God Save The Royal Republic!



IS MITCH HARRIS RIGHT? Is New Zealand, for all intents and purposes, already a republic? Are all the monarchical appurtenances of our unwritten constitution nothing more than an entertaining illusion, as the veteran broadcaster insists? Full of pomp and ceremony, certainly. But in a nation where the people, as embodied by Parliament, are indisputably sovereign, of no relevance whatsoever to the way in which New Zealanders actually govern themselves.

Harris’ heretical opinions, broadcast last night (Tuesday, 29 March 2016) on Waatea – Fifth Estate, cast the outcome of the flag referendum, and the earlier, almost totally ignored deliberations of the Constitutional Review Panel, in a new and very interesting light. Stripped of its talkback host’s bravado, Harris’s thesis asserts that over the course of the last 176 years New Zealanders have, with a minimum of fuss, fashioned one of the purest and least constrained democratic regimes on Earth.

What’s more, says Harris, we’ve done it surreptitiously. The Prime Minister may proudly proclaim himself a fan of Constitutional Monarchy, but he, like most New Zealanders, would bridle at the slightest suggestion that the legislature he dominates is anything other than absolutely sovereign. The idea that an unelected judiciary might one day possess the power to strike down legislation passed by the House of Representatives would strike him as a dangerous and undemocratic extension of judicial power. New Zealand is, and must continue to be, governed by those in command of a parliamentary majority – and nobody else.

You’ve got to go back a long way in the history of the English-speaking peoples to find a constitutional set-up like New Zealand’s. All the way back to the conclusion of the English Revolution, in fact, and the establishment in 1649 of the “English Commonwealth” – the world’s first parliamentary republic. Having cut off the King’s head with, in Oliver Cromwell’s memorable phrase, “the Crown upon it”, and dissolved the House of Lords, England was now governed by a 14-member Council of State, answerable (at least in theory) to the House of Commons. This latter body, representing the common people of England, was deemed to be the repository of “all just power” in the state. It was a principle destined to endure long after the English Commonwealth succumbed to Cromwell’s dictatorial “Protectorate”.

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New Zealand, too, is governed by a council of state – The Cabinet – drawn from and answerable to the elected representatives of the people. Our own equivalent of the House of Lords, the Crown-appointed Legislative Council, was abolished with barely a murmur by the first National Party government, led by Sid Holland, in 1950.

For all practical political purposes, therefore, our unwritten constitution makes Parliament the supreme organ of power in the state. It passes the laws, makes appropriations of money for the administration of the state, and, if moved to do so, can bring down any government at any time simply by withdrawing its support from the Prime Minister and his or her Cabinet. The only other example of a unicameral parliament operating without the restraint of a written constitution is the State of Israel.

But what about the Queen? I hear you say. Legally and constitutionally Elizabeth II is Sovereign in Right of the Realm of New Zealand, and her Vice-Regal Representative is the Governor General. Quite true. But Harris’s point – and I agree with it – is that all this monarchical mummery is just a grand distraction from the realities of political power in New Zealand.

The only way the Queen could hope to influence events in New Zealand would be if she allowed herself to be drawn into a plot to topple a democratically elected government – as happened in the infamous conspiracy to bring down the Australian Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, and his beleaguered Labor Government, in 1975. The only thing that saved the Queen and her Governor General, Sir John Kerr, on that occasion was the fact that the interim regime installed to replace the “dismissed” government went on to win the obligatory general election. Had Whitlam’s Labor Party been returned to office, Australia would, today, be a republic of 40 years standing.

What the “Dismissal” did demonstrate, however, was that royal and/or vice-regal interference in the democratic political process, unbuttressed by the electorate’s ex post facto validation, can only end in constitutional tears. Her Majesty was extremely fortunate that a majority of the Australian people concluded, notwithstanding the machinations of vice-regal ratbags, that Whitlam’s government wasn’t worth reinstating. The important lesson to take away being that the political decision was theirs – not hers – to make.

