Republicanism in New Zealand

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Republicanism in New Zealand is a political position that holds that New Zealand's system of government should be changed from a constitutional monarchy to a republic.

New Zealand Country in Oceania

New Zealand is a sovereign island country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. The country geographically comprises two main landmasses—the North Island, and the South Island —and around 600 smaller islands. New Zealand is situated some 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) east of Australia across the Tasman Sea and roughly 1,000 kilometres (600 mi) south of the Pacific island areas of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga. Because of its remoteness, it was one of the last lands to be settled by humans. During its long period of isolation, New Zealand developed a distinct biodiversity of animal, fungal, and plant life. The country's varied topography and its sharp mountain peaks, such as the Southern Alps, owe much to the tectonic uplift of land and volcanic eruptions. New Zealand's capital city is Wellington, while its most populous city is Auckland.

Monarchy of New Zealand constitutional system of government in New Zealand

The monarchy of New Zealand is the constitutional system of government in which a hereditary monarch is the sovereign and head of state of New Zealand. The current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, ascended the throne on the death of her father, King George VI, on 6 February 1952.

A republic is a form of government in which the country is considered a “public matter”, not the private concern or property of the rulers. The primary positions of power within a republic are not inherited, but are attained through democracy, oligarchy or autocracy. It is a form of government under which the head of state is not a hereditary monarch.


New Zealand republicanism dates back to the 19th century, although until the late 20th century it was a fringe movement. The current main republican lobby group, New Zealand Republic, was established in 1994. Because New Zealand's constitution is uncodified, a republic could be enacted by statute, as a simple act of parliament. [1] However, it is generally assumed that this would only occur following a nationwide referendum. [2] Several prime ministers and governors-general have identified themselves as republicans, although no government has yet taken any meaningful steps towards enacting a republic. Public opinion polls have generally found that a majority of the population favour retaining the monarchy.

New Zealand Republic

New Zealand Republic Inc. is an organisation formed in 1994 whose object is to support the creation of a New Zealand republic.

Constitution of New Zealand Uncodified national constitution

The Constitution of New Zealand is the sum of laws and principles that make up the body politic of the realm. It concerns the relationship between the individual and the state, and the functioning of government. Unlike many other nations, New Zealand has no single constitutional document. The Constitution Act 1986 comprises only a portion of the uncodified constitution, along with a collection of statutes, the Treaty of Waitangi, Orders in Council, letters patent, decisions of the courts and unwritten conventions.

Statute Formal written document that creates law

A statute is a formal written enactment of a legislative authority that governs the legal entities of a city, state, or country by way of consent. Typically, statutes command or prohibit something, or declare policy. Statutes are rules made by legislative bodies; they are distinguished from case law or precedent, which is decided by courts, and regulations issued by government agencies.


The term "republic" in New Zealand has been used as a protest and a pejorative against the central government and/or royalty, to describe an area independent of the central government.

19th century

The first use of the term "republic" to connote an independent state in New Zealand came in 1840 when Lieutenant Governor William Hobson described the New Zealand Company settlement of Port Nicholson (Wellington), which had its own governing council, as such. [3] Later, Wellington became the centre of agitation by settlers for representative government, which was granted by the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852. Samuel Revans, who founded the Wellington Settlers' Constitutional Association in 1848, advocated a New Zealand republic. [4]

William Hobson First Governor of New Zealand and co-author of the Treaty of Waitangi

Captain William Hobson was a British Royal Navy officer who served as the first Governor of New Zealand. He was a co-author of the Treaty of Waitangi.

New Zealand Company company formed for the purpose of colonising New Zealand

The New Zealand Company, chartered in the United Kingdom, was a company that existed in the first half of the 1800s on a business model focused on the systematic colonisation of New Zealand. The company was formed to carry out the principles devised by Edward Gibbon Wakefield, who envisaged the creation of a new-model English society in the southern hemisphere. Under Wakefield’s model, the colony would attract capitalists who would then have a ready supply of labour—migrant labourers who could not initially afford to be property owners, but who would have the expectation of one-day buying land with their savings.

Wellington Capital city of New Zealand

Wellington is the capital and second most populous urban area of New Zealand, with 418,500 residents. It is located at the south-western tip of the North Island, between Cook Strait and the Remutaka Range. Wellington is the major population centre of the southern North Island, and is the administrative centre of the Wellington Region, which also includes the Kapiti Coast and Wairarapa. Its latitude is 41°17′S, making it the world's southernmost capital of a sovereign state. Wellington features a temperate maritime climate, and is the world's windiest city by average wind speed.

