22/03/10
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Royal retreat or sovereign sanctuary? The monarchy versus republic debate in New Zealand.

While not quite so prominent as it is across the ditch, the question of whether or not New Zealand should retain a constitutional monarchy or become a republic is a key issue in New Zealand’s future. Salient feature writer Matthew Cunningham interviews Noel Cox, Chairperson for Monarchy New Zealand and Lewis Holden, Chair of the Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand, on whether or not New Zealand should ditch its pull-ups and don a pair of big-boy pants.

Noel Cox

Matthew: Why do you support retaining a constitutional monarchy in New Zealand?

Noel: I think it’s the most practical form of government for New Zealand. It’s also the one that people are most familiar with, and it works very well for us.

Matthew: What are some of the advantages that the monarchy provides New Zealand?

Noel: The primary one would be political stability and political neutrality—in the sense that the head of state is non-partisan.

Matthew: Do you believe that issues like national identity tie into it as well?

Noel: They don’t have to at all. You can have national identity being weak or strong irrespective of the form of government you’ve got, so long as you’re an independent country—and New Zealand has been independent for a very long time. I don’t think that national identity is at all central to this debate.

Matthew: What do you believe would be some of the negative effects of instituting a republic in New Zealand?

Noel: It would depend to some extent on how the system was changed. Any change could be seen potentially as a sign of political instability. But apart from that, we would have to adopt a system that people understand, and one that provides the same sort of safeguards that our present system has.

Matthew: What do you believe the role of the monarchy should be in New Zealand? What powers should it retain?

Noel: Well essentially, it’s not so much the power the monarchy retains as it is the power it denies politicians. For instance, with the judicial role, it’s not that the queen or the governor-general actually presides in a trial, but it’s that the justice system operates in the name of the Crown, and is therefore totally non-political and independent of the government of the day.

The powers that are vested in the governor-general should be those that are necessary to the workings of government. They should also include some additional powers which may be necessary in the case of a crisis—for instance, the ability to sack the Prime Minister.

Matthew: A number of changes were implemented in the last decade that changed the role of the monarchy in New Zealand affairs. This included replacing appeals to the Privy Council with the New Zealand Supreme Court and replacing the British honours system with a New Zealand one—although the British honours have subsequently been re-introduced by Prime Minister John Key. What is your opinion on these changes?

Noel: Well, as to the Privy Council, the government that implemented the changes was fairly ambivalent about them. On the one hand they said it was necessary for national identity, but at the same time they said it wasn’t a constitutional change.

Speaking as a lawyer rather than someone associated with the monarchy, I would say that the abolition of appeals to the Privy Council was a legal change that didn’t have any direct relation to the question of monarchy or republic. After all, there are some republics that retain the right of appeal, just as there are some monarchies that have abolished it.

The honours question is more interesting. The terminology that is often used is either ‘British’ or ‘Imperial’ honours, as distinct from New Zealand. But of course the reality is that, over many decades, the system has become more and more indigenised. We had the Queen’s Service Order in 1975, for instance.

It wasn’t really a case of abolishing the British honours system and creating a New Zealand one—we already had a New Zealand honours system—it was merely removing all of the remaining links with the British system. What we’ve got now is a purely New Zealand system. The Knighthoods are still a part of the New Zealand system—it’s clearly a case of the royal honours system, but it’s not the British honours system. So that’s as it should be for an independent country.

Matthew: Recent public opinion polls show that the retention of the monarchy enjoys somewhere between 50 and 60 per cent public support. However, Prime Minister John Key has stated he believes that, in the long term, becoming a republic is ‘inevitable’. Do you think it is inevitable, or do you think the current level of support for retaining the monarchy will remain high?

Noel: To answer your second question first, opinion polls over the last 40 years have indicated a fairly consistent level of support for the monarchy. Certainly, any political party would be envious of that level of support.

And that really ties into the first question, which is do I think it is inevitable. I don’t think anything is inevitable. I’m not going to say that New Zealand won’t become a republic, but, I mean, what makes it inevitable? The only way you could describe it as inevitable would be if the monarchy were a temporary or a transitional arrangement. But it’s actually the only form of government we’ve known in New Zealand, and there is no reason why that has to change.

