Brian Rudman: Let's follow Nepal into the new century

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The only royal news gracing the Herald on Monday, the official public holiday marking the Queen's birthday, was that the local Nepalese community had a knees-up to celebrate the overthrow of the monarchy in their homeland.

Parliament had given King Gyanendra two weeks to vacate his palace and that was that. The sky didn't fall in. Mt Everest didn't collapse. Backward Nepal just took a sensible step into the 21st century. When will we do the same?

On National Radio on Sunday, former Governor-General Sir Paul Reeves told talk show host Chris Laidlaw that Prince Charles had told him "he thought it a pretty good idea" that New Zealand cut the ties with the British monarchy and become a republic when the Queen dies. In other words, he didn't see himself as King Charles of New Zealand.

I'm all for cutting the ties yesterday, but the Charles solution sounds a practical compromise. So let's get on with it and draw up the divorce papers now, just in case.

Who knows, he and Camilla might have second thoughts once the crown goes on his head, or New Zealanders might get caught up in a wave of sentiment when the Queen dies and the women's magazines go all mushy and give the Windsors a reprieve.

Confess, we've all had a bit of laugh at Tonga spending $4 million on a new gold sceptre and London-tailored robes for the up-coming coronation of their eccentric new King George. Gilbert and Sullivan couldn't have scripted this ridiculousness better. It's also an outrageous waste of money - foreign aid money presumably - that would better be spent on more serious matters.

But putting the cost to one side, if we snigger at the Ruritanian aspects of Tonga persisting with a monarchy that apes the high camp features of the Victorian British model, then where have we got to hide when the spotlight goes on New Zealand.

If it's nonsensical for one Pacific island nation to borrow the constitutional trappings of its one-time imperial overlord, then surely it's just as silly for its nextdoor neighbour to persist with the same model. At least the Tongans have one of their own as their overlord, which is more than we can say.

Prince Charles obviously sees how anachronistic the present set-up is. Why can't we? Our timorous political leaders seem happy to follow a "non-resuscitation" policy, hoping the whole system, with a bit of positive neglect, will slowly wither away. The Queens' Birthday honours are no longer royal, for example. And at the weekend the Government announced Government House's official flag had been redesigned to be a little more indigenous - though a crown is retained.

Sir Paul, who was appointed by David Lange and served under four Prime Ministers between 1985 and 1990, revealed what a spare wheel his role as Queen's representative was.

Once Mr Lange had sweet-talked him into taking on the job, he was all but abandoned in his little wooden palace above the Basin Reserve.

He told National Radio: "I had a little sense of being left alone and felt that I needed to be taken into the loop more, or be taken seriously."

It seems he took up a pen-pal relationship with the Queen instead. To little avail.

"I used to write to the Queen and express my opinion about this and that going on it the country and I wouldn't get a direct reply from her but I would always get a lengthy reply from her private secretary, which I took was expressing her viewpoint."

Talk about sad. Not being taken seriously at this end, and getting the brush-off from the palace at the other. Such is the life of the figurehead and her deputy.

In Nepal they kicked out the king because he didn't know his place. In New Zealand, it's much simpler. The British king has no place here, and in practical terms that's long been the case, as Sir Paul's brief reign as deputy reveals.

Much of the pussy-footing about making the last cut of the apron strings centres on Maori's so-called special relationship with the British Crown. Sir Paul, a Maori, says "I'm not died-in-the-wool wedded to monarchy, but I'd say, for Maori, to personalise the Crown, to put a face on it, is very important."

Why? The Crown, whether in person or metaphor, has failed to protect Maori interests when they called for help. It's been New Zealand-born politicians like Sir Doug Graham who finally answered the call. The landmark settlements with Ngai Tahu and Waikato-Tainui and the Sealord deals were the results of New Zealanders working together to create a better land for us all.

The British monarch, as I recall, was wheeled in to publicly apologise after all the work had been done. But as Prime Minister Helen Clark has ably demonstrated, home-grown leaders are quite capable of the symbolic gesture as well. Next year, the republic.

- NZ Herald

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