Hansard and Journals
Head of State Referenda Bill — First Reading
Head of State Referenda Bill
KEITH LOCKE (Green) : I move, That the Head of State Referenda Bill be now read a first time. At the appropriate time I intend to move that the bill be considered by the Justice and Electoral Committee. This is an important moment in our constitutional history. It is the first time that Parliament has had before it a bill that would enable the people of New Zealand to decide whether to continue to have a member of the British Royal family as head of State, or move to having a New Zealand head of State selected by democratic process.
The bill provides for a referenda process where, in the first ballot, New Zealanders would choose between three options: the present system, with the monarch remaining as our head of State; a New Zealand head of State determined by a 75 percent majority vote in Parliament; or a New Zealand head of State directly elected by the people via the single transferable vote preferential system, where the successful candidate would be the first to reach 50 percent of the votes as the preferences are distributed. I have put all three options in the first ballot so that New Zealanders can have a full discussion of them and make an informed choice. If none of the three options gets 50 percent in the first referendum, there would be a run-off referendum between the two leading options. The two alternatives to the monarchy in my bill are the two main types of non-executive President that we see around the world. The German President, for example, is selected by a committee from the Houses of Parliament, whereas the Irish President is directly elected.
I want to make it clear that a change from the monarchy would not, under my bill, result in a change in the technical powers of our head of State. That said, a head of State selected by a democratic process might feel that little bit more independent of the Government of the day than the Governor-General, who is both appointed by the incumbent Government and can, in effect, be sacked by that very same Government. You could call my bill a minimal change bill; we would not end up with an executive President like the American President. Some people have said “Well, why bother?” if any change from a monarch would be minimal in its constitutional input. The answer is that I am responding to a significant body of New Zealand opinion, particularly among those favouring a republic, that we should get on with a referenda process. They do not want us to simply tail the Aussies and wait until they have another referendum.
The main argument for a republic in both New Zealand and Australia is one of national identity. The question many New Zealanders ask is why we should have a head of State living on the other side of the world who is not a citizen of our country. There is also concern about whether our head of State should remain a monarch—that is, somebody who inherits the job, rather than gets it through a democratic process. The rules of inheritance for the monarch in Britain are also controversial. At present, the succession rules discriminate against female heirs and Catholics in a way that is contrary to New Zealand’s human rights legislation. At present, no one can ascend to the throne and become Queen or King of New Zealand if he or she is Catholic or even married to a Catholic.
I stress that this debate is not about whether we like or dislike the Queen or any member of the Royal family. The present Queen has been competent in the performance of her duties, and she turns 84 this very day. I wish her a happy birthday.
However, the Queen is in a difficult position as head of New Zealand. Firstly, there is an inherent conflict of interest in the Queen being the head of State of two independent countries, Britain and New Zealand, that do not share the same foreign policy. For example, when Britain sent troops into Iraq, the Queen, as Queen of Great Britain, went down to the barracks in military dress to support the soldiers. That was in conflict with her role as Queen of New Zealand, a country that opposed that same war.
Secondly, it is very difficult for the Queen to keep tabs on developments in a country on the other side of the world that she is not able to visit very often. Sure, her representative, the Governor-General, lives here and is more hands-on. But the Governor-General is not fully independent, because he or she is appointed by the Government of the day and can be sacked by that same Government via a Government recommendation to that effect, which the Queen is in no position to refuse. Governors-General taking the Government’s side can be a problem, as in Canada where, 2 years ago, the Governor-General suspended Parliament for a time when the Conservative Government was facing a no-confidence motion. Having a head of State who can operate with true independence is particularly important in our multiparty MMP system, with its constitutional complexities.
There is nervousness among some New Zealanders about changing from the present system. That is natural, but let me allay some of the fears. The first fear is that a change might affect our commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi. I do not believe that is the case. Long ago, the responsibility for upholding the Crown commitments to the Treaty was devolved to the Parliament and Government of New Zealand. The King or Queen of New Zealand is part of the mix, but since 1947 that position has been constitutionally independent from the position of King or Queen of Great Britain. The Queen, as Queen of New Zealand, takes advice solely from the Government of New Zealand. The agency that signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, the British Crown, no longer constitutionally has any influence whatsoever on the domestic affairs of New Zealand, including commitments to the Treaty of Waitangi.
