Mike Wilkinson: Irrelevant Charles isn't the right referee for us

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It's time NZ made its own decision on a head of state.

Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall were in Auckland this week, but usually they are far away.  Photo / Greg Bowker
Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall were in Auckland this week, but usually they are far away. Photo / Greg Bowker

As any sporting fan will tell you, it's vital that a game has a good referee, someone who the players respect and who can make sure everyone plays the game well.

New Zealand faces a stark choice. Do we have Charles as our next ref? Or do we choose someone new? Now is the time to discuss which one we want it to be.

Following the reign of his much-respected mother, Charles will become the King of New Zealand, the country's head of state. In this role, New Zealanders need the right person to be referee. We need someone we can all agree on, someone who can represent New Zealand to the world, someone to ensure our country is run as it should be.

And like a rugby game that's restarting after a fight, New Zealand is greatly in need of a sensible refereeing. Old disputes and old wounds divide us into different ethnic groups, especially Maori v Pakeha. In our political structure, there is little recognition that we all live in this one country and have to get on.

An honest referee could show us that unity, not division, is the way forward. They could help us heal those old wounds.

Who would make the right referee? It will be someone who knows the game and is relevant to the players. Charles has lived away from New Zealand his whole life, in an environment very different to ours. We have to question whether he can show where Waitangi is on a map or if he's joined us in trying to learn the Maori verse to our national anthem.

His lack of relevance to New Zealanders will make it difficult for him to be seen as a sound referee.

Charles' irrelevance is compounded by two things that will make it difficult for many of us to respect him. These are a question mark on his effectiveness and the unfair way in which he was chosen.

His lack of involvement with New Zealand means he can't properly be independent of our Parliament. Can we rely on him to step in when our Parliament isn't doing the right job by us?

Since his birth entitles him to be our head of state, few will see him as having proven he's right for the role.

Our Governor-General will be Charles' local representative and some suggest they are our surrogate head of state, that they can help Charles with his refereeing. The problem for this person, however, is that they are appointed and can quickly be sacked by our Prime Minister. Since our Governor-General isn't chosen by us, they will struggle to help Charles unite us.

Rather than having Charles as our referee, New Zealand could try a new path. We could choose our own head of state. This would involve following a course set by former British colonies like South Africa and India, a course to become a republic. South Africa and India showed that republics choosing their own heads of state can help heal old wounds.

Becoming a republic would ensure that New Zealand also can choose a head of state who is relevant to New Zealand and New Zealanders. But it would not be easy - at a minimum, it would involve much debate and a public referendum. Yet, it might still be the best route forward for the country. Now is the time for us to debate whether becoming a republic is the right course for us.

Mike Wilkinson is secretary of the Republican Movement of Aotearoa NZ.

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