In 1879 the people of Hawera declared themselves the "Republic of Hawera," due to a campaign by Māori leader Te Whiti against European settlement. [5] They formed their own volunteer units to oppose Te Whiti. In 1881 government troops invaded Parihaka and arrested Te Whiti, bringing the "republic" to an end.

Hawera Place in Taranaki, New Zealand

Hawera is the second-largest town in the Taranaki region of New Zealand's North Island, with a population of 12,150. It is near the coast of the South Taranaki Bight. The origins of the town lie in a government military base that was established in 1866, and the town of Hawera grew up around a blockhouse in the early 1870s.

Te Whiti o Rongomai III was a Māori spiritual leader and founder of the village of Parihaka, in New Zealand's Taranaki region.

Parihaka Place in Taranaki, New Zealand

Parihaka is a small community in the Taranaki region of New Zealand, located between Mount Taranaki and the Tasman Sea. In the 1870s and 1880s the settlement, then reputed to be the largest Māori village in New Zealand, became the centre of a major campaign of non-violent resistance to European occupation of confiscated land in the area.

20th century

In the 1911 general election Colonel Allen Bell, the Reform Party candidate for the Raglan seat, advocated the abolition of the monarchy. The armed forces considered that Bell had broken his Oath of Allegiance. He was asked to resign his commission, which he did in January 1912. [6]

1911 New Zealand general election

The New Zealand general election of 1911 was held on Thursday, 7 and 14 December in the general electorates, and on Tuesday, 19 December in the Māori electorates to elect a total of 80 MPs to the 18th session of the New Zealand Parliament. A total number of 590,042 (83.5%) voters turned out to vote. In two seats there was only one candidate.

Allen Bell New Zealand politician

Lt. Colonel Allan (Allen) Bell was a New Zealand Member of Parliament for the Bay of Islands in Northland.

Raglan is a former New Zealand parliamentary electorate. It existed for three periods between 1861 and 1996 and during that time, it was represented by 13 Members of Parliament.

In 1966 Bruce Jesson founded the Republican Association of New Zealand, and later the Republican Party in 1967. The party had a stridently nationalist platform. [7] Republican Party activity petered out after the 1969 general election and the party wound up in 1974.

Bruce Edward Jesson was a journalist, author and political figure in New Zealand.

The Republican Association of New Zealand (NZRA) was a political organisation in New Zealand with the aim of supporting the creation of a New Zealand republic.

The New Zealand Republican Party of 1967 was a political party which campaigned for the creation of a New Zealand republic. It was founded by Bruce Jesson in 1967, and was linked to the Republican Association.

In May 1973, a remit was proposed at the Labour Party national conference to change the flag, declare New Zealand a republic and change the national anthem (then only God Save the Queen , God Defend New Zealand becoming the second anthem in 1977), but this was voted down. [8]

In 1979 the Mana Māori Motuhake Party included republicanism as part of its policy platform. However, the issue was never raised as Mana Māori Motuhake became a member of the Alliance Party.

Jim Bolger, Prime Minister 1990-1997 and leader of the National Party, raised the republic issue in 1994. Jim Bolger at press conference retouched.jpg
Jim Bolger, Prime Minister 1990–1997 and leader of the National Party, raised the republic issue in 1994.

In March 1994 the Republican Coalition of New Zealand was formed to promote the move to a republic and Prime Minister Jim Bolger suggested to the 44th Parliament in the Address In Reply debate that New Zealand should become a republic by 2001. Bolger stated that New Zealand's links with Britain were in decline, and that the country should acknowledge that "the tide of history is moving in one direction." [9] The following year Monarchist League of New Zealand was established to defend the constitutional monarchy.

Bolger denied that his views relate to his Irish heritage. [9] Bolger spoke to Queen Elizabeth about the issue of New Zealand becoming a republic when he was premier and recalled "I have more than once spoken with Her Majesty about my view that New Zealand would at some point elect its own Head of State, we discussed the matter in a most sensible way and she was in no way surprised or alarmed and neither did she cut my head off." [10]

In 1998, Richard Nottage, the Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade, called for New Zealand to consider becoming a republic, arguing that the position of the "British monarch" [sic] as head of state "looks strange in Asian eyes". [11]

In 1999 the Republican Coalition relaunched itself as the Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand, similar to the Australian Republican Movement, due to the 1999 Australian republic referendum, and again renamed itself in 2014 as New Zealand Republic.