Another fear that people sometimes have is that if our head of State is the subject of direct election, we might end up with a pop star, a celebrity, or a political hack. I believe that we should trust Kiwis to vote responsibly for such an important position. This is what happens overseas. Ireland has a directly elected President with minimal powers, like those proposed in my bill, and the Irish people have elected appropriate heads of State, like the internationally renowned Mary Robinson, who went on to become the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights.
Members may have noticed that the Attorney-General has issued a report that my bill offends the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act in one respect: by keeping the same electoral role for the first head of State referendum and the run-off referendum, my bill discriminates against those people who turn 18 in the 6 months between the two referenda. I will propose to the select committee an amendment to correct that infringement.
I appeal to those MPs who are not sure right now whether they support such a referenda process to at least allow consideration of it by the Justice and Electoral Committee. Even though the bill is a conscience vote in the Green caucus, and we do not all see the issues in the same way, all of the Green MPs will support this bill being referred to the select committee to allow both MPs and the public to fully debate the important constitutional issues embodied in the bill.
I do not see this as a left or right issue. People across the political spectrum and across the community have formally endorsed my bill. They include Sir Robert Jones, Dr Ranginui Walker, Peta Mathias, C K Stead, Rob Hamill, and Terence O’Brien. Whatever the fate of the bill tonight, the issues we are debating will not go away. The momentum for change and the momentum for a referendum on our head of State are building every year. It would be a tribute to this House if it faced up to the reality now and allowed this bill to go to the Justice and Electoral Committee.
Finally, I pay tribute to the many people in the community who are keeping this debate alive, from the Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand, to Monarchy New Zealand, to many concerned citizens and legal experts. I will continue to work with them on these issues, whatever the result of the vote tonight. Thank you.
SIMON BRIDGES (National—Tauranga) : Monarchism and republicanism can stir strong feelings in people. I can understand why that is so. In centuries gone by, people could be murdered for being one or the other. Today in New Zealand I accept that there are Kiwis who have strong views on the institution of our head of State, but I also suspect that many New Zealanders feel the way that I do. To the extent that they think about the issue, they are agnostic.
I, for example, accept in theory that an appointment on the basis of who one’s parents are is an anachronism. But I also, in practice, have respect for the Queen. I was chuffed, like I think many New Zealanders were, to see Prince William, who seemed like a good bloke, having a beer and a barbie with our Prime Minister. In truth, I do not concern myself much with the question of our head of State.
This nation has so many more pressing and real issues to grapple with, such as Government deficits in an age of ubiquitous entitlements; funding issues for schools, hospitals, fire stations, and libraries; job creation in the face of unemployment; safer communities—we have taxi drivers being killed for a few dollars, dairy owners being robbed for a packet of ciggies, and an elderly woman being badly assaulted in broad daylight for seemingly no reason at all—and a nation that deserves to be more prosperous than it is. Over time, New Zealand may look more seriously at becoming a republic, but many New Zealanders will share my view that now is not the time. Today our nation has so many pressing and, frankly, real issues to grapple with that a head of State debate may well be a divisive distraction.
I want members to be in no doubt that a distraction is what it would be. Becoming a republic is necessarily a far more complex issue than replacing a figurehead with a crown with one without a crown. A debate on a different head of State will almost necessarily involve the need to examine our broader constitutional arrangements, including issues such as the place of the Treaty of Waitangi and tangata whenua within our system of Government. National is not averse to these debates, but they need to be taken carefully and responsibly.
In addition, we would need to think through what the referendum questions would mean in practice. In moving to a different head of State, would we be moving by stealth from our Westminster parliamentary system to something much more presidential? Even if what we move to is not entirely like the American set-up, it may be that, as I think Keith Locke has acknowledged, a head of State elected in whatever way would feel more independent, and the dynamics of our entire system would subtly, but potentially substantially, change.
I do not raise these questions to pretend that I have the solutions but to demonstrate that this issue is not an easy swap between a head of State with a crown and one without. It will throw up bigger issues and complexities. Through this bill Keith Locke raises an interesting debate, but not one, I think, to be resolved by a member’s bill that goes to a select committee one day and becomes law the next. In conclusion, when there are more pressing issues let us not get caught up in the spur of moment in a divisive and potentially wide-ranging distraction. If we are to change our head of State, let us do it more carefully and responsibly than the member’s bill process allows.
CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) : I begin by congratulating Keith Locke on bringing the issue of the republic before this House, and to say right at the outset that Labour will be voting in favour of the Head of State Referenda Bill. We think the bill should go the Justice and Electoral Committee so New Zealanders can have a say on the important issues that it raises.
