At the time of writing New Zealand is entering the second month of 2018, marking more than two centuries since Henry Sewell became the country’s first Prime Minister. Since then New Zealand has achieved substantial success in multiple cases:
- Becoming the first country to grant women the right to vote in 1893,
- Implementing nuclear-free zones in New Zealand waters, air and land.
- Legalising same-sex marriage in 2013 even though a conservative party was in government.
Time and time again, however, New Zealand has not only delivered on issues of moral importance but has also led by example. The country’s independent initiative has allowed it to determine its own success. So why does it need to be governed by a Constitutional Monarchy?
A Constitutional Monarchy, simply put, means that a British Monarch is our head of state. As of now, Queen Elizabeth II is New Zealand’s head of state. As her majesty needs to remain in the confines of her far from modest home at Buckingham Palace, the Queen has a formal representative in New Zealand; the Governor-General. Although a Governor-General may be dismissed at any time by a Prime Minister they do technically have the constitutional right to interfere with the passing of a bill into law.
So what I would like to explore today is the reasons for and against why New Zealand needs to maintain a Constitutional Monarchy. I will, of course, be referring to any of the following arguments to the official Monarchy.org.nz which advocates for the Queen to remain head of State and to the official Republic.org.nz which argues the latter. I will also label the supporters and opponents of the Monarchy as Royalists and Republicans so as to help focus on the central theme of this essay.
Those in favour?
“Monarchies are much more stable and far more successful at protecting democracy than republics.”
According to their official website, royalists enjoy emphasising how a Constitutional Monarchy is not only an effective governing system but also a stable one. This argument is clearly based on the notion that a Constitutional Monarchy is ubiquitous and has thus allowed for democracy to flourish.
“Our political structure has been tested in more than 30 countries around the world and for well over a century… Our Constitutional Monarchy has been a key component in nourishing our democracy.”
Royalists are adamant that assuming that the “democratic ethos” of New Zealand guards the democratic process and stability of New Zealand politics, is naive. Rather, the presence of a Monarchy sustains and strengthens democracy as well as act as a bulwark against chaos.
In order to further this point, they compare the nature of various Republican countries as being repressive and chaotic. Although to be clear, no specific example to support this additional argument is made. The assumption is to refer to politically divisive nations such as the United States and Turkey as a way of magnifying the chaotic scenes that ensue when a government is not controlled by a Monarch. Although it is important to state that the United Kingdom as of this present moment is, in fact, experiencing a great political divide surrounding Brexit.Yet Royalists continue to focus on how a Constitutional Monarchy has been tried and tested by more than thirty countries alone reflecting how successful it has been. In addition to being proclaimed a stable form of governing, Monarchy.org.nz outline how a Constitutional Monarchy undergoes a neutral process.
“Monarchies select their heads of state based on a fair and neutral process”
Compared to the divisive and raucous noises of a Republican parliament, a Constitutional Monarchy is inherently stable, as reflected by the selection of its heads of state. Royalists focus on how “neutral” and “fair” the process of selecting a head of state to lead a Constitutional Monarchy. According to this narrative, Monarchies are immune to the corrupt, political scheming we frequently witness in non-Constitutional Monarchies. As a matter of fact, Royalists savour the notion of a hereditary selection process as a path to I assume a level-headed leader as opposed to whatever antithesis this website implies.
Again, I remind my reader that this is taken from the Monarchy.org.nz website and any statement I make is formed on the basis of what is written on their website. It is hard for me to develop this argument from their point of view. Simply because their list of “Facts” pertaining to their advocacy of a Monarchy lacks any ideal substance. However, it is clear that this statement is clearly stated so as to focus on the idea that without a Monarch as New Zealand’s head of state, this country would fall into the pit of chaos, corruption and political crises.
“Minor constitutional change is an oxymoron.”
All this preludes to the overarching theme that Monarchy.org reiterates; that without a Monarchy we would be unable to look after ourselves. This is perhaps most greatly shown with the issue of altering aspects of New Zealand’s constitution. Royalists have consistently cited concerns of the consequence of replacing the Constitutional Monarchy with a Republican adaptation. In their own words, Monarchy.org.nz states that:
“Removing a piece of our government is akin to removing a part from the engine of a car and expecting it to run properly.”
Implied once more is the role of the Monarch of acting as a shield against the destruction and corruption that would ensue. It refers again to this idea that all other Constitutional changes that have occurred in history have always ended in bloodshed, although any specific examples are not referred to.
It again is clearly implicit that without a Monarch a prevalence of anarchy would pour out into the depths of New Zealand, even though the Monarchy has contributed or acted upon nothing with regard to New Zealand politics and legislation. Although these arguments, in retrospect, are reasonable they lack the adequate substance or evidence to support these claims. This issue does not extend to the official Republican website Republic.org.nz.
“A republic will make New Zealand more democratic”
For those on the Republican side of this debate, the choice is simple. When it comes to a Monarchy the people seldom select the leader as this process is confined to the realms of inheritance and hereditary. Whether the heir apparent is Liberal, Conservative, Marxist or Fascist the majority of citizens can not undermine this process. In a democratic republic, however, the opposite is true.
“Electing the head of state is a basic democratic right. Republicanism is based on the principle that government authority is reliant on the consent of citizens.”
In a republic, the governing powers are demonstrated and realised based on the social contract it shares with its citizens. In a Monarchy this notion is surely false because as previously mentioned citizens have no voice in the selection of a head of state. This allows therefore to be a significant gap between the Monarchy and its subjects. Simply as there is no obligation for a King or Queen to act on behalf of the majority. Republicans, therefore, are adamant that by allowing New Zealanders to select their head of state he/she will have an obligation to serve, not rule, them.