Matthew: Some opponents of republicanism have argued that, if New Zealand were to become a republic, the relationship between the Crown and Maori—specifically, the Treaty of Waitangi—might come under question. Do you believe that this would be the case?

Noel: Well, there’s two answers to that. One is the technical/legal one—which is largely irrelevant when you’re taking about politics—and that states that, whatever the form of government, the new regime will assume responsibility for the treaty. So becoming a republic wouldn’t remove the Treaty of Waitangi.

But the reality is that the cosmetic or symbolic side of things is actually far more important. The Treaty is seen as a partnership between the Crown and Maori, so if you remove one of the parties then it does raise fundamental questions about the whole nature of the treaty.

So, yes, it could be a problem. And I think that, for New Zealand, the question of how we deal with the Treaty of Waitangi is a much more difficult and fundamentally important question than whether or not we should be a republic.

Matthew: What is your opinion on Keith Locke’s ‘Head of State Referenda Bill’, which seeks to bring about a referendum on the question of whether New Zealand should become a republic?

Noel: I think it’s an interesting bill because Mr Locke has tried to suggest that this is not a bill promoting a referendum on the monarchy as the head of state. That’s a chimera; that’s illusory. The reality is that he wants New Zealand to become a republic, so he’s introduced a bill which would cause a referendum on the subject.

So on the one hand it’s a bit dishonest, but more fundamentally it’s not answering the core question. There may be people who want a republic, and there may be people who say it’s inevitable even if they don’t want one, but clearly that is no grounds upon which to hold a referendum now.

My third point is that it’s a very poorly drafted bill. It is introducing a particular referendum model which is not ideal at all.

Matthew: Assuming that the referenda did go ahead, and a majority opted to retain the monarchy, would you see that as a validation of the monarchy?

Noel: I think if we do have a referendum—whether it’s badly drafted or not—and the people give a clear answer, then that should resolve matters one way or the other. But then again, if we look at the Australian example where the referendum ten years ago resulted in a fairly strong vote of support for retaining the monarchy, that didn’t bring an end to discussions. It didn’t bring an end to the republican movement.

So a referendum, whichever way it goes, is not necessarily going to resolve matters.

Lewis Holden

Matthew: Why do you support instituting a republic in New Zealand?

Lewis: We support a republic for three main reasons.

The first is around our sense of nationhood and national identity. We feel that it is time for New Zealand to assert its independence to the world and to have a constitution that reflects our values and our egalitarian tradition in New Zealand.

Second, because we believe in democracy. We believe that all political offices in New Zealand should be open to New Zealanders and appointed on merit rather than birth.

And thirdly, we believe that we need to develop better checks and balances in our government. Becoming a republic is a part of that debate.

Matthew: What are some of the advantages that becoming a republic would provide?

Lewis: Well, the first set of advantages is symbolic, but a lot of people assume that the republican argument is all about symbolism. Whilst a republic would assert our independence to the world and be good for national identity, it’s also about taking ownership of our constitution, defining what the powers of the head of state are—which are currently undefined—and also about asserting checks and balances on the Prime Minister and the cabinet.

So the main benefit from a republic is actually around the constitutional changes that would result—defining what those reserve powers are, and ensuring that we have a head of state who can keep the prime minister and cabinet in check.

Matthew: What form does the Republican Movement envisage that a restructured central government—in particular the judiciary and the head of state—would take under a republic?

Lewis: Well there wouldn’t be any change to the judiciary—the last link to the UK was cut off seven years ago with the Privy Council.

At the moment you’ve got a governor-general who is de-facto appointed by the Prime Minister, who every six years sends a fax off to Buckingham Palace which says “this person is going to be our governor-general for the next five years”, the Queen rubber-stamps that, and presto! You get a governor-general.

So what we’re really talking about is reforming the office of governor-general—firstly into a full head of state, and secondly into an elected position. So what that means is that you’re decreasing the power of the prime minister and taking away his or her ability to simply put forward one of their mates.

Matthew: How do the goals of the Republican Movement resemble those pursued by Jim Bolger in the nineties? How do they differ?

