Red Alert

Archive for the ‘republic’ Category

Anyway it is not even her real birthday

Posted by on June 2nd, 2013

Can someone remind me again why we are celebrating the Queen’s Birthday this weekend?

I like a good long weekend as much as the next person. But it seems slightly odd (in fact a bit North Korean) that the country has a holiday to celebrate the birthday of the head of state. And very odd that our head of state lives on the other side of the world, and only visits here very occasionally.

Sometimes I realise with a bit of a start that the British Queen is “our” queen, as if waking from a dream that New Zealand was a modern, democratic state with a New Zealander as head of state. It is a shock to realise that hasn’t happened yet.

Parliament will soon be debating the Royal Succession Bill which will end discrimination against female royals but will still mean a New Zealander can never be head of state of New Zealand. It also leaves in place the rule that no Catholic can ever be Monarch. Now if the Brits want to maintain this feudal institution good luck to them, but really, is this what we want for New Zealand in the 21st century?

We’ve had a succession of pretty good Governors General during my adult lifetime. Why we don’t just change the law and make the office of Governor General our new head of state is beyond me.

It wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference to the Maori relationship with the State. The British Crown has never taken any role in negotiations with iwi since 1840. It has always delegated that job to the New Zealand state.  Appointing a New Zealander as head of state wouldn’t necessitate any other constitutional overhaul.  We could even still belong to the Commonwealth if we wanted to.

Conventional wisdom has it that people feel very affectionate about Queen Elizabeth and would not contemplate any change while she is still on the throne. Charles and Camilla as our reigning monarchs, that is maybe a different matter. I say we start debating the idea of a New Zealander as head of state now, so that when Queen Elizabeth’s long reign comes to an end we’ll have a plan and a process worked out.

Anyway, it is not even her real birthday.

Time for a republic?

Posted by on October 16th, 2010

Last night former Wallaby Peter FitzSimons gave a fantastic opening address to the Labour Party Annual Conference. Usually the President gives the opening address, but this year we tried something a bit different. FitzSimons was incredibly funny but also raised some pretty big issues.  

He praised New Zealand’s decision not to go to war with Iraq and repeatedly stressed how important an independent foreign policy should be to both our countries. Noting growing support on both sides of the ditch for our respective countries to become republics, he argued passionately in favour of a change of flag, recalling Seinfeld’s joke about the Aussie flag being “Great Britain at night” (not to mention the number of Kiwis and Aussies who can’t tell our flags apart…)

I’m a strong supporter of a New Zealand republic. I don’t think it’s something that we will gradually evolve towards, I think it’s something we should be actively discussing and working to achieve. But I don’t think it’s a decision for politicians to make. I think we need to lead the debate, but all New Zealanders should make the final decision by way of a referendum.

I strongly agree with FitzSimons’ observation that we shouldn’t link our debate about republicanism with the reign of the current monarch:

“As a sovereign nation we shouldn’t be deciding our politics on the health of an elderly English woman. She’s a good woman, no doubt about it. But we should be carving out our independent way.”

I was disappointed that Keith Locke’s private members bill was voted down. It would have given all New Zealanders a chance to have a say on whether or not NZ should become a republic. I also agree with our President Andrew Little who said “It’s a cop-out to say, ‘Yes, I’m a republican, but it’s not time’, that it be left up to somebody else…That’s a failure of leadership, in my view”.

Identity and Honesty

Posted by on April 25th, 2010

I’ve just come back from representing Labour at the Wellington Cathedral ANZAC Day Service, and then at the NZ War Memorial in Buckle St.

Each service was appropriately solemn – the more so as the tragic knowledge of the helicopter accident this morning became known by those present. Neither glorified war. At both, a uniquely New Zealand atmosphere prevailed. Biculturalism felt unforced; there were nice and sometimes accidental touches of informality. There was a sense of unbrassy confidence and dignity – a sense of a country and a community that had come to terms with itself.

It’s a case, I’m afraid, of the people leading, and the politicians being left way behind. I couldn’t help but contrast the feeling of right-ness of each ceremony today with the bad taste that the immaturity of the debate last week about our identity as a nation left in my mouth.

First, we had the National/Maori Party colluding over the covert accession to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Then we had a heap of uninformed rhetoric about what our accession would mean. To top it all off, National, ACT and the Maori Party bloc-voted to stop a bill to allow people to vote on whether NZ should eventually become a republic going to a select committee for public submissions. During that debate, a whole lot of dishonest rhetoric was repeated by Government members.

It’s well-known in Labour circles that I thought we should have acceded to the Declaration when we were in Government. Around the time that the new ALP Government was deciding that Australia should do so, I spent time with Rob McLelland, Australia’s Attorney-General, and Stephen Smith, its Minister of Foreign Affairs, discussing the mechanics of their intended accession, and the statement of reservations that would be made at the time on Australia’s behalf. It seemed to me that we could do something similar in New Zealand, so that accession could take place, in an honest and forthright way, preserving the paths already taken here in an attempt to redress past historical wrongs. The Labour cabinet here received strong official advice to the contrary, and in the end that advice prevailed.

