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May 13, 2013 | by  | in News |
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Public Debate Re: Republic

The final debate in a series on the constitutional review was held on Monday night at Victoria University, with participants discussing the question of New Zealand becoming a republic.

The debate was the fifth in the series run by the Centre for Public Law, which has included topics such as ‘Māori aspirations for constitutional change’ and ‘Human rights in the constitution’.

Chair of the Republican Movement Lewis Holden spoke, along with Professor Janet McLean, a specialist in constitutional law from Auckland University, and Michael Mabbett, a senior solicitor at Russell McVeagh. Professor McLean spoke as a fairly neutral party and mostly talked about issues within the law, while Holden and Mabbett respectively argued for and against the idea.

The debate focussed on both technical and philosophical questions around the idea of NZ as a republic. Discussed on the technical side was how the transition away from the monarchy would work, how a new head of state would be elected, and which elements of the present system could be affected by such a move.

Professor McLean raised the concept of “republicanism lite”, which she said could arise from retaining the current system and simply replacing the monarch with a neutral head of state, similar to the present role of Governor- General. This phrase was repeated throughout the debate, as was the question over how exactly the power would be distributed in a New Zealand republic—whether a president would be directly elected or not, and if so, whether they would have more power than the legislature.

Holden, supporting the republican movement, argued that it was unfair that a New Zealander could never be New Zealand’s Head of State. He also questioned whether New Zealanders could truly see themselves as independent under the current system.

Mabbett spoke in support of retaining the current system. In general, he disagreed that New Zealand needed an indigenous head of state, and described Holden’s idea of independence as “reverse cultural cringe”. He also said that New Zealand’s system of government had evolved to become our own, but that it was important to respect the British heritage we have.

A poll run by the Herald on Sunday in January 2013 found that more people—43.3 per cent—would prefer to see New Zealand become a republic than have Prince Charles as head of state, a proposition which 37.4 per cent supported. In 2010, a member’s bill from Green MP Keith Locke proposing a referendum process to give New Zealanders the option of voting to become a republic was defeated 68-53 at its first reading.

The ‘Constitutional Conversation’ is an advisory panel which was set up following National’s confidence-and-supply agreement with the Māori Party after the 2011 election. There is currently a public consultation phase which will last until July, after which the panel will report to Bill English and Pita Sharples.

The debate will be broadcast on Radio New Zealand on Sunday 12 May at 4.06 pm.

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