Lewis: Bolger raised the debate in ’94 because he was very much about the ideal of national identity. And that’s pretty much where the Republican Movement came from—a group of students at VUW got together and said “this national identity stuff is really starting to matter in New Zealand now”. After the eighties there was a sense of confidence in ourselves that hadn’t been there before.

In terms of where we differ from Bolger, well, we don’t really differ too much. What Bolger proposed was a minimal change, which is essentially what we say we should do—reform the office of governor-general into a full head of state. It’s not legally difficult to do.

One thing that Bolger did say is that we should directly elect the president. The Republican Movement’s policy is that that decision should be up to New Zealanders—it should be the public’s choice on how the President is selected, not the prime minister’s. And any process around becoming a republic should be as inclusive of the general public as possible.

Matthew: Recent polls show that the retention of the monarchy enjoys somewhere between 50 and 60 per cent public support. What is your comment on that?

Lewis: That’s a pretty average reflection. The long-term trend is towards more support for a republic. Obviously at the moment the polls are slightly down because of Prince William’s visit, but we’ll probably go back up in the next few years.

The incredible thing is that, in the late eighties, support for the monarchy was about three quarters of the population. Whereas now, the last New Zealand electoral study said 48 per cent. So that’s quite a decrease in support for the monarchy.

The critical thing for us though is that, whilst people may not be supporting the monarchy, that doesn’t actually mean that they support a republic—hence why support for a republic is only around 30 or 40 per cent. But more and more people are becoming undecided on the issue. So the debate is actually heating up, and it will happen whether people want it to or not.

Matthew: What is your stance on the honours system? British, New Zealand, or both?

Lewis: Our position is reflective of what our membership thinks, which is that we kind of like the idea of titles. In terms of what those titles should be, that’s where our debate is. We’ve suggested that they should really introduce some sort of Maori/indigenous title.

The actual concept of titles isn’t exclusive to monarchies, though—they have them in Italy, Portugal and Malta, which are all republics. So these aren’t mutually exclusive things—you can still have the Privy Council in a republic as well.

Matthew: Some opponents of republicanism have argued that, if New Zealand were to become a republic, the relationship between Crown and Maori—specifically, the Treaty of Waitangi—might come into question. Do you believe that this would be the case?

Lewis: Well, it’s a very important part of the debate for New Zealand. But the critical thing is that, under the status quo, who the Crown is, actually isn’t very clear. When the treaty was signed in 1840, the Crown meant Queen Victoria and her government. Then in 1852 we got a settler government, and they started confiscating Maori land and bringing out imperial troops to force them off their land—all these sorts of ugly things which we are now dealing with. The Crown now in New Zealand actually means the New Zealand government—it doesn’t mean Queen Elizabeth over in the UK. So in essence, that relationship won’t change if we become a republic.

The real question is what we do with it symbolically. I guess that from a Maori perspective, there is a lot of concern that it could mean an end to treaty settlements because there is no longer a ‘Crown’. But I believe it would actually be quite beneficial for us because it would actually clarify who the Crown is and what that actually means in terms of treaty settlements, because Maori are now part of the Crown.

It’s also worth making the point that a lot of Maori, in urban regions specifically, support a republic, even more so than non-Maori New Zealanders. And I think that may be because of the history of the Crown oppressing Maori and taking away their culture. So there’s actually quite a good understanding of the fact that the Crown never did anything to protect Maori. It’s only been since the New Zealand government has been in the driving seat that things have changed.

Matthew: Over the last few decades there have been several political parties that have formed to campaign on the question of becoming a republic. Are there any plans for the Republican Movement to launch a party?

Lewis: No. We’re not a political party. We’re a campaign group, and we’re going to stay that way.

We’re cross-partisan as well—we’ve got people like David Farrar who’s heavily involved in the National Party, Jordan Carter who is very much involved with Labour—so we’ve got quite a good mix of people from both sides of politics. Our general way of campaigning is around party activists, so we work a lot with people who are involved in the democratic process.

There’s always been a tendency for people to expect us to contest elections, but we’re not going to do that. The first reason for that is because it doesn’t actually get us anywhere. The second is because New Zealanders aren’t going to vote on a republic issue at a general election, because the top tier issues are always going to be health, education, employment, that sort of thing. Constitutional reform is an esoteric thing—it doesn’t make you get a hip operation faster, it doesn’t ensure that your kids get a good education.

