For All Nails #212: A Monarchy, If You Can Keep It

by Noel Maurer

From the Statist
31 October 1975

Disunited Empire?

ONE by one, some of the most unlikely members of New Zealand's establishment have been declaring themselves republicans. The latest is Tony Maurer, former chief justice of the High Court, the body that rules on constitutional matters. "There is something odd about having as your head of state a head of state of another country, someone who doesn't reside here and who primarily identifies with the goals and aspirations of that other country", remarked Mr Maurer this week. He was referring to King Henry, whose combined role as king of Britain and of New Zealand (never mind North America and several other countries) looks decidedly shaky as New Zealanders prepare to vote on the monarchy's future in their country.

The "goals and aspirations" to which Mr Maurer refers appear to be the British desire to win the war in New Granada. The conflict has grown increasingly unpopular in New Zealand, which was the only Pacific nation to refuse to offer any sort of military support to the campaign. The plucky little country that stood with the rest of the United Empire against the Teuto-Mexican menace appears increasingly prepared to leave it over the "British menace to international peace and security".

From November 3rd, New Zealander households will receive a postal ballot paper listing candidates for a constitutional convention to be held in February in New Boston, the capital. The convention will face four main questions. Should New Zealand become a republic? If so, when? How should the new head of state be elected? And what should his powers be? If the convention decides to abandon the monarchy and say yes to the first question, and then agrees on answers to the others, a public referendum will be held.

Some 312 candidates are standing for the 24 elected convention positions. The government is appointing another 24 delegates. Among the candidates for election, republicans outnumber monarchists almost 2 to 1.

The ironically-named Howard Jefferson, Liberal Governor-General of the Confederation of New Zealand, set up the convention as an alternative to the former Conservative government's plan to go straight to a referendum. Mr Jefferson is a monarchist. But, if he hoped his strategy would dampen down the republican cause, he has probably miscalculated. Opinion polls show that 64% of New Zealanders oppose the monarchy, up twelve points from January 1975.

Moreover, republicans seem to have the wind in their sails. The New Zealand Republican Movement has shaken off its tag as a bastard child of the Conservative Party by recruiting several prominent young figures from Mr Jefferson's camp, including Franklin Ebel, a popular former Liberal Governor-General, and Susan Cummings, president of the Young Liberals. The republicans could not believe their luck when Sir Gregory Tarmann, a former Viceroy, the king's representative in New Zealand, recently joined them.

Several of New Zealand's film and vita celebrities, including the formerly apolitical Trevor Hazleton, have joined the republican campaign. (Hazleton, ironically, currently lives in the Kingdom of Australia.) Many business figures have followed. According to one, Charles Allen, a former boss of the Foreign Trade Commission, a promotion body, trying to explain to foreigners a system whereby New Zealand's head of state resides in Buckingham Palace is "awkward, embarrassing, painful and excruciating, and all the more so since this damned war began".

No President for New Zealand, the main monarchist group, recently changed its name from New Zealanders for King and Country, perhaps reacting to anti-monarchist sentiment. Celebrities are, to put it mildly, harder to find among its ranks than among the republicans. At its recent campaign launch, its predominantly elderly members were asked to bring along young people to liven up its image.

Many New Zealanders do not know that their constitution vests New Zealand's executive power in the monarch and reserves its laws "for the emperor's pleasure". The monarchists say that New Zealand has two heads of state, a "symbolic" one in the king and an "active" one in the Governor-General. Mr Maurer describes this as "arrant nonsense". As hard as it may be to imagine, the language is likely to be even less restrained over the coming weeks.

Each side portrays the other as anti-New Zealander. Monarchists accuse republicans of wanting to tear up the constitution that has served New Zealand well for almost a century. Republicans say the monarchists believe that an "aristocratic English family" is better qualified than a New Zealander to be head of state. The leader of No President for New Zealand, Robert Hensley, has not served his cause by making veiled accusations of racialism -- "A republic is just another attack on the Maori" -- or worse yet, treason: "If these people get their way, we might as well have surrendered to their Mexican cousins back during the war".

Mr Hensley's intemperate comments have succeeded in letting his opponents portray themselves as "heirs of the founding fathers" and "defenders of the rights of Englishmen, but not subjects of England". New Zealand's first settlements were founded by North American whalers evicted from neighboring Australia. (This is why New Zealanders drive on the right, alone among the United Empire countries.) Many of these whalers were originally from New England, and many of them came from families that had supported the Rebellion. In drawing attention to the nation's folk origins, the monarchists may be inadvertently fueling the republican movement.