It is high time for the debate. There is no reason why the debate should be divisive or acrimonious, as the member who has just resumed his seat, Simon Bridges, suggested he fears. There is no reason why a civilised and intelligent debate should not happen on this question. That debate ought to raise many important questions, some of which will need to be addressed immediately, and others of which will require longer-term thought. Some of the immediate questions include whether, when, and how to have a resident head of State; the method by which he or she is appointed; and that person’s tenure, titles, and powers. There are wider, longer-term questions about our symbols of nationhood and our relationship with the rest of the world that ought to be part of the debate. They all involve careful thought about our unique identity and values as an independent, vibrant, diverse, prosperous, stable, egalitarian, Pacific nation.
The bill also needs to go to a select committee so that the sole inconsistency with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, identified by the report of the Attorney-General, can be rectified. The inconsistency is minor, and the bill’s sponsor has already indicated that he intends to move an amendment to remedy it, if he is given the chance. The inconsistency is that clause 32 provides for the same electoral roll to be used in both the referenda contemplated by the bill, which would inadvertently exclude those who come onto the roll as new voters in the period between the two referenda. Accordingly, the electoral rights of young people who become eligible to vote in the intervening period would be prejudiced without demonstrable legal justification in a free and democratic society. That is an erroneous provision. It should go, and it will, if we give the bill the chance to go to select committee. But it is noteworthy that, in a bill as substantial as the one that we are now considering, it is the only inconsistency identified.
On a personal basis, I am committed to seeing New Zealand become a republic. We should have a resident for president. The bill would need only one or two National or ACT members to vote for it in order for us to start down that path tonight. I still hope that we will see that happen, although the last speech and some of the interjections from members opposite give me little hope as far as National goes. I hope this is our opportunity and that there will be a mature debate that is not marked by spurious claims. If we follow the course mapped by the bill we can remain a member of the Commonwealth. We can and we will continue to honour our traditions, including on days like Waitangi Day, Dominion Day, and Anzac Day. The State will retain all the obligations that have been inherited by the Sovereign in right of New Zealand concerning the Treaty of Waitangi, and otherwise. We will remain a democracy, and, in fact, democracy will be strengthened because we will be required to take responsibility for the final and perhaps the most important aspect of it, the choice of our head of State.
If, as I fear, having heard the speeches so far, tonight does not mark the occasion on which we begin the republican journey, the reality is that the day surely does not lie far away. Speed that day, so that we can take the final logical step towards repatriating the New Zealand constitution.
KANWALJIT SINGH BAKSHI (National) : National will be opposing the Head of State Referenda Bill. Within our communities, there are people who hold strong views both for and against New Zealand becoming a republic.
The present system is working very well. The head of State is the British monarch and the Governor-General is appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister. There seems to be not much public support for New Zealand becoming a republic. At another time New Zealand may look more seriously at becoming a republic. A referendum is a very expensive exercise, and holding such a referendum during such hard times does not seem to be sensible. There are more critical issues before the country that need to be focused on, like creating jobs, economic growth, and creating safer communities for New Zealanders.
This bill provides for the holding of two referendums to reconsider the matter of New Zealand’s head of State. If the majority of the votes in the referendum are for the proposal to retain the present head of the State, there will be no further referendum. If not, the two options receiving the highest number of votes will be subject to a final binding referendum. I oppose this bill.
PHIL TWYFORD (Labour) : I rise to speak in support of Keith Locke’s Head of State Referenda Bill. As my colleague Charles Chauvel said, Labour supports the bill going to the Justice and Electoral Committee. We believe that it is time that as a nation we have the conversation about becoming a republic. There are some very important issues to be discussed, and this is not the kind of issue that any Government or party would want to advance by stealth. It must be discussed openly so that New Zealanders can form a view and forge a consensus about our constitutional future. Sending this bill to a select committee would be an excellent way to begin that conversation.
I will not repeat the explanation that members have already given about the basic mechanism set out in Keith Locke’s bill, but I will say that it takes a minimalist approach to constitutional change. It simply sets up a democratic decision-making process for determining how we select our head of State. It does not address the myriad other issues that usually come up when republicanism is discussed. This is no technical bill. How we choose our head of State cuts to the heart of our constitutional status: constitutional monarchy or parliamentary republic. The head of State is the most powerful symbol of our nation we have. These are huge issues that deserve to be taken seriously. The late Bruce Jesson said that republicanism was not merely about making a nominal change to the head of State, but about reviving and extending the concepts of citizenship and democracy, and combining the issues of national identity, egalitarianism, and democracy. If we take those issues seriously, we must surely recognise that how we choose our head of State is important.