What we actually need is for the big parties to adopt a policy of change and say that we will have a constitutional convention on this issue that will draft recommendations, and then we will have a referendum.

Matthew: And finally, your thoughts on Keith Locke’s ‘Head of State Referenda Bill’?

Lewis: It’s quite a good piece of legislation in terms of getting the discussion started. Whether or not it will ever get to be in a referendum is open to question. I would say that the critical thing at this stage is that, if it goes to a Select Committee, we can actually have that debate for the first time. This republic debate has been going on since the sixties, but we’ve never had a discussion at the parliamentary level on this issue. And I think it’s critical now that we actually start talking about it.

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  1. WestmiNZter Monarchist says:

    I think that the best constitutional set-up for NZ should be the priority. All sides to the issue should have a full and frank debate. If after “reviews and committees”, the NZ parliament decides that a constitutional alternative should be put to referendum, then both monarchists and republicans would be confident that their issues and opinions have been aired and the form and process of the referendum is the optimal one. As it stands, Locke’s Bill is a starting point.

  2. The late Bruce Jesson, editor of the republican magazine and founder of the republican movement in New Zealand, would turn in his grave at the political position adopted by the Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand. For an alternative to the minimalist approach of the RMA to the question of what is necessary in the way of constitutional and structural change in New Zealand visit http://www.republican.co.nz

  3. smackdown says:

    hey nice times new roman website. must’ve taken you anywhere between three to five minutes to throw that together.

  4. Electrum Stardust says:

    Come athelas! Come athelas!

  5. Electrum Stardust says:

    “I would have followed you, my brothermy captainmy king!”

  6. Savage says:

    In 1994, while I was Chair of the Republican Movement (then called the Republican Coalition) I met with Bruce Jesson to get some advice about our campaign. Bruce was the Editor of an early republican newspaper and an early campaigner for a republic in New Zealand and he had a lot of good advice for us. We sat in his kitchen in Otahuhu and over a cup of tea discussed the various practical strategies that we might adopt. Bruce was supportive and was pleased to see a new generation of campaigners taking up the cause. He understood the practical considerations involved in building a long term broad-based consensus. From my experience he was a man who understood that political theory and practice go hand in hand.

  7. Savage says:

    In 1994, while Chair of the Republican Movement (then called the Republican Coalition) I met with Bruce Jesson to get some advice about our campaign. Bruce was the Editor of an early republican newspaper and an early campaigner for a republic in New Zealand and he had a lot of good advice for us. We sat in his kitchen in Otahuhu and over a cup of tea discussed the various practical strategies that we might adopt. Bruce was supportive and was pleased to see a new generation of campaigners taking up the cause. He stressed the practical considerations involved in building a long term broad-based consensus. From my experience he was a man who understood that political theory and practice go hand in hand. He was a political intellectual but he was also a political worker – Theory and ideals are vital but their value is limited unless they can be applied and remain relevant in a political system that is constantly changing.

  8. In 1994, while Chair of the Republican Movement (then called the Republican Coalition) I met with Bruce Jesson to get some advice about our campaign. Bruce was the Editor of an early republican newspaper and an early campaigner for a republic in New Zealand and he had a lot of good advice for us. We sat in his kitchen in Otahuhu and over a cup of tea discussed the various practical strategies that we might adopt. Bruce was supportive and was pleased to see a new generation of campaigners taking up the cause. He stressed the practical considerations involved in building a long term broad-based consensus. From my experience he was a man who understood that political theory and practice go hand in hand. He was a political intellectual but he was also a political worker – Theory and ideals are vital but their value is limited unless they can be applied and remain relevant in a political system that is constantly changing.

    I’m glad to see that Savage held Bruce Jesson in high esteem, and not surprised that Bruce would have been supportive of the Republican Coalition. However that does not change the fact that there is a significant, even fundamental, difference between Bruce’s approach and that of the RMA, which Savage represents.