It is to be hoped that both Charles and William Windsor have absorbed this lesson, and that in the event of a New Zealand Governor General asking the Palace to support his or her plan to dismiss a government (or, more likely, refuse to appoint a government that the “business community” doesn’t like) the correct constitutional response is to immediately ask the New Zealand politician commanding a majority in the House of Representatives to advise him to dismiss the incumbent Governor General and propose a new one.

Because any other course of action: any attempt to circumvent the will of the New Zealand people; any reassertion of the royal “prerogatives” destroyed by Oliver Cromwell in 1649; will instantly see the monarchy’s gloriously retro decorativeness brought to an abrupt and permanent end. The Queen and the Governor General are like the diminutive Bride and Groom on the top of the Wedding Cake: sentimental favourites – but you wouldn’t expect them to impart serious marital advice.

Some would say it’s a typically Kiwi solution to the fraught business of defining the exact nature of the New Zealand state. A republic presided over by a queen may cause the political scientists to tear out their hair in bewilderment, but, as Mitch Harris might say, “we know what we mean”, and somehow, like a Taranaki gate, it works.

What our royal republic appears to represent, and what it actually stands for, would appear to be, like the flag we just voted to keep, two very different things.


  1. Can we start a dialogue – if we do become a republic, can we think of a better title than “President”? The one who ‘presides’ over government?
    Please, how boring.

    I propose we should think of a new term. Something original. A Maori term would fit this, but what: Rangatira? Kawana? Ariki?

    Even a Maori-English portmanteau. Someone smart out there should be able to think of something.

  2. Well, that was an interesting piece @ Chris Trotter. I can’t pretend, at this moment, to understand most of it though.
    So, to be clear in my own mind, our monarchy and our commonwealth are just pretty pictures and talking heads and that really, our hoi polloi are the be all and end all of our great and emerging quasi-republic then? No wonder we’re fucked.

    No wonder we have appalling social stats, huge debt per head of etc’s and a country full of hollow-heads vroom-hissing in spitty kitty cars. No wonder we have have foreign money racing each other down Queen Street in the latest Range Rover v8’s.
    No wonder then, why we have a crippled primary industry being preyed upon by be-suited vultures in suits who’s only value will be discovered when they , in the fullness of time, become fertiliser in a graveyard.

    Should the day come and we do truly become a ‘ republic’ ( just add banana ) we will see social change all right. The Masses will expire and the riche will be last seen driving their 4×4’s ( Big wheels and black of course ) across a burning planet.

    Be carefull what you wish for @ Chris Trotter.

    • It is not the structure of the system that is at fault, but the miserable ‘human’ specimens like Key who do not abide by its rules. Ministers are to tell the truth in Parliament or resign so that chronic non-performers like this government are removed.

      Key has broken the rules of Parliament time without number, he cannot claim the mantle of democracy any more than Kim Jong Un, and like KJU his government is cruel, repressive, and above all backward.

      Tyrants often die by violence, and in the case of Key it cannot come soon enough.

  3. Ther Queen is more than just a symbol, she’s our legal head of state. Though in a way, the symbolism of having an unelected ruler, who is in a position of authority merely by fluke of birth, encapsulates everything that is wrong with a monarchy.

    Monarchies are a quaintness left over from, a bygone era, much like an old Hoover vacuum cleaner in a museum. But not really fit-for-purpose in a modern, 21st century state.

    As a side issue, I voted to retain the current flag because without reviewing our constitutional arrangements (head of state, republic, etc), a change of design is meaningless. A flag has to symbolise something deeper than just a nifty logo, otherwise it’s superficial.

    I believe that is why Key failed in his little pet project.

