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Letter to the editor: Re "Absolutely Fascinated"
As promised, here's my response to Matt Showering's letter to the editor of Investigate Magazine:
RE: ABSOLUTELY FASCINATED
Matt Showering (Vox populi, July 2008) demonstrates a good understanding of New Zealand's constitutional development, yet makes a number of assertions in favour of the monarchy which belie constitutional reality. Mr Showering is correct insofar as his analysis of your argument in Absolute Power (that the government is illegal) goes; however his defence of the monarchy against your second claim, that the Governor-General is not an effective check on the Prime Minister, is weak.
Mr Showering's response to the Governor-General’s ineffectiveness is due to "public apathy". Yet there were plenty of protests against the Electoral Finance Act, one example cited as an abuse of power. Despite petitions to the Governor-General and a High Court challenge to the Bill, the Governor-General had no scope to exercise a refusal of Royal assent to the Bill. His hands were tied by 400 years of constitutional convention, and the fact that the Prime Minister can advise the Queen to remove Her Majesty's representative from office immediately. This was the reason why Sir John Kerr fired Gough Whitlam in 1975 – he had to act before Whitlam could have him removed.
In contrast, most republics grant their presidents the ability to refuse to sign Bills into law, send them to the judiciary or to a national referendum. Mr Showering argues that a president in a parliamentary-style republic lacks the “historical grounding” of a monarch and “cannot serve the people in a non-partisan fashion as a monarch". This is incorrect – a historical grounding was not required when the President of Iceland refused to sign a controversial media law and instead send it to a referendum, nor was it required when the President of Germany referred a Bill back to parliament, nor has it been required when the President of Ireland has referred Bills to the Irish Supreme Court.
As for the argument that the Queen is non-partisan, this is not disputed. The Queen never intervenes in Commonwealth realms, even in times of constitutional crises – coups in Sierra Leone, Grenada, Fiji and the Solomon Islands prove this. What can be disputed is whether the Governor-General is non-partisan; furthermore, whether the non-partisanship is actually a good thing. The Governor-General is appointed on the whim of the Prime Minister of the day – they almost inevitably have something to do with the ruling party (Sir Keith Holyoake, Sir Paul Reeves and Dame Cath Tizard are the most obvious examples, others have more subtle links). If supporters of the monarchy claim that the Governor-General is non-partisan, they cannot logically also say the Governor-General is a check on the Prime Minister. Any intervention in partisan issues will make the Governor-General a partisan figure, as happened in Australia.
Mr Showering's final assertion, that removing the Crown will require that New Zealand creates a written constitution, is nonsense. A written constitution is not legally required for a republic - the State of Israel, also a parliamentary republic, does not have one. Yet Mr Showering implies a republic leading to a written constitution is a bad thing.
A republic would create a head of state that could act in times of constitutional crises. A head of state that is better able to act in times of crises works as a much better restraint on the power of the executive - the Prime Minister and Cabinet. The Republican Movement believes that the move to a republic in New Zealand should be accompanied by a serious look at the sort of checks and balances other parliamentary republics have. That would be a vast improvement on the status quo, and an excellent reason for a republic.
Chair, Republican Movement