26 Mar 2016

Time to say goodbye to the monarchy?

11:58 am on 26 March 2016

Law experts have weighed in on the debate about whether the time has come for New Zealand to cut its ties with the Crown.

Several parties, including Labour, the Greens and United Future, say a conversation about New Zealand becoming a republic should happen soon.

Labour leader Andrew Little said he would not rule out another flag debate, and that could coincide with the end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.

"At the end of the reign of the current monarch I think will be a good time to debate our constitutional arrangements," he said.

"Do we still want our head of state living in London or do we want to do something else and stand on our own two feet? And if we want to do that - then let's have a flag that represents that."

United Future leader Peter Dunne said the newly appointed Governor-General, Dame Patsy Reddy, should be the last, and New Zealand should have its first president by 2021 - at the end of her term.

Victoria University law professor Dean Knight, a constitutional advisor to the Republic NZ campaign, said there was a real appetite for change.

Despite high profile visits from royals in recent years, more people now want a republic, he said.

"The polling data over the last wee while has shown that despite all the royal visits, the support for having a Kiwi as the head of state is growing and stronger than ever."

Mr Knight said New Zealand needs to grow and evolve, and complete its transition into a fully independent state.

"Cutting its ties to the British royals is a part of that."

But Auckland University law professor Bill Hodge said the process might not be so simple.

It was unclear what role a head of state would have, or how they would be chosen, he said.

"How are we going to select a president. Is it going to be by election in Parliament, election by the people, is it going to be appointment by the prime minister?"

He said that conversation was important because the prime minister was elected by a majority, and therefore had political power.

"You have to be careful about how the president will be selected, because the next thing you know, the president will be competing with the prime minister for the upper political hand."

Mr Hodge said while by convention, the Governor-General is generally a figurehead who does what they are told, their limitations of power are not written down. That would have to change, he said.

"It's more than a conversation, it's going to require very careful drafting."

He said New Zealand would need a written constitution to outline how a leader is chosen, and what their powers would be.

"A written constitution would probably be the mechanism and the place to start inscribing and limiting those powers," he said.

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