- The Debate
- Get involved
- Constitutional review
- The Treaty of Waitangi
- Commonwealth membership
- Common Cause
How much change?
Opponents of a republic have made a number of disingenuous suggestions that a republic brings about questions on the place of a Treaty, the restoration of an upper house, New Zealand's Commonwealth membership or a written constitution. Almost all of these arguments designed to create confusion or are based on the view that supporters of a republic seek wider change than simply creating a New Zealand head of state.
No doubt there will be claims that there are nefarious forces at work, that supporters of a republic are crazed anti-British individuals. But in truth, we're simply advocates of a change that we see as being of benefit to New Zealand.
One of the reasons "other" issues get tacked on the republicanism is because one constitutional issue often raises another. The move to MMP is one example of this. When former Prime Minister Jim Bolger began the republic debate in 1994, one of his main reasons for supporting a republic was the increased use of the Governor-General's reserve powers following an MMP election:
"MMP could prove to be the catalyst [for a republic], given the possible greater role for the head of state as we form governments under MMP."
- Address-In-Reply debate, March 1994
While Bolger saw republicanism as a potential catalyst for a republic, that does not mean the MMP electoral system would create the conditions for a republic to come about. This is the true extent of change - a republic simply means we may debate other constitutional issues a bit more. But a referendum on a republic does not mean New Zealanders are tied to a decision on any of these issues.
The Treaty of Waitangi
The guarantees and rights granted by the Treaty will be transferred from the New Zealand Crown (the government) to our new head of state. The supporters of the status quo argue that the move to a republic could bring about wider changes in the area of the Treaty. For example, Professor Noel Cox of the Monarchist League has stated:
"A republican constitution would allow a fresh start, though at a greater potential risk, due to the need to reevaluate the nature of the relationship between the Maori and the government."
- The Treaty of Waitangi and the Relationship Between The Crown and Maori in New Zealand (123 BROOK. J. INT'L L. [Vol. 28:1])
However, in an interview with the Sunday Star Times in 2004, Professor Cox stated:
"In strict legal terms, if New Zealand became a republic tomorrow it would make no difference to the Treaty of Waitangi. Speaking as a lawyer, it's a long established principle that successive governments take on responsibility for previous agreements."
- The People vs the Crown, Jonathan Milne, Sunday Star-Times, May 30 2004
Clearly there is confusion over the place of the Treaty from supporters of the status quo. On the one hand, they say the position of the Treaty will be unchanged. On the other, they say the change could result in a "reevaluation" of the Treaty.
> See our issue page on the Treaty of Waitangi in a republic
A written constitution
While there is much popular support for a written constitution, a written constitution is not a prerequisite of a New Zealand republic. There are other examples of this around the world: the State of Israel is a republic with no written constitution. Instead, the Israeli constitution, like ours, is made up of a number of simple acts of parliament.
Dr Roderick Deane, speaking at the Building the Constitution conference in April 2000, suggested that a republic meant a written constitution, and that would mean more judicial control of issues, which would be less democratic on his reasoning. Sir Geoffrey Palmer disputed this position in his book Constitutional Conversations, where Sir Geoffrey re-iterated the view that a written constitution was not required.
It is often said that a republic means New Zealand will have to change its flag. This is not the case. NZ Flag.com, the proponents of a recent petition on the issue, clearly stated that a republic wasn't the same issue as changing the flag:
A new flag is not advocacy for New Zealand to become a republic (many commonwealth countries do not have the Union Jack in their flag).
- NZ Flag.com: 8 reasons for a new New Zealand flag
The most obvious example of a Commonwealth country changing its flag but remaining a constitutional monarchy is Canada.