Keith Locke on the Governor-General Bill – second reading



The Green Party will be supporting this bill, as a way of modernising the functioning of the Governor-General’s office. We agree with the Government Administration Committee that the legislation will make the financial arrangements for the support of the Governor-General more transparent and simpler to administer than they now are. It will also remove the Governor-General’s tax-exempt status, which is an appropriate move in a modern democratic society. It is unfortunate that the select committee did not respond positively to two submissions for amendments to the bill to change the way we choose the Governor-General, or at least to change the way we decide which person’s name is forwarded to the Queen—or it might become the King—for approval. As the select committee put it in its report back, these two submitters who advocated a change wanted a new process that would require “them to be elected by Parliament”—’them’ being the Governor-Generals—”to ensure that consultation occurs and a neutral candidate is chosen who is acceptable to the greatest number of Members of Parliament and the public.”

The select committee wrongly decided that this issue lay outside the scope of the bill. The Green Party does not agree. There is nothing in the title of the bill—the Governor-General Bill, as it is called—or any purpose clause that prevents a section on the appointment and the dismissal of a Governor-General being added. This is what the submission of the Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand proposed and the submission by Derek Round went in the same direction. At the moment, the selection of a nominee for Governor-General is not democratic. I as a member of Parliament in a non-Government party have no input whatsoever; it is done entirely by the Government of the day. We have a history of some clearly political appointments. Sir Keith Holyoake, a former National Prime Minister, who was appointed by a National Government, is a case in point. The Government is unlikely to appoint someone who might have a record of being critical of the policies of the particular party currently in Government. It is hard in this modern age not to agree that we need a more democratic process. The proposal of the Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand was for a clause specifying that “The Governor-General is appointed by the Sovereign on the recommendation of the House of Representatives.” It proposes that the recommendation for a nomination have the agreement of at least half of the parliamentary leaders of all political parties represented in Parliament and that the parties they lead contain at least 75 percent of the MPs in the House. The Greens agree with this general direction and in the Committee stage of this bill I will be moving an amendment similar to the one proposed by the Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand, only a bit simpler. My amendment will simply say that the nomination has to have the support of 75 percent of the members of this House. This is not an entirely new idea. The Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand’s submission pointed out that the parliaments of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands already elect their Governor-General nominee to be forwarded to the Queen. The Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand’s submission also allows for a dismissal process with a similar proportion of the House of Representatives having to agree. My amendment in the Committee stage will specify that dismissal will require 75 percent of the members of Parliament having to agree.

Democratising this dismissal process is important because at the moment if the Government of the day is called to order by the Governor-General the Government can fire off a note to the Queen, advising her to dismiss said Governor-General immediately, and the Queen is required to act on the advice of the Government of New Zealand. This power of the Government of the day over the Governor-General inhibits the true independence of the person who holds that office and is acting as head of State in New Zealand on behalf of the Queen.

The Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand also picked up another good point in that there is no defined length of term for the Governor-General in statute, other than what is put in the terms of appointment when he or she takes up the job. It is a non-statutory provision. The movement suggests putting a clear provision in this bill for the Governor-General’s term to not exceed 5 years, and that seems fair enough to me. Although all of these democratic proposals were advanced by the Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand, they are not republican in and of themselves; they are simply democratic proposals.

However, another submitter, Derek Round, not only proposed similar democratic steps for the selection of the Governor-General but also associated this move with a move away from the monarchy. In addition to the Governor-General being appointed by Parliament, Derek Round proposed that “On the death, abdication or appointment of a regency of Queen Elizabeth II her heir and successor will cease to be the Head of State and King or Queen of New Zealand. The Governor-General will continue to exercise all the powers and prerogatives of that office and assume and exercise all the powers and prerogatives previously exercised by Queen Elizabeth II.” There is a body of opinion in New Zealand that holds that Queen Elizabeth II should be our last monarch, the last King or Queen of New Zealand, and we should now move to work out a transition from the end of her reign to a republic. Not long after Derek Round made that submission to the select committee, and completely separate from the select committee process, our previous Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Cullen, came up with a similar proposal at the constitution conference here in Wellington. He said that there should be legislation “to provide that the choice of Governor-General (strictly speaking constitutionally the nomination) should henceforth be made by a supermajority of Parliament, say 75 per cent. The same legislation could then provide that, on the death of the Queen, the Governor-General would become head of state.”

There we are; great minds think alike. I should say at this point that the Green Party does not have an official position on whether New Zealand should become a republic or when and how, although I personally am very much a republican. I had a member’s bill on the issue before Parliament that did not quite succeed, although all of my Green colleagues supported it in its first reading. This bill also deals with the costs of the Governor-General, and they are quite substantial. The latest Budget lists $7.6 million in on-going operational expenses and $11.6 million to upgrade Government House. The elected President of Ireland will cost less this financial year—namely, $6 million. Republics are not expensive, contrary to what some people argue. One of the reasons for the difference in costs between New Zealand and Ireland might be the certain excesses in the way we throw money at the Governor-General, which are indicated in this bill. For example, why does legislation have to provide, as this bill does, for “the use of chauffeured cars when he or she”—that is, the Governor-General—”no longer holds the office of Governor-General.” Also, the 6-month redundancy pay is not a bad lark. It amounts to $96,000, not to mention an annuity for the rest of the former Governor-General’s life that is currently $62,000 a year. Mind you, our present Governor-General, Anand Satyanand, has not done too bad. He is a friendly, competent person with an inclusive style. As previous speakers have said, he has had to suffer some racist comments lately from the TV host Paul Henry, who questioned whether he was a real New Zealander. According to Mr Henry, Mr Satyanand does not sound or look like a real New Zealander, presumably because of his Indian ethnicity. It is ironic that Paul Henry’s first defence when challenged was that he was a monarchist, so he could not really be against the Governor-General. I say it is ironic because the British royal line is so monocultural! They all look and sound the same because they are all of the same line of European ethnicity and all speak with the same traditional upper-class English accent.