Monday, March 01, 2010

Time to elect the Governor-General

Long-time republican Peter Dunne takes the government to task for its hypocrisy in refusing to back the Head of State Referenda bill:

“There is an inconsistency bordering on full-blown Nanny Statism in this decision.

“National seems quite happy to let people have their say on the electoral system – although even then it is reserving the right to itself to change the MMP system in the future, even if people vote to retain it – and to do deals with the Maori Party to retain the Maori seats, under the guise of constitutional reform, but will not give New Zealanders a say on the most basic constitutional issue of all – how our Head of State is chosen,” he said.

He also points out that the Governor-General's term expires next year, and a new one will have to be chosen. He suggests that this not be left to the usual mechanism of the Prime Minister picking someone and appointing them, but instead that the people of New Zealand should decide.

I agree. Regardless of whether we are a republic or a monarchy, our effective head of state needs to be democratically elected and subjected to proper checks and balances. At the moment, the Prime Minister can appoint whoever he wants, a process which has been abused in the past to make blatantly political appointments, as well as dismiss them whenever he likes. And that's simply not a power any Prime Minister should have. Our head of state must be seen to be impartial and independent, their period in office governed by law rather than the Prime Minister's personal whims.

Election is the way to achieve this (for republicans, it may also allow us to manage the process of constitutional change so as to preserve the existing convention of a powerless head of state). And legally, it would be a simple matter to amend the Constitution Act to require the Prime Minister to advise the sovereign to appoint whoever is elected. At the same time, this would also allow us to tidy up the law around the Governor-General. For example, there is no requirement that they be a New Zealander, or that they not be an MP.

Which leaves us with the big question: direct election (by PV/STV - non-majority voting systems are democratically unacceptable), or by a supermajority in Parliament? The former is more democratic, the latter easier (particularly if we want these rules to apply to the next Governor-general). But either would be a significant improvement on the present system, where only one man has a vote.