The Inevitable Constitutional Debate

Whichever view you take it is always worth considering both sides and this article covers both sides admirably. Ed.

On the morning of the Queen’s death Tova O’Brien interviewed David Seymour saying ‘it’s probably not the day for it but…’ Then asked if New Zealand should keep the monarchy. The constitutional debate is inevitable. Free Press says let’s put it to bed.
There are really two questions. Is the monarchy good for New Zealand, and how much has it been carried by the performance of one particularly good Queen lately?
We predict King Charles III will surprise on the upside. The main reason is that he takes the job seriously. Free Press has met him as Prince Charles. He was well briefed, sincere, and charming. He’d made an effort to have something to say to every guest at the reception, in another country on the other side of the world.
We believe he will take his new duty even more seriously, and may even be able to heal some of the internal rifts that have plagued the family. People who say (hope?) the monarchy is only good for as long as Elizabeth II was on the throne are in for a surprise on the downside.
One question: Will Charles resist the temptation to use his throne to make political points? So far so good, but it’s a dangerous temptation. New Zealand’s last Governor General loved to wax on so much, we wondered if she was trying to get re-elected.
The point of these positions is to be trustworthy to all in a constitutional crisis, as Australia experienced in 1975. We can’t afford a monarch who’s even suspected to have a political agenda.
That still leaves the second question. Is the Monarchy a good deal for New Zealand? Free Press is not an emotional publication. We know there are people emotionally attached to the monarchy and people emotionally revulsed. They cancel each other out so what can logic tell us?
Two good questions to ask about any policy are is it fair, and does it work?
We’re pretty sure the Monarchy is not fair, but we’re not sure if it’s most unfair on the Royals or their subjects. The idea that a family of people are born theoretically owning a country, in fact many countries, is odd in the 21st century.
On the other hand, most people can retire from their jobs. We’re not sure being born into a life of service with no honourable exit possible makes up for the extraordinary privileges. So far as fairness is concerned, it’s probably a draw.
The second question is whether it works. The answer is absolutely. New Zealand has one of the most stable political systems in the world. We are certainly one of the oldest democracies, really the oldest if you think it’s important to let all citizens vote.
We have a constitutional back-stop, someone who can step in if there is a constitutional crisis, and it costs next-to-nothing. It comes with the added bonus that a lot of people really like the Royal family and the traditions and culture it represents.
The alternative to having the King (or his representative, the Governor-General) would be to have the Government of the day appoint a head of state without any connection to the monarchy, or electing them. It’s not obvious what the first one would achieve.
The second possibility is more interesting, that New Zealand would elect a head of state. The great difficulty is that once they get elected, they’re a politician. Politicians like to promise things to get elected. Worse, they sometimes do the things they promise.
The Americans have found this out the hard way. Their President was supposed to be a largely ceremonial role, with the one big job of being the Commander in Chief of the military. Over 230 years, successive U.S. presidents have promised their way to a larger and larger role. This year Joe Biden spent $1.9 trillion in a gargantuan stimulus package while his predecessor is busy dividing the country in half. We don’t get any of that with a monarch.
Even if an elected Head of State didn’t risk turning into an overgrown burden like every other part of Government, it’s not obvious what problem they would solve. Some people say we should move beyond being founded as a British colony, but the New Zealand State was founded as a British colony.
An elected head of state certainly would not get one more house built, one more kid to school, or one more innovative company exporting to the world. It is all downside from our point of view.
If we have to have the constitutional debate, there it is. We thank Elizabeth II for her extraordinary 70 years of service, and welcome King Charles III to a new chapter of a successful system that serves us well.

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