The debate

Arguments for change

Supporters of a New Zealand republic say:

Other republicans focus on the principles of a monarchy: many disagree with the hereditary principle (based on a form of primogeniture) that determines succession of the throne. They argue that in a modern and democratic society no one should be expected to defer to another simply because of their birth. [19] Some assert that the hereditary monarch and unelected Governor-General have no mandate to dismiss an elected government. [20]

At the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting of October 2011, the leaders of the 16 Commonwealth realms agreed that they would support change to their respective succession laws regarding male primogeniture, and allow the monarch to marry a Roman Catholic. The ban on Catholics from being the monarch would remain, because the monarch has to be in "Communion with the Church of England." [21]

Arguments against change

Supporters of the monarchy in New Zealand say:


Supporters of the monarchy argue it costs New Zealand taxpayers only a small outlay for royal engagements and tours, and the modest expenses of the Governor-General's establishment. They state "[t]his figure is about one dollar per person per year", about $4.3 million per annum. [28] An analysis by New Zealand Republic in 2010 claimed the office of Governor-General cost New Zealand taxpayers about $7.6 million in ongoing costs. [29] They compared this cost to the President of Ireland, a head of state of a country with a similar population size, who cost €3.4 million – NZ$6 million on the exchange rate at the time. [30] However, Monarchy New Zealand accused the republic supporters of arbitrarily inflating the costs on the Governor-General, pointing out the Irish President's cost was closer to NZ$12.8 million once the extra costs were included. [31]

Public opinion

The New Zealand public are generally in favour of the retention of the monarchy, with polls showing it to have between 50 and 70% support. [32] Polls indicate that many New Zealanders see the monarchy as being of little day-to-day relevance; a One News Colmar Brunton poll in 2002 found that 58% of the population believed the monarchy has little or no relevance to their lives. [33] National Business Review poll in 2004 found 57% of respondents believed New Zealand would become a republic "in the future". [34]

However, the institution still enjoys the support of New Zealanders, particularly those born before World War II. Some show a majority of younger New Zealanders support a republic. [35] With the approval of the current monarch, and the position of the Treaty of Waitangi under a republic remaining a concern to Māori and other New Zealanders alike, as well as the question of what constitutional form a republic might take unresolved, support for becoming a republic is still the view of around a third to 40% of the population. [35] On 21 April 2008, New Zealand Republic released a poll of New Zealanders showing 43% support the monarchy should The Prince of Wales become King of New Zealand, and 41% support a republic under the same scenario. [36] A poll by The New Zealand Herald in January 2010, before a visit by Prince William to the country found 33.3% wanted The Prince of Wales to be the next monarch, with 30.2% favouring Prince William. 29.4% of respondents preferred a republic in the event Elizabeth II died or abdicated. [37]

An October 2011 survey of 500 business professionals asked "What Is Your Level Of Support For New Zealand Becoming A Republic?". 27% said not at all, 24% said somewhat opposed, 23.1% were neutral, 14.8% said moderately in favour and 11.1% said strongly in favour. [38]

On the eve of a Royal tour by HRH Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall in November 2012, a ONE News/Colmar Brunton poll reported 70% of people questioned responded they wanted to keep the Queen as head of state, while 19 percent supported New Zealand becoming a republic. [39] [40] Following the tour, a different poll by Curia Market Research commissioned by New Zealand Republic found 51% of respondents wanted Charles as King once the Queen's reign ends, while 41% supported a republic. [41]

On 17 July 2013, a televised debate on TV3's The Vote held three polls, two separate votes by the studio audience at the start and end of the programme, and one via Twitter, Facebook, web and text voting, on the question "Should we ditch the Royals?" The first studio audience vote before the show was 43% yes, and the second after the show was 65%, while the public vote result was 41% yes and 59% no. [42]

From 8 April to 24 April 2019, a poll of 15,000 random nationwide voting-age New Zealanders was conducted, which showed that 55% of New Zealanders want a New Zealander as the country's next head of state, while 39% want the next British monarch. Support for a New Zealander being the country's next head of state was recorded strongest among Māori respondents, with 80% in support, and respondents aged 18–30, with 76% in support. [43]

Political party positions

Three political parties currently with members in New Zealand's parliament have a policy of holding a binding referendum on the republic issue. [44]


The Labour Party adopted a policy of holding a binding referendum on the issue at their 2013 conference. [44] Andrew Little supports a New Zealand republic, saying "[w]hen it comes to our constitutional arrangements in New Zealand I have a firm view that our head of state should come from New Zealand." [45] Former leader David Cunliffe [46] has expressed his support for a republic. Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark stated that she thought "[t]he idea of a nation such as New Zealand being ruled by a head of state some 20,000km away is absurd. It is inevitable that New Zealand will become a republic. It is just a matter of when the New Zealand people are bothered enough to talk about it - it could be 10 years, or it could be 20 years, but it will happen." [47] [48] Then deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen, however, declared that he supported the monarchy, stating in 2004 he was "a sort of token monarchist in the Cabinet these days." [49] However, in 2010 he repudiated that stance, taking the view that New Zealand should move towards a republic once the Queen's reign ends. [50] Former Prime Minister David Lange expressed support for a New Zealand republic, stating: "Do such things matter? They certainly do. We suffer in this country from a lack of emotional focus... New Zealand will become a republic just as Britain will be blurred into Europe". [51]