  4. I think we are a Republic in all but name. I am not altogether sure that becoming one officially will be all that advantageous to us. What sort of republic would we become, would we elect a president or would that person be appointed, kind of how the GG is at the moment.
    TBH I would really want to know what our political system would look like if we did change. As much as I gripe about things in our current political system, looking back, I think I can be fairly appreciative of the basic stability of it.
    I also would like people to consider the very real possibility that the cost of republicanism could be way more than our present constitutional monarchy.
    The only problem with monarchy is that it requires someone by dint of birth gains a pretty privileged position, though oddly, I don’t think there are many nowadays would truly want to trade places with them.
    As long as we need figureheads will have figureheads, one way or another, it’s a human failing it seems

  5. Good point that NZ doesn’t have a constitution, per se. We ostensibly have two main sets of guiding principles – The Treaty of Waitangi and the 1990 Human Rights Act – but these don’t cover everything that a constitution needs to cover. Without a proper constitution we risk unbridled power being exercised by an unscrupulous government (Sir Geoffrey Palmer).
    I still believe that we should have an elected upper house – based on the UK House of Lords (minus the aristocratic element) model which would go some way to stop the Cabinet having unbridled power.
    An upper house could function regardless of whether we are a monarchy or republic.
    These would have been much better subjects for referenda than the stupid flag ones we have just had.

  6. I like the English Parliamentary System and I like the way it has developed in New Zealand.

    I like the way it has evolved over a thousand years by trial and error rather than being based on a single piece of paper dreamed up by some self-proclaimed Founding Fathers.

    I like the idea that the judiciary reports to a 90 year old lady on the other side of the Earth: This means there is absolutely no way that the politicians can ‘get at’ the judges.

    I don’t like our supreme court. The Privy Council consists of some of the best legal minds on the planet. They are totally separate from the incestuous politics and relationships that result from living on a small island in the South Pacific. Even better – they were free of charge! The creation of the NZ supreme court was an act of blinkered ideology.

    I like the position of Governor General, for no other reason than it’s a bit of fun…..but tell that to Gough Whitlam! 🙂

  7. Interestingly put, but I’m not 100% sure all of the points are correct here Chris. We are nowhere near to being a Republic in all but name.

    * A ‘Constitutional Monarchy’ with an unwritten Constitution is a what??

    * The NZ Govt does not own NZ land, all Crown land is just that – owned by HRH QE2.

    * The ‘Royal Prerogative’ is only symbolic? Except when it is invoked, as in this case here where the GG intervened and granted resource consent using his (unspecified) ‘special powers’:

  8. Chris I think the relevant historical comparison is a decade or two earlier to the misuse of the Star Chamber which allow the Monarchy to overrule Parliament. I question if the TPPA and the ISDS tribunal is about giving a foreign based corporatocracy the power to rule over our parliament.


    “The power of the Court of Star Chamber grew considerably under the House of Stuart, and by the time of King Charles I, it had become synonymous with misuse and abuse of power by the King and his circle. King James I and his son Charles used the court to examine cases of sedition, which meant that the court could be used to suppress opposition to royal policies. It came to be used to try nobles too powerful to be brought to trial in the lower court.

    King Charles I used the Court of Star Chamber as Parliamentary substitute during the eleven years of Personal Rule, when he ruled without a Parliament. King Charles made extensive use of the Court of Star Chamber to prosecute dissenters, including the Puritans who fled to New England.

    On 17 October 1632, the Court of Star Chamber banned all “news books” because of complaints from Spanish and Austrian diplomats that coverage of the Thirty Years’ War in England was unfair.[9] As a result, newsbooks pertaining to this matter were often printed in Amsterdam and then smuggled into the country, until control of the press collapsed with the developing ideological conflict of 1640–41.[10]

    The Star Chamber became notorious for judgments favourable to the king.”

    These sorts of questions are asked in the following article.

    I am even more concerned, given I learnt last night from Guy Standing (author of the Precariat) that the third member of ISDS panels, if there is no agreement between disputing party’s is appointed by the WTO President and that the WTO President is always appointed by the US President.

