English promises an open mind on constitution

By Audrey Young

Bill English. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Bill English. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English insists the Government will keep an open mind on the constitutional review and it will not be dominated by politicians.

He and Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples yesterday announced the outline of the three-year process.

New Zealand is one of the few countries without a written constitution and having one will be up for discussion under the terms of reference released yesterday.

"We are going into this review with a clear understanding that constitutions belong to the people, not to the politicians or the experts," Mr English said.

Significant change would not be made lightly. It would require "broad cross-party agreement" or a majority of support in a referendum.

In the Cabinet paper approving the process, the Government has acknowledged republicanism will be raised during public debate but it is not encouraging it by putting it in the terms of reference.

Mr English: "It is not advancing the prospect of a republic but we think it is an issue that will be discussed in this constitutional review. This is a debate over which Government won't have much control."

Among the issues to be raised will be Maori representation at local government level as well as in Parliament.

The review was sought by the Maori Party in its confidence and supply agreement with National. It also managed to nullify for the term of this Parliament National's policy to abolish the Maori seats.

Dr Sharples said the review aimed to strengthen New Zealand society.

"We expect the review process to be open, consultative and as far as we are concerned, no agenda or outcome is predetermined."

Many people saw the Treaty of Waitangi "as putting Maori in a privileged position whereas we believe the Treaty guarantees rights to all New Zealanders ... It provides the basis for unity and diversity."

The review will be undertaken by an advisory panel which will have a Maori co-chairman and will be responsible for consultation with Maori.

Prime Minister John Key reiterated yesterday that he did not personally favour a republic but did support a four-year parliamentary term.

The advisory panel will be appointed by the Cabinet after consultation with other political parties.

The public engagement process will be until after the 2011 election.

The final report will go to the Cabinet at the end of 2013 and the Government of the day will be expected to respond within six months.

Asked if a referendum on the issues was possible in 2014, Mr English thought that would be too soon.

CONSTITUTIONAL REVIEW

THE PROCESS
* Pita Sharples and Bill English lead ministers.
* Set up a parliamentary cross-party reference group.
* Will appoint an advisory panel.
* Undertake public education and consultation after 2011 election.
* Ministers to report to Cabinet every six months.
* Final report by end of 2013.

ISSUES IT WILL DEAL WITH
* A written constitution.
* The role of the Treaty of Waitangi in constitutional arrangements.
* The Maori seats in Parliament and in local government.
* Maori representation, including the Maori option.
* Size of Parliament.
* Length of parliamentary term.
* Bill of Rights Act issues.
* Electoral integrity legislation.

- NZ Herald

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