8 Dec 2010

Wide-ranging constitutional review announced

10:05 pm on 8 December 2010

The Government has announced a wide-ranging review of constitutional arrangements but has shied away from looking at whether New Zealand should become a republic.

Instead, the review will consider the place of the Treaty of Waitangi and the Maori seats, as well as look at the size of Parliament and the length of the parliamentary term.

The constitutional review is part of the support arrangement between National and the Maori Party.

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples says Maori do not support moving to a republic because of the importance of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Finance Minister Bill English says the Government did not include the matter specifically, in order that it did not overshadow more immediate issues. However, he says it is of broad interest and will inevitably be debated.

Mr English and Dr Sharples will lead the constitutional review in consultation with representatives from all other political parties.

Prime Minister John Key says the public can make submissions on the idea of a republic, but he opposes it.

"I've ruled it out, but it doesn't mean someone in the future can't do it. I can't control future prime ministers and future parliaments.

"There is a conversation going on; that's why the Retirement Commissioner has released their report and New Zealanders are free to debate it, any political party is free to have their view on it.

"My view is at this point, it doesn't need to change."

The review's final report will go to the Cabinet at the end of 2013.

Review criticised by Opposition

The Labour Party has criticised the review for failing to look at the issue of New Zealand becoming a republic.

Labour leader Phil Goff says it is inevitable there will be a referendum on who should be the country's head of state once the Queen dies.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei says it is odd that a debate over republicanism has not been included in the review's terms of reference.

Republicans disappointed, monarchists happy

The country's independence movement says it is disappointed but not surprised the review will not examine whether New Zealand should become a republic.

Chairperson of the Republican Movement, Lewis Holden, told Checkpoint he hopes the review will clarify issues.

"One of the reasons why some Maori don't want a republic is because they think it might affect the Treaty.

"So this review can go some way to clarifying that and what the role of the Crown is in our constitution. It's actually going to be quite an important step in the direction towards a republic."

Mr Holden says his group will use the review process to lobby their cause by making submissions to the review panel.

Monarchists hope the constitutional review will strengthen the role of the monarchy in the country.

Monarchy New Zealand chairperson Simon O'Connor says the review is right to steer clear of the issue of republicanism, because it is about fine-tuning the system rather than a major overhaul.

"The monarchy is not about personalities and the monarchy's not about ties to Britain. It's about a constitutional structure - a queen, a governor-general and a prime minister, a parliament and all those structures.

"You don't just wipe out the Queen and become a republic, and say the system's the same."

Mr O'Connor believes the present system is working well.