Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Quick snip and we're a republic

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AP Photo / David Crump
AP Photo / David Crump

In the fickle world of celebrities, even a cute baby prince doesn't guarantee you top billing anymore. Yesterday morning, even Morning Report, the grown-ups' radio news, rapidly sidelined the Kate and William show to bring a breathless report of the overnight demise of someone called Peaches Geldof.

Such is the fragility of fame.

Peaches it seems, had one thing in common with Prince William. She wasn't even a celebrity in her own right. Like our king-to-be, she'd inherited her fame from her dad, one-time Irish singer/songwriter and anti-poverty crusader Bob Geldof.

By mid-morning, Peaches' passing was still attracting more interest among Herald online readers than snaps of the bare bottoms on parade at the previous day's official welcome to the royals at Government House in Wellington. All of which is very reassuring.

Despite the pre-tour media hype, my fellow citizens haven't gone all monarchist on me. The sudden presentation of a 9-month-old baby as our future king circa 2060-plus didn't suddenly have Wellingtonians dropping to one knee in the rain-swept streets, tugging their forelocks as the cavalcade drove past.

On the eve of the tour, Prime Minister John Key reckoned that support for a republic had dropped from 40 per cent to 20 per cent over the past decade. He said: "I think that speaks volumes about the way that William and Kate as young royals have modernised the royal family and their place as the head of state."

Excuse me? It was as though William's dad, Prince Charles, who is head of that particular leadership queue, and his tour to these parts with partner Camilla just over a year ago, were to be conveniently erased from the record.

Which, in the era of disposal celebrity, is what can happen.

I would hazard a guess that Mr Key's gut feeling about our increased love of the monarchy is somewhat coloured by his own grouse-shooting expedition to Balmoral Castle and his hosting of royal barbecues back home.

As an old republican, I find more convincing the results of the Curia market research poll conducted early last month for the NZ Republican Movement. It found New Zealanders more or less evenly divided, with 44 per cent supporting a New Zealander as the next head of state, and 46 per cent backing the British monarch to be our king.

The remaining 10 per cent were unsure or refused. It was a telephone poll of 1038 respondents with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 per cent.

What it does show is that support for the status quo is rapidly dying out, with only 26 per cent of 18 to 30-year-olds wanting to retain the British monarchy. Of the rest in that age bracket, 37 per cent supported the direct election of a local head of state, while 29 per cent preferred a local elected by a two-thirds majority of Parliament.

Support for the status quo leapt to 41 per cent of 31 to 45-year-olds, 45 per cent of 46 to 60-year-olds, and 53 per cent for those 61 and over.

I've always thought that antipathy to having to elect yet one more politician to replace the monarch has been a stumbling block for the republican cause.

That and the complications inherent in trying to incorporate a president elected at large into the existing parliamentary system.

The sensible alternative is to change very little. Select a governor-general/president as we do now, and just cut the umbilical cord to Buckingham Palace, along with the pretence that he or she represents the British monarch.

Encouragingly, 29 per cent of the 18 to 30-year-olds support this solution compared to only 9 to 12 per cent of their elders. Obviously, the majority of those who've been around a while baulk at the idea of having an elected president and a prime minister. I'm with them on that matter. It's a potential flashpoint we don't need.

The younger generation has latched on to a solution their elders have been slow to grasp. A quick snip of the umbilical and move on, more or less, as is.

After Cabinet on Monday, Mr Key said that if New Zealand did become a republic and appoint a president with the same powers as the current governor-general, "not a hell of a lot would change", adding, "and I just wonder whether New Zealanders would believe they'd get much out of that".

To me, what we'd get out of that would be our self-respect. And a boost in pride on finally becoming a truly independent nation.

The 2013 Census showed that 75 per cent of us are New Zealand-born. Of the minority born overseas, 31.6 per cent were born in Asia compared to 21.5 per cent from England and a further 2.6 per cent from Scotland.

Britain is no longer the "home" of my parents' and grandparents' generation. The British and their Queen have long acknowledged it. Why can't our politicians?

- NZ Herald

Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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