To me, it is an anachronism for the Queen of England to be our head of State, for the living embodiment of our nation to be a hereditary position. That is the opposite of democracy. The living symbol of our nation is someone the people never get to choose. Our head of State can never be a New Zealand citizen; he or she lives 12,000 miles away, and he or she represents the British Crown, not us. It was noticed, as Keith Locke said, that the British royal family did not send anyone to attend the funeral of Sir Ed Hillary, the greatest New Zealander of our time. It was noticed that our head of State farewelled British troops when they went off to take part in the illegal invasion of Iraq, an invasion that this country declined to take part in.
To those of us who ask what does it matter, I say that symbols are important. What does it say about our nation’s values when our head of State cannot be a Catholic—in fact, the head of State would be relieved of the role if he or she were to marry a Catholic—and the male heirs to the throne always take precedence over their female siblings? The process of choosing our head of State is an archaic, feudal institution that is rooted in a land on the other side of the globe. It says nothing of the vibrant, diverse South Pacific democracy that we have become. Symbols are important. They denote values and values inform debate. I say that because the themes of egalitarianism, democracy, and nationhood underpin almost every debate that we have in this House.
There is a view that it would be a mistake to change the way we choose our head of State without also addressing all other constitutional issues that touch on it. Former Prime Minister Mike Moore argues for a constitutional convention. I am not persuaded that we cannot move ahead in changing the way we choose our head of State without also addressing all those other issues. I think our constitution is most likely to evolve in a piecemeal way. If we tried to solve all the issues at once, I fear it would mean that none would be resolved.
It is often commented that New Zealand will inevitably become a republic one day, but not tomorrow. I call it the Simon Bridges argument. Many people who say they support a republic quickly add that we do not need to rush the process because there are many more important issues. I like to think that as a nation we are capable of dealing with more than one issue at a time.
Others say that we are already a de facto republic and that we already choose our Governor-General, who is selected by the Government of the day. That argument overlooks the importance of symbolism. The Governor-General is not the head of State; he or she is merely the Sovereign’s local representative.
RAHUI KATENE (Māori Party—Te Tai Tonga) : If the Standing Orders were relaxed for this one night, I would have had the perfect T-shirt to wear to this debate on the Head of State Referenda Bill. I am thinking of the T-shirt that says “Honour the Treaty”. Honouring the Treaty means a great deal to this nation. It means for our indigenous people that we will, as we did before the signing, be able to exercise our sovereignty, our mana motuhake, over all things that are ours. However, to draw on the wisdom of Sir Edward Taihākūrei Durie, the Treaty is not just a Bill of Rights for tangata whenua but also a Bill of Rights for those who belong to the land by right of that Treaty—tangata Tiriti. Despite the policy and legislative changes that have taken place to better recognise the Treaty of Waitangi, shortfalls remain that adversely affect the lives of whānau, hapū, and iwi, and they compromise our potential as a nation.
The Waitangi Tribunal’s June 1988 report on the Muriwhenua fishing claim of June 1988 expressed this concern most clearly when talking of the issues around the practical application of the Treaty for the modern world. The report stated “Any impracticality today results not from the Treaty but from our failure to heed its terms.” The important point is that there was, and still is, room for an agreement to be made. These shortfalls also affect the quality of cross-cultural relationships and the operations of society more generally. Despite those limitations, the answer does not lie in disregarding the Treaty and embarking on a debate to establish a process by which the House of Representatives appoints the head of State.
The sole purpose of this bill is to provide for the holding of two referenda on proposals to reconsider the matter of New Zealand’s head of State. The key concern for us in the Māori Party is that the proposal is not grounded in the Treaty of Waitangi, but is separate from it. As such, we believe that the bill has the potential to make the Māori-Crown relationship obsolete, which would be a major concern for all iwi. It is our utmost belief that enhancing respect for, and giving better effect to, the Treaty of Waitangi will enhance the quality of life for all. The ratification of Te Tiriti o Waitangi is the ideal that has come through the words and actions of generations of Māori leaders. It was written into the Kohimārama Covenant, agreed to by some 200 chiefs in 1860. Indeed, every iwi has their leaders and their legacy bound up in the commitment to enshrining the Treaty in law. We believe that the time is right to entrench Te Tiriti o Waitangi in all legislation so that decision making on matters concerning Māori, and Māori and the Crown together, is shared with us all.
