Thursday, April 22, 2010

Voting down the republic

Tonight, the New Zealand Parliament debated a republic for the first time, in the form of Keith Locke's Head of State Referenda Bill. The bill would have established a process by which the people of New Zealand could have their say on our constitutional future, through a two-stage referendum process. Unfortunately, Parliament voted it down, 68 - 53.

The debate is up on In the House. There are some good speeches there, on how a republic would better reflect our national identity as a diverse, egalitarian, democratic nation, on how the monarchy is discriminatory and does not accord with New Zealand values, and on how the people should be allowed to have their say. And then there are the speeches from National MPs, who were whipped into opposing the bill, and whose best argument against it was that a debate on the republic would be a distraction from the issues they wanted to talk about. But to put it bluntly, that is not their decision to make. The constitution belongs to the people, not to MPs, and they should be enabling us to discuss it. By standing in the way of such a discussion, the National party has marked itself as opposed to democracy. But then, we already knew that, didn't we?

While the bill was defeated tonight, the issue is not going to go away. Its an issue of identity, about who we are as a nation, and thus a generational issue. Pretty much every young MP who entered the House last election was a republican, and that trend is only going to get stronger. Its been a long time since New Zealanders were raised on imperialism, longer still since we thought of Britain as "home" or ourselves as British. The generations who believe those things are withering and dying by the day, and their toxic memes are dying with them. The only question is how long their dead hands will maintain a death grip on our future.