Wednesday, December 08, 2010

A constitutional review

In 2008, National signed a confidence and supply agreement with the Maori Party [PDF]. This agreement included a joint commitment to establish "no later than early 2010... a group to consider constitutional issues including Maori representation."

Today - somewhat later than early 2010 - the government finally moved on that commitment, establishing a process to formally examine the size of Parliament, the length of the Parliamentary term, electorates (including Maori electorates), the need for "electoral integrity" (anti party-hopping) legislation, a formal written constitution (because apparently the Constitution Act 1986 doesn't exist), and the entrenchment or modification of the Bill of Rights.

There's a lot here that is worthy of discussion, and I certainly intend to contribute to the process. But there's one topic which is glaring by its absence: the republic. Its our most significant and pressing constitutional issue - Good Queen Bess isn't going to live forever you know - and the government is resolutely sticking its fingers in its ears and refusing to talk about it.

And OTOH, it might be for the best. As Michael Cullen noted, the desire for "big bang" change, to do everything at once, has actually been a real barrier in the past, and led to the debate being bogged down over side issues, resulting in no change. Including the republic in the constitutional review would likely have led to the same problem. Not including it leaves us free to push for change - and also means the government can't just fob us off by saying "its already under review". And given that we can easily shift to a republic while leaving all our other constitutional options open, there's no reason why we can't start that process today.