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David Miller Online: Time For the Republic of NZ?

Citizens or Royal Subjects: Is it Time For the Republic of New Zealand?

Earlier this month, the Guardian newspaper in London openly criticised the position of the British monarchy in the political and social structure of the United Kingdom. Upon publishing the results of a poll it conducted regarding the attitude of the British public towards the House of Windsor, the paper claimed that one in four Britons wish to see the Queen replaced as head of state by an elected representative and this is part of the growing trend towards an outright republican position. However republicanism is not a new development in Britain and elsewhere throughout the Commonwealth, including New Zealand. What has happened is that in recent years as people have increasingly questioned the relevance of the Queen as head of state here and in other Commonwealth countries, and the calls towards republicanism have gotten a little louder.

The House of Windsor is steeped in history, with much of its position, procedures and protocol stemming from this tradition. While time- honoured ceremonies are elements to the monarchy that are often spectacular and certainly unique, they are often the source for opposition as well. The Guardian claimed that its poll findings showed the British public are overwhelmingly in support of lifting the centuries old legal ban on Catholics, adopted children and those born out of wedlock assuming the throne and went onto claim that more than 63% of those polled wished to see an end to the discrimination, which stems from the Act of Settlement of 1701. While 60% of people surveyed regarded themselves as citizens only 32% described themselves as Royal subjects.

Despite such feelings within the United Kingdom, Queen Elizabeth II remains the head of the Commonwealth and the head of state in16 of its member states, including New Zealand. Currently there are moves in several of those states to move towards a republican structure, including Jamaica and Barbados. Both of these states are currently conducting constitutional reviews, which address the replacement of the Queen by a locally elected head of state and see this process as a means of removing what they regard as the last vestiges of colonialism.

New Zealand has also undertaken some steps in this direction. Since taking office last year, the Labour- Alliance coalition has already abolished the Buckingham Palace honours system and replacing it with a New Zealand order of merit. Prime Minister Helen Clark has also expressed her views on the matter, claiming it makes little sense to have a head of state that resides 12,000 miles away, while members of the Green Party have also declared their republican stance. However should New Zealand abolish the monarchy?

The monarchy has certainly lost its lustre for many in this country. While in previous decades the visit by the Queen and her predecessors on the throne was a major event. It was regarded as one, which reinforced the ties this dominion has with its head of state and showcased an important element of New Zealand’s modern history and political structure. It will be unlikely that the Queen’s visit here next year will create the interest of past tours as the number of royalists in New Zealand thins out. Attitudes have changed as people both here and throughout the Commonwealth question the right of entitlement to this position by one family, especially one which in the past decade has been tainted with scandal, for example, Prince Charles’ relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles and anger at the Royal Family’s conduct following the death of Princess Diana. The growing sense of regionalism around the world is another element that weakens this bond. The United Kingdom has become more European focused since the 1970’s and has weakened its relationship with the Commonwealth while New Zealand has sought to become more integrated in the Asia- Pacific region in terms of its future. Given such processes being at work then the role of the monarchy can only become less relevant to New Zealanders.

While it would seem the logical progression for this nation’s development to have a New Zealander as a head of state in the 21st Century, there is no the overwhelming desire on the part of this country’s people to change the status quo. While people may question the role of Queen Elizabeth II and possibly King Charles III as head of state in New Zealand the alternatives are as equally unappealing. This was the factor in the Australian referendum last year, in that there was distaste for the creation of a president that would be appointed by the Prime Minister or parliament. This is an issue that New Zealand republicans must content with if they are to win the hearts and minds of the population. Politicians in this country are not held in the highest of regard and the notion of political bias is sure to taint, even scuttle any argument for the creation of the office of President of New Zealand.

It is unlikely that New Zealand will remove the Queen from her position as head of state for some time yet, despite the growing apathy towards her position and even growing dissent. Should Australia vote to become a republic at some stage in the future then this will likely act as a catalyst for debate here, and the case will be the same should the Commonwealth elect a non- Briton in her place at the head of that organisation. Until then, New Zealanders will remain royal subjects especially as for many the monarchy is simply part of the constitutional mechanism of this country and that, is the limit of its influence in peoples lives. The monarchy is the body, which signed the Treaty of Waitangi and is seen to be above the politics here. For many it is simply an arrangement of convenience with few favourable alternatives, and this is what the republican side must overcome to alter people’s perspective and force change. It is for these reasons that New Zealanders while regarding themselves as citizens will also remain subjects of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

- please send feedback to David Miller


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