I regret that. But I can say that open and respectful debates have occurred within the Labour caucus on the subject. Those debates have centered on the merits of the Declaration, the extent to which it can represent customary international law without the accession of two major common law jurisdictions that have enforced indigenous rights – the US and Canada- and whether an effectively partial accession would be an act of good faith on New Zealand’s part. These are the real questions around the Declaration. They deserve proper debate.

Ditto the issues around moving toward becoming a republic. We had an excellent caucus debate about the Bill. Better yet, colleagues decided to support the legislation. They could see the value of people getting to debate the issue through the select committee process. How disappointing, then, to get down to the House on Wednesday night to watch ACT not even bother to take a call, the Maori Party trot out all sorts of inaccurate rhetoric about how the bill was inconsistent with the Treaty, and the Nats talk about how the debate would be “divisive”, so we shouldn’t have it.

New Zealanders are more comfortable than their elected representatives on questions about their identity. It’s time for politicians to catch up.

Not our time

Posted by on April 22nd, 2010

Keith Locke’s Head of State Referenda Bill went down last night at its first reading. National, ACT and the Maori Party, in spite of the fact they all have members who supported the bill, whipped the vote to prevent Keith’s bill going off to the select committee.

What a shame. Labour supported the bill going to select committee. We think it is time the nation began the conversation about our constitutional future, and this would have been a good way to start.  Charles Chauvel, Clare Curran and I spoke for Labour. But the moment belonged to Keith who gave one of his best speeches at the debate’s closing.

Prince William, NZ Supreme Court and the Republic

Posted by on January 15th, 2010

On Monday, I’m going to see Prince William open New Zealand’s Supreme Court. I’ll be standing on the footpath, exercising my democratic rights.

Because, no matter which side of the Republican issue you’re on, it’s extraordinarily ironic that Prince William (potential future King of England) is opening our Supreme Court, which was established to replace the Privy Council, a bastion of the British Justice system.

Smart move by the Monarchy to get the Prince to do the deed. He’s young, popular and possibly a future King. But is he our future King?

Have nothing against him, or the Royal family generally. But I’m a republican. Our future lies in independence. Standing on our own two feet as a nation. We are approaching that point, I believe.

On Monday, the Republican Movement will unfurl a banner telling Prince William, and everyone else present: “It’s Time For A Republic”.

There is a better way to govern ourselves than borrowing a Prince from Britain to open our Supreme Court.

Come along:

Where: Outside the Supreme Court building – Lambton Quay, Wellington, across the road outside Bowen House.

When: Monday 18th January 2010, at 10:00am (official opening is at 10:30am, public walkabout by William is at 11:30ish)

Hone may have done some good

Posted by on December 21st, 2009

Hone getting John Key to agree to making the Maori Party flag an official flag of New Zealand may have done some good. It has rekindled the issue of getting a real New Zealand flag – not one designed for minor adjustment when we joined Australia – as many thought inevitable at the time. It would be good to have a flag that brings Kiwis together rather than two that drive us apart.

To vote on your favourite go to John Ansell’s site. Health warning – this is the Iwi/Kiwi guy, if you are easily offended by right wing rubbish don’t go there, or hold your nose as you vote.

Hat tip Kiwiblog.

The Republic

Posted by on September 20th, 2009

On Wednesday at Parliament MPs from several parties will come together to launch a new book published by The Republican Movement. With any luck the event will be the beginning of a cross-party caucus on the republic.

Within Labour a group of us have been meeting and discussing republicanism over the last few months: working out what we think, and how we can move the issue up the agenda. A generation of politicians have taken the view the republic is inevitable eventually but why rush it. My view is that instead of waiting for the current Queen to abdicate, or for the Australians to do it first, let’s start talking about a New Zealand Republic now. What do we want, and how do we go about building it?

One of the earliest influences on my political thinking was the late Bruce Jesson who is quoted in the handbook:

Republicanism was not merely about making a nominal change to the head of State but reviving and extending the concepts of citizenship and democracy…and combining the issues of national identity, egalitarianism and democracy.

While a student at Auckland University I did a WEA night class on republicanism with Bruce. He argued  the political culture of settler New Zealand with its colonial trappings tended to inhibit a mature political discussion about what it means to be a New Zealander, and what New Zealand means.

Sometimes people say why bother with a republic. It is just symbolism. But the symbolism of nationhood is important.  Our idea of what this country is all about provides the framing for every major political debate we have, whether it is about protecting the environment, the gap between rich and poor, the place of tangata whenua, or our relationship with the rest of the world.

Whether its the French with liberty, equality and fraternity, or the Americans with the separation of powers, and the rights and freedoms of the individual, the republic has come to embody the national identity and values. I’m not for a minute suggesting either republic offers a model for us, nor that republics per se are better systems of government than any other. But by starting to talk about what kind of republic we want New Zealand to be, and what our values and identity are, we will go a long way towards lifting our national debate.

What do you think?

If you want to find out more about republicanism visit the movement’s website.  There is also a network in the Labour Party being set up. Email me at if you are interested.