"Do such things matter? They certainly do. We suffer in this country from a lack of emotional focus... New Zealand will become a republic just as Britain will be blurred into Europe."
- Prime Minister David Lange
The case for a New Zealand republic sets out the main arguments for why New Zealand should become a republic. They fall into three categories:
- Independence - New Zealand should have a New Zealander as the head of state;
- Nationhood - Our head of state should reflect New Zealand's national identity, culture and heritage;
- Democracy - New Zealand should have a democratic and accountable head of state.
We like to think of itself as an independent country. However, it cannot objectively be argued New Zealand's current head of state represents this.
Our current head of state is not a New Zealander and does not represent New Zealand. When the Queen travels overseas, she does so in order to represent Great Britain.
The Queen works to strengthen British economic and political ties, and does whatever the British Government asks of her. In fact, whenever "our" head of state visits New Zealand, the Queen has to ask for permission from the British Government to leave Britain.
If the Queen wanted to be a citizen of New Zealand, she would not meet the legal requirements to become a citizen. The Citizenship Act 1977 requires an applicant for New Zealand citizenship to have been resident in New Zealand for five years before citizenship is granted. The Queen has spent a total of no more than six months in New Zealand.
The Governor-General is not a proper head of state. While the Governor-General may increasingly act in ways that befit a head of state, the reality is that New Zealand is still not regarded as being fully independent of Great Britain. Appointing the Queen's representative in New Zealand is inadequate. A New Zealand head of state will make it clear that New Zealand is an independent country. It will signal New Zealand's independence and maturity to the world.
An independent head of state will be one that works only for New Zealanders. It is important that the office of head of state remains separate from the many political parties and causes that New Zealanders support. The position is also more effective and fair when it is secular and does not favour one denomination or religion over another.
Deciding the rules for ourselves
In recent years, the British Parliament has attempted to amend the succession law. The problem is the Statute of Westminster 1931, the law which granted legislative independence to Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The Statute requires "consultation" on changes to the succession before any changes to the succession law. While this provision is not binding, it is still an important constitutional convention. The most recent attempt in 2008 failed for this reason: the British Government did not want to have to consult with all the parliaments of the Commonwealth realms. New Zealand's Parliament could change the law of succession unilaterally, but that would go against the convention established by the Statute of Westminster. Change can only be enacted if the governments of all the 15 Commonwealth realms are consulted, probably by Britain. In a republic, the rules governing New Zealand's head of state will be made solely by the New Zealand Parliament. They will change as New Zealanders decide they need to, not because of events in Great Britain.
New Zealand is a unique, dynamic and diverse country. New Zealand's constitutional arrangements, national symbols and head of state should reflect this.
A republic affirms New Zealand's sense of nationhood.
Becoming a republic and electing New Zealand's head of state will foster a deeper and more sophisticated sense of nationhood. It will clarify to New Zealanders, and to the world, what New Zealand stands for.
How New Zealanders understand their place in the world is crucial to New Zealand's success in an increasingly globalised world. New Zealand excels in sport, in its human rights record, in business and in the arts. New Zealand's constitution lags behind these achievements. Our current constitutional arrangement causes confusion overseas as to whether New Zealand is linked to Britain, or whether it is part of Australia. We send conflicting messages about who we are and what we stand for.
The debate and discussion around becoming a republic affirms the values that are important to New Zealanders. It will promote discussion about New Zealand's history and future. It will clarify the values we all see as important. Becoming a republic will be a celebration of New Zealand's unique culture and heritage. It will demonstrate New Zealand's confidence and independence and it will symbolise a shared sense of nationhood.
A republic will make New Zealand more democratic.
A republic will ensure we have a head of state that is democratically elected and accountable to voters. As a result the head of state will be a more effective constitutional safeguard. This will decrease the risk of political instability.
Electing the head of state is a basic democratic right. Republicanism is based on the principle that government authority is reliant on the consent of citizens. The Monarchy is based on the principle that hereditary privilege alone should decide the head of state. It represents a belief that government authority is embodied in a single individual (the Monarch). In a republic the head of state would be elected — either directly by voters, or indirectly by parliament.
Replacing the Governor-General.
At present, the Prime Minister chooses the Governor-General and advises the Monarch of their choice. They usually choose someone who will not challenge them, and someone who has something to do with their own party.
In the past, this has meant a number of openly political appointments. National Prime Minister Jack Marshall gave his friend Sir Denis Blundell the job in 1972.
In 1977, Robert Muldoon appointed former Prime Minister Sir Keith Holyoake to the job. This was primarily because the next best candidate, Sir Edmund Hillary, had signed a petition in 1975 supporting Labour Prime Minister Bill Rowling. Sir Michael Hardie Boys was a known constitutional conservative with National Party leanings.
In 1985, Labour Prime Minister David Lange appointed the Reverend Sir Paul Reeves. Sir Paul was known for his activism for the anti-apartheid and anti-nuclear movements. Dame Catherine Tizard was appointed to the office in 1990 by the outgoing Labour Government. She was the former wife of Labour Deputy Prime Minister Bob Tizard.
While individually there have been good appointments made, there have also been a number of openly political appointments. Many of those, particularly the appointment of Sir Keith Holyoake, were very controversial. Creating a transparent democratic process will ensure that the replacement of the Governor-General will not be as controversial.
A republic means an effective constitutional safeguard.
A republic will create a head of state in New Zealand that could act in times of constitutional crises. The Monarch and the Governor-General do not have the political power to do this. The Governor-General is unable to resolve constitutional crises because the Prime Minister holds the power to dismiss and replace the Governor-General at any time. The Monarch will never get involved in New Zealand politics, because they are "non-political". Having a head of state able to act effectively in times of crises will be a better restraint on the power of the executive — the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
The Monarch is an absentee and ineffectual head of state. The position is unaccountable to New Zealanders. In a republic, the head of state will be chosen by New Zealanders. They will work on behalf of all New
Zealanders regardless of their political beliefs.