Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Blow to kingly power exposes royal farce

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Tainui's stand against their king shows us how we can free ourselves from British apron strings.

Brian Rudman. Photo / Natalie Slade
Brian Rudman. Photo / Natalie Slade

For an old republican like myself, the bloody noses the Tainui tribal parliament gave King Te Arikinui Tuheitia Paki and his right-hand Rasputin, Tuku Morgan, on Saturday, was a moment to savour. My only regret is it wasn't the real Parliament in Wellington telling Queen Elizabeth that, thanks for the memories, but we're finally grown up enough to choose our own head of state.

Still, Saturday's brave little exercise in lese majeste, when the parliamentarians refused to obey the king's wish to sack their chairwoman, Tania Martin, was a great blow for commoners everywhere.

If a majority of Tainui can put their own living, breathing, boy-next-door aristocrat in his place, how much easier for the rest of us to shake ourselves free from the yoke of an unrelated, German-English family living half a world away.

If there's a whip-around to raise the cash to fly him and his courtiers off to exile with his royal cousin in Tonga, count me in.

King Tuheitia is a perfect example of one of the problems with the born-to-rule theory of governance. Inherited genes don't guarantee good leadership skills.

One of the many excuses our political leaders put forward as they pussy-foot around the simple task of cutting the Buckingham Palace apron strings is that Maori wouldn't stand for it. That the Treaty of Waitangi, while not actually signed by Queen Victoria, was signed in her name and that Maori hang on to the hope that some day a successor to Queen Victoria will reach out and force her New Zealand government to "honour the Treaty".

That British royals for the past 170 years have not lifted a hand to do any such thing is a pretty good hint that such a miracle isn't going to happen; that any grievance settling is going to have to be homegrown.

Perhaps at the risk of wishful thinking on my part, Saturday's assertion of people power seemed to reveal an encouraging lack of support for the myth of kingly - or queenly - supremacy, whether the throne be in a London palace or a Huntly bungalow.

The battle erupted in November when the newly elected chairwoman prepared a report criticising an alleged blow-out in spending by the tribe's executive board, headed by the King's chief adviser, Tuku Morgan. Reaction was swift. Mr Morgan claimed Mrs Martin's figures were wrong and said he would sue her for defamation. The king invoked his status as paramount chief and fired Mrs Martin, issuing a press statement saying he was doing it "to halt the damage and restore unity, fairness and good order".

The Waikato Times reported that at a tribal meeting the king swore at his critics.

Defiantly, Mrs Martin went to the High Court in Hamilton seeking an injunction against her "unconstitutional" sacking. Judge Rodney Hansen ruled she could pursue the injunction to a full hearing in the new year. The king backed down and said the issue should be decided by the tribal parliament, which is what has now happened. The commoner won, with 32 marae supporting her, 21 supporting the king and seven votes invalid. Chairing the meeting was former MP Koro Wetere.

It's not just a humiliating blow to kingly power but to one-time newsman and 1992 Tainui "Man of the Year" Morgan as well. For most of us, Mr Morgan is the one-term New Zealand First MP who was exposed following his 1996 victory for having an expensive taste in, among other things, silk underwear.

That year he had been a founding partner of the Aotearoa Television Network and after his election he was dogged by reports of shopping sprees and a trip to London - business class - via Disneyland for him and his family, on the publicly funded ATN account.

Now that the people of the Waikato have put their king firmly in his place, is it too much to hope this assertion of people power might embolden Prime Minister John Key and Labour leader Phil Goff to finally take a 21st-century approach to the kingly anachronism hanging around the neck of the nation? The signs aren't promising.

Far from planning for a post-Elizabeth republic, all the PM seems to be worrying about is whether he will receive an invite to Prince William's impending nuptials.

More alarming were revelations from the British House of Lords that our Government, behind the scenes, was leading a Commonwealth review of the 300-year-old Act of Settlement barring Catholics, and most women, from inheriting the British - and New Zealand - throne. To say nothing of Jews, Muslims, Hindus or atheists.

Minister of State Lord McNally emphasised that the present Tory Government "[does] not have any plans to amend the Act of Settlement". He did admit, however, that the previous Labour government initiated discussions among Commonwealth countries and that "those discussions are proceeding under the chairmanship of the New Zealand Government".

What a joke. The only new Act of Settlement New Zealand should be signing is one that says no more inherited, non-citizen, heads of state.

- NZ Herald

Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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