Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a Herald columnist looking at Auckland and national issues

Brian Rudman: Clear signal from Her at the Palace

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Queen's Birthday must be the only public holiday where there are no general festivities to mark the reason for our day off.

Even the equally irrelevant Guy Fawkes Day, which isn't a holiday as such, culminates in the explosion of millions of dollars of fireworks to mark the foiling of a dastardly plot to blow up the English Parliament several centuries ago.

Today, the only public demonstration in Auckland will, I presume, be the 21-gun salute by naval gunners at North Head. At a pinch, you could throw in the birthday honours list, but that's got nothing to do with the Queen or, for that matter, the general public.

The only reference on the Auckland City Council website is to Queen's Birthday rubbish and recycling collections. Instead, it encourages us to celebrate Matariki, the Maori New Year.

In that, they're at one with the Republicans, who want Matariki to supplant the monarch's birthday as our winter public holiday.

The other ACC, the Accident Compensation Corporation, marks the day by publishing "Tips for a Safe Queen's Birthday Weekend".

It's all about recognising "the warning signs of fatigue", such as yawning and drooping eyes.

Their target audience is car drivers, but the message also sums up what the holiday represents for most of us.

A Republican Movement survey of all local authorities last month shows Auckland City is not alone in ignoring the occasion. They surveyed every mayor in the land and "not one indicated any celebration of the Queen's Birthday".

But if her far-flung subjects find it hard to stifle a yawn when the talk turns to Her in the Palace, the feeling seems to be mutual. A few days ago the palace announced the Queen would be too busy to attend the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in October.

Apart from the 1966 Games in Kingston, she's attended every one since becoming Queen in 1952. The palace spokesman said health had not played a part in the decision, it was just the "volume" of the 84-year-old monarch's other engagements, "coupled with other overseas commitments".

The Indians will be getting the off-course substitute, Prince Charles, instead.

But even if health is not a factor, the Queen's no-show is a wake-up call we can't keep avoiding the issue of who will be our next head of state.

At 84 and winding down, chances are our absentee ruler will never pass this way again, and that if we keep dithering, as Parliament did in April by refusing to even debate Keith Locke's Head of State Bill, we'll wake up one day to discover King Charles, the wannabe tampon, is ruling over us.

Of course there's a reluctance on the part of our leaders to initiate compulsory redundancy talks with someone who has been head of state for longer than most of them have been alive.

But if ever she was giving a hint that we should start preparing for a future that didn't include herself, then bowing out of the Commonwealth's most symbolic festival was it.

She was in effect signalling: if you don't want a future with Charles and Camilla as King and Queen of New Zealand, the answer lies in your hands.

Green Party MP Locke's bill called for two referendums, the first to decide whether we wanted to replace the British monarchy with an indigenous non-executive head of state.

If change was supported, the second referendum would be to decide whether the new president should be directly elected, or appointed by Parliament, in the way the governor-general is selected and with the same limited powers.

In a demonstration of conservatism with a small "c", National, Act, the Maori Party and the inappropriately styled Progressives were whipped into preventing the proposal even being sent to a select committee for debate and consideration. Labour, the Greens and United Future voted in favour of this, but were defeated 68 to 53.

John Key is the most pragmatic leader of recent times and on this topic has said more than once that New Zealand will eventually become a republic, but don't expect him to take the lead.

But by making it a party issue, he has, in effect, backed the heads-in-the-sand monarchists who oppose change. And if he's not careful, a year or two from now we'll be yawning our way through our first King's Birthday of the new reign.

- NZ Herald

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