Opinion by Darren Zhang
The Labour government has historically made remarkable contributions to the distinct New Zealand identity we have today.
The first Labour government laid the foundations for the world’s first welfare state, and the second raised taxes after Britain’s butter prices collapsed, costing it the elections.
The third Labour government formed the Waitangi Tribunal and progressed major social initiatives during a time when New Zealand could no longer depend on Britain to trade with upon her entry into the European Economic Community.
David Lange’s fourth Labour government stood up to the US and the UK on nuclear weapons. Months later the Rainbow Warrior never reached Moruroa after she was bombed by France, drowning Dutch photographer Fernando Pereira in Auckland Harbour – which both the US and UK failed to condemn.
Under Helen Clark’s ministry we were able to finally recognise Kiwis through a completely New Zealand-based honours system, make a final appeal for justice in our own national Supreme Court, and title our senior lawyers Senior Counsels in line with other Commonwealth countries. Two of these reforms have been reversed, or have reversal pending.
It is the duty of David Shearer’s sixth Labour government to now realise the long held aspirations of New Zealanders and pave the way for Kiwis to play a role at the head of our nation.
The head of our state’s role is to serve as the face of Kiwis, symbolising New Zealand by representing our nation when making or hosting state visits, attending state functions, recognising the achievements of New Zealanders and nominally being the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces.
Historically New Zealand was a communal subsistence society consisting of various iwi where authority was vested in the respective tribal leader – hence no single “head of state”.
When British humanitarianists, including the Aborigines’ Protection Society, lobbied the Whig Government to protect indigenous Maori from commercial exploitation by Edward Wakefield’s New Zealand Company, this and other concurrent concerns led to the despatching of William Hobson to negotiate a voluntary transfer of sovereignty to the Crown.
Te Tiriti o Waitangi put in place Queen Victoria as the head of the New Zealand state. The treaty ceded the Crown the right to govern, in return for protection and tribal authority for Maori to manage their own affairs.
The English translation, on the other hand, gave Britain “absolutely and without reservation all the rights and powers of Sovereignty”, establishing the country as an Imperial colony.
Over generations the New Zealand identity has developed, and since the Second World War we have become virtually independent in our decision-making and laws, acting independently of the traditional Commonwealth realm.
We already see ourselves as a nation of the Pacific and our small island neighbours receive the largest portion of the New Zealand Aid Programme’s budget; plus, our security and trade focus is on the Asia-Pacific region.
In an Aotearoa New Zealand republic, the last remnants of a hereditary class-based hierarchy would be removed and at the top of the ladder would be a person any Kiwi could easily relate to.
The head of the New Zealand state could be either directly elected, as is done in Ireland, or appointed by our democratic national parliament, which is the method used in Germany. Either way, young Kiwis would be empowered to actively participate in an entirely democratic society with the New Zealand head of state serving as an example for all to follow.
However, provisions should be made to transfer the title on the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who has been the reigning monarch since around the time we abolished the appointed Legislative Council.
From then on, Kiwis can have a locally presiding head and finally face the challenges of the 21st century, acknowledging our rich and colourful past, embracing our unique, increasingly multicultural and ever-changing identity of the present, and facing an uncertain future confident in our ability to carve the future ahead without constraints.
In March 2002, then Prime Minister and now Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme Administrator Helen Clark said she “would go as far as to say that we are already a de facto republic, as is Australia. We have, to all intents and purposes, the nominal Head of State in our Governor-General”.
The National Party cannot constitutionally support an independent New Zealand republic as loyalty to the monarch is specifically a party value, despite ex-Prime Minister Jim Bolger’s belief that it is “‘inappropriate’ for the Queen of England to exercise her powers in New Zealand.
The recent saga surrounding the parliamentary oath only highlights the need for change.
The traditionally innovative and progressive Labour government has not made a bold policy move since its deregulation and privatisation days, and it is time Shearer rose up to be worthy of carrying this time-honoured torch.
Darren Zhang is working with UNICEF as part of the 3Youth project, an upcoming section of the 3 News website focusing on social issues and written by young people.