Monday, April 26, 2010

The next step for the republic

Over on Public Address, Graeme Edgeler has some trenchent criticism of Keith Locke's Head of State Referenda Bill, which was voted down last week. Graeme doesn't disagree with the aims of the bill, but rather argues that it was grossly legally flawed. And looking at his examples, he's right.

Most of those flaws stem from the bills ambition - it tried to do everything at once. In the process, it missed the enormous amount of finickity detail that needs to be changed if we are to move towards a republic. Some of the larger flaws may very well have been fixed by a select committee - but expecting them to do it all is a bit much (and, had the bill been voted to select committee, it would have been perfectly appropriate for them to say so).

So, what's the way forward then? Graeme suggests a select committee inquiry to do the groundwork, or perhaps a bill to establish a citizen's jury to discuss the issue and come up with a broad model. Another would be a bill for an indicative referendum, with a statutory inquiry to investigate any constitutional changes required to implement the result (and/or engage in further codification - something necessary even if the result is the status quo). Or bills to elect the head of state or codify the reserve powers, or remove the royal assent, allowing those issues to be worked out separately and giving us a more democratic New Zealand regardless.

What the issue really needs of course is a Royal Commission, similar to that used for electoral reform in the mid-80's. But irony aside, that would require positive action by the government, something which successive governments have shown no interest in (while all of course proclaiming that a republic is "inevitable").

New Zealand constitutional change has traditionally been progressed in a piecemeal, evolutionary fashion. And that's now probably the way to a republic. Not as satisfying as a "big bang", and hard work - but much more likely to be successful.