Garth George

Garth George is a Herald columnist

Garth George: Republic would be a recipe for disaster

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Parliament needs an upper house to provide vital checks before we do away with monarchy

Prince William seems to be a decent sort of bloke. Considering he comes from a broken home triggered by parental adultery, and suffered the death of his mother in a shocking car accident when he was 15, he has turned out rather well.

It was a shame we brought him all this way to open a building so eccentrically ugly as to make him wonder, but I suppose, considering his parents' unconventional behaviour, he is no stranger to eccentricity.

If he ever gets to be King in a family noted for the longevity of its female line in particular, he is shaping up to be a rather good one.

When that happens he will become William the Fifth, not William IV as you read in this newspaper the other day.

William I was known as William the Conqueror, the Duke of Normandy whose army whacked King Harold at Hastings in 1066 (and all that) and who reigned over England until he died in 1087.

William II, the third son of the Conqueror, who ruled from 1087 until 1100 was a nasty, brutal, dissolute bugger, loathed by the people, and died childless.

It was another 500-odd years to the third William, known in Ireland and Scotland as King Billy, who was William III or Orange, William III of England and Ireland, and William II of Scotland after what became known as the Glorious Revolution.

He ruled until 1702.

A hundred or so years later came William IV, King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, who ruled from 1830 to 1837. He was a good bloke, and William V, if he lives to carry that title, is obviously a man of similar stamp.

William IV, who was 64 when he inherited the throne, presided over the abolition of slavery, restrictions to the child labour laws, modernisation of the poor laws and reform of the electoral system.

He was also a Navy man, a tradition that reaches right down to Prince William's father, including his grandfather and great-grandfather. His dad was first to add Royal Air Force service to his naval service, and young William has followed in his footsteps.

Why wouldn't he? Who wants to mess about in boats in the North Atlantic, long after Britannia lost its rule of the waves, when he can soar in helicopters and other flying machines? It's what I would do if I had my time over again.

William's all-too-brief visit has naturally brought the handful of rabid republicans out from whatever holes they inhabit, aided and abetted by a lunatic editorial in the Sunday Star-Times on the eve of his arrival.

That irredeemably liberal rag suggested that, in spite of William's charisma, "the case against the monarchy in New Zealand is overwhelming". In admittedly delightfully well-written prose, the paper insisted it was time to "ditch" the monarchy in so far as it affected New Zealand.

The editorial lauded that sinister Green MP Keith Locke, whose private member's bill calling for a referendum on the monarchy has, unfortunately, been pulled from the ballot and will be debated in Parliament in March.

What Locke's bill suggests is that the Governor-General simply be replaced by a president, either appointed by a large majority of Parliament or elected by popular vote.

"What we want," ranted the newspaper, "is a weak ceremonial president, a figurehead that [sic] belongs to us, not to the Brits."

Now that puts the wind up me at gale force. I have no great objection to New Zealand becoming a republic, but what scares me is that it would be a republic with a unicameral Parliament.

That is bad enough, but when you consider that half of that Parliament consists of political party hacks who are not elected and who owe allegiance to no one but their party bosses, I seriously fear for our future.

If we are to have a republic we must first have a second chamber of Parliament, an upper house or senate, call it what you will. And this upper chamber needs to be wholly elected by the public, perhaps in the American style of a set number of members from each province.

That would not only safeguard New Zealand from a threat to democracy, either deliberately or by accident - something no doubt dear to Mr Locke's red heart - but it would provide an even-handed representation of interests throughout the country and limit the influence of Auckland, in particular, and other cities.

We might have our own Supreme Court but we need to remember that Parliament remains the country's ultimate court. It can, the way we have it set up, pretty much do what it likes.

There are insufficient checks and balances as things stand, opposition parties and triennial elections notwithstanding. Irreparable damage can be done in three years by self-interested politicians, as we well know.

A republic with a unicameral, half-elected Parliament and a weak, ceremonial president would be a recipe for democratic disaster.

- NZ Herald

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