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The Coronation puts spotlight on our royal ties

For years, the discussion was bubbling away that New Zealand would possibly leave the Commonwealth after the death of Queen Elizabeth II, but with the Coronation of King Charles set for May 6, the conversation seems to have been shelved.

Former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said shortly after the Queen’s death that New Zealand will eventually drop the British monarch as its head of state and become a republic, but not anytime soon.

Her predecessor, John Key, thought the switch wouldn’t be seen in his lifetime.

But with Caribbean nations signalling a departure and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese creating a Minister for the Republic [even before the death of the Queen], now might be the time to have an open conversation about the role the monarchy plays in modern Aotearoa.

Two of my grandparents are British and they, for obvious reasons, have a much stronger connection to the monarchy than their children and grandchildren do.

However, those who have grown up in New Zealand may see the role of the monarchy differently. After all, how can one support an institution that has slaughtered and stolen from indigenous people around the globe?

A Research New Zealand report produced after the 2020 general election found that only 20 per cent of participants believed that the nation should become a republic.

In September 2022, weeks after the passing of the Queen, a 1News poll found that 27 per cent of New Zealanders wanted the nation to become a republic.

Sir Geoffrey Palmer, a constitutional expert, said if Australia becomes a republic, New Zealand would likely follow.

The idea of New Zealand becoming a republic can be traced back to the 1911 general election, where Colonel Allen Bell – the Reform Party candidate for Raglan – advocated the abolishment of the monarchy.

It didn’t go down well. The armed forces considered that Bell had broken his Oath of Allegiance and he was asked to resign his commission, which he did in January 1912.

In May 1973, a remit proposed at the Labour Party national conference to change the flag, declare New Zealand a republic, and change the national anthem met with a similar reception and was vetoed.

Something that could stop the nation from becoming a republic is the notion that it would mark the Treaty of Waitangi null and void.

However, leading legal academics have said the Treaty would be unaffected by New Zealand becoming a republic because the new head of state would inherit the Crown’s responsibilities.

Professor Noel Cox argued in 2004 that “in strict legal terms, if New Zealand became a republic tomorrow, it would make no difference to the Treaty of Waitangi”. [It’s worth noting that Cox is also a former chairman of Monarchy NZ.]

Such considerations may be beside the point, though.

A YouGov poll soon after the Queen’s death showed only 47 per cent of UK 18-to-24-year-olds think Britain should continue to have a monarchy.

So perhaps we can stop fretting about whether to become a republic or not, given the United Kingdom might bin the monarchy in the not-too-distant future anyway.

Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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