    The RMA studiously avoids any serious political analysis, even to the point of banning the expression of opinions which it considers may be divisive from its website. The movement has to do this if it is to maintain the broadest possible “coalition” in favour of the abolition of the monarchy and the formation of a republic. But there is a price to be paid – in my opinion a totally unacceptable price – for eschewing analysis and debate in the interests of “a long term broad-based consensus”. The consensus which the RMA has settled upon is broad enough to include, indeed to be dominated by, those who occupy a privileged position within the present regime, and who have sworn allegiance to the Queen. To my mind that is both ridiculous and deeply disturbing.

    Bruce, on the other hand, set out to provide a profound economic and political analysis of New Zealand society, and to encourage a vigorous debate. He published opinions with which he personally disagreed, even to the extent of giving space to views which he knew would lose him friends among his fellow Marxists. He was first and foremost a political thinker. I don’t think he would have recognised or respected Savage’s concept of the “political worker”. Although Bruce was a professional political writer, and an elected and paid local government politician, at the core of his being he remained thoroughly working class. He had himself been a freezing worker and baker’s labourer, and he was not the sort to confuse “work” in the proper sense of the word with “politics”.

    Bruce was also a radical. He believed that the New Zealand’s fundamental economic and political problems arose out of the colonial system. The monarchy was a symbol of New Zealand’s historical subordination to Britain, and colonialism would always be the central feature of New Zealand society so long as the British monarch remained as the New Zealand head of state. But that is not to say that abolition of the monarchy would in itself be sufficient to put an end to colonialism. In fact, when one looks at the RMA, and the sort of people who are active within it, it becomes obvious that they are of the “progressive imperialist” persuasion. They wish to cut the traditional ties to Britain, only so as to make New Zealand more directly subordinate to the Commonwealth of Australia, or the United States of America. In other words the colonial mentality would remain under the kind of political transformation envisaged by the “broad-based” approach of the RMA. The New Zealand political circus would merely be provided with a new and more effective set of political ring masters.

    Even if some kind of colonial republic was a desirable political objective (I personally do not believe that it is) I am not convinced that it is politically feasible. The regime itself is alert to the danger of allowing any change to the monarchical system, as demonstrated by the recent defeat of Keith Locke’s Head of State Referenda Bill in the New Zealand House of Representatives. There is not a lot of confidence within the regime that any such change to the method of selection of the Head of State would stop short of radical social change, or that nationalist sentiments, once unleashed, could be easily brought under control. My personal feeling is the choice will be between a radical, nationalist republic and a persistent British monarchical system. I don’t see any solid political ground on which some kind of halfway house may be constructed which would be acceptable to all those who currently support the monarchical regime.

    A bibliography of Bruce’s writings has been produced by the Bruce Jesson Foundation, and it is available on the net. (I intend to provide a link on my website http://www.republican.co.nz shortly). I would urge everyone interested in Bruce Jesson’s political thought to get hold of his writings, and compare his analysis with the approach of the RMA.

  9. The first paragraph of my comment above is quoted verbatim from Savage’s preceding comment. My apologies for any confusion arising.

  10. Savage says:

    In response to Geoff Fischer. For most people the RMA is the Resource Management Act so RMANZ might work better as an abbreviation for the Movement. That aside we do not eschew analysis and avoid debate. Quite the opposite. If anyone wants to contribute good analysis and debate then please contact me at editor@republic.org.nz. We distribute a newsletter every month to over 1000 subscribers and we are looking to increase the diversity of views we publish to encourage more dissent and diversity among republic supporters. We won’t just print any old thing however and any articles/essays supplied will have to be concise, well-argued and accurate.
    The RMANZ is not dominated by people who have sworn allegiance to ‘the regime’. Yes MP’s swear allegiance to her majesty but it is a mistake to be deeply disturbed by this or to believe they dominate the movement. These MPs and government workers choose to participate in the govrernment and parliament and are actively working to end the remnants of our colonial past. The RMANZ is not interested in New Zealand becoming subordinate to Australia or the USA. We are working to start a republic in New Zealand. Once it has been started we will carry on working to improve it.

  11. First, I welcome the apparent change in policy by RMANZ. While Savage makes the condition that contributed comment must be “concise, well-argued and accurate” I trust that this condition will no longer be used by RMANZ as a pretext to exclude critical comment. One of the worst features of the monarchist regime has been its tendency to use coercive measures to stifle debate and suppress dissent, and it really is not possible to challenge the legitimacy of the regime if we are willing to adopt its evil methods to our own ends.

