Claire Trevett 's Opinion

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett: Royalists can party, mince and cheese back on top

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While Britain was marvelling that Prince William - a man trained to fly a helicopter through war and disaster zones - managed to get a baby seat into a car, New Zealand was apparently hingeing its decision on whether to stay with the monarchy on whether the newborn Prince wore New Zealand's shawl for his first appearance.

Much time was spent analysing the shawl the Prince was wrapped in because, like the shawl presented by New Zealand, it was cream and lacy. It soon became clear the shawl was not New Zealand's at all but an imposter.

So began debate over whether the said Prince will or will not eventually be the King of New Zealand. The reaction was instructive and said a lot about where people sat on the republican-ometer.

Prime Minister John Key trotted out his well-used Pantene line on the topic, observing that New Zealand would one day inevitably become a republic but not straight away.

Clearly wary that even this could result in the invitations for morning tea at Buckingham Palace drying up, he took out extra insurance by pronouncing the Prince "the future king of New Zealand".

Labour leader David Shearer took the rather pragmatic stance of welcoming William and Kate to "a time of joy, excitement and sleeplessness". The Greens turned their heads, as if trying to pretend they couldn't smell a baby fart.

Sensible people can go a bit silly when a baby appears, so to get a more accurate gauge on MPs' views, it is constructive to revisit the Royal Succession Bill, which New Zealand's Parliament first debated this month. It will allow a first-born daughter to rank above younger brothers in the line of succession. It will also allow royals to marry Catholics, although no faith other than the Church of England can succeed to the throne. The law has to change in all 15 Commonwealth countries for this to happen, and in New Zealand the first reading of the bill went largely unnoticed, which was a shame given rarely before have MPs worked themselves into such contradiction.

Labour's Andrew Little put on a Jekyll and Hyde show, interspersing his railing against a monarchy which reeked of privilege and archaic prejudices with little apologies to the Queen, lest he hurt her feelings.

He began well, but went slightly off track. "This is the New Zealand way, not cuddling up to and seeking succour from those sorts of institutions that are outdated and outmoded, interesting as they may be, and producing good music occasionally, as they may do, although not the theme songs that we get from old has-been pop stars like Elton John and others and Cliff Richard."

Asked what Elton had to do with anything, Little observed, "We are talking about queens this afternoon, so why not?"

After moving on to a further lambasting of the monarchy, he ended with, "We will support the bill. We do not want to cause offence to the Sovereign today. But it is time we reconsidered, moved on and stood on our own two feet."

The Green Party's Kennedy Graham argued in favour of republicanism before adding, "Let me emphasise that republicanism is not Green Party policy."

He then moved on to ponder whether New Zealand's passing the bill would also mean it had effect in the Cook Islands, Niue and the Ross Dependency. Caught between wanting to support the measures promoting gender equality but concerned about religious equality, the Greens took the brave stance of abstaining.

National MP Simon O'Connor was the ardent monarchist, who began by quoting Voltaire and ended by rather proving the republicans' point with this grand statement: "New Zealand's democratic constitutional system rests on the birth of a child, which this Parliament freely and democratically accepts to be our head of state, a New Zealander, a New Zealand head of state."

Andrew Little did enjoy the irony of the Catholic O'Connor's support, and even questioned whether there might be a tad of self-interest in his support for the bill.

"Without this legislation he would have no chance of getting anywhere near succession to the throne!" Little thundered, as if there was every chance O'Connor would otherwise be dancing up the succession ranks with ease.

Shane Jones came out in favour of a gentle easing into republicanism, which he termed "eventual republican evolution". His speech was an entertaining history lesson. "King Henry tired of Catherine and then had the misfortune to fall into the arms, breasts and various other parts of the anatomy of Catherine's lady in waiting." He moved on to discuss that lady-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn, whose fate was this: "In the end, that all went to her head, and she lost it." He moved through Henry's other wives, before concluding: "Knowing a thing or three about the dangers of wahines myself, I cannot imagine what the hell possessed him to have six wives. I have no intention, despite recent behaviour, to emulate that."

He concluded by saying he could not be as vehement as Little "because I certainly have a little affection for the current Queen", although he hastened to add that it did not necessarily transfer to the next in line.

It was left to his colleague Sue Moroney to give the most succinct description of the bill, saying despite the monarchists' valiant attempts to portray the bill as progressive, "it is making something that is extremely archaic a little less archaic".

However, there was a further sign of doom for those zealous republicans in New Zealand this week.

The Supreme Pie Awards coincided with the arrival of the new Prince, and indicated New Zealand was returning to embracing tradition after flirting with modern trends.

So there was widespread celebration that the royalty of New Zealand - the mince and cheese pie - took out the Supreme Pie Award after many years of being gazumped by flashier models. Order was restored.

- NZ Herald

Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor and joined the Press Gallery in 2007. She began with the Herald in 2003 as the Northland reporter before moving to Auckland where her rounds included education and media. A graduate of AUT's post-graduate diploma in journalism, Claire began her journalism career in 2002 at the Northern Advocate in Whangarei. Claire has conjoint Bachelor of Law/ Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Canterbury.

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