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Q + A – April 28, 2013
DO WE HAVE A CONSTITUTION?
PROF PHILIP JOSEPH – Constitutional Expert
It's an unwritten constitution in the sense we don't have a formal written codified instrument which we can hold up and say “here’s the constitution”. It's not to say, though, that it’s not written. It's written in various documents and statutes of Parliament, in the decisions of courts and also in some of the quite ancient statutes of the British Parliament – for example, Magna Carta, which was signed way back, of course, in 1215 is part of our constitution.
IS IT BROKEN?
PHILIP Well, some people ask the question if it isn't broken, why fix it? And that's a good question, because I think the answer is the New Zealand constitution has worked very well since we were established as a Crown colony way back in 1840. We are a liberal democracy and we abide by the rule of law. But that is not to say that we should not be engaging, though, on these sorts of fundamental reviews – revisiting, perhaps, our constitutional foundations, our roots.
WHAT’S THE PANEL’S ROLE?
DEBORAH CODDINGTON – Constitutional Review Panel
We are really just there to take information out to all New Zealanders about our constitutional arrangements so that they can make submissions.
WHAT ARE THE TERMS OF REFERENCE?
PHILIP Well, the first thing to say about the terms of reference, and I'm not wishing to be unkind here, but they do lack a certain coherence, because they cobble together a number of discrete mechanistic aspects of our electoral system with what I would call big-ticket items regarding, for example, the role of the Treaty of Waitangi within the social compact. And so these big-ticket items, which go to what I call constitutional fundamentals, are cobbled together with these very mechanistic discrete issues affecting our electoral system – for example, how many MPs should we have?
IS THE PANEL 'CAPTURED' BY MAORI INTERESTS?
DEBORAH Look, it’s not just about the Treaty of Waitangi. There are a lot of issues – as I said, the Bill of Rights is a very important thing. The Treaty of Waitangi is important too, and it’s up for people to make their submissions on all of those things. Yes, we do have I think five or six Maori members on the panel, but, you know, we're not captured, whatever that means, by Maori at all.
PHILIP This whole review originated out of a political agreement between the National and Maori Parties. And so naturally the terms of reference will tend to reflect the constituencies of interest, shall we say, of these parties – for example, the Maori Party is very committed, of course, naturally, to the issue of separate Maori representation and also the role of the Treaty of Waitangi. Whether the National Party is quite so committed in terms of the review is an open question.
WILL THE REVIEW AMOUNT TO ANYTHING?
DEBORAH I don't think it will come to nothing, but I still think it will have been worth it because more and more people will be aware of what our constitution is. I’d just like to also say there is in Parliament a cross-party support group, so all parties support it apart from New Zealand First. And I still think we can probably get Winston on board.