Republic referendum in 2020?

Should we begin a discussion and process leading to a referendum in 2020 on whether New Zealand should become a republic or not after Patsy Reddy’s term as Governor General ends in 2021?

That’s what Peter Dunne has suggested in his latest blog post.

  • A group of leading but informed New Zealanders should be gathered together to begin the process of public discussion about how a New Zealand republic could be structured, including issues such as how that relates to the Treaty of Waitangi.
  • That process should be long-term – running for about three years – and culminating in a binding referendum in mid 2020 on whether New Zealanders wished our country to become a republic.
  • In the event of a positive result, the establishment of the republic would then be timed to coincide with the end of Dame Patsy’s term in late 2021.

I think this idea has merit. I hope it isn’t dismissed by petty politicking.

Congratulations to Dame Patsy Reddy on her appointment as New Zealand’s next Governor-General. She is another outstanding selection in that now long line of impressive New Zealanders to hold the office, and I have no doubt she will do a superb job and quickly earn the respect of New Zealanders.

However, she should be the last person to occupy the role. It is high time for New Zealand to elect its own Head of State, and for our country to become a republic. We should take the opportunity of the appointment of a new Governor-General to commence the process of public debate, leading up to a public referendum, which if supportive of our becoming a republic, should lead to the installation of our first President, when Dame Patsy’s term comes to an end in September 2021.

The Irish Republic provides the model for New Zealand, with a parliamentary system of government and an elected President as Head of State. The President does not exercise any executive functions and is obliged to act on the advice of his or her Ministers, in pretty much the same way as our Governor-General does now. The difference is of course that Uachtaran na hEireann (President of Ireland) is the supreme Head of State, elected directly by the people, not the representative of a foreign hereditary monarch at the other end of the world, as is our Governor-General.

Opponents of New Zealand’s becoming a republic often erroneously argue that it would mean the end of our Commonwealth ties. That is utter nonsense. 32 of the Commonwealth’s 53 member states are already republics, including major Commonwealth players like India, South Africa and Singapore, amongst a host of others. So there would be no reason at all for New Zealand, upon becoming a republic, to have to reconsider its Commonwealth membership in any shape or form, and nor should it.

As a way forward, a group of leading but informed New Zealanders (often not the same thing!) should be gathered together to begin the process of public discussion about how a New Zealand republic could be structured, including issues such as how that relates to the Treaty of Waitangi. That process should be long-term – running for about three years – and culminating in a binding referendum in mid 2020 on whether New Zealanders wished our country to become a republic. In the event of a positive result, the establishment of the republic would then be timed to coincide with the end of Dame Patsy’s term in late 2021.

I make these comments with no disrespect to Dame Patsy, nor the current and past Governors-General, nor to the high office to which they have all been appointed. So long as the office of Governor-General remains, both it and the person holding the role deserve the respect and loyalty of all citizens. But the appointment of a new Governor-General does establish a finite period. That provides a chance to think afresh about our future constitutional structure. I have long believed New Zealanders are ready for that discussion and that we should therefore give them that opportunity. The appointment of a new Governor-General does just that.

This looks like a very sensible and timely approach to me.

Waiting for the queen of England to die is a poor reason for procrastination. We should discuss and decide under our own terms and with timing of our own choosing.

This doesn’t mean we will become a republic. It means we the people of New Zealand would get to decide what we want for our country.

All parties should make it clear what their stance is on this now and especially going in to next year’s election.

 

25 Comments

  1. Patzcuaro

     /  March 24, 2016

    Very sensible, I’m ready for a Republic, I now don’t think we need to wait for the Queen to die. The time frame sounds good.

    My only area of concern would be around the direct election. Under the current appointment system we seem to end up with the “quiet” achievers. Whereas under a direct election process we might end up with the “loud” achievers. The “quiet” achievers just get on with doing the job whereas the “loud” achievers would want the job more because of it’s position.