National's constitution specifies that the Party's visions and values include "Loyalty to our country, its democratic principles and our Sovereign as Head of State". In 2001 a constitutional policy task force recommended a referendum on the monarchy once the Queen's reign ends, along with referendums on the future of the Maori seats and the number of MPs. [52] Only the policy on Maori seats was passed by the party's regional conferences. Former MPs John Carter, and Wayne Mapp and Richard Worth have been among the most vocal supporters of the monarchy within the party. At the 2011 elections, former Chair of Monarchy New Zealand Simon O'Connor was elected as MP for Tamaki and his Deputy Paul Foster-Bell was later elected a List MP in 2013 and both were re-elected at the 2014 election. At the 2014 election the former Chair of New Zealand Republic, Lewis Holden, was announced as Candidate for the Rimutaka seat but failed to enter Parliament with Chris Hipkins retaining the electorate and holding a low list ranking. Among the 2014 Caucus of new National Members of Parliament, a number of portraits of the Queen have been placed in their Wellington offices through an initiative led by Monarchy New Zealand. Former Prime Minister John Key has said he was "not convinced it [a republic] will be a big issue in the short term", [53] but that he thinks a republic is "inevitable"; however, since this statement he has affirmed his support for the monarchy and made it clear that while he was prime minister a republic would not happen "on his watch". [54]

Minor parties

Support for a republic is strongest amongst the supporters of the Green Party, and it is party policy to support a "democratic and participatory process, such as referenda". [55] Former Green MP Keith Locke had a Private Member's Bill drawn on the issue, the Head of State Referenda Bill, for a referendum on the issue, but it was voted down at its first reading in parliament.

United Future New Zealand leader Peter Dunne is a supporter of a New Zealand republic. The party has a policy of "...a public education process on constitutional matters, leading towards consideration of New Zealand as a republic within the Commonwealth in the future." [56]

No other minor parties in parliament have policies on the issue.


In 2004 former Governor-General Dame Catherine Tizard said publicly that the monarch should be replaced by a New Zealand head of state. Her predecessor as Governor-General, Sir Paul Reeves, has stated that he would not oppose a republic. Sir Michael Hardie Boys has supported the status quo. [23] On 29 July 2006, outgoing Governor-General Dame Silvia Cartwright stated she had no views as to whether New Zealand becomes a republic, noting: "We often overlook the intense loyalty and love the Māori people have for the Queen - probably more intense than many people of European descent. This is a history that's never going to die." [57]

Constitutional issues

New Zealand is a unitary state and does not have a codified, entrenched constitution. Some have argued New Zealand is a "de facto" republic. [48] [58] New Zealand has made constitutional changes without difficulty in the past, such as the abolition of its upper house of parliament in 1951, the introduction of proportional representation in 1996 and most recently the creation of the Supreme Court of New Zealand as the court of final appeal. Legal academics have espoused the view that the legal changes required for a republic are not complex. [59] [60] [61] [62] Some have argued that the changes required are less radical than the move to MMP in 1996. [63]

The Treaty of Waitangi

The Treaty of Waitangi was an agreement signed between Māori tribes and representatives of the British Crown in 1840. Because of the relationship between Māori and the Crown, the Treaty of Waitangi is often cited as a constitutional issue for a New Zealand republic. [59] Some academics expressed concern that governments could use republicanism to evade treaty responsibilities. [64] However, with the division of the Crown between the United Kingdom and New Zealand following the passing of the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act 1947, the "Crown in Right of New Zealand" became party to the Treaty. Legal academics state that the Treaty would be unaffected by New Zealand becoming a republic, as the new head of state would inherit the Crown's responsibilities. In 2004, Professor Noel Cox argued "In strict legal terms, if New Zealand became a republic tomorrow it would make no difference to the Treaty of Waitangi. Speaking as a lawyer, it's a long-established principle that successive governments take on responsibility for previous agreements." [65] [66]

Realm of New Zealand

The Realm of New Zealand consists of New Zealand proper and two states in free association, Niue and the Cook Islands. Should New Zealand become a republic, the Realm of New Zealand would continue to exist without New Zealand, the Ross Dependency and Tokelau. [67] This would not be a legal hurdle to a New Zealand republic, [68] and both the Cook Islands and Niue would retain their status as associated states with New Zealand, as New