Book could bring Kiwi republic closer

By Nicola Shepheard

New Zealand is one step closer to electing its own president to succeed the Queen, with a major government-sponsored research project into the role of the monarch.

Top constitutional lawyer Alison Quentin-Baxter and Dundee University law professor Janet McLean will spend three years examining strengths, uncertainties and inadequacies in the country's constitutional arrangements that will be published as a book.

The Cabinet Office is recruiting a legal researcher who will be based in the office and have access to its files.

The research was hailed as "very positive" by former Governor-General Dame Cath Tizard, who for six years was the Queen's representative in New Zealand.

The project would help New Zealand avoid getting into a muddle in the future, she said.

"My instincts are towards becoming a republic but I would want to ensure the change went smoothly. The Australians just barged into it and stuffed the whole thing up. Nobody had thought through the consequences."

Tizard said she had once discussed a republic with the Queen, in passing.

"Her view was entirely pragmatic - that if that was what New Zealand wanted, so be it.

If I were her, I'd be a little bit pipped, I would think. But she didn't express a personal view."

Yesterday, Prime Minister John Key emphasised that the book was an independent project. "I've made it clear that I think New Zealand will eventually become a republic but I have no plans to push that forward and it won't happen on my watch."

His Associate Minister of Justice, Richard Worth, was less convinced that New Zealanders would opt to end the monarchy. Worth, who has previously called for Prince Edward to be appointed governor-general, said: "I don't detect any mood in the public domain to embrace the concept of the republic."

Quentin-Baxter said the book would spell out the constitutional law and conventions regarding the power and influence of the Queen and her New Zealand representative, the governor-general. The authors would note any areas of confusion or controversy, but would not propose law changes.

One "shadowy" area, for example, was what power the governor-general has in forming a government if an MMP election produces a stalemate.

Quentin-Baxter led an important review of the powers of the governor-general in 1980, and has also helped small island states draw up their constitutions for self-governance or independence. She said the idea for the monarchy research was hers, not the Government's, but had the support of the Cabinet Office.

The book would be neutral on the question of whether New Zealand becomes a republic, she said.

However, if New Zealanders voted in a referendum to have their own president to succeed the Queen, it would be an "indispensable guide" in working out where changes to our constitutional arrangements were needed.

The book is being funded by a $135,000 Law Foundation grant.

Noel Cox, chair of the Monarchist League, said the research was scholarly, not political.

But Republican Movement chair Lewis Holden called the project timely, as New Zealand needed to consider the future of the monarchy.

- Herald on Sunday

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