    I accept that the RMANZ as an organisation does not intend that a New Zealand republic should be subordinate to the United States or the Commonwealth of Australia. But there are such things as unintended consequences. The recent “debate” over a proposed change to the New Zealand flag, initiated by the APN-owned New Zealand Herald, clearly demonstrated that the proponents of an “Anzac” political union also have an interest in loosing New Zealand’s ties to Britain, and abolishing the symbols of that association. And if you dig deeper into that “debate” you see the seminal role played by those who are striving for closer military relations between New Zealand and the United States of America. So unless the movement is explicitly anti-imperialist – and RMANZ is not – then you leave open the possibility that Uncle Sam, or big sister Australia, will step in to fill the vacuum left by the departure of “Mother England”.

    Savage says that “once (a republic) has been started we will carry on working to improve it”. The happy reality is that a republic already exists. For some, it started in 1860, when our people were driven off their land and out of their homes as a punishment for refusing to utter an oath of allegiance to Queen Victoria. Many subsequently died from British musket fire, or at the point of British bayonets in the forests of Waikato. But their spirit has never died. It has found an eternal haven within the souls of our people. And there lies our republic.

  12. Savage says:

    Thanks Geoff. We are enjoying the increased level of debate about the republic and see it as a healthy sign of things to come. There has never been a change in the RM’s overall commitment to high standards of debate however and we are always looking to improve the quality and diversity of the debate.

    While I disagree with the likelihood of the unintended consequences, our relationship to Australia and the USA is certainly worthy of further debate so I’ll let that debate play out in the newsletters should anyone wish to write about it.

    I’ll just make these comments to anyone else be interested in submitting. Our need for contributions to be “concise, well-argued and accurate” is common to many political newsletters,magazines and newspapers. ‘Concise’ because good debate should aim to be as concise, clear and to the point.’Well argued’ means written in a lively, challenging and engaging way that allows readers to follow and interact with the ideas being explained. Accurate in that it does not distort verifiable facts or claim an opinion as fact. Monarchism is at its heart an attempt to exclude and marginalise the other/the periphery and position itself and its adherents at the centre of cultural life. We reject that approach. Our aim is not to exclude certain writing styles or cultural practices. It is not to enforce a certain style of academic discipline. These basic three criteria are simply a guideline for writers to follow in the interests of a more interesting newsletter.

    A recent good example of a succinct, challenging and engaging statement: A “republic already exists. For some, it started in 1860, when our people were driven off their land and out of their homes as a punishment for refusing to utter an oath of allegiance to Queen Victoria. Many subsequently died from British musket fire, or at the point of British bayonets in the forests of Waikato. But their spirit has never died. It has found an eternal haven within the souls of our people. And there lies our republic.

    editor@republic.org.nz

  13. return to republican homepage
    16 August 2010

    The Empire Strikes back: Arguments in favour of the monarchy.
    from http://www.republican.co.nz

    Noel Cox, Chairperson of Monarchy New Zealand, is a lawyer by trade, and so could be expected to produce some cogent arguments in favour of retaining the monarchy. In an interview on the website of the Victoria University student newspaper “Salient” he asserts that the primary advantage of the monarchy is “political stability and political neutrality”. That argument is inherently contradictory. If the monarchy promotes political stability, then it is a conservative political force. If it is politically conservative, then it cannot be politically neutral.

    As it happens the monarchy is not politically neutral by any reasonable definition. At the best it is the pliable tool of whatever government happens to be in power. The royal family has actively supported the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq by British, Australian and New Zealand military forces. There were constitutional means, however imperfect, by which US President George W Bush could be held to account for his role in the conflict. But under the present New Zealand constitution there is no way that the royal family can be made accountable. New Zealand has a head of state who is neither politically neutral nor politically accountable, and that is a morally indefensible position.