As an example, the Resource Management Act and the Local Government Act would be redrafted to reflect articles 1 and 2, which guarantee our mana and rangatiratanga, and the ability to exercise power-sharing on all issues that affect us as tangata whenua. Therefore, the Māori Party has a major concern around embarking on a process of debate about the head of State in terms of its potential to create vulnerability around the status of the Treaty.
The Māori Party is the only political party where the Treaty underpins our actions through kaupapa tuku iho. The Māori Party is calling for open and informed debate on constitutional change. It was part of our manifesto that we would establish a constitutional commission to begin a constitutional review aimed at, among other things, drafting arrangements to give effect to the Treaty of Waitangi. It was also a key policy objective of ours to appoint a Parliamentary Commissioner for the Treaty of Waitangi. Accordingly, as part of the confidence and supply agreement between National and the Māori Party, both parties agreed to the establishment of a group to consider constitutional issues, including Māori representation.
There has been much talk about documents of aspiration in the last 24 hours. What better precedent do we have for understanding aspiration than the promise articulated in Te Tiriti o Waitangi for a new relationship between Pākehā and Māori? It articulated a relationship wherein the rangatiratanga of Māori would be enhanced and our respective cultures and autonomy would remain intact. It is an aspiration that we will continue to uphold, and it is in that context that we must vote against this bill. Thank you.
GARETH HUGHES (Green) : Kia ora, Mr Deputy Speaker. Ngā mihi nui ki a koutou kia ora. I welcome the chance to start the conversation on our head of State. I believe that it is time for New Zealand to have the conversation. Changing demographic trends, the monarchy’s growing clash with our culture and sense of egalitarianism, and our cherished democratic principles all mean that constitutional change is inevitable. Tonight we have maybe a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and what do we gain from putting off the inevitable debate?
The Green MPs will tonight be voting in support of Keith Locke’s Head of State Referenda Bill, which will give Kiwis the chance to vote on whether we should investigate changing our constitution. I pay tribute to Keith in what has been a 7-year journey up to this evening. A few months back I was sworn in as an MP and recited an oath pledging allegiance to the Queen and her heirs. It was so jarring as a Kiwi to pledge loyalty to a foreign lady, albeit a nice, grandmotherly one, who lives on the other side of the world. I have never met her, never seen her, and never voted for her, yet because of a quirk of history she is our head of State and I had to declare allegiance to her if I wanted to take my seat in this honourable House. For years we have avoided the conversation. Let us have an informed discussion at the select committee now that we have the chance.
New Zealand with the Queen as our head of State is like the stereotypical adult still living at home with his or her parents. We are like those grown-up adults who talk about maybe getting their own place, who maybe concede that it is one day inevitable that they will move out. Those stereotypical stay-at-home adults, even if their mates who left the nest earlier laugh at them and say they are not independent, argue: “Hey, it’s all pretty cruisy being at home; it doesn’t mean much.”, or as Simon Bridges said: “It’s not really that pressing to be leaving right now.”
Like those stereotypical stay-at-home adults, New Zealanders have their independence in practice. We can stay out as late as we want, do our own washing, even bring our partner home, but, hey, it is embarrassing to bring her home to the place where we are under our parent’s roof and where their rules rule. New Zealand’s situation is just like that. New Zealand is not regarded as a fully independent nation that is independent of the United Kingdom. It is time we start that conversation. Do we stay or do we pluck up the courage to step out on our own, get a flat, get some furniture, and be master of our own house, or do we want to stay with granny? It is time to have the debate; it is inevitable. I am sure that most members in this House would agree with former Prime Minister Jim Bolger that it is inevitable. All the trends point towards constitutional change one day. Why avoid talking about it now?
Our current head of State clashes with our sense of place in the world. We are no longer the Britain of the South Seas. Our links to Britain are in decline. Britain has not been our largest trading partner since 1973. At the last census 879,000 people, or just 22 percent of our total population, were not born in New Zealand. We are an independent, multicultural nation in practice. We should have a debate as to whether we should be that in theory. Our current head of State clashes with our young people’s vision of the future.
