NZ - A republic in all but name

New Zealand republicans can pack up shop and go home. Their aims have all been achieved – and the palaver around the royal wedding proves it.

To be sure, some New Zealanders are turning the nuptials of Prince William and Kate Cheekbones into a bit of a party.

Yes, there will be – indeed there already has been – royal wedding overkill on the state owned television channel (although not much coverage, notably, on the state owned radio broadcaster).

But the general attitude and approach was best summed up by a young woman interviewed on her party plans for a royal wedding theme party.

“It is a bit naff and a bit tacky but it’s a bit of fun, isn’t it?” she burbled. Behold: the modern view of the monarchy, indistinguishable from the Rugby Sevens or the Santa Parade.

There is not, you will note, a whiff of deference in this attitude. Nor is there much solemnity: in fact, it tends to be the republicans who get all po-faced and finger-waggy over this sort of thing.

They do need to lighten up and realise that although the forms and the trappings of monarchy still linger, the substance of the country’s constitutional arrangements are essentially republican.

New Zealand elects its own parliament, which then, by and large after a lot of shoving, selects a government. That government, every five years, nominates a governor general, as this government did last month when it named Lieutenant-General Jerry Mateparae as the next holder of that position.

Theoretically, the governor general is the viceroy who represents the monarch to New Zealanders. In practice, it is more the other way round: the viceroy represents New Zealanders to the monarch, and even then only on the advice of the prime minister and only when necessary.

The governor general him/herself is selected with an eye to being acceptable to most New Zealanders and being as non-controversial as possible.

In short, it is a relationship in which the monarch does not really have a great deal of say over anything that matters.

Is there excessive, lingering deference to a bunch of hereditary aristocrats on the other side of the world? Not really.

Yes, I’ve heard people who met Prince William on his recent visit gush about what a decent sort he seems to be.  This could be seen as residual deference but I’ve heard people gush similarly over visiting presidents – and even president’s spouses – not to mention people like the Dalai Lama or Nelson Mandela.

It is indistinguishable from modern celebrity worship – not a desirable thing, perhaps, but no cause to upend what is a perfectly workable set of constitutional arrangements.

Because that is the most important thing. They do work. They have their absurdities and their silliness, but a bit of absurdity and silliness is endemic in the human condition and no constitutional arrangement I have seen lacks its ridiculous aspects. The absurdities and silliness do not cause any problems.

Republicans also worry about the notion that having a monarch at the head of the country’s constitutional arrangements shows a lack of national maturity.

They tend to bang on about this rather a lot, for reasons only a qualified psychologist would be fit to pronounce upon.

One observation, though: along with spots, mood swings, and excessive masturbation, a heightened and touchy concern about whether one is grown up or mature is a hallmark of adolescence, not maturity.

There is also much spluttering from republicans about the fact the Queen does not represent us when she goes overseas: she represents the United Kingdom. This doesn’t really pass the “so what” test:  New Zealand is no poorer as a country for this fact.

MPs swear an oath, or take an affirmation, of loyalty to the Queen, to be sure. But as noted above, they then proceed to tell the Queen, or at least her representative in this country, who the government is going to be. The substance of the relationship is republican, not monarchist.

And that is the most important overall problem with the republican stance. It focuses too much on the form of New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements and the country’s relationship with the monarchy and ignores the substance.

In the parts that matter, New Zealand is a republic. The other stuff? Well, it’s a bit naff, a bit tacky, but it’s a bit of fun.

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17 Comments & Questions

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You might want to do a fact check on NZ MPs swearing an oath to the Queen. They don't actually.

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Unfortunately when you say that the monarchy's constitutional arrangement 'work' you don't say what they work to do. Well indirectly you do, you tell us they 'work' to endow the monarch with the power to allow some of her subject to rule over all of her subjects.

Any surely this is the most objectionable part of our consitutional arrangements, no? Isn't the 'shoving' at the power table indicative of what it does to the monarch's subjects? Remember "we won, you lost, eat that!"?

There is another and a better way, and it's not just through changing the image of the ruler or the formalities of how the rule takes place. Let us be ruled not by a government but by customary law. Incidentally the best of English common law is the customary law it came from before the royal courts eliminated their non-royal competitors, then competition between different royal courts, then organised royal courts into a formal hierarchy regulated by stare decisis, and then shoved around, along with the royal subjects, by the massive growth of legislation.

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It's not a Republic by stealth - it's a constitutional monarchy that is at ease with itself. No hysterical patriotism or inward-looking nationalism.

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Dont try and fix what aint broke. Change for changes sake is the worst of arguements.

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Can't disagree....

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you could get rid of the royal family and it would not hurt the constitutional workings of the UK or NZ one iota. They do nothing other than be a role model for benefit bludgers everywhere.

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You must have panicked due to a looming deadline because that is silly and pointless piece of........writing?

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Ditto. Apathy towards an uninterested head of state on the other side of the world is no reason to keep the status quo. It's an equally good reason for change.

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Well if we are a republic the Treaty of Waitangi is invalid as it was signed by the Crown. Will save us heaps. Someone tell Hone!

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A republic - why would we bother? Apart from a few scribblers, nobody's interested. Like the tedious flag debate, this topic only surfaces when there are empty newspaper columns to fill.

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NZ - A republic? and where is the leader, Auntie Helen? Regret and Retired Republication with no Royal Medal or Award?

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NZ - A republic? and where is the leader, Auntie Helen? Regret and Retired Republican with no Royal Medal or Award?

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Where's Auntie Helen - look in Goffy's office!

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Ad hominem arguments aren't every convincing Rob. Why not address the actual arguments instead of trying to stereotype the wide range of people who support a republic. Your column will encourage even more debate about the value of the monarchy. Perhaps include some facts next time.

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Can't disagree, and all non-fiction writers ought to be impartial and fair....

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its not about either being a republic or not; its about the ramifications of the UN attempting to marginalise New Zealand's sovereign independance into it's one world view. That's the issue. Not in it's success. But, it's failure.

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The big issue that Republicans fail to settle is how would we choose the GG/Queen's replacement? Solve that first and then consider if it's better.
If we elecet a President it becomes a political issue, with lobying and promisses. A president would also be expected to do something and need power to do it - Commander in Chief of Armed Services? Appoint Cabinet?
Republicans would have us abandon an unbroken system without agreeing a replacement.

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