    Cox offers the opinion that “I don’t think that national identity is at all central to this debate”. He has a point there. A political system should deliver public amity, equity, peace, security and prosperity. Whether those characteristics of good government are consistent with the popular perception of “national identity” should only be peripheral to any debate over the constitution. But let us remember that for most of the twentieth century the New Zealand “national identity” was defined by New Zealand’s status as a British colony and loyal member of the imperial system. During that time, the notion of “national identity” was considered highly relevant to the monarchist cause. Now that the majority of New Zealanders no longer choose to define themselves as British subjects, there is at least a degree of ambivalence to the New Zealand “national identity”. In these circumstances, it would be disingenuous for the monarchists to argue that “national identity” has now become irrelevant to the question of whether New Zealand should remain a part of the British realm.

    Cox goes on to argue that “it’s not so much the power the monarchy retains as it is the power it denies politicians. For instance, with the judicial role, it’s not that the queen or the governor-general actually presides in a trial, but it’s that the justice system operates in the name of the Crown, and is therefore totally non-political and independent of the government of the day”. If the separation of judicial and executive powers was only possible under a hereditary monarchy, then Cox would have a point. But some degree of separation of powers is the norm in republics as well as monarchies. There is nothing in the monarchical system of government which guarantees the separation of executive and judicial functions, and nothing in the republican system of government which would preclude it.

    He then states that “The powers that are vested in the governor-general should be those that are necessary to the workings of government. They should also include some additional powers which may be necessary in the case of a crisis—for instance, the ability to sack the Prime Minister”. Unfortunately that argument undercuts his earlier claims of the “political neutrality” of the crown. On what principle should a hereditary monarch or an unelected Governor-general have the power to dismiss an elected government from office? The danger of the monarchical system is that there are no such principles. Under the monarchy, an elected government can be dismissed from office at the whim of a hereditary ruler or an appointed official.

    In response to the standard political mantra that “New Zealand will inevitably become a republic at some time”, Cox quite rightly says “I don’t think anything is inevitable. I’m not going to say that New Zealand won’t become a republic, but, I mean, what makes it inevitable?”. On that point I have to agree with Noel Cox. The notion of inevitablility is propounded by those who want to persuade us that ethically motivated political action is either unnecessary or futile. The idea of “historical inevitability” having helped drive the Soviet Union down the road to economic collapse, was then enthusiastically taken up by the advocates of laissez-faire capitalism in the west, with not dissimilar consequences. Historical inevitability is the doctrine of fools and knaves. It should have no place in the republican movement, and we should thank Noel Cox for making that point.

    Dr Paul Moon, writing in the New Zealand Herald Thursday January 28, 2010 comes from a different perspective, suggesting that the debate over a republic is irrelevant, given that the queen only has a “token role” in national affairs. This is a common argument. It is also quite specious. If the queen is merely a “symbolic figure head” and if symbolism is of no account, then there should be no objection to abolition of the monarchy. But the monarchy persists, and, rather significantly given that she is supposed to be no more than a “token” figurehead, no democratically elected member of parliament is permitted to take a seat in the House of Representative without first swearing allegiance to her. That can be taken as evidence that institution of the monarchy is more central to the New Zealand system of government than is democratic process. Even if we allow Dr Moon’s argument, we still need to deal with the fact that symbolism plays a critical role in human society. If a society is to engage in the fraught area of political symbolism, then at the very least the meaning of its symbols should be critically examined and laid out for all to see. Dr Moon conspicuously fails to do that.

    Dr Moon claims that “the people, and not a monarch, are the true sovereigns of the nation”. However, according to New Zealand law, it is indisputable that Queen Elizabeth is sovereign within the realm of New Zealand. If, as Moon says, “New Zealand is already a defacto republic” and the law is irrelevant, then the people have assumed sovereign authority in defiance of the law, and there must exist a de facto republic which has no connection with the de jure monarchy. If this is the situation, and I believe that to some extent it is, then there are dangers present of which Dr Moon appears to be quite oblivious. When a nation’s legal constitution is in conflict with its people’s perception of sovereign authority, far from there being no necessity to remedy the discrepancy, there should be a great urgency to do so.

