King Charles or a Kiwi President?

Pity the British Royal Family. A few centuries ago they could indulge their sexual peccadillos and eccentric pomposity in total privacy. Any good citizen daring to even raise an eyebrow quickly had their head separated from their body. Now what do we have? Tabloid journalists posing as footmen in Buckingham Palace. Every move of the Royal Family charted in New Zealand women’s magazines.

Treated with awe and adulation throughout their childhood, what is surprising is how relatively normal the royals grew up to be. They even excel at some things. Prince Charles, for example, is an exemplary organic farmer.

To those who get angst-ridden and their knickers twisted over whether Charles would make a good king, I say, “What do you expect?”

Charles is in line for the throne only because of his mother, not because of anything he has done in life. His genes (however much intermingled) overrule any considerations of talent or skill. This is the fundamental problem with relying on heredity for our head of state.

The monarchy – is by definition – anti-democratic. We, the people, should have the power to determine who presides over us – even if their work is predominantly ceremonial. It is unhealthy, demeaning and disempowering for us to glorify someone who achieved the position by quirk of birth, not merit or ability.

The present laws of royal succession also offend our human rights. Non-whites, Catholics and Moslems have no chance of inheriting the top job, and women only get there if they have no male siblings.

The monarchy also offends our sense of nationhood. At the present time we mourn our loss in the Rugby World Cup. Yet there is no groundswell of Kiwi support for the English rugby team, rather the opposite: we have more sympathy for, and more in common with, the very team that beat us – Australia.

Why should we remain hitched to England’s Queen, who does not even live in our hemisphere? And isn’t there a conflict of interest in her being the constitutional monarch of both Britain and New Zealand?

In her Speech from the Throne in the British Parliament she has to support the invasion of Iraq, but if she gave a Speech from the Throne in New Zealand she would have to oppose it. As a constitutional monarch she has to go along with the government of each respective country, leading to political schizophrenia on her part, and incredulity on ours.

We will not be a truly independent country until we have our own, indigenous, head of state. But this has to be a conscious choice of the New Zealand people. This is why I have drafted a private members bill, the Head of State Referendum Bill, which is now in the parliamentary ballot. It would enable voters to choose between three options; the status quo, a directly elected president, or one approved by 75 percent of parliament. This will get around a problem with the 1999 Australian referendum, where voters were cynically only presented the choice between the monarchy and a president selected by politicians. Aussies, like New Zealanders, don’t trust politicians all that much.

My bill would not give the head of state any more powers or responsibilities than the governor-general presently possesses. And the responsibility of the state to the Treaty of Waitangi would be unaltered.

The process of selecting a president, whether by direct election or a parliamentary vote, would overcome the difficulties inherent in Royal succession. The personal qualities of the incoming president would be well-known. The hand-wringing and tabloid-tattling over the suitability of Prince Charles for the throne would be sidestepped like the archaic and distracting obstacle it is.

A locally elected president is also much better fit for an MMP Parliament where the lack of a single-party majority means the head of state could play a mediating role in the formation of a government. I am sure the people of New Zealand would appreciate competence and sound judgement over blue blood and extravagant tiaras. There is also inherent bias in the present system, that sees the governor-general appointed on the advice of the incumbent government, not Parliament as a whole.

New Zealand is no longer ruled from Britain, and our parliament is independent and no longer occupies its time implementing decrees issues half a world away. Do we want to stay tied to our former colonial master, or do we want to become the proud and fully independent nation we have largely been for decades? Let the royals reign on the front pages of the Mail on Sunday and Women’s Day, but not over the future of New Zealand.