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Richard Prebble: Our constitutional monarchy works well

Republicans have been saying: “When the Queen dies New Zealand will become a republic”. We have not. We have witnessed a seamless transition. “The Queen is dead, long live the king”.

What they meant was no one wanted to offend a woman who has served New Zealand for over a quarter of our nation’s history. King Charles has never been as popular. Being a prince in waiting is a frustrating role. King Charles may exceed our expectations.

Some MPs can swear an oath to the Queen and to “her heirs and successors” and then proclaim they are republicans. As they make promises they never intend to keep why should we be surprised that they do not keep their oaths?

A government that does not want to run on its record might be tempted to stage a diversion and hold a referendum to become a republic. Those who advocate holding a referendum first need to say what sort of republic.

Just abolishing the monarchy and changing the Governor-General’s name to President will not do. While the Prime Minister nominates the Governor-General and could technically request a dismissal, the Prime Minister cannot dismiss the king. It would be a damaging reduction in status for our head of state to be appointed and dismiss at will the Prime Minister.

Some nations have had parliament elect the president and others the electorate. Even if the head of state’s role is ceremonial the election by itself gives the president power. The temptation to use power is overwhelming.

The conflict between presidents and parliaments is one of the reasons presidential government is so unstable. Only the Americans, with great difficulty, have managed it.

What to you do with presidents or an ex-president, who breaks the law? Worldwide there are presidents and ex-presidents in conflict with the courts, their Prime Ministers and parliaments. Republics are often unstable.

A hereditary head of state from another country is weird. Constitutional monarchy just works better than the alternatives. The World Economic Forum says New Zealand is the world’s third oldest democracy. The Economist Intelligence Unit this year rated New Zealand the second most democratic country. Why fix what is not broken?

We are a small, isolated country. Having a shared monarchy with the UK and 14 other countries has been advantageous and will be in the future.

Monarchy is more fun. It has given me one of my first memories, a social success, a great embarrassment, a nice compliment and an honour.

At age five we school children lined the road to watch the royal tour. We all waved Union Jack flags as a convoy of black cars speed past. I prized the medal we were given. It is a warm childhood memory.

As a new MP I was invited to a seminar at the United Nations in New York. There was a huge cocktail party with the rich and famous. I overheard some New York socialites discussing whether Prince Charles or his new bride Diana was the taller.

“She is” I said. “When I met them I noticed”.

“How have you met Princess Diana” they asked.

“I am from New Zealand. We are a monarchy. As a member of parliament I have met our future king and his bride”.

News spread. There is a New Zealander who has met Princess Di. I was the center of attention. Then one socialite asked; “What was Princess Di wearing?” I replied “A dress”. My moment passed. If we were a republic I would never had that momentary international social success.

I was the Minister in attendance at Ellerslie Racecourse in 1986 when two young idiots threw eggs at the Queen. Very embarrassing. The Queen was gracious.

Prince Phillip was not amused. I made an abject apology. 400 years ago ministers lost their heads for less. With a president, protests will be common.

I am the first New Zealand minister to receive his appointment directly from the Queen. She was visiting New Zealand at the time. As she signed warrants for my 22 portfolios the Queen asked the Prime Minister “Apart from Mr. Prebble, does anyone else in the cabinet do any work?” Would I value such a remark from a president?

When I was sacked as a minister I lost the title honourable. I was astonished when the Queen sent me a personal letter saying she had granted me the title for life. If I had received the honorific from some hack president would you be impressed? As the Queen has said I am honourable who are we to disagree?

If we became a republic what would the Woman’s Weekly do? Seriously, the record is that our system of government is much more stable than a republic.

We have real issues but being a constitutional monarchy is not one of them.

The Honourable Richard Prebble CBE is a former member of the New Zealand Parliament. Initially a member of the Labour Party, he joined the newly formed ACT New Zealand party under Roger Douglas in 1996, becoming its leader from 1996 to 2004.

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