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Abandoning the Privy Council?

David Miller Online

A Point of View. Abandoning the Privy Council?

If I were a republican I would not be impressed with the Government’s latest effort to severe New Zealand’s ties with the monarchy. One would think that retaining the monarchy as Head of State in the Twenty First Century is both outmoded and outdated however whether New Zealanders are willing to take that final step towards adopting a constitutional change is another matter. It is not surprising that there has been a cool response to Margaret Wilson’s latest initiative to abandon the Privy Council as this country’s final court of appeal. This coolness is not because New Zealanders feel a great affinity towards the royal system or the Royal Family but rather that they are afraid of the politicians at home.

The Government’s decision to abandon the Privy Council simply through a majority in Parliament is not the correct process in determining this issue. Rather than allow the public the opportunity to debate the merits of the argument regarding the Privy Council and the Monarchy through a referendum, the Government is allowing the issue to become overshadowed by the charge that it is attempting constitutional change by stealth and that it is masking the implications of such a monumental change for the judicial process in this country. Not only does this action appear as though it is excluding the wider New Zealand electorate it is also exposing the Government to the accusations that a New Zealand Supreme Court will be exposed to political interference and that the independent nature of the judiciary could be lost forever.

The independence of the judicial system is a fundamental element of the democratic Westminster system. The courts in this country and in London provide the individual with the means of challenging Government legislation and protecting themselves against political abuses of power. The Privy Council may be a hangover from our colonial past but it is also a body that it is strictly impartial due its remoteness from events and influences in New Zealand and this is a point that those seeking to abolish or link to the Council will have to overcome. Putting the debate over whether New Zealand should be linked to Britain in this manner aside, what is most damaging for the Republican cause is Ms. Wilson’s actions. This case must be put to a referendum that allows the public to decide the future of this country and not placed solely in the hands of those in Parliament. To claim that Parliament and the Executive are the only forums capable of deciding this matter is as arrogant as it is offensive and it makes a mockery of the democratic process the people of this country hold so dear. I have argued in the past that the republican cause faces an uphill battle to convince the New Zealand public of their cause due to the apprehension over a President or a Supreme Council appointed by the Prime Minister or parliament. 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 New Zealand based offices and institutions. The monarchy and the Privy Council are simply part of the constitutional mechanism of this country and that is the limit of its influence in people’s lives and they are bodies that are 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 if it is to force change. Unfortunately the actions of Margaret Wilson and the Government in not allowing a referendum are doing severe damage to that cause. A public vote would give both sides a clear and legitimate mandate should they be victorious.

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