    That is the reason that the US has never had a successful claim brought against it from a foreign investor.

    Shouldn’t these questions be answered? Surely hundreds of years of slow evolution to Parliamentary democracy rule cannot be quietly thrown out the window, with no questions asked and no answers given?

  9. For me personally, my opposition to becoming a republic is for a practical reason. The queen = power and money = defence, of which we have very little to speak of in our own right. It is the only reason, it’s that simple and I’m sure I’m not alone.

    “….It will be a challenge for most people to accept that New Zealand is not a country. It is in fact a system of Corporations Sole known as,
    The Monarch In Right Of New Zealand
    The Sovereign In Right Of New Zealand
    Her Majesty The Queen In Right Of New Zealand
    The Crown In Right Of New Zealand
    The Arms In Right Of New Zealand.
    The Corporation Sole is not a Living Being. It is a single (‘sole’) incorporated office,occupied by a single (‘sole’) man or woman.It has no need for by-laws and no Board of Directors….”


    “…..on February 25, 2013, Elizabeth Windsor was deposed from her office and ordered arrested by a lawful common law court of justice convened under the laws of England.

    Because of this recent verdict, there exists no legal authority in Canada, England, or any Commonwealth nation. The laws of the “crown” are inoperative today, as are the oaths of allegiance taken to the Crown by every politician, judge, police officer and soldier in these nations.

    Therefore, in the absence of any authority, the opportunity has been created to re-establish the lawful and sovereign Republic constituted by the People in Parliament in 1649, whose laws have never lost their authority.

    Despite this, out of fear or ignorance, many people raised under the fiction known as the “crown” still hesitate from seizing back their own power as sovereign men and women from the mistaken belief that the “crown” still is lawful and legitimate.

    The first task of any common law Republican movement is to educate the people through word and deed of their own God given natural liberty, and unite them in a new nation of equals.

    This process has begun, through the rise of a common law movement to re-establish the rule of law and trial by jury in Canada, England, New Zealand and Australia.

    But common law courts now being formed in these countries lack a constitutional basis and thus, ultimate legitimacy, operating as they are in the present political vacuum of a discredited “crown” law that has not been replaced with a Republican constitution and nation.

    And so to attempt to create common law courts without the overarching political authority to do so is to place the cart before the horse by setting up courts that have no constitutional authority, and whose judgements can therefore be considered invalid.

    It is for this reason that the efforts today to create common law courts in Canada, England, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand must be accompanied by a similar movement to establish, and re-establish, a constitutional Republic in these lands. For without such legitimating power behind the courts, one cannot honesty answer the question:

    “Where do you get the authority to convene common law courts?”
    In a nutshell, that authority derives from a Constitution established by free men and women gathered as equal sovereigns under God and the natural law: not under de facto rulers. This principle runs throughout centuries of common law verdicts in England, in which authority rests in the people gathered as “the Commons”, meaning within free political assemblies such as Parliament.

    The Parliamentary Act establishing the High Court Act of January 4, 1649 stated:

    “the King can not challenge the legitimacy of a court established solely by the Commons … for henceforth, monarchs may not preside over government according to divine ordainment or sovereign immunity.”
    In short, as of that date, the people were under to be the source of law, not kings or rulers:

    “The Commons of England assembled in Parliament declare that the people under God are the origin of all just power … and have the supreme authority of the nation. Whatsoever is enacted and declared law by the Commons alone has the force of law … with or without the consent of the king.”
    Applying this to today, no common law court we establish can be declared illegitimate by the “crown” as long as such courts rest on a Constitution ratified by the Commons: by the people in sovereign assembly. And it is such an Assembly that is gathering, in Canada, on October 27 in Winnipeg, to frame a new Constitution and Nation. And our colleagues in England, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand must take precisely the same step. ”


    • kiwi,s need to wake up to these facts, get all these sovereignty issues sorted , and get our country out of the completly corrupt grip of the englisn crown, laws etc

  11. Oh Chris, you made your bold presumptions and considerations without acknowledging that steelen, robust and self interest defending “Old Boys Network”, including also, the “Old Girl’s Network”.

