January 15

NZ republic: a political “no go” area.


Republic a "good diversion," politicians decide 

New Zealand becoming a republic will soon be on the political agenda, predicts  the Rt. Hon Mike Moore, a former New Zealand Prime Minister and Director-General of the World Trade Organisation. Although this is in the context of a new constitution, he spends most of his piece on whether or not New Zealand should become a republic. He does mention the electoral system, MMP, but not bicameralism.  

He says the republican issue coming on to the New Zealand agenda would be “dangerous.”  Why?  Because he believes there's almost a consensus between New Zealand’s   parties on Australia becoming a republic, and deciding this would be “a good diversion,” they would meekly follow Australia. .

Obviously Mr. Moore does not have a high opinion of the current selection of New Zealand politicians.  If they think that Australia is about to become a republic, they must have inferior intelligence systems.


…government “bemused”…

 The government indicated it was “bemused” by Mr Moore's proposal, and there was little interest elsewhere. One leading commentator said Mr. Moore had chosen about the worst possible time to raise a republic. For most politicians this unpopular issue is a political "no-go" area in election year.  


Mr. Moore, who was from the Labour Party says the only New Zealand politician “of substance” to call for a republic was the Rt. Hon Jim Bolger, the former National or conservative Prime Minister.  But he did so only after a visit by the former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating.

 Mike Moore thinks the situation about the constitution in New Zealand is “directionless” but still argues, reassuringly, for evolutionary change. He readily concedes the great advantage of the present system. This is not the power the New Zealand Crown has, but the power and prestige it denies others. How do you achieve this under a republic?

As the Australian people realized in 1999, you can’t.

In an exercise which some New Zealanders are saying no more than an example of ADS, ( Attention Deficit Syndrome), he calls for a” leadership council of all the leaders of the political parties in Parliament” to appoint, by consensus, an “eminent persons group of respected New Zealanders, which would consult, listen and promote discussion on whether New Zealand should have a written constitution, or not.”

He does not say who should be on the eminent group, but we suppose former politicians of substance would qualify. But we won’t name names, will we?

Mr. Moore suggests this cosy group should beaver away for years, with their eminences eventually reporting to a constitutional convention. The convention would then put the finishing touches to a new constitution, which would then no doubt be approved by a forever grateful nation.


This fairy tale he says is grounded on the Australian example.


…Moore misunderstands what happened….

This is precisely what did not happen in Australia.

Paul Keating set up his own idea of an eminent persons group, the Republic Advisory Committee.   He appointed Malcolm Turnbull, the leader of the Australian Republican Movement, to chair it.

Any nomination of anyone to the Committee who wasn’t a tried and tested republican went into the rubbish bin.

Their eminences weren’t even trusted to consider the possibility that the existing constitution might be preferable.

The loaded terms of reference required them to come up with a republic, nothing less.

 Nor was it something which was considered and matured over years. It was to be done speedily, and when he received it, Paul Keating soon indicated his preference for a politicians’ republic.

 Then, knowing a referendum was doomed he did nothing more. He luxuriated of course in the acclamation the media gave him, and was no doubt delighted by the way foolish Liberals allowed this to divide their party.

That is how it was done in Australia, Mr. Moore.  Hardly an example to follow.

…Convention in disarray…

In the 1996 election, John Howard promised a constitutional convention.  He had to take the heat out of the issue -so many in the media were beside themselves over a republic, and too many Liberal politicians were going weak at the knees.

When he came to office, after delays in the Senate, which almost scuppered the proposal,   he established the Convention. He behaved impeccably about its membership. It was half elected and half appointed, but a considerable number of those appointed were ex officio senior politicians.

 There was almost a walkout when the ARM juggernaut rolled over the independent republicans who want an elected president. Strangely that is what the ARM are secretly planning now, although they pretend they don’t know what they want, a public posture which exposes them to ridicule. 

When the constitutional monarchists, unanimously, refused to betray their principles, and vote with conservative republicans to put up an electorally unpopular  “least worst” republican model, and with the independent republicans in the minority, it looked as though the Convention would  approve a “politicians’ republic.”  

But to the surprise of the republican movement that was defeated, albeit narrowly, on the floor of the Convention. The whole process seemed doomed.


…” It’s all over bar the voting,” gloats republican newspaper…

 John Howard then offered the republicans a way out. He agreed to put the model most of the republican delegates wanted, the politicians’ republic, to a referendum.

 When the republican majority later lost the referendum, they turned around and shamelessly blamed in this order, John Howard, the constitutional monarchists, and the people of Australia for their landslide defeat. The one group they did not blame were themselves.

But at the time John Howard generously agreed to the referendum, they were euphoric.

The national newspaper, The Australian, was obsessively republican at the time. Its headline said it all,  “It’s all over bar the voting.”  

As it was.

Does New Zealand really want to go down this path?


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