Back the republic Bill

Green MP Keith Locke has got lucky with his private member's bill on New Zealand becoming a republic being drawn in the ballot for discussion in Parliament. At least the bill will get an hour of air time in Parliament. It deserves more. It's time that we had a debate about becoming a republic and it's time we had a vote on whether we want to be a republic or not.

Here's my take on the matter. We should become a republic within the Commonwealth and elect, not appoint, our own head of state. There it is. Nothing momentous; nothing very earth shattering. The monarchists - both of them - will be upset but most of the rest of us wouldn't even notice the difference.

Why? Because it's only two small set of steps from where we are now.  One is that we choose our own head of state. That's the Queen at the moment represented by the Governor General who is selected by the government after consultation with the other parties. If we had a republic we'd likely end up with the sort of person we have as Governor General now.

The position is shared around, sometimes it's a distinguished judge (Sir Michael Hardie Boys and Sir David Beattie. Sometimes it's a prominent woman (Dame Sylvia Cartwright and Dame Cath Tizard.) We've had a Maori clergyman (Sir Paul Reeves) and this time we have a Fijian born judge Anyand Satanyand.

It's a bit top heavy in legal people, but the GG might have to exercise some tricky judgments if parliament and the politicians ever got themselves into a constitutional tangle. So if Parliament chooses the President of the Republic of New Zealand will be like the safe, unadventurous people chosen now.

We can stay in the Commonwealth. There aren't many big pluses other than sentimental ties, but why give them up if we don't have to? A tame royal can still pop in from time to time to show that they are still alive and happily married - opps still alive I mean.

I'd go a small step further and have the President elected by the people like they do in Ireland and some other countries. (But unlike the United States and some other countries our New Zealand President would have not real power.)

By electing a President we might even get someone who was a bit interesting. How would that be a bad thing? All they do is sign the documents put in front of them, issue the orders the government of the day tells them to issue, and turn up on ceremonial occasions to add some dignity to the event. They also confer medals and make nice speeches, and they can carry on doing all of those things whatever the title.

So why won't the major political parties move on this? I don't know, but it's worth asking your MP to support Keith Locke's bill in Parliament beyond the first reading stage. Get it to a select committee. Get it is passed so we, the ordinary people of the country, can have a vote on whether we want to become a republic. Now that would be real democracy in action.

 For regular columns on Wellington and related issues see my blog at www.wotzon.com.