    All recent GGs would be examples of “quiet” achievers, people who have risen to the top in their fields without necessarily being in the public eye. Banks & Peters would be examples of loud achievers and people who would seek election to the office.

    • Gezza

       /  March 24, 2016

      Perhaps the loud achievers problem could be addressed by all the parties agreeing on criteria for President which effectively ensure “quiet achievers” are those allowed to stand for election?

      I would also consider election by Parliament instead of direct election by all voters provided it was something like a 75% majority requirement.

      I like the idea of starting the repub’ic discussion and running it for 3 years now, on the back of the flag referendum. We could even look at another flag, something better than the Lockwood Horror, at the same time as the referendum on becoming a republic.

      • Patzcuaro

         /  March 24, 2016

        Totally agree about the 75% threshold I’d prefer a 100% but that doesn’t allow for the likes of Peters.

        • Gezza

           /  March 24, 2016

          I also think the referendum should be restricted to New Zealand citizens. A 3 year discussion of the issue gives time for them to figure out how to best manage that process.

  2. Geoffrey

     /  March 24, 2016

    To obviate it being trivialised in the same way as the flag debate, all uninformed leading citizens should be rigorously excluded from participation in any debate concerning a switch to republicanism. I am delighted that Peter Dunn perceived this potential threat to productive discussion.

  3. Oliver

     /  March 24, 2016

    The governor General is like the Maori king. Both are a waste of space. We should be debating whether we need this ridiculous role within modern society. Let’s make this the last governor General.

    • Gezza

       /  March 24, 2016

      You do have a point. I don’t know if any other country is led by a Prime Minister only. Maybe we can dump the PM role and replace it with the PONZ job.

  4. Alan Wilkinson

     /  March 24, 2016

    I’m starting to question why we would need a president and a prime minister. Seems to me the constitutional monarch and prime minister is a better system. The Scandinavians and Dutch do this successfully. So we just need our own figurehead instead of someone else’s. Just elect a King/Queen for life and a new one when that ends like the Pope.

    • Patzcuaro

       /  March 24, 2016

      Who did you have in mind as our first Regent?

      • Gezza

         /  March 24, 2016

        Bishop Tamaki might be interested…. 😎

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  March 24, 2016

        I don’t care so long as they don’t have any remaining political agenda. Perhaps one of the retired GGs to start with. It would be much better if they were appointed by Parliament than election as we have seen the kind of crap an election would generate.

    • Kevin

       /  March 25, 2016

      Or just get rid of the governor-general.

  5. Art Croft

     /  March 24, 2016

    “All parties should make it clear what their stance is on this now and especially going in to next year’s election.” Here’s Labour below.

    “Our policy is that we are for it, except for the parts which we are against, but we’ll just ignore the parts we don’t like. So on the whole we are against it, but none of this, of course, is policy.”

  6. Zedd

     /  March 24, 2016

    If we move to a republic model.. we don’t have to adopt a USA style President.. we could stick with a ‘Governor’ type position (no political power) BUT replacing the British monarch as ‘head of state’.. BUT, voted in by popular vote.

    Then we do not need to change the rest of the political system

    Maybe Key thinks, its his next option after 2017 ?? 😀

    just my 2c worth 🙂

  7. Pete Kane

     /  March 24, 2016

    The current system may not be either ideologically or philosophically ‘pretty’, but it works fine. Worry about more pressing concerns.

  8. As an Irish Citizen I’m not sure I would take the model of the Irish republic for a number of reasons…it was designed for some very specific purposes which aren’t at play here…an aside I know but nevertheless

  9. My worst sceptic first – Great, here’s another political football to kick around …

    – “A group of leading but informed New Zealanders should be gathered together to begin the process of public discussion …”
    1) Chief : Oh no Max, not another appointed panel!
    2) Just had TWO of those, in a signicantly related way, the Constitutional Advisory Panel (CAP) [2011] and Matike Mai Aotearoa, Iwi Constitutional investigation [2015/16].
    http://www.ourconstitution.org.nz/The-Report
    http://www.converge.org.nz/pma/iwi.htm

    – “That process should be long-term – running for about three years – and culminating in a binding referendum in mid 2020 …”
    1) Chief : Oh no Max, not another binding referendum! (The question being; is it necessary for the populace to decide anything other than whether they want Aotearoa-New Zealand to be a republic or not? Do they need to decide by referendum what sort of republic? If the former, the referendum need not necessarily be at the end of the process?)
    2) Three years at least, but what form will the discussion take? Who’s going to decide who is well informed or not? How is the discussion really going to reach into the community?

