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Monday, 4 May 2009

John Roughan: Get on with untying apron

NZH: Peter Dunne has a point. If we are going to ditch the monarchy, as most of us expect we will one day, we should get on to it. Wait for a reason and we could wait forever.

This idea that we might act when the Queen dies is pure procrastination. We probably will not act then either. The end of a long reign will bring such an outpouring of tribute and so much interest in the elevation of Prince Charles, that the monarchy will probably get a new lease on life.

It is a fine institution for Britain. The reason we should ditch it is that it is not here. It is not here when a head of state should be. It is not here for Waitangi Day. It wasn't here when we buried our most esteemed national figure last year.

The Queen's failure to send at least one of her family to Sir Edmund Hillary's funeral was deeply hurtful, I thought at the time. It wasn't the right time to say so and it is not the New Zealand style to make much of a slight in any case.

The country was consoled with invitations to a commemorative service at Windsor Castle three months later. To my mind, that gesture added insult to injury.

I can understand the Hillary family accepting the invitation but I was embarrassed that our Prime Minister and other so-called dignitaries scuttled over there.

The monarchy does not do much wrong and would not have intended to disappoint us, which means it didn't know what Hillary meant to this country. If that is so, our head of state is more remote than I'd supposed.

It is absurd to persist with a constitutional figurehead who lives on the other side of the planet. There might be no pressing need for change but we could do so much more with an indigenous office.

A head of state needs an intimate knowledge of the country, its public opinion and politics. A distant monarch could not dismiss a government here, even if it was necessary.

The action once taken by an Australian Governor General required proximity to a parliamentary crisis and confidence that enough of the public would accept the dismissal. That act was an exception to the rule for vice-regal figureheads.

As a rule, the government-chosen representative lacks the mana of the sovereign to act on its own judgment when necessary.

The lack is most evident in this country at Waitangi every February 6. If there is any day we could expect the Queen's representative to be at Waitangi it is that one. Yet Sir Anand Satyanand wasn't there this year.

He was there the previous days but had a prior engagement in Auckland on the anniversary of the day his forebears made the Treaty. I simply don't understand that and not for want of inquiries to his staff.

Neither of the Governors General appointed during the Clark Government have done their Waitangi duty as stated by their immediate predecessor, Sir Michael Hardie Boys.

He bravely attended the ceremonies when the prime minister did not. He sat in the centre of the dawn service and said it was important the Crown was present.

His successors kept a lower profile, if they attended at all, in obvious deference to Clark's problems at that place. But if this were Britain would the Queen fail to front up for its most seminal national occasion because Gordon Brown had found it uncongenial? I doubt it.

Would the presidents of the United States or France? Those are elected heads of state with powers that could not easily be reconciled with the supremacy of Westminster parliaments. Constitutionalists in countries like ours generally recommend a parliamentary appointment.

Unfortunately, voters usually disagree. If Australians had been offered a republic with an elected presidency it might have passed their last referendum. An appointed proposition was defeated by a combination of monarchists and elective republicans.

But constitutionalists are right that elections wouldn't work for a ceremonial position. How would you campaign for it? We would need some other means of choosing and we could probably find one in Maori tradition.

Tainui's hereditary method does not cut the mustard. It looks a little too passive and imitative of the British. But more generally the highest chiefs were chosen, I understand, by some sort of consensus.

Any replacement of the monarchy will raise Treaty issues and it should be the primary source of reference for a New Zealand head of state. The recently repatriated final court was the first step in finding our own constitutional feet. We should not wait too long to take the next.

1 comment:

Rusty Kane said...

Of course in time we will became a Republic.. but resent history has proved we are not yet ready or politically mature enough to be a stand alone Republic.. Like Maori are not yet ready to have their Moari seats removed from parliament. But the time will come when both will need to happen. That time will be when we decide to have a new flag. There is still some water to go under the bridge between the races before we all stand united under one flag as a Republic. I have always thought we had our own monarchy in the Moari King. In the future we could have both our own president and monarchy. Like I said.. we have a way to go yet before we become a Republic. It would be great though if we could step up to the plate before Australia.