A new generation is growing up that sees New Zealand as a proud, independent country that is more Pacific than European. My generation has grown up with Britain in the EU, with New Zealand out of ANZUS, and with our biggest trading partner now being China. Research from 2008 shows support for the monarchy was lowest in those aged 15 to 39, and strongest in those aged over 60. That means that constitutional change is inevitable.
Lastly, our current head of State arrangements clash with our culture and egalitarianism. Our head of State institution is discriminatory. Since only recently, and with provisos, could Catholics and women become a head of State. It goes against the Human Rights Act that protects against discrimination on the basis of sex, age, religion, and ethnicity.
Let us ask the people whether they want a head of State 1,600 miles away who has been here only 10 times since 1954 and who leads a very different life from anyone in this country. Let us have the debate on how this will impact Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Let us be open that the Queen has devolved all responsibility to the New Zealand Government but that a special relationship exists between the Crown and iwi. Let us have the discussion and be sure that there is no risk that Governments could use republicanism to evade Treaty responsibilities. We can delay this important debate for another few years or decades, but why? I urge members opposite to pluck up the courage and give us the chance to have this important debate at a select committee.
In summary, this is an important debate about who we are as a nation. We are a democratic nation and we should be emphasising that power should come from the people, from tangata whenua, not governed by a foreigner 1,600 miles away. I will vote for Keith Locke’s bill and support opening the discussion. It is time for Kiwis to decide. Let us have that debate.
PAUL QUINN (National) : I think it is appropriate that all of us recognise that people hold different views on republicanism, and I think we should respect that. I have been disappointed in listening to the debate so far from the Labour benches. Charles Chauvel’s view is that, if people are not republican they are wrong, full stop. Phil Twyford talks about this matter progressing under stealth. Who is progressing matters under stealth?
Hon Trevor Mallard: Show some spine!
PAUL QUINN: I am happy to go into a rugby game against you, Trevor. Gareth Hughes talked about plucking up the courage.
I back my spine against the member’s any day he wants on the rugby paddock or anywhere. The member should not worry about that. My own view on this is driven by the issues raised by the Māori Party member’s contribution—[Interruption] I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I understand that interjections are allowed but a constant barrage of yelling and screaming is against Standing Orders.
Hon Trevor Mallard: If the member responds as he did, then the rules are very clear that members can respond. If the member had ignored it, he may have had a point, and if he was in his own seat, he would have another one.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: Thank you. I remind the member interjecting not to use the word “lies”. He mentioned it a couple of times. I ask members to keep the noise down. Interjections are fine, but continual barracking is not. If I cannot hear, then the level is too high.
PAUL QUINN: In respect of my own view, first and foremost—
Hon Trevor Mallard: You’ve got a very good view from Roseneath.
PAUL QUINN: If the member listened he might hear it. First and foremost, I personally believe that there is not an urgent and pressing desire by the community at large and the public at large to have this debate right now. Therefore, I am not persuaded that we should do it just for the sake of it. But, more specifically, I do not proclaim to be an expert on tikanga Māori. My contribution to progressing and advancing Māori causes—my skill sets—are in other areas, and I do not profess to be an expert in tikanga. What I can say is that my koroua and my kuia hold very dear the fact that the Treaty of Waitangi that their ancestors signed was a pact between them and the Crown. It is their wish to hold the Crown to account in respect of the Treaty of Waitangi. I take my guidance from that. I pay my respect to my father, to his father, and to his father before that; because they are the people who have been responsible for trying to advance in partnership with the Crown the cause of Māori. For that reason alone I will uphold that desire of theirs. Thank you.
CLARE CURRAN (Labour—Dunedin South) : I am a staunch and proud republican. I believe New Zealand must, and will, one day have a New Zealander as its head of State. I thank Keith Locke for his work on the Head of State Referenda Bill, and I congratulate him on having it finally drawn from the ballot after 7 years. The Labour Party, as we have heard tonight, supports this bill being referred to the Justice and Electoral Committee.
Politics is about timing, and the time for New Zealand to have a New Zealand head of State may not be now, but it is time to start a discussion about it. It is important to respect everybody’s views on this issue, and I do. I think also it is important to stand up for what one believes in. In principle, we believe that New Zealand should eventually become a republic, but there are many issues that we need to work through first as a country. Those issues include whether we believe that the head of State should be elected by the people or appointed by Parliament, and how the Treaty of Waitangi will fit with a new set-up.