As the Queen is seldom in New Zealand she relies on formal representation by a Governor General. As of this moment in time, the Prime Minister consults the Monarch over their preferable Governor General candidate. This is seen as a less than transparent process also and is usually followed by political appointments.
“In 1977, [then Prime Minister] Robert Muldoon appointed former Prime Minister Sir Keith Holyoake to the job. This was primarily because the next best candidate, Sir Edmund Hillary, had signed a petition in 1975 supporting Labour Prime Minister Bill Rowling.”
This event proved controversial for its time. It reflected the political appointment by an incumbent Prime Minister unwilling to oscillate to the popular opinion of his country because his choice would cause him no political difficulty. It is worth mentioning that Muldoon was hardly alone in appointing party loyal Governor Generals. Subsequent Prime Minister David Lange would appoint Reverend Sir Paul Reeves in 1985 as his anti-apartheid and anti-nuclear views firmly fit with those of Lange. By becoming a Democratic Republic Republic.org.nz argues “a transparent democratic process” would become more apparent with regard to who replacing the position of Governor General.
“A republic means an effective constitutional safeguard.”
A frequently recurring theme in the Royalist’s argument is how significant the Queen’s role is in maintaining stability in New Zealand, yet Republicans beg to differ. In their own words:
“The Monarch and the Governor-General do not have the political power to do this. The Governor-General is unable to resolve constitutional crises because the Prime Minister holds the power to dismiss and replace the Governor-General at any time. The Monarch will never get involved in New Zealand politics because they are “non-political”.”
What New Zealand should demand is a head of state able to lead in times of constitutional crisis. They argue how a Prime Minister would be held accountable and restrained when necessary by their Cabinet and work on behalf of “all New Zealanders regardless of their political beliefs”. This argument perhaps becomes further emphasized when considering how the Queen is not a New Zealander.
Objectively speaking there is no argument, whatsoever, to argue that the Queen reflects the term “New Zealand’s Head of State”. The Queen is hardly ever in New Zealand and leaves her royal duties to the Governor General. Her stays in New Zealand haven’t lasted longer than six months and why should it? We are not her country of birth or nationality. For her to be even considered as a potential New Zealand citizen she would have had to have lived for at least five years like all the other immigrants in this country.
So when it comes to a time of constitutional crisis the Queen would technically leave her responsibility’s to her Governor General who would have to work in accordance with the Prime Minister and relevant Ministers. Why then must we believe that their role is so important when all they would probably do is get in the way of due process. A republic, therefore, would allow for a far smoother and effective procedure for solving any constitutional crisis that may occur.
New Zealand is a unique, dynamic and diverse country. New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements, national symbols and head of state should reflect this.
“A republic affirms New Zealand’s sense of nationhood.”
New Zealand has come a long way since Henry Sewell became its first Prime Minister. It has performed not only admirably but inspirationally. One need not look further than New Zealand becoming the first country to give women the right to vote, its treatment of its natives in contrast to the United States, Canada or even Australia.
“New Zealand excels in sport, in its human rights record, in business and in the arts. New Zealand’s constitution lags behind these achievements. Our current constitutional arrangement causes confusion overseas as to whether New Zealand is linked to Britain, or whether it is part of Australia.”
Our constitution needs reform. It is long overdue and prevents us from confirming ultimate sovereignty over our nation.
“How New Zealanders understand their place in the world is crucial to New Zealand’s success in an increasingly globalised world.”
Symbolically New Zealand would be moving on to a path of modernisation. In perhaps more succinct terms becoming a republic “will demonstrate New Zealand’s confidence and independence and it will symbolise a shared sense of nationhood”.
I sincerely hope that one day New Zealand resolves its current constitutional obligations. I also have roots in Great Britain as I am sure many New Zealanders have. Replacing the Constitutional Monarchy in which this country is founded on would not mean slapping the face of Queen Elizabeth II.
We must still be proud of our history as a young nation that has contributed so much for her majesty and the former Empire. Yet, it is time for us to embrace the present. We have a diverse culture that has challenged our national identity and for good reason; a Lebanese New Zealander or Chinese New Zealander would not share the same affection for the Queen as an Anglo-Saxon New Zealander would. Should the Queen remain simply because she always has? Or should New Zealand, like countless times before, take the initiative other countries have taken and become a democratic republic?
There is a legitimate argument as to why ridding ourselves of a constitutional monarchy would cause predicament, specifically in reference to our position in The Commonwealth or our obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi. Professor Noel Cox, a staunch advocate for the Monarchy in New Zealand mentions this. In his book “The Treaty of Waitangi and the Relationship Between Crown and Maori in New Zealand”. Cox details how removing the Monarchy from the Government and Maori arrangement would not “absolve” the government’s commitment to the Maori who signed the treaty. A reason perhaps could be that it would simply prove too controversial. Regarding New Zealand’s position in the Commonwealth Republicans note that it is not under threat were New Zealand to replace the current constitution.
“18 former Commonwealth realms have become republics and are still members of the Commonwealth” this number includes South Africa and India.
Therefore, although the question of New Zealand removing the Queen does not seem so significant today, one must wonder when it should be achieved? I personally hope to see such a moment one day. The Monarchy plays a role in representing our proud and sobering history, it should not play a role, however minor, in our future. New Zealanders must determine New Zealand’s fate.