Keith Locke, Governor General Bill first reading

The Greens will support the Governor-General Bill. As other speakers have said, it represents a step forward, a modernisation beyond the practices of the colonial era. The fact that the Governor-General did not have to pay tax previously relates to the nature of rule by a monarchy. We have moved in the United Kingdom and New Zealand towards a constitutional monarchy over the years, but despite that the aspects of the monarchy in the United Kingdom that were carried over meant that the Governor-General retained certain privileges above other citizens, one of those being not having to pay any tax. Of course, in the United Kingdom the monarch has substantial wealth and properties, in addition. The carry over to New Zealand was partly driven by the fact that the Governor-General, for many decades, was not a citizen of New Zealand but a British person appointed by the Queen or King of the day.

Since 1972 Governors-General have been New Zealand residents, which I think gives impetus to this progressive change to a more transparent and just system. The Remuneration Authority will determine the Governor-General’s remuneration, and the remuneration itself will be taxed. It is hard to avoid this change: the Queen herself decided to pay tax from 1993 on, and tax has been paid by the Governor-General in Australia for some time too. The Green Party believes that there is still a carry-over of unnecessary privileges in the Governor-General’s role, and I think this is shown in the annuity payment, which will probably be quite substantial if the parallel in Australia is anything to go by. In Australia former Governors-General are paid 60 percent of the Chief Justice’s salary, which is a huge amount. As has been pointed out, there is already in this bill, and rightly so, a redundancy pay provision for 6 months. That provision really should suffice. If there are ongoing responsibilities for former Governors-General, they should be given costs. If they have to come to a State dinner or something like that as a former Governor-General, they could be paid the costs of that dinner—the travel, time, expenses, and all the rest of it. They do not need an annuity for the rest of their lives. We in this House are moving away from giving perks to former members of Parliament; the pension perk and the travel perk have been taken away from us, and rightly so. I think that should apply to people at all levels, including the Governor-General. A very strange clause in the bill provides that former Governors-General will get domestic travel expenses paid and “the use of chauffeured cars”. I think that provision is a bit over the top, and reflects the old rule of the monarchy—a carry-over to the present day. It should not be there. That matter can be addressed at the select committee. Another matter, which Phil Twyford referred to, is how we appoint and dismiss Governors-General. It is the Green Party’s belief that there should be a democratic process; we agree with Phil Twyford. At the moment the Governor-General is appointed by the monarch on the recommendation of the Government of the day, and can be dismissed on the recommendation of the Government of the day, which gives the Government of the day too much power over that role. We have seen in the past politically partisan appointments, like a National Government appointing Sir Keith Holyoake, a former Prime Minister, as Governor-General. That is the most obvious example. We want to avoid that. I think if Parliament itself appointed the Governor-General, or at least recommended to the Queen the appointment of the Governor-General, that would be a step forward. At least we can make this minimal change, although I see that Phil Twyford is actually proposing that we elect the Governor-General as such, perhaps without reference to the Queen, which, of course, as a republican I support. It has been proposed by The Republican Movement of Aotearoa; in fact, it has proposed an amendment to the current bill, which will, no doubt, be contained in a submission from the movement to the select committee after the vote on the first reading, which I am sure will pass today. Effectively, that amendment is to insert another clause on the appointment and dismissal of the Governor-General—that is, that the recommendation to the Queen should be endorsed by 75 percent of the members of Parliament. That is not a big change from the present situation, but it is important in that the Governor-General in that situation will have much more of the authority of the House and of the people of New Zealand, and be more representative in a non-partisan way of the people of New Zealand. That would be an important step change. The amendment also talks about a term of 5 years and the dismissal procedure—that the Governor-General cannot be dismissed without a vote of 75 percent of the House. That would be a step forward from the present situation, where at any time the Government of the day can say to the Queen that she is acting on its advice, and it wants her to dismiss the Governor-General. I think members can see the importance of that when they look at some of the stand-offs there have been in countries like Canada, most recently, and Australia. In the Australian situation the Gough Whitlam Government was effectively sacked by the Governor-General. It was a rapid-draw situation. Governor Kerr, as he was at the time, drew the gun first and recommended to the Queen the sacking of Gough Whitlam; if Gough Whitlam had acted first and recommended to the Queen the dismissal of the Governor-General, it might have turned out somewhat differently. To avoid that situation we want a Governor-General who has the support of the Parliament as a whole and the whole nation, and is not acting in a politically partisan way. Certainly, it is important that all these constitutional questions are raised in the select committee discussion on this bill. I support what my colleague Phil Twyford has said in that regard. There is a strong movement towards constitutional change; it is a great pity that my member’s bill, Head of State Referenda Bill did not get to select committee, even though there seemed to be a majority of members in the House supporting it. The vote tended in many cases to be more along party lines, which prevented the bill’s going to select committee. This Governor General bill will provide a venue for discussion of some of those questions. Phil Twyford mentioned amending the Constitution Act. Various constitutional changes going beyond what is specifically proposed in this bill could be made. But certainly we want to get away from that whole history of the monarchy and the Governor-General as just there for expensive pomp and ceremony, and not really a part of our democratic tradition. I think the cost of maintaining the Governor-General is about $6 million or $7 million a year. With tax being required of the Governor-General, perhaps we will get a bit more back. I do not know whether it will be enough to pay for what has been announced over these last few days: the extra doctors’ visits as a result of the Government saying to employers that they can get people to rush along to the doctor and get a medical certificate for only 1 day’s absence. I am sure that, if this proposal goes through and is not stopped by Parliament, as a result doctors will go to the Government and say that they want extra money for all the people coming through their doors unnecessarily. It is only making them sicker. People are off for 1 day with a migraine, they come along unnecessarily—

Darien Fenton:

For an hour.


Yes. They have to wait in the waiting room, get sicker, cost the taxpayer more money, and cost the employer more money. I think that is where the problem lies. I do not think the extra money we will get out of the Governor-General by way of tax will fully cover that cost. The Greens support this bill. It goes towards us being more of a modern, 21


century nation.