Twelve named to pilot constitutional review

By Adam Bennett, NZPA

Bill English. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Bill English. Photo / Mark Mitchell

A group set up to gauge public opinion on New Zealand's constitutional arrangements will have free rein to test views on whether the country should move towards becoming a republic.

A former Silver Fern, a law commissioner, and a host of former MPs are among those selected yesterday to engage the public on constitutional issues over the next two years.

The Government announced the three-year constitutional review in December, saying it would cover a range of issues, including the role of the Treaty of Waitangi.

It would specifically consider the size of Parliament, the length of the electoral term, and whether New Zealand should have a written constitution, as well as canvass a range of other Maori matters such as the number of Maori seats in Parliament and local government, and Maori electoral participation.

Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples and Deputy Prime Minister Bill English yesterday named the 12-strong advisory panel that would lead public discussion on the review and report to the ministers.

While the question of whether New Zealand should become a republic was not in the list of topics the panel would consider, Dr Sharples said they were free to consult on it.

"They can look at anything they want to."

Issues around a republic were not in the original terms of reference "in case it got sidetracked as perhaps the main reason for doing this".

Mr English said the Government was not focused on constitutional change to a republic and had yet to see evidence of a strong public desire to see the matter debated.

"We believe our constitutional arrangements work pretty well and there would need to be a pretty broad consensus for change, and this group has the opportunity to see if that consensus exists."

Consultation was not expected to begin until next year, but the panel was likely to meet before the November 26 election to discuss how it would go about collecting submissions.

The panel would provide interim reports and make its final recommendations in September 2013.

The Republican Movement welcomed the announcement, but chairman Lewis Holden called for the idea of a New Zealand republic to be added to the terms of reference.

"An independent head of state is one of the issues many New Zealanders want discussed," he said.

But the panel was not greeted positively by Hone Harawira's new Mana Party, which said it marked the beginning of an "institutional review" rather than a "constitutional review".

"The only issues to be explored by this panel will be what the term of office should be for the Government, the size of the electorates and whether or not there should be more Treaty provisions within future legislation," said Mana co-vice president Annette Sykes.

THE GROUP

CO-CHAIRMEN

John Burrows, QC, a law commissioner, and former Ngai Tahu chairman Sir Tipene O'Regan.

Former New Zealand netball captain Bernice Mene, lawyer and former Dunedin Mayor Peter Chin, former New Plymouth Mayor Peter Tennent, journalist and former MP Deborah Coddington, former Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen, Maori researcher Leonie Pihama, former Cabinet Minister John Luxton, Te Kura Kaupapa teacher Hinurewa Poutu, Waikato University Pro Vice-Chancellor Linda Tuhiwai Smith, and Waitangi Tribunal member Ranginui Walker.

- NZ Herald

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