Friday, 16 September 2016

Only two things are inevitable in life...

As the old saying goes, there are only two things that are inevitable in life: death and taxes. In his recent column, Liam Hehir writes that a New Zealand republic is "less than inevitable", even after what you'd think is a fairly good poll result for those of us who support a New Zealander as head of State. Liam challenges me to a wager (I'm guessing as former chairman of New Zealand Republic Inc) that a New Zealand republic is not inevitable. The wager has something to do with painting his house.

It's not a bet I'll accept, not because I don't like painting (did plenty when I was younger, not so into it anymore) but because Liam is right: a New Zealand republic is not inevitable. And it's very odd to me that over the years many people have expressed surprise that I take that view. But in many ways the poll result Liam discusses re-enforces it. Some people think I'm defeatist by saying this, and I'm sure plenty of monarchists take comfort from it.

It turns out that the things that are inevitable - dying and paying tax for the privilege of doing so - are some of the sort of issues that matter most to the public. Inevitably, we're all focused on what affects us the most in life: whether there's a decent job for you to earn a living from, a good public health service if you get sick, a decent school to send your children to, a house to live in and transport between all four. The nature of our head of State is as Liam states a pretty minor issue that, like his weatherboards, may eventually get some attention.

And when it does, it will most likely be just as contentious as the nightmare that became the flag debate and referendums. But ten times worse, because a republic not only touches the thorny issues of national identity and constitutional change, but also the Treaty of Waitangi and the interrelated issue of the legal nature of the state (that is, whether we keep referring to the Government of New Zealand by a shorthand name for a piece of feudal headdress).

Then there's the issue - highlighted in the poll - that while support for both of the republic models is above the golden 50% mark, that doesn't mean (as Liam accurately points out) there's a majority for change, much the same as the final weeks of the flag debate, when UMR polling found a majority of voters supported change, but only 40% wanted the particular flag on offer. It gets even worse when you analyse the motivations - as I did in this Spinoff article - for direct election of the head of State versus parliamentary election, and the huge contradiction of the public's distaste for a politician being head of State, and 44% support for the system (direct election) most likely to result in one.

Unsurprisingly I don't accept Liam's analysis of the reasons for change. To my mind, the case for keeping the monarchy is weak, being built almost entirely on misinformation and nostalgia for a time when we were a part of the British Empire and economically provided for; dependent, apathetic, insular and disengaged from the world (as I discovered during the flag debate, there's a large group of people who view any change to the flag, head of state, anthem etc as moving away from the grand old days of Fortress New Zealand, replete with its pre-EEC economy and welfare state).

The case for a New Zealand head of state, and building a national identity around a narrative of being independent and standing on our own two feet, is much stronger. The claims of an inferiority complex are nonsense - if anything, our failure to make a New Zealander our head of state is the ultimate symbol of tall poppy syndrome.

The good news for Liam though is that the difficulties of change - and the public's general lack of any appetite to deal with them - mean there will be significant barriers to change for some time. The bad news is that the barriers can be removed, and are likely to be in the coming years. Take the Treaty for example: it's highly likely there will be some sort of clarity constitutionally once the remaining Treaty settlements are made. The process for choosing our head of State can be sorted out now at the Governor-General level.

But all this is speculative of course. Like everything else in life, nothing but death and taxes are inevitable.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Upper Hutt City Council elections 2016 candidates survey

The Dom Post reports there are two candidates for Mayor of Upper Hutt and 20 for our 10 council seats.

So I've created a candidate's survey based on KiwiBlog's idea. If you're a candidate for the 2016 local elections, please fill out the survey. I will post the answers here on my website.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Whakatiki Street intersection

I've sent my petition to NZTA to fix the Whakatiki St intersection - thank you to the nearly 1,000 residents who signed! I'll post updates here when I hear back from the NZTA.

Monday, 18 July 2016

NZTA: fix Whakatiki St Intersection!

After this weekend's crash, I've started a petition to NZTA to get improvements to the Whakatiki St intersection underway ASAP.

It's listed as a project on the NZTA website, but no other detail is available.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Elite inferiority complex

Does New Zealand's elite have an inferiority complex? Does that matter if they do?

Having a New Zealander as our head of State is a legally simple, straightforward change for us to make, yet it attracts a lot of unneeded baggage and irrelevant issues. It often seems to me that the arguments for retaining the status quo tend to re-enforce exactly why we need to change: that an institution which is moribund and irrelevant to New Zealand is seen as key to our democracy - and that a New Zealander in the role would be inferior - underlines the exact attitudinal change having a New Zealand citizen as head of State would bring about.

While on holiday in the United Kingdom recently I shared an article published in the New Zealand Herald from the Queen's Birthday weekend on the need for a constitutional discussion in New Zealand, starting with the head of State. Liam Hehir - of Firing Line column fame - made the point that he saw support for a New Zealand republic as an "elite inferiority complex". This is a new line of argument which again underlines my thinking.

In my experience, our "elite" - politicians, judiciary and leaders in culture, business, sports etc - are just as divided on this issue as the rest of the country. In other words, most don't really care about it with two small camps of monarchists and republicans slogging it out. There is, however, a strongly dismissive line on our head of State, because the issue is considered unimportant and a base distraction only of interest to the small-minded. This attitude was typified to me in a recent speech by the Chief Justice, Dame Sian Elias, to a conference on the Magna Carta:
"...the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta may be a good time to take stock of how well they are serving our society. It is puzzling, I think, that the constitutional conversation we have had to date seems largely hung up on the identity of the head of state..."
Dame Sian added the New Zealand public:
"...seems reluctant to engage with bigger ideas, such as the fulfillment of the ideas set loose at Runnymede in the circumstances of today."
This attitude is by far the most common among New Zealand's political and judicial elites.

So if you support change, do you suffer from some sort of inferiority complex? I don't think so. Sure, there's an element - a tiny element - who feel inferior because of the monarchy. But it's the type who are vehemently and irrationally against the Royal family simply because they're Royal. By and large the arguments for change are rational and focus simply on our maturity as a country. That's not inferiority, if anything it's frustration at our insularity and insecurity.

I would add here too that I see that insecurity over and over again in this debate, and in the flag debate more recently. It's strange to me that a fairly well known New Zealand historian made the argument that without the Union Jack on our flag, New Zealanders would forget that we were once a British colony, or that most of our institutions were inherited from the United Kingdom. It's as though the mere thought of one part of that colonial heritage no longer being an official symbol means all other parts and institutions would disappear.