    An editorial in the New Zealand Listener 30 January 2010 adopts a similar argument to Moon, though with a more overtly pro-monarchist slant. “It may be functionally obsolete, but that’s the monarchy’s attraction’ was the Listener’s angle “If it’s now okay for the the Prime Minister to swig beer from a bottle while at a barbie with a future king, then what’s the all-fired hurry to have the great republicanism debate?” the editorial asked. Since when, one might respond, has informality been the standard by which political systems should be judged? Would we be at ease with Commodore Frank Bainamarama because he can be a charming companion around the kava bowl? Would we have warmed to Adolf Hitler because he was good with animals? While the editor of the Listener might be able to answer in the affirmative in both cases, most of us could not.
    A national constitution should be founded on solid principles, not to be surrendered on the strength of a flying visit by “a rather charming young man”. The world is full of charming young men, most of whom quickly mature into not so charming older men. One would have to question the wisdom of deciding on the strength of a young man’s good manners around the barbecue table that he, his father, and his grandmother should occupy the post of Head of State for life. More seriously, the world has more than its share of “loved” and “revered” “constitutional monarchs” who at a late stage in the game turn a blind eye while their people are murdered in the streets by a rampaging military. Nepal and Thailand are object examples. For examples from European history it is only necessary to go back to Franco’s Spain and Mussolini’s Italy. It needs to be said that monarchy is a dangerous institution precisely because for most of the time it appears to be wholly benign.

    With a characteristically toxic combination of condescension and misrepresentation the Listener goes on to declaim that “like young teens who yearn to go flatting ..those who clamour for republicanism as the key to our sense of nationhood only underline their insecurity”. The monarchy on the other hand is portrayed as “an institution rich with colour, tradition and eccentricity”. So was the Third Reich. The trooping of the colour arguably suffers by comparison with a Nuremberg rally, and Prince Charles would be hard put to match the eccentricity of Herman Goering. If the British annexation in 1840 had been followed by a German invasion in 1940, the spineless New Zealand press (or to be fair, the Australian press in New Zealand) would now be arguing the need to retain the “colour, tradition, and eccentricity” of fascism.

    In the same barrage of monarchist propaganda which accompanied the visit of Prince William to his grandmother’s New Zealand subjects, Garth George, wrote in the New Zealand Herald 31 January 2010 that “William’s all too brief visit has naturally brought the handful of rabid republicans out from whatever holes they inhabit…”. George’s article is further evidence of the malice which supporters of “a rather charming young man” and his “hard-working” grandmother direct towards anyone who questions the assumed right of the British monarchy to impose its rule over our people in perpetuity. By comparison with the puerile abuse which is the stock-in-trade of New Zealand’s mass media, Monarchy New Zealand appears to be a paragon of reason and civilized argument.

    The regime may actually be better served by the humourous writings of Jim Hopkins (New Zealand Herald 23 January 2009 and 22 January 2010 “Ignore the republicans Sir, come back anytime”). It is not entirely clear whether Hopkins is a genuine monarchist, or whether he has discovered that one can get away with sending up the institution in situations where one would not be permitted to advance any serious arguments for republicanism. Parody or not (with New Zealand monarchism it is is often hard to pick the difference), Hopkins is one of the few media writers who is able to put the monarchist case without leaving the impression of overwhelming malice. (“Ignore the gloomy republicans, Sir. Most of us are happy to maintain 1000 years of tradition … especially since we basically get the lot on the cheap… Be assured, Sir, Kiwis like a no frills compassionate bloke like yourself…We admire pluck in Outer Roa, Sir..”). Hopkins makes it possible for us to believe that some supporters of the monarchy might be ordinary, decent, harmless, if rather befuddled people, which is no doubt the case. But that does not make the institution of the monarchy either ordinary, decent, or harmless.

    The good news is that while nothing is inevitable, the paucity of moral fibre and intellectual rigour among the regime’s apologists means that the New Zealand monarchy will surely struggle to maintain itself for another 170 years.

  14. smackdown says:

    too long not reading

    god save my gracious queen

  15. Electrum Stardust says:

    Up Eorlingas! Fear no Korangar!

  16. John Cox says:

    Savage, I note your reference to “building a long term broad-based consensus”. Very commendable, no doubt. However in practise the republican movement itself, and particularly its more aggressive proponents, cannot seem to help being vicious towards the monarchy and its supporters. Not exactly consensus building. Can you comment on that dicotomy?

  17. smackdown says:

    its almost as if some ppl are just dicks no matter what they believe oh shi-