    There are powers at work that are beyond of true democracy, even in New Zealand, where some pull the levers that others would never get their hands on.

    Three yearly election campaigns and elections are just a charade for many of us informed people, to pretend we have a choice.

    There are people here in Auckland, like the Committee for Auckland, wielding real firm power, and manipulating most into believing they actually matter.

    Why is voter participation in local body elections dropping? Even general elections do not get all motivated to vote, e.g. that “missing million” we at times hear about.

    How can that be true democracy, also when most are fed selected and biased information, so they are not even “informed democrats” and voters.

    Nah, this is an illusion, a farce, what we have, nothing more or less.

  12. Republics are inherently just as elitist as any monarchy – and more prone to shenanigans and upheavals. Products of previous centuries.

    Can we not think of a more useful, less elitist, form of governance than that?

    And get rid of ‘political parties’ while we’re at it. They’re exclusive and far too attractive to the money- and power-hungry.

    A real democracy would be a great ‘next step’ in the evolution of civility and social wellbeing. Can we go there without stopping in the dead end of ‘republic’? (Sorry, Plato.)

  13. Then again, I think those have too much imperial baggage and would cause as many objections as God Save the Queen.

  14. Many go nuts when the monarchy visits NZ. Bowing down and feeling good that they are somehow connected to royalty, if only a dim illusion.

    The Monarchy, deep down, cares less about NZ. It is all a song and dance pompous phony show.
    Their lavish lifestyles and trips abroad are all paid for by their taxpayers and those likely in need as they stockpile their massive wealth along with the Vatican.
    Oh yes, they enjoy our products shipped to them but when push comes to shove, we are at the bottom of their list of priorities.
    Cameron made that abundantly clear just this week. But then it gave our idiot PM another photo op which he loves more than white bread.

    So why do so many still want to be part of this royal insanity and still part of the monarchy ? Are they that insecure that they need to pump up a weak ego and be associated with something that stinks to high heaven and not worth our time, money or much attention ? As the royals swim with and bow to the illuminati; upper 1 % who only care to maintain their wealth and rip of the people while Britain sinks into the same shame and despair that the states ( and most of the world ) are in now.
    Get familiar with Tavistock Institute and see where this illusion all started and why they have the plans they have and have carefully implemented through perpetual war and the criminal banking system and a media and govt. owned and dictated to by these criminal multi-national corporations. See the words that they brought into the english language and why like ( Conspiracy Theory etc. ) Listen to Max Keiser and hear about why their economics are as the are and why we are heading into a dark economic period that we clearly feel right now.
    Max names these people regularly so they are exposed to the world. In our mind, he is far ahead of most economists and he is light years ahead of the game on most levels.

    Then lets ask ourselves, truthfully and honestly, why in the living blazes do we want to continue to associate with such filth when we can be more like Iceland and others who are their own country and sovereign and trustworthy and operating in the best interests of everyone’s well being ? ? ? Why can we not also put these banking and corporate crooks in prison and take back our country and our sovereignty ? Then we can write our own constitution and have our own country’s independence day and our own flag. Then we will truly have something healthy and real and compassionate to celebrate and feel good about. OUR OWN COUNTRY – FREE AND SOVEREIGN.
    All peoples; all cultures; all tribes; all living things – EQUAL – and the seas and all of the environment treated with respect and kindness instead of this insane greed.
    Get rid of the Monarchy; kick out the deep sea oil rapers and corporate / banker criminals and take back our land and sea and start to act responsibly
    and wholistically and healthfully. Get rid of the ( monarch loving ) Natz whom have embarrassed us immensely and sold out our country and its assets to the highest bidder. Disgraceful.

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