    Will we use this as the opportunity for extensive use of digital voting and polling?

    – “In the event of a positive result, the establishment of the republic would then be timed to coincide with the end of Dame Patsy’s term in late 2021.
    1) Chief : Oh no Max, not any old meaningless year! The end of a Governor General’s term? The 181st anniversary of the Treaty? Just kidding, 😉 I will be very happy if it happens sooner rather than later. I guess another 19 years is a long time to wait until 2040?

    The good things that immediately spring to mind are –
    1) Automatic new flag required for republic
    2) Default Constitution required for republic.
    The Constitution might take more than 3 years to thrash out? I guess another good thing is some considerable background work has been done by CAP and MMA?

  10. Pantsdownbrown

     /  March 24, 2016

    PG: “including issues such as how that relates to the Treaty of Waitangi”

    There goes any chance of a republic being agreed upon via referendum.

    • @ PDB – Serious question/disagreement. Surely a binding referendum favours a majority opinion in the population? Let’s assume the (absurd transumption) “equality = sameness” Pakeha viewpoint is prevalent – which it appears to be – and these Pakeha constitute 63% of the population? They will easily win the referendum if it concerns the nature of the Republican Constitution regards Te Tiriti.

      A Maori viewpoint like “equality = equal and different” supported by say 15% or a multicultural view like “equality = equal and diverse” by say 37% of the population will have almost no hope, will it, despite it being the only logical, reasonable way of defining “equality” in a world where ethnic, racial and cultural difference is tangibly, evidently and plainly REAL for all to see?

      Put another way, Maori are disadvantaged by a straightforward referendum.

      • Pantsdownbrown

         /  March 25, 2016

        Its what would have to be agreed regarding the Treaty of Waitangi in the formation of the republic BEFORE a referendum that would stop most people voting to become a republic.

        The govt would never push forward with such a referendum without complete support of Maori (and their obligations of the treaty).

        • @ Pantsdownbrown – I agree to some considerable degree. 🙂 Surprised?

          There will certainly be contention from all sides about Te Tiriti along with irrational fear of Treaty principles and Maoritanga in general.

          I envisage compromise both ways. Pakeha may have to accept some provisions of “bicultural foundation”, while Maori may have to accept a new Constitution supercedes the Treaty?

          It will take a courageous government, skilled key participants and a brave, well informed populace to arrive at constitutional arrangements which both maintain equality and permit maximum freedom of difference; allowing biculturalism and multiculturalism to thrive within single nationhood.

          I feel sure there will be people who will take this up as an extremely positive challenge and guide the process accordingly. If Aotearoa-New Zealand can do it, I believe we’ll be back there at Number One position in the world regards our social organisation.

  11. Geoffrey

     /  March 24, 2016

    Based on the total cock-up represented by the Veterans’ Support Act that was three years in the making – there is no hope in hell that a functional constitution could be developed in anything less than ten years.

    • @ Geoffrey – Maybe if we get the right people onto it? The US Constitution was drafted between mid-1776 and late 1777. Recent events suggest we should be very wary of “appointed panels”?

      • Geoffrey

         /  March 25, 2016

        I think that was my point. I believe that the free-for-all as interested parties seek to establish entitlement to a seat at the table would take several years to moderate – and then the reason for their assembly several more. Coming up with a New Zealand Constitution that could serve our people well for the foreseeable future is not something that ‘the right people’ could achieve in the short term of a Parliamentary cycle.

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