Most New Zealanders are not interested in their nation becoming a politicians’ republic, according to a recent opinion poll. This is so notwithstanding the fact that the question put to them – no doubt unintentionally – encouraged support for a republic.
From 16 to 25 February 2010, Research New Zealand asked 756 New Zealand adults the following question:
“New Zealand is a constitutional monarchy and our current Head of State is the Queen of England. It has been suggested that New Zealand should become a republic with a New Zealander as the Head of State. Do you agree or disagree that New Zealand should become a republic?”
The question describes The Queen as Queen of England. Apart from this being a title not in existence for some centuries, a neutral question should have extracted the most relevant part of her formal title. This is " Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of New Zealand and Her Other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith".
Drawing attention to another title, Queen of England, suggested that the New Zealand Crown is not separate, and even created the impression that only with a politicians’ republic could New Zealand be independent.
(Incidentally, unlike Australia, The Queen is declared by the New Zealand Constitution to be Head of State. The Australian Constitution is significantly different from those of other Realms in realtion to the office of Governor-General. This is set out in section 61 of the Australian Constitution, which obviates the need for Letters Patent to establish the office or for Royal Instructions on the exercise of the executive power. Section 61 provides that this power is directly exercisable by the Australian Governor-General, described in 1907 by the High Court as the Constitutional Head of the Commonwealth.)
Use of the word “republic” in the question, without defining the meaning of the word, is far too vague. Many would argue New Zealand is already a republic, a crowned republic.
The question should have indicated what sort of republic is being proposed. Many supporters of say, a parliamentary republic, would prefer the existing crowned republic over one where the people elect the president. The opposite would be true.
In any event, even with the weighting towards an affirmative response, the answers were:
Yes, I agree, New Zealand should become a republic 32%
No, I disagree, New Zealand should not become a republic 53%
Don’t know 15%
(Experience in Australia suggests most undecided voters in such a poll will vote No at the formal vote. This may because they are really undecided at the time of the poll, or they do not wish to disclose their intention. The margin of error was 4.3 per cent.)