Government bemused by Moore's call to change constitution

The Government has no immediate plans to re-visit the republic debate despite calls from former Labour Prime Minister Mike Moore arguing for a review of New Zealand's constitutional arrangements today.

A spokeswoman for duty minister David Cunliffe said the Government was bemused by Mr Moore's opinion piece in this morning's Herald.

In his article, Mr Moore argues that the likelihood of Australia once again considering republicanism and the dangers here of continuing "ad hoc" changes to the way the country is run meant that careful, planned constitutional review should be held.

His proposal, similar to a private bill he put forward before leaving Parliament in 1999, would have a group of "Eminent Persons" appointed to investigate the options for a written constitution, the advisability of New Zealand becoming a republic and, if so, whether it should be like the American, French, Irish or German system.

That group would report to a constitutional convention, made up mainly of New Zealanders selected at a general election. The convention would make a recommendation, with voters deciding by referendum on any change.

Mr Moore writes: "I once opposed having a constitution because of our European traditions and enlightenment values, which we reject at our peril.

Now I'm for change because we are eroding those age-old principles.

"The present direction is visionless, dangerously ad hoc, short term and confusing. Democracy is about who runs the country. A constitution is about the limits of government."

The former director-general of the World Trade Organisation cited the abolition of the right of appeal to the Privy Council, the lack of a follow-up referendum on MMP, calls for the abolition of the Maori seats in Parliament, calls for the Treaty of Waitangi to be the constitution, and the breaking of multi-party consensus on issues such as electoral finance laws as reasons to hold a review.

"Constitutional change ought not to be rushed or hurried, and should only be entered into after deliberate, detailed and sober consideration, consultation and reflection," he writes.

The Republican Movement welcomed Mr Moore's suggestions and said that if there was a constitutional convention it should look at all the options.

"Since the republic debate began, republicans have consistently called for discussion about New Zealand's constitutional future," said the movement's chairman Lewis Holden.

"A New Zealand republic is about having a New Zealander as our head of state."

Mr Holden said the movement agreed with Mr Moore that any final decision should be made by public referendum.

Green Party MP Keith Locke, a keen republican, said he was pleased Mr Moore had raised the issue but the process that had been suggested was too broad and dealing with more than one issue at a time would cause confusion.

"It is hard enough to get any group of people to agree on one constitutional issue, let alone a basket of issues," he said.

"The simpler the change the better."

Mr Locke said he was expressing his personal views and the Green Party did not have an official position on the subject.

Former Prime Minister and New Zealand ambassador to the US Jim Bolger is a republican advocate.

Mr Bolger said he welcomed any debate on the issue but had not yet seen Mr Moore's article and would not comment further.

Law Commission president and former Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer has been responsible for the Constitution Act 1986 and the New Zealand Bill of Rights 1990, among others.

Sir Geoffrey declined to comment.

- With NZPA

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