A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand proposes that New Zealand should become a republic with a New Zealand head of state. It also proposes that state power should rest with the people of New Zealand, not the Crown.
A New Zealand head of state
New Zealand is already a de facto republic. The Queen has no real sovereign powers – the government rules, so long as it has popular support.
The Queen is represented in New Zealand by the Governor-General, who has some formal constitutional powers. The Governor-General dissolves Parliament before an election and reopens it afterwards. The Governor-General appoints and dismisses ministers, appoints judges, and signs Acts of Parliament into law. But these powers are always exercised on the advice of Ministers. The Governor-General exercises little if any real power.
Otherwise, the Governor-General’s functions are mostly symbolic or ceremonial. As the acting head of state, he or she represents New Zealand’s identity and embodies the country’s enduring values while transcending party politics.
In our view, these roles are better carried out by a New Zealander. While the monarchy has a long tradition in New Zealand, we are not British, and it is absurd to have a head of state living 12,000 miles from our shores.
Having the Queen as head of state gives other nations the impression that New Zealand is not independent, and it limits our ability to fully develop our own national identity.
In our draft constitution, we therefore propose that New Zealand’s head of state should be a New Zealander who lives in this country. We propose that the head of state should have more-or-less the same powers as the Governor-General does now. We also propose that the head of state should be appointed by a free vote in Parliament for a term of five years.
We recognise that New Zealanders have varied views about this issue. While we support a New Zealand head of state, our proposed constitution would be effective even if New Zealand remains a monarchy.
You can read more detail about our proposals in chapter 3 of A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand, and you can read the specific proposals in Part 3 of our draft constitution. You’ll also find a range of views in the blogs above, and in the websites of Monarchy New Zealand and New Zealand Republic.
The Crown or the people?
Under New Zealand’s current constitution, all state power is said to rest with the Crown.
Government is conducted in the Queen’s name and under her legal authority. The Queen is part of Parliament, and Acts don’t come into effect until the Queen gives her assent. Courts are run by the Queen’s judges. And the Queen is also the official head of the armed forces.
But in practice, the Queen exercises almost no power. In practical terms, MPs voting in the House of Representatives make law, and Ministers run the government. The Queen acts on their advice and in accordance with their wishes.
In other words, the authority of the Crown is a legal fiction. A fiction that can be confusing and misleading, since it disguises where the true power lies.
In our view, New Zealand’s rules of government should reflect reality, not a constitutional mirage. State power in New Zealand belongs to the people, and the constitution should reflect that. Our draft constitution therefore provides for the existence of an independent democratic state – Aotearoa New Zealand – in which all powers of government – executive, legislative, and judicial – derive from the people.
We think this proposal should be adopted even if the Queen remains as New Zealand’s head of state. The two proposals are related, but this change is not contingent on the country becoming a republic.
Our draft constitution also provides that the state of Aotearoa New Zealand would pick up all rights and responsibilities that are currently vested in the Crown, including rights and responsibilities under the Treaty of Waitangi.