NZ Constitutional Arrangements - What’s Next?
Mike Moore: NZ Constitutional
I’m obliged to the media for its coverage of the complexities of how we discuss New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements. Unfortunately, some in the media have wrongly reported this is an attempt to impose a republic on NZ. I will try to answer some legitimate questions that have been raised:
A Government Minister asked why was it raised now? :
He can’t have read his correspondence. My case is that with all Australian parties supporting change, and the fact that Queen Elizabeth II is not immortal, the issue will be on the agenda, ready or not. It could become fashionable and we should prepare a process to pre-empt an instant reaction. The Minister suggested no MP was seeking change, yet there is a Green Bill ready for presentation, and another party has an MP who has prepared legislation, and the leader of another political party has already suggested a Royal Commission and a referendum. Alas, this puts profound power in the hands of a Royal Commission to dictate the terms of change.
If it’s not broken, why fix it? :
I agree, but if that were so, why are we making incremental change from abolishing rights to the Privy Council, reform of the Honours List, introducing MMP, refusing another referendum, and conventions such as cross-party support for electoral law being broken. There is a dangerous potential for a deal to be struck in secret coalition talks to form a Government after the next election.
Too Complex ? :
It’s been suggested that my proposal, which includes how we select our head of state, the vital centrality of the Treaty of Waitangi, how we choose our MP’s, MMP and its alternatives, was too wide and complex. If this is so, there would have been no US, or more recently, South African constitutions. I have confidence in the NZ public if a transparent, predictable process is established into which all these issues can be folded. The process throws some sand in the gearbox, providing space for careful consideration which goes beyond the life of any one government and temporary politicians. Doing nothing is a valid option. The threshold must be very high, and the case overwhelmingly and compelling for any change.
An Executive Presidency ? :
I, too, fear a Presidency that’s not accountable and cannot can be questioned in Parliament. Unless the powers of a Presidency are clearly codified and written in law or a constitution, a Presidency could create a potentially dangerous point of conflict with a Prime Minister. A Prime Minister owes her authority, according to the wishes of the majority in Parliament. We cannot have two hands on the steering wheel. The Governor General operates, not by specific constitutional law, but mainly by accepted, sensitive conventions. But what are conventions these days?
A Conspiracy ? :
Some are concerned that this process may be seen as a conspiracy to extend the Government’s grip on power. It will do the opposite by preventing any Government or short-term majority in Parliament controlling the agenda. Just because it’s not now on the agenda, and most are supportive and comfortable with our present system, there’s no reason not to provide for a process to manage the inevitable debate.
What’s Next ? :
I am in discussions with several politicians who can see over the horizon. It’s true that I’m not the best person to promote this process, alas, too often authors, not books, are reviewed. The process needs a better champion.
former Prime Minister of New Zealand
former Director-General of the World Trade Organisation