The time is right, as we have heard a number of times tonight, for a public conversation about this important issue. If anything comes out of this debate tonight, that will be the most important thing. As members may already know, I have a strong view in favour of New Zealand becoming a republic with an independent head of State, which will allow us to become a truly independent nation. I believe that it represents New Zealand growing up as a nation. My views have been public on this issue from day one; I talked about it in my maiden speech in Parliament. In January this year I somewhat controversially stood alongside the Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand at the opening of the Supreme Court building.
Labour leader Phil Goff has expressed the view that we will and should have a New Zealander as our head of State one day. Members of other political parties have expressed similar views, including the Prime Minister. In order for that to occur, we should have a public debate, and now is a good time to start that. I would like New Zealanders to start to honestly debate the issues that need to be discussed, because I have always taken the view that talking about issues is a lot better than not talking about them.
My friend and colleague Charles Chauvel recently reminded me that Labour has a proud tradition in the gradual move towards independence. Peter Fraser caused the adoption of the Statute of Westminster to be proposed from the Speech from the Throne in 1944. In 1946 he was responsible for the appointment of the first Governor-General to have spent most of his life in New Zealand, Bernard Freyberg. Norman Kirk amended the 1852 Constitution Act in 1974 to make it clear that Parliament could legislate extraterritorially and to ensure that the Queen’s titles were updated to reflect her role as Sovereign of New Zealand. Geoffrey Palmer repatriated the constitution, reformed parliamentary procedure, and introduced the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. Helen Clark abolished appeals to the English Privy Council, New Zealand membership of that body, and the awarding of titles to New Zealanders.
There is a pressing need to confront the question of a resident head of State—a resident for president, as my colleague Charles Chauvel said—because the reign of the present Sovereign is approaching an end. The Australian republic referendum in the mid-1990s demonstrated the need to have a viable alternative model that embodies democratic principles and that will garner public support. New Zealand deserves a head of State who is a New Zealander—someone who lives here and somebody who reflects New Zealand values. New Zealand should have a head of State who reflects New Zealand’s position as an independent nation.
There are many more pressing issues at this time and there always will be, but the head of State should be a unifying symbol of our nation, because symbols do matter. New Zealand’s head of State should be democratically accountable. The idea of a monarchy clashes with our sense of egalitarianism, especially given that no New Zealander can ever become head of State, no matter how much ability they have. New Zealand does not need to rewrite its history in becoming a republic; we can retain our flag, the Treaty can be honoured, and we can remain part of the Commonwealth. These are the reasons that Labour supports this bill being referred to select committee.
SUE KEDGLEY (Green) : I happen to be a huge fan of Prince Charles. I could even say he is one of my heroes, and why would he not be? He is against genetic engineering—passionately against it—he is in favour of organic farming, he is in favour of using natural therapies, and he is opposed to ugly architecture. I could go on and on. I am a huge fan of Prince Charles, but I am not in the least a fan of having him as our head of State if one day he becomes the King.
It is ludicrous that we in New Zealand are seriously submitting ourselves—as we will be if the Head of State Referenda Bill is defeated tonight—to for ever having a faraway hereditary head of State. It is completely ludicrous. I believe that Prince Charles is embarrassed at the concept of being the head of State of New Zealand—he has said as much. It is ridiculous. Every now and then, the head of State comes to New Zealand, pays us a little visit, and rather awkwardly wanders around New Zealand. The head of State feels as uncomfortable as we do about having an ancient, hereditary monarchy as head of State of New Zealand. It is completely ludicrous.
I realise that there are issues that need to be worked through, particularly with tangata whenua and the relationship between the Crown and Māori. But I find it rather depressing to hear the Māori Party say that it will oppose even debating this issue because of its relationship with the Crown. Does that mean that we as New Zealanders are forever doomed to have a hereditary, faraway monarch living on the other side of the Earth as our head of State because of the Treaty relationship? Keith Locke has addressed that issue. Those sorts of issues should be being debated in a select committee.
I find it tragic that National is vetoing even having a debate on this issue. Frankly, the National members’ interventions were half-hearted and completely lacking in conviction. Most of them did not take a call. One member spoke for about 30 seconds; the other, Simon Bridges, clearly did not believe in it. His heart was not in it. He was given orders by his leader to oppose the bill. We know that many National members support having a republic, but they are simply forced like cannon fodder to vote against the bill, because, for some reason, the Government is afraid of this debate. Why is the House afraid of debating these issues? What is there to be afraid of? Frankly, the refusal to debate this issue is a tragic reflection of New Zealand’s lack of genuine independence. How can our nation be proudly independent if a faraway monarch on the other side of the Earth is our head of State? It is completely ridiculous. I find it offensive, and a growing number of New Zealanders do, too. They will find it offensive that this Parliament will not allow even a debate on this important issue. The House is shutting down debate. What is the House afraid of? Where is the free speech in this country?
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member has 5 minutes in reply.
KEITH LOCKE (Green) : This debate has been a good discussion. I think that people have dealt with the issues in a range of ways, which shows that a debate on this question around my Head of State Referenda Bill, particularly if that bill went to a select committee, would not be divisive. People have been listening to each other and expressing a wide range of views.
There are different sections of society with regard to the issue of our head of State. There is the 30 or 40 percent of people in the polls who regularly support a republic; the number goes up and down a bit. Then there is the category that Simon Bridges represents. He described himself as being an agnostic who is not quite satisfied with the present situation. He said it is a bit of an anachronism that the head of State should be there because of who his or her parents are. Those two blocks together, the agnostic, dissatisfied people and the republicans, make up the majority of our community. The people who are monarchists are a very small proportion of society. If we are not satisfied with the present situation—and most people in this House are not—why should we not have a discussion on my bill in a select committee?
As for the idea that somehow the bill is a distraction, I say we discuss a range of bills in this House, and we do not get people standing up and saying this bill or that bill is a distraction. We discuss a bill on its merits and go forward. As for the issue of whether the bill is minor or not very important, I say this afternoon in this House we had a bill, which we all supported referring to a select committee, on whether there should be compulsory secret ballots for unions that are engaging in industrial action. The unions said they already conduct secret ballots. Was that a minor bill or a major bill? We could say it was quite minor if nobody could see much reason for it, but we supported the referral of that bill to a select committee for discussion there. Why should we not do that for my bill?
The question of the Treaty of Waitangi is a sort of a contradiction. Simon Bridges said he did not want this bill to go through to a select committee because it might bring up issues related to the Treaty of Waitangi. I understand that the National Party and the Māori Party are setting up a body to discuss the constitutional nature of the Treaty of Waitangi. That will happen fairly soon. I ask why we should not refer this bill to a select committee. What is the Māori Party scared of? I ask how the provisions of this bill would undermine the Treaty of Waitangi, and why the Māori Party will not respond to my point, which I have made very directly, that since 1947 there has been zero—and I repeat the word “zero”—constitutional relationship between the Queen or King of Great Britain and the Treaty of Waitangi. That was severed in 1947, so how can discussing this issue undermine a relationship with the Treaty?
Yes, the Crown is important, but the Crown is in this room. The Parliament and the Government are the Crown, and that determines the relationship between Māori and the Crown. It is a relationship between Māori and what is represented in this room, which is Parliament and the Government. If the Māori Party refuses to accept that reality—and it seems that the Māori Party is, strangely, refusing to accept that—it is actually undermining the Treaty, because it is not directing its relationship towards the people who are responsible. The Queen of New Zealand is completely separate, constitutionally, from the Queen of Great Britain. They are totally separate. The Queen of New Zealand has to obey the advice of the Government of New Zealand; the Queen of Great Britain plays absolutely no part in that constitutional relationship. The Māori Party is misleading Parliament by saying that the Treaty is in any way in danger. In fact, it is misdirecting people over the nature of the relationship between Māori and the Crown.
As for Simon Bridges’ fear that the new head of State might be more of an executive President, that is a pretty weak one, really. Clearly, although there might be slightly more independence shown by an independently elected, New Zealand - based President, the powers in my bill do not allow that person to override Parliament whatsoever.
The real question is one of national identity. We are an independent, bicultural, multicultural nation in the South Pacific, not off the shores of Great Britain. We need to have an independent, New Zealand - based head of State who is selected by a democratic process. It is tragic that so many MPs in this House do not accept that, and it is tragic that parties like the National Party, the Māori Party, and the ACT Party, in spite of the fact that all of them have in their ranks people who support this bill, have whipped those people into opposing it. There is a majority in support of my bill in this House. It has been denied by the party whips and by a fear of really facing up to the issue. I think that is quite disgraceful.
|Ayes 53||New Zealand Labour 43; Green Party 9; United Future 1.|
|Noes 68||New Zealand National 58; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; Progressive 1.|
|Motion not agreed to.|