A republic has been defined as "a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president rather than a monarch".
In New Zealand supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives.
Our "nominated president" is the Governor-General nominated by the Prime Minister every five years after appropriate consultation. In reality, we are already a republic.
The substantive powers of a monarch passed to our elected representatives long ago. The reserve powers of the Governor-General are limited by strict conventions. Only in exceptional circumstances can the Governor-General exercise a discretion.
Even there, it is the Governor-General who makes the decision, not the Monarch.
In the Australian constitutional crisis of 1975, it was the Governor-General who dismissed the Prime Minister of the day, not the Queen. The Monarch has no powers in New Zealand.
Some feel that a long-standing monarchy brings stability. Not in New Zealand.
If our own internal checks and balances failed, the Monarch would be powerless to intervene. There was nothing Queen Elizabeth could do to thwart the Fijian coups of 1987 even though it had been a monarchy until then.
In a legal context, reference to "the Crown" or "the King" signifies the New Zealand Government, in some cases augmented by Parliament and the public they represent. That applies to past and future treaties, contracts, prosecutions, oaths of allegiance and compensation for a wrong done or property taken. That has particular application to the Treaty of Waitangi. When Treaty claims are made, the Monarch neither makes the decision nor provides the remedy.
Both fall to the Government and, where necessary, Parliament.
"The King" is shorthand for ourselves. One might equally say "the Head of State", "the Republic" or "the People", as in other countries. The result would be the same.
The Monarch does not discharge significant ceremonial or community duties in New Zealand. Visits by the Monarch are fleeting, passive and infrequent.
For all practical purposes, ceremonial and community activities are carried out by the Governor-General.
It follows that in New Zealand, the monarchy has been reduced to an empty symbol. A symbol could not do anything of moment even if it wanted to.
It is a psychological construct. That is not to underestimate the power of perceptions. Idols, flags, mascots, totem poles and Christmas matter to their adherents.
How important is the royal symbol in the minds of New Zealanders today?
"Very important" is the answer for some. They feel part of the history, continuity, grandeur, romance and pageantry of the English royal family. In their eyes it was "their" Queen who was buried. They take comfort from the continuity and stability that an ancient monarchy appears to offer.
Others see it differently. The apparent link to a monarchy is an illusion. We already have a symbolic representative in the form of the Governor-General.
For more than 50 years Governors-General have been appointed locally on their merits. Without exception, they have been outstanding New Zealanders who properly reflect our own diversity and values.
In a modern and democratic society, no one should be expected to defer to another simply because of their birth.
And for those who identify with royal spectacles, there will continue to be New Zealand's membership in the Commonwealth.
There is no need to tinker with the fundamentals that successfully underpin our republic.
Potentially divisive issues - a written constitution, the constitutional status of the Treaty, an elected President, an upper house, the flag, significant changes to our electoral system – can be left alone, or at least left for another day.
Giving formal recognition to our titular leader is another matter. It turns on the representative we want to adopt for ourselves and hold out to the world as the true embodiment of a New Zealander.
We have little in common with a wealthy white Anglican on the other side of the world. The symbol that best represents us is a New Zealander chosen for personal excellence.
All that would be required would be to adopt the following: Change the name "Governor-General" to "Head of State"; provide that the word "King" in our public and private documents is to be read as "Head of State"; confirm that in itself this change is to have no effect on the status of the Treaty of Waitangi, the flag, membership of the Commonwealth, or rights and obligations previously acquired or incurred in the name of the Monarch; and confirm the existing convention by which a five-yearly appointment is made by the Prime Minister after consultation with Cabinet and the Leader of the Opposition.
And yes, I appreciate the irony that I am a King's Counsel.
• Robert Fisher, KC, is a former High Court Judge.