Monday, September 24, 2007

Time for a kiwi republic

Wednesday is the centenary of New Zealand becoming a Dominion, and the Dominion-Post is asking whether it is time for us to cut the last colonial apron strings and declare a republic. I think the answer is a resounding "yes". Quite apart from monarchy being an absurd form of government - "as absurd as an hereditary mathematician" to quote that famous rabble-rouser Thomas Paine - it also denies the most basic axiom of democratic government: that political legitimacy and authority stem from the consent of the governed, as expressed in regular free and fair elections. The Queen was not elected; rather, she claims her position by right of birth, and ultimately, by appeal to "divine right". This, again, is simply absurd in a modern democracy. Our head of state should be elected, or appointed by those who are. Finally, of course, there's the fact that we are already a republic in the practical sense. We are thoroughly republican and egalitarian in attitude (as opposed to the monarchical Americans). Our Governor-General is already a de-facto head of state, rather than merely being their representative - and they take their orders from Wellington, not London. Recognising this would not only end the fiction; it would also allow us to tidy up our constitution, codify a number of conventions, and make it clear exactly what the powers that de-facto head of state possesses.

As for the form of a republic, the easiest method is simply to twink out the Queen, and rename the office of Governor-General as President. Whether they continue to be appointed by Parliament or are elected by popular vote doesn't matter to me so much (I generally favour election, and it works well in Ireland; OTOH election implies accountability, and the blunt fact is that the Governor-General's role is purely ceremonial and that there is nothing to hold them accountable for). What's important is getting rid of the monarchy and putting our head of state on a firm democratic foundation. Fortunately, there is a bill which will do that already in the ballot: Keith Locke's Head of State Referenda Bill. The sooner it is drawn and passed, the better.