Raymond Miller and Noel Cox
to be published in Raymond Miller (ed), New Zealand Politics in Transition (2nd edn Oxford University Press, Auckland, 2001)
New Zealand's drift towards complete independence and a maturing sense of nation-hood have caused some to question the continuing relevance of the monarchy. However, it was not until the then Prime Minister's personal endorsement of the idea of a republic in 1994 that the issue aroused any significant public interest or debate. Drawing on the pro-republic campaign in Australia, Jim Bolger proposed a referendum in New Zealand and suggested that the turn of the century was an appropriate time symbolically for this country to break its remaining constitutional ties with Britain. Far from underestimating the difficulty of his task, he readily conceded that 'I have picked no sentiment in New Zealand that New Zealanders would want to declare themselves a republic'.(1) This view was reinforced by national survey and public opinion poll data, all of which showed strong public support for the monarchy.(2)
Public sentiment notwithstanding, a number of commentators have speculated that a New Zealand republic is inevitable and that any move in that direction by Australia would have a dramatic influence on public opinion in New Zealand. Australia's recent decision in a national referendum to retain the monarchy raises the question of what effect, if any, a decision made opinion on this side of the Tasman.
In this chapter we will discuss the nature of the monarchy in New Zealand, focusing on the changing role and influence of the Queen's representative, the Governor-General, together with an examination of some of the factors which might have an influence on New Zealand becoming a republic. The arguments for and against a republic will be examined. Drawing on survey data,(3) we will measure the strength of republican sentiment among New Zealand voters, highlighting the social variables of age, gender, education and ethnicity. It is frequently claimed that support for republicanism is strongest among the well-educated postwar generations (see, for example, Jesson, 1996: 55). On the other hand, pro-monarchist feelings are said to be deeply held by late middle-aged and elderly voters, as well as by Maori. A perception that public opinion amongst Maori is heavily in favour of the monarchy has divided the pro-republican movement, with some, such as the Labour leader, Helen Clark, warning against a hasty change to the status quo. They reason that, because the nation's founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi (1840), was a personal agreement between Maori chiefs and Queen Victoria, any attempt to replace the sovereign would be seen by most Maori as a threat to their rights under the Treaty (for example, Mulgan, 1997: 66; and Tunks, 1996: 117). Finally, data will be presented showing what, if any, impact the November 1999 republican referendum decision in Australia had on public opinion in New Zealand.
New Zealand's form of government is that of a constitutional- or limited- monarchy. In 1840 the monarchy meant the 'British' monarchy. It was the Queen of the United Kingdom (not England as the Treaty styled her) who concluded the Treaty with Maori chiefs at Waitangi. With the growth of the newly settled colony, the British government was prepared to entrust more powers and responsibilities to the colonial parliament. This process was accelerated during the early part of the twentieth century when New Zealand, together with several other long-established British colonies, notably Canada and Australia, were granted the status of a 'dominion'.
Each dominion shared allegiance to the Sovereign, a political figurehead variously known as the Crown, sovereign, king, queen or monarch. Crown generally meant the institution in which executive powers were formally vested. Although the personification of this institution was the Sovereign, it came to include the Sovereign's advisers. Over time, each new dominion began to develop its own concept of the Crown. Beginning in the 1930s, for example, the Sovereign acted for New Zealand only on the advice of New Zealand ministers. As the Queen came to be regarded more and more as the Queen of New Zealand, and only incidentally as the Sovereign of the other countries, so a distinct New Zealand Crown evolved. Thus the once-single imperial Crown was slowly evolving into a multiplicity of national Crowns. This meant that obligations once undertaken by the British Crown were now the responsibility of the New Zealand Crown. This can be illustrated with reference to the Crown's obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi. Although for all practical purposes such obligations were vested in the ministers of the New Zealand government, Maori continued to hold the Sovereign responsible for upholding the terms of the Treaty. In 1984, for instance, Maori by-passed the New Zealand government by appealing to Queen Elizabeth to uphold the provisions of the Treaty.
This evolution of a distinct New Zealand Crown went hand in hand with the nationalising of the office of Governor-General. During the early part of the twentieth century the Governor-General was seen as the local agent of the British government. Despite being granted a measure of personal discretion, successive appointees were expected to refer all contentious matters to British ministers or senior Whitehall officials. Although this link began to attenuate from the 1920s, the essentially British nature of the institution persisted for as long as appointments were limited to those who were not only born, but also domiciled, in the United Kingdom. As well as representing the Crown, the office of the Governor-General in New Zealand had come to represent, to some extent, the values and attitudes of a transported slice of British society, namely the landed aristocracy.
While the appointment in 1967 of the first New Zealand-born Governor-General, Sir Arthur Porritt,(4) did not produce any significant immediate change in the functions of the office, it did mark the beginning of a transition in its character and style. Porritt was an eminent surgeon and former Olympic sprint medallist who, at the time of his appointment, was a member of the Queen's Household. Like other prominent expatriate New Zealanders, such as the scientist Ernest Rutherford, he became successful only after leaving New Zealand. However, having forged a dual New Zealand-British identity, Porritt was able to be seen subsequently as an important transitional figure in the nationalising of the office of Governor-General. On his return to Britain on the completion of his term, a former New Zealand High Commissioner in London, Sir Dennis Blundell (1972-77) became the first born and resident New Zealander to be appointed Governor-General. Because neither Porritt nor Blundell was a member of the British aristocracy,(5) there had been no expectation among New Zealanders that they would conduct themselves as if they were. Moreover, whilst they represented the Queen, they did not in any sense represent Britain.
Thereafter every appointee has been a New Zealander, appointed by the Queen on the advice of the New Zealand Prime Minister. While the powers of the office are limited, the modern Governor-General has the potential to shape its character in response to changing conditions and expectations. Recent appointments include the first Maori Governor-General (Sir Paul Reeves, 1985-90), followed by the first woman (Dame Catherine Tizard, 1990-96). Both were notable for stamping their distinctively New Zealand qualities and personalities on the office of Governor-General.(6)
Although for most purposes the Governor-General is the head of State, the country is not a de facto republic, but rather a 'localised' monarchy.(7) Appointees derive their status from both their constitutional position at the apex of the executive branch of government and from their role as representative of the Sovereign. The office can be said to have three principal roles: community; ceremonial; and constitutional.(8) It is perhaps in their community leadership role, which includes both public engagements and commenting on social trends and issues, that Governors-General are most conspicuous. According to Cath Tizard, it is the responsibility of the Governor-General to both acknowledge a sense of community spirit and affirm those civic virtues which give New Zealand a sense of identity and purpose.(9) This aspect of the community role is not only demanding, but potentially dangerous, with incumbents being required to tread a fine line between the bland and politically controversial. The ceremonial role, in contrast, is constrained by New Zealand's lack of any tradition of overt symbolism, pomp and ceremony. Events such as the State Opening of Parliament have never played a major part in public life in New Zealand. Besides, as with their counterparts in Australia, New Zealanders appear to want their Governor-General to live frugally and without ostentation.
The third, constitutional, role flows from the position of the Governor-General as representative of the Sovereign. The Governor-General assents to Bills and Orders in Council, opens and dissolves Parliament, appoints ministers, and makes a range of other appointments by statute or regulation. Once seen as an instrument of imperial will, the Governor-General is occasionally now seen as a constitutional safeguard against executive despotism.(10) However, arguments that the Governor-General can act as a guardian of the Constitution overstate the case. New Zealand's economic and social policies have been dramatically altered over the past two decades, without intervention from the Governor-General. This reflects the fact that the Governor-General can only intervene to preserve the constitutional order itself. Like the Sovereign, the Governor-General will almost always act only on the advice of ministers responsible to Parliament.
Arguments for a republic
New Zealands adoption of a German electoral system notwithstanding, its present constitutional system very much reflects the countrys colonial heritage. Writing in the 1950s, the historian Keith Sinclair argued that New Zealanders' claim to being 'More British than the British' had its roots in a deep-seated desire to be associated with the perceived moral and military superiority of the Britain of Queen Victoria (1959: 297-99). The outpouring of loyalty and admiration with which the predominantly British immigrant population greeted royal visitors was a recurring reminder of New Zealand's close relationship with Britain. However, as from the early 1950s, Britain's post-war military and economic decline began to nudge a reluctant New Zealand government away from dependency, both psychological and real. Landmark events in the country's journey towards full independence included the 1951 ANZUS defence agreement with the United States; the emergence of a stronger sense of regional identity under the third Labour government (1972-75) of Norman Kirk; and Britain's entry into the European Community. The latter decision effectively ended a trade relationship in which up to 90 per cent of New Zealand's farm produce had been earmarked for British consumption.
New Zealand's new post-colonial status is reflected in a number of largely domestic changes: the relaxation of restrictions on non-United Kingdom immigrants, especially refugees and business migrants from Asia; the growing penetration of American culture and politics through the vehicle of mass communications, notably television; and the rise of individualistic, meritocratic and internationalist values as a result of the economic and welfare reforms of successive neoliberal governments. Reinforcing these domestic trends was the decision of the voters in 1993 to replace the simple plurality electoral system, which had long been an integral part of the Westminster democratic model (Lijphart, 1999: 21), with proportional representation. According to the Prime Minister of the time, the new electoral arrangement promised to be the catalyst for 'a clear break with the British system of government that we have followed thus far'.(11) It has been said that 'the tide of history is moving in one direction'.(12) Therefore, so the argument went, it was time for a republic.
But it is also possible to argue for a republic on the grounds of New Zealands growing military and political isolation from Britain. The Thatcher administration was conspicuously silent during the dispute with French government officials following the sinking of a Greenpeace vessel in Auckland's Waitemata Harbour. The 'Rainbow Warrior Affair', as it came to be called, together with the fourth Labour government's anti-nuclear stance (which was strongly opposed by both London and Washington), were to become defining events in the development of a distinct New Zealand identity (Alley, 1987: 209). By the beginning of the twenty-first century the only remaining links with Britain of particular consequence were politico-cultural and historic. By this time, it could be argued, New Zealand had largely shed its British identity in favour of that of a South Pacific nation, with a trade, foreign and defence policy focus on the region of Asia-Pacific.(13)
New Zealand republicans might consider it appropriate that their nation become a republic on Australia's adopting that system of government.(14) But there are more substantial reasons also. Perhaps the most persuasive is that the countrys constitutional system ought to rest on firmer constitutional foundations than at present. Parliamentary sovereignty has arguably been inadequate when it comes to protecting individual rights and ensuring the accountability and integrity of governmental institutions. An entrenched constitution would help, though entrenchment is not contingent upon the country becoming a republic. There are also some concerns about the adequacy of the present position of the Governor-General, particularly the prerogative (and unwritten) nature of many of the powers of that office.(15) There is no certainty that the powers of the head of State would be any more clearly defined in a republic, however.
However, in some respects the most powerful arguments for New Zealand becoming a republic are symbolic. Most important among the symbolic aspects, and that upon which Bolger relied, is that it is 'inappropriate' for 'the Queen of England' to be head of State and to have power to appoint a Governor-General to exercise her royal powers on her behalf in New Zealand'.(16) It is this argument which has proven the strongest of those promoted by the republican movement in Australia.
Having looked at some of the factors which might suggest a republic, we now look at what people actually feel about the monarchy. In response to the question, 'Do you think that New Zealand should become a republic with a New Zealand head of State, or should the Queen be retained as head of State?' in 1996 some 51 per cent of voter respondents to the New Zealand Election Study expressed support for the monarchy, compared with 35 per cent who preferred a republic.(17) As Table 1(18) shows, only 15 per cent of voters felt strongly about the need to retain the Queen as New Zealand's head of State.
Table 1: Voter attitudes to republicanism/monarchy, 1996
|Strongly NZ favour becoming a republic||12.4|
|Favour NZ becoming a republic||23.0|
|Favour retaining Queen as head of state||36.1|
|Strongly favour retaining Queen as head of state||15.0|
Gender and age are the two most crucial social indicators of voter opinion towards the monarchy. There is a popular though simplistic assumption that, because of their high exposure to an assortment of women's magazines, many of which feature the monarchy and depict it as a largely matriarchal institution, women are significantly more likely to be monarchists than men. The relative merits of this assumption notwithstanding, some 56 per cent of all monarchists are women. On the other side of the debate the imbalance is even more pronounced, with 60 per cent of pro-republicans being men. Taken from another angle, some 41 per cent of men are republicans, compared with 31 per cent of women.
Figure 2: Voter support for the monarchy by age and gender, 1996
Support for the monarchy tends to increase with age (see Figures 1), with 72 per cent of respondents of 65 years and over preferring the monarchy, compared with 23 per cent support for a republic. It is hardly surprising that, of all respondents, elderly women are the most devoted in their support for the monarchy. In contrast, in every age category up to 55 years opinion favours a republic over retention of the monarchy - for example, of those in the 18 to 24 year age group, 36 per cent are monarchists and 41 per cent republicans.
On the basis of the survey data it is possible to reach the further generalisation that the higher the level of education, the stronger the support for a New Zealand republic. Whereas 47 per cent of those with a university degree favour a republic (almost half of them strongly), the level of support among those with no more than a primary school education is a mere 26 per cent. Although full-time employees are almost as likely to be republicans as monarchists, beneficiaries (70 per cent) and those with unpaid family responsibilities (62 per cent) have a marked preference for the monarchy. In contrast, support for the monarchy among those still in school is weak (34 per cent). As for religious affiliation, Anglicans, Presbyterians and Methodists are strong supporters of the monarchy, whereas Catholics and those who do not profess a religious faith are not.
The national and ethnic backgrounds of respondents reveal interesting variations in levels of support for a republic. Although republicanism finds little favour among British-born respondents (25 per cent), it receives above-average support from expatriate Australians (47 per cent) and West Europeans (49 per cent). Given their traditionally close ties to the British monarchy and family-based social structure,(19) it is to be expected that Pacific Islanders will show only modest support for a republic (33 per cent). On the other hand, ethnic Chinese show a marked preference for a republic (80 per cent) over a monarchy (17 per cent).
Completing the social profile of survey respondents are the views of Maori. Contrary to the perception of Maori as being strongly monarchist, considerably fewer Maori (35 per cent) than Pakeha (55 per cent) support the monarchy. In fact, only one in ten Maori voters strongly favours retention of the monarchy, a figure which is in stark contrast to that for British-born (20 per cent) and Pacific Island-born (21 per cent) New Zealanders. As with respondents generally, support for a republic is stronger among Maori men than women, and among young and young middle-aged voters rather than the 55 year plus age group. Of those Maori men who venture an opinion, 58 per cent support a republic, compared with a figure of 49 per cent for Maori women. Republican sentiment outweighs support for the monarchy in every age category up to and including the 45 to 54 year old group. Despite support for the monarchy being relatively strong among elderly Maori (69 per cent), the level of enthusiasm for the Queen among this group is still lower than among older voters generally.
Table 2: Voter attitude to republicanism/monarchy by party. 1996
Monarchy Republic Dont Know
|New Zealand First||59.0||30.6||10.4|
Patterns of opinion by party vote (see Table 2) confirm the importance of the generational factor in measuring the level and intensity of support for the monarchy. With over half of all New Zealand First's 1996 voters being over the age of 55 years, it is hardly surprising that the monarchy enjoys strong approval within that party. Similarly, both National's (Vowles et al, 1995: 22-23) and the Christian Coalition's strong appeal to elderly Pakeha and medium to high income voters helps to account for the enthusiasm felt for the monarchy by those parties' supporters.
On the other hand, the crucial point of division within the pro-republican support base is ideology, not age. Republicanism enjoys support at both extremes of the party spectrum, with the right-wing Act and left-wing Alliance voters expressing similarly strong support for a republic. Unlike the Australian Labor party, which has long been identified with support for a republic (Warhurst 1993: 118), its New Zealand counterpart has played a much more low-key, even ambivalent, role. While a majority of Labour candidates are in favour a New Zealand republic (Miller 1997), their voters are almost as likely to be monarchists as those who support National.
Impact of Australian referendum decision on opinion in New Zealand
Between the two surveys of 1996 and 1999, the most significant development in the republican debate concerned the Australian governments decision to conduct a republican referendum on 7 November 1999. Prior to the referendum, public opinion in Australia appeared to favour reform. The Australian Election Study of 1998, for example, found that 65.8 per cent of respondents favoured a republic, compared with only 34.2 per cent who favoured retention of the monarchy. Since advocates of a New Zealand republic had long held the view that a Yes vote in Australia would accelerate the trend towards a republic in New Zealand, the pre-election rolling thunder survey, which was conducted on a daily basis between mid-October and late-November 1999, provided a unique opportunity to test any possible contagion effect of the referendum debate and outcome on public opinion in New Zealand.
A comparison of the figures for 1996 and 1999 (see Table 5) would appear to suggest that there was a significant decline in support for a republic over the three-year period. To measure the possible effect of the Australian debate and outcome (55 per cent support for a continuation of the monarchy) on public opinion in New Zealand, see Figure 8.
Although support levels began at almost precisely the 1996 levels, during the three weeks leading up to the Australian referendum support for the monarchy tracked upwards, reaching a high of 67 per cent immediately after the Australian results became known.
Table 5: Attitudes to New Zealand becoming a republic, 1996 and 1999
|Favour NZ becoming a republic||35.4||28.1|
|Favour retaining Queen as head of state||51.1||62.2|
Figure 8: Trends in support Oct17 to Nov 27 1999
Perhaps most disturbing for the future of the republican movement in New Zealand is the rise in support for the monarchy among young voters (see Figure 8). Whereas in 1996 only 36 per cent of those in the 18-24 year age group were monarchists, by 1999 it had risen to 58 per cent. Over the same period, support for a republic had dropped from 41 per cent to 27 per cent.
Confirming Helen Clarks strongly stated opinion that New Zealanders are not ready to support a republic, only 3 per cent of respondents expect New Zealand to become a republic within the next five years. Although some 25 per cent expect the change to take place within five to ten years, almost half of all respondents (46.5 per cent) say that it will take more than ten years, and a further 19 per cent predict that New Zealand will never become a republic.
Figure 9: Attitudes to monarchy by age, 1999
The significant variation in the popularity of republican sentiment between New Zealand and Australia (where support in recent years has fluctuated, but at over the 50 per cent mark)(20) can be attributed to a number of factors, including: New Zealand's more homogeneous and largely British immigrant population; its relative slowness at shaking off other relics of colonialism, including Imperial honours and the right of judicial recourse to the Privy Council; the opposition to republicanism of some prominent Maori leaders; and the absence of a republican tradition either within the Labour and Alliance parties or through the survival of a republican association.(21) However, perhaps the most significant deterrent to the growth of republicanism in New Zealand, at least in recent years, has been the country's preoccupation with economic, political and electoral change. With the level of public trust in the nation's politicians having reached an all-time low, the idea of replacing the monarchy with an elected or unelected president, in either case a vastly more expensive proposition for New Zealand taxpayers than retaining the monarchy, may have represented more change than many voters were prepared to countenance.
There is a further significant factor which mitigates against a too-ready assertion that it is only a matter of time before New Zealand becomes a republic. In some respects the very absence of the Sovereign from New Zealand has done much to strengthen the institution of the monarchy. Largely entrusted to Governors-General, who serve limited terms of office, the Crown has gradually become entrenched as a useful synonym for the government.(22) But it remains more than that. Although the Crown's obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi are now exclusively the concern of the New Zealand government, the personal involvement of the Sovereign as a party to the Treaty remains important to Maori.
Whilst abolition of the monarchy might not be on the political agenda in New Zealand in the short-to-medium term, reform may be. In recent years there has been some speculation regarding the possibility of changes to the laws governing succession to the Crown.(23) While the news media has tended to regard this as a matter for the government and people of Britain, it also has important implications for the future of the monarchy in New Zealand.
While either the success of a republican referendum in Australia or an unpopular succession to the throne may advance the republican cause in New Zealand, this chapter has shown that the most convincing arguments for change are demographic. It is not unreasonable to predict that the inevitable attrition among the older groups of monarchist stalwarts will, within the next ten years or so, produce a majority vote for change. A further demographic variable which could impact on the popularity of republicanism is immigration. As we have seen, support for the monarchy is strongest among British-born respondents and weakest among immigrants from outside the Commonwealth. The recent increase in immigrant numbers and the diversification of sources to include more immigrants from Asia (especially China, South Korea and Taiwan), Western Europe and elsewhere will inevitably loosen our attachment to the monarchy, as well as diluting the symbolism and mystique surrounding New Zealand's former status as a distant but loyal British colony.
Butler, D. and D.A. Low (eds) 1991, Sovereigns and Surrogates: Constitutional Heads of State in the Commonwealth, MacMillan, London.
Grainger, G. and K. Jones (eds) 1994, The Australian Constitutional Monarchy, ACM Publishing, Sydney.
Tizard, C. 1993, Crown and Anchor: The Present Role of the Governor-General in New Zealand, Government House, Wellington.
Trainor, L. (ed.) 1996, Republicanism in New Zealand, Dunmore Press, Palmerston North.
The Role of the Governor-General of New Zealand 1997, Government House, Wellington.
(1) Reported in the N.Z. Herald, 6 March 1995, p.1.
(2) For example, the New Zealand Study of Values Survey (1989) showed that only 17 per cent of respondents were in favour of New Zealand becoming a republic (Gold, 1992: 34).
(3) The 1996 New Zealand Election Study was made possible by a grant from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.
(4) Freyberg was born in London, and although largely brought up in New Zealand, had spent the greater part of his adult life abroad.
(5) Though, after his retirement, Porritt was to become a de jure British aristocrat.
(6) Interview with David Lange, 20 May 1998.
(7) Ladley, "The Head of State" in Miller, New Zealand Politics in Transition (1997) 55.
(8) The Role of the Governor-General of New Zealand (1997) 3.
(9) Tizard, Crown and Anchor (1993) 4.
(10) Auckland District Law Society Public Issues Committee, The Holyoake Appointment (1977) 7.
(11) This is not to suggest that the views of politicians and other opinion leaders are no longer reported. In March 1998, for example, the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Richard Nottage, reportedly told business leaders and policy-makers from the Asia-Pacific region that it was only a matter of time before New Zealand had its own indigenous head of State. He acknowledged that having a British monarch as New Zealand's head of State 'looks strange in Asian eyes'. National Business Review, 27 March 1998, p.1.
(12) The Dominion, 16 December 1996, p.12.
(13) The Evening Post, 9 May 1997, p.2.
(14) A short-lived New Zealand Republican Movement was formed in the late 1960s. In 1994 a Republican Movement of Aotearoa/New Zealand was formed. Its patron is the author Keri Hulme.
(15) Winterton, "New Zealand Republic" in Simpson, Constitutional Implications of MMP (1998), 205-7.
(16) The Daily News, 8 May 1997, p.6.
(17) In contrast, an Australian survey, which asked the same question (Do you think that Australia should become a republic with an Australian head of state, or should the Queen be retained as head of state?) found that only 34.2 per cent wanted to retain the monarchy, with 9.0 per cent holding the view strongly. Two-thirds of all respondents (65.8 per cent) supported a republic. Australian Election Study Users Guide, 1998.
(18) The authors gratefully acknowledge the work of Mike Crawshaw of the Department of Political Studies, University of Auckland in the preparation of the data for this chapter.
(19) nterview with David Lange, 20 May 1998.
(20) The Christchurch Press, 30 December 1996, p.5.21) Of all the parliamentary parties, only the Green Party of Aotearoa has indicated a willingness to place republicanism on its agenda at the 1999 election. Of the newly elected Alliance members of Parliament after that election, Green Party MP Keith Locke in particular stated that he would promote republicanism, on the grounds that "bowing before the British Queen reflects a colonial mentality".
(22) In this respect the Governor-General is regarded by the Australians for Constitutional Monarchy as effectively the head of State of Australia; Abbott, How to win the constitutional war (1997) 17-18.
(23) Either to make Prince William the heir to Queen Elizabeth II, rather than his father Charles Prince of Wales, or to repeal the Act of Settlement 1700 (12 & 13 Will III c 2), which excludes Catholics from the Crown. Suggestions have also been made that the eldest child of the Sovereign, irrespective of sex, should succeed.