Brian Rudman

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

Brian Rudman: It's a charade of heirs and graces

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Giving succession to the bump in a duchess' belly is a joke on our democracy on many levels.

Justice Minister Judith Collins. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Justice Minister Judith Collins. Photo / Mark Mitchell

If there's a believer in democracy in the House, would he or she, please prove it?

Parliament has always been a place of theatre. But it's hard to recall the last time it was invited to stoop to the sort of charade Justice Minister Judith Collins asked our parliamentarians to indulge in this week.

They are being asked to fall in line with our former British colonial masters, and agree that the bump in the belly of Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, will be New Zealand's next head of state twice removed, whether male or female. All heart, Ms Collins has dispatched the Royal Succession Bill to a select committee "where everyone will have the opportunity to have their say on the bill."

But if you read the British press, a "say" is all they'll get. It's a done deal.

Back on December 3 last year, British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced he would introduce an identical bill into the Westminster Parliament.

This was just 24 hours after the duchess' pregnancy was announced. Mr Clegg said that New Zealand and the other 14 "realms" that still cling on to the British monarchy, such as Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu, and Antigua and Barbuda, had already delivered formal letters of consent to the idea of a female first-born having an equal claim to the throne as a boy baby.

He issued a statement saying, "it's a wonderful coincidence that the final confirmation from the other realms arrived on the very day that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge made their announcement".

New Zealand is not just one of the letter-writers; Mr Clegg outed us as the ring-leader. Following the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Perth in October 2011, the Key government has lead the charge, jollying along the other "realms" to ensure all 15 old colonies, or as they like to say these days, "realms", put their monikers to a formal letter of consent.

And what are we consenting to? Well basically, to update the 300-year-old British law of succession, and allow an elder daughter to precede a younger son in the line of royal succession. The bill also proposes the "radical" step of allowing a person married to a Roman Catholic to become king or queen. But loyal Orangemen can put away the smelling salts. Catholics are still to be banned from the throne of New Zealand, Tuvalu, the Solomon Islands et al. Our head of state will have to swear an oath to maintain the Protestant religion.

The game of charades Ms Collins wants our MPs to play is a joke on our democracy on many levels. For a start, as Mr Clegg has already pointed out, it's a done deal. Mr Key has already reassured the British that he's got not just New Zealand but every other former colony that still hangs on to the British royal coat-tails sewn up. Give that man a knighthood.

Mr Clegg risibly argued in the British Parliament that the changes would bring the monarchy into the 21st century by ending a system based on the "supposed superiority of men". He also claimed "we don't support laws which discriminate on either religious or gender grounds", while ignoring the continuing prejudice against Catholics taking the throne.

How a liberal-minded modern politician can see any form of inherited monarchy as 21st century is beyond me. Especially one living in a realm on the other side of the globe from the home of said royal head of state. Suggesting this law change is a victory for human rights is a joke as far as ordinary Britons and New Zealanders are concerned. It doesn't help any one of us becoming head of state of the democracy we live in.

All this law change offers is to bring gender equality to a select line of blue-bloods who can claim legitimate descent from the 17th-century Electress Sophia of Hanover, the Protestant grand-daughter of James VI of Scotland/James I of England. She or he will also be able to marry "a Papist" as well, without losing their rights to the throne. What any of this has to do with the multicultural, multi-ethnic little democracy we've built for ourselves down here in the Pacific, Ms Collins and Mr Key have yet to explain.

Our Bill of Rights bans discrimination on a variety of grounds, religion and ethnicity among them. Yet here our parliamentarians are being asked to back a law that restricts the highest office in the land to the winner of a foreign lottery which none of us enter.

- NZ Herald

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