The best the monarchists may be able to hope for is to energize favorable Imperial sentiments among the Maori minority. The Maori, or at least several of their prominent political leaders, have not forgotten the last century's violent conflict with the white settlers. Nor have the Maori forgotten that they became full subjects of the British Empire in 1878, a full 57 years before the Native Act of 1935 regularized their status as citizens of New Zealand. Maori New Zealanders have, in fact, provided the United Empire with one of its most decorated regiments, the "Ka Matehs", and the regiment's annual parade is always very well attended.

The Maori have, so far, remained largely immune to republican blandishments. Surveys have revealed that a full 72% of the Maori population favors, in theory, retaining New Zealand's symbolic links to the United Empire. Those same surveys have also revealed, however, that King Henry is even less personally popular among Maori voters than among their "pakeha" countrymen. In addition, a majority of Maori are strongly opposed to New Zealand's participation in the New Granadan war. How these conflicting sentiments will play at the polls is anyone's guess.

From the Statist
9 April 1976

A King, but Not This King

WITH less than two weeks to go before New Zealanders vote in a referendum on whether or not their country should become a republic, Howard Jefferson, the Governor-General, has a problem. He wants the Confederation of New Zealand to remain as it is, a constitutional monarchy in which Britain's head of state, King Henry, serves also as New Zealand's. Yet at the same time, he has declined to invite the king to open the Antipodean Championship Test Match in New Salem next month. By tradition, the king opens the games. Worried about the potential for rowdy anti-war demonstrations, and believing that New Zealanders would not tolerate a British dignitary opening the matches in their country, Mr Jefferson has decided to perform the task himself.

The irony of having a head of state who cannot open New Zealand's big ceremonial occasions has not been lost on Mr Jefferson's most senior minister, Stephen Zambrano, the head of the finance ministry. In a speech on February 10th, he said: "If we feel uncomfortable asking our head of state to perform the duties of a head of state ... then you have to ask if the system is still appropriate". Earlier, he had been more blunt: "I just don't think the symbolism of the monarchy is something that's going to carry New Zealand into the 1980s". FN1

Mr Zambrano's emergence as a leading republican has given a new spring to the campaign for the referendum on May 1st. It must concern Mr Jefferson, who sees the issue as a test of his own authority as leader of the (conservative, in New Zealand's topsy-turvy political scene) Liberal Party. There is also an element of personal politics involved. Mr Zambrano, aged 38 to Mr Jefferson's 73, is tipped as the governor-general's most likely successor should he stumble. When Mr Zambrano talks about New Zealand's need to renew its national symbols, he is carefully aiming at younger people, among whom support for a republic is strong. Mr Jefferson often sums up his stand by saying: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". In a pointed riposte, Mr Zambrano said: "It ain't broke, but it needs an oil change".

Mr Jefferson has already lost his first big battle of the referendum campaign. The constitution of the Confederation of New Zealand was adapted from the charter of the New Zealand Crown Colony, after the colony rejected amalgamation with the Union of Australia. The monarch and his representative in New Zealand, the Viceroy, are still its central symbols. New Zealanders will vote on whether to replace both of them with a president chosen by popular vote. Mr Jefferson had originally plumped for a "head of state" selected by a 2/3rds vote of the Grand Council (obstensibly intended to ensure that the new head of state remains a ceremonial figure, not a political one), but he was defeated by a rebellion among the government-appointed representatives to the constitutional convention.

This week, Mr Jefferson also had to give way on the issue of the wording of the referendum question. At first Mr Jefferson wanted to avoid any mention of the highly unpopular king. He proposed that people be asked only if they approved of a republic. So his question was seen as a not-so-subtle bid to make sure the answer was no. After a bipartisan Grand Council committee recommended on April 5th a broader question that offered a choice between King Henry and an elected native New Zealander president, Mr Jefferson was obliged to provide such a choice. Although he deleted the words "native New Zealander" before "president" in the final wording, this change could be crucial: a recent opinion poll showed 62% approved of a republic if replacing the King was mentioned. For the question Mr Jefferson had wanted, highlighting the republican model but not mentioning King Henry, approval was only 41%. The shift among crucial Maori swing voters was even more dramatic.

Two of Mr Jefferson's other ministers are leading the anti-republican charge. Their language has been more outlandish than Mr Zambrano's. In fact, several prominent monarchists, although none from within the government's own ranks, have attacked Mr Zambrano's Mexican origins, all-but-accusing him of treason. (Mr Zambrano's father worked for Kramer Associates, and the family fled Mexico for New Zealand when the future Liberal wunderkind was a mere 14 years old.) The division in government ranks, and in the country at large, could turn sour.

Forward to FAN #213: Shouted Down.

Forward to 10 November 1975: Closing Walls and Ticking Clocks.

Forward to the Statist: Weakness is Strength.

Return to For All Nails.

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