of the statement.

We know what our message is and who we have to deliver it to.
We know we need more money and we need more active supporters.

How can we improve? How do we win? Send your thoughts and come along next Saturday to meet your fellow republic supporters.

Scotland votes No. New Zealand looks to the future.

Scotland has voted no to becoming a separate nation and yes to the greater devolution of powers promised by the British parliament.

There was an 84.6% turnout and yes campaign gathered only 44.7% of the vote. It was a clear victory for the no vote winning in 28 of the 32 voting areas.

Voter turn-out was crucial. Dundee had the highest yes vote (57.3%) but the second lowest turnout (78.8%). In Glasgow 53.5% voted yes but turnout was the lowest of all (75%). Overall in the four areas that voted yes the average turnout was only 81.5%. Everwhere else it averaged 85%. 659 000 did not vote at all.

Tonight we will find out whether New Zealand's voter turnout has increased or decreased since the record low in 2011.

There were many sound and practical reasons why people chose to vote in favour of remaining part of the United Kingdom. There were also a lot of negative arguments claiming  a yes vote would spell "chaos" and "disaster". For many there were genuine concerns that 'independence' would cause ongoing economic problems without necessarily fixing existing ones. There were also deliberate attempts to undermine the yes vote by spreading anxiety and confusion.

The same thing happened during the MMP referendum here in 1993 and during the Australian head of state referendum in 1999 and we can expect something similar during the head of state referendums proposed for New Zealand. Supporters of hereditary selection and a foreign head of state, themselves anxious about change, will almost certainly rely on targeted campaigns to frighten and confuse undecided voters.

The Scotland referendum proposed reforming every aspect of Scotland's economy, constitution and government including the seperation of its military forces.  By comparison, in New Zealand, the final step to constitutional independence is very simple and straight-forward. To have an independent New Zealand head of state we simply have to take the position of Governor-General and transition it into a democratically selected position. 

Opponents of change in New Zealand have long claimed that an unelected Monarch and a hereditary lineage provides enduring stability. That it creates unity.

Stability, however, does not come from one person or one family. It arises from a broad set of traditions, laws and conventions. By respecting the importance of diversity and valuing open and peaceful government, New Zealanders have created a robust and stable democracy.  This will not change just because we have a new way of choosing our head of state. If anything a properly independent head of state will strengthen  and stabilise New Zealand even more.

Kiwis accept the need for ongoing incremental improvements and reforms to our constitution in order to remain responsive to broader changes in New Zealand's society. Here in NZ if something is not working as well as it could be, we take a good look and find a better way.

Updating the position of Governor-General is a straight-forward solution to out-of-date head of state. It takes the traditions of impartiality and party neutrality we have inherited and improves upon them with a fairer and more open alternative. It is a change that is overdue and a change that we deserve as a nation.

Republic campaigners in Britain see the result in Scotland as a sign it is time for rethink how Britain is governed. They are looking at the yes campaign as an example of how a reform campaign can achieve a referendum and change minds and they are looking to learn as much as they can about how to campaign successfully in a referendum.

Regardless of all the devolution changes about to happen in Scotland every New Zealander wishes Scotland and the rest of the UK well. The multitude of historic, personal and political ties that binds New Zealand to the British Isles will always be strong. He in New Zealand the need for an independent head of state remains a priority.

Scottish Independence and a New Zealand republic

The outcome of this week's referendum on Scottish independence is hard to predict but campaigners here in New Zealand will be watching the result closely. Irrespective of what Scottish voters decide there will be lessons to learn from how the Yes and No campaigns were run and what factors swayed voters to choose one option over the other.

At the same time the general election here in New Zealand will give republic campaigners a clearer picture of what the next three years will bring and how the incoming government's policies will affect the campaign for a New Zealand head of state.

Clearly, the Scottish referendum is far more complex then the debate over New Zealand's head of state. In Britain, Scotland and England are enmeshed economically, politically and socially. Independence is a huge issue with far reaching implications.  It will alter both countries forever. 

New Zealand is almost completely independent and the transition to a Kiwi head of state is a relatively straight-forward final step in the 175 year long journey from colony to sovereign nation. The British Monarch is head of state in name only. It is a symbolic throw-back to New Zealand's past. All of the actual work of the head of state is done by the Kiwi Governor-General.

Conjecture as to what the outcome in Scotland might mean for the head of state or flag debates in New Zealand is unnecessary this close to the actual result being announced. Friday night will provide the answer to a decision polling experts are saying is too close to call.

Two things are known. If voters vote Yes, Scotland will not become a republic in 2016. It will instead take its place alongside the other Commonwealth realms and keep the Monarch as Head of State. If voters reject the proposed change then further powers will be devolved to the Scottish parliament. In either case Scotland will have moved closer to being a fully independent nation-state.

The latest polls here in New Zealand are still showing a likely win for the centre-right but this last week of campaigning may see a swing to the left. Again, conjecture as to the final result is unnecessary. Far better to just wait and see what happens.

We know that both Labour and National have policies on a flag referendum. We know the Greens are supportive in principle even if they disagree on whether it is a priority. We know Labour and the Greens support a referendum on an independent and democratically selected head of state. We also know that both NZ First and the Conservative parties are opposed to both a flag and a head of state referendum.

We will know the result in Scotland by Friday night (NZ time) and we should know the result of the New Zealand election by late on Saturday night. The result of coalition negotiations won't be known until later.

Once both results are known the republic campaign will have a better sense of what is happening in Britain and in New Zealand. Armed with that knowledge we will improve our campaign structure and increase our effectiveness. New Zealanders deserve a better head of state and we are focused on making sure it happens regardless of which parties are in government.

Only a New Zealander can be our Head of State

News from London that Prince William and his wife Kate are expecting a second child will be of interest to followers of the royal family but it will have no effect on the campaign for a New Zealand republic.

Achieving an independent and democratically selected head of state is about New Zealanders gaining control over their head of state. The role can only be awarded to someone based on their career and hard work. It cannot be given to someone just because they were born into the right family.

It is important that we reform the position of Governor-General so that it reflects the needs of contemporary New Zealand. At issue is not about how many members of the royal family there are or what they are named. It is about New Zealanders and how we live together as a diverse and modern nation.

Pregnancy can be a trying time for any couple and the happy news is always tinged with caution. For parents all that matters is that their baby is born healthy and that both mother and baby remain well throughout. William and Kate are no different and if royalists really want to help the couple they will leave them alone and let them enjoy the pregnancy away from the media glare.

William himself recognises how relevant the issue is in the greater scheme of things.  Commenting on the announcement he said "It's important that we all focus on the big news and the big international and domestic things that are going on at the moment," 

Right now in Britain the biggest issue is next week's referendum on Scottish independence. Here in New Zealand it is the election of a new government. 

Prime Minister John Key is mistaken if he believes all "New Zealanders would rejoice at the baby announcement". Clearly there are some New Zealanders who will be very happy to hear the news but the majority of New Zealanders have either a passing interest or no interest at all. 

Many Kiwis will be happy for the couple (and for all the couples here in New Zealand who are expecting) but far more Kiwis however are working to make sure New Zealand can better meet the needs of future generations.

Reforming our head of state is all about our future together. Becoming New Zealand's head of state should be something that all New Zealander children can aspire to regardless of what family they were born in to.