Editorial: If a republic is inevitable, let's get on with it

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Peter Dunne's renewed call for New Zealand to have a referendum on becoming a republic was accompanied by a canny observation. "I am tired of politicians who say it is probably inevitable we will become a republic at some stage but who are unwilling to do anything to bring it about - that is extremely weak," said the United Future leader.

No names were mentioned but Helen Clark is an obvious candidate for Mr Dunne's list of loafers. So is Kevin Rudd, who has scotched the enthusiasm for an Australian republic voiced at his own Government's 2020 summit.

So, too, is John Key. Both Prime Ministers have suggested that cutting free the monarchy is not a priority, given the many serious issues facing their countries. More likely, they see no political gain in committing to a process that would deliver this outcome.

Therein lies the problem. As inevitable and as desirable as a republic is, there is, generally speaking, no strong or strident support for it.

Support for the monarchy is equally tepid. If republican sentiment is to blossom, it needs to be galvanised from above. Such a process, done well, would lead to a seeping into the national consciousness of the idea that not only is a republic inevitable but that it should be established sooner, rather than later.

Super City governance for Auckland has trodden this path. Convince New Zealanders to adopt a republican state of mind and a republican state will surely follow.

So far, Jim Bolger has been the only strong leadership voice. His advocacy was ahead of its time. Now Mr Dunne has picked up the baton. Commendably, he has developed a timetable, one that brings workability and also ensures mistakes made across the Tasman by the Howard Government need not be repeated here.

That Government's republican plan collapsed partly on John Howard's personal opposition but mainly on the republican movement's split over whether the president should be elected by the people or appointed by Parliament.

Mr Dunne's schedule would dodge that torpedo by leaving this issue and other intricacies until after a referendum process was completed. A first referendum, to be put in this term of Parliament, would ask if New Zealand should have its own head of state.

If the answer was yes, a full proposal would be developed and submitted to the popular vote in the following term. If this was endorsed, the Republic of New Zealand could be initiated some time after the 2017 election.

A poll released last week by the Republican Movement indicated that 43 per cent of respondents wanted New Zealand to become a republic when the Queen's reign ended, and 45 per cent supported Charles as king. The movement's questioning suggested a particular deference to the Queen, based, presumably, on her longevity. It is a notion worthy of greater scrutiny.

An increasing disconnection during her reign has added to the inherent oddness of this country's head of state residing on the other side of the globe. New Zealanders have become blas'e about visits by members of the royal family. Buckingham Palace revealed a similar trait with its tardiness in acknowledging the passing of Sir Edmund Hillary.

The misstep was compounded in public perception when no member of the royal family attended the funeral of Sir Edmund, this country's most eminent citizen and a man whose conquest of Everest provided a triumphant note to the Queen's own coronation.

If a republic is, indeed, inevitable, why wait until the end of the Queen's reign? Delay in the implementation of any good idea serves no good purpose. In the case of a republic, it only postpones the benefits implicit in the pursuit of a singular, unambiguous identity.

Too few of the leaders of New Zealand and Australia are prepared to take up this task. If they believe the "inevitable" desirable, they ought to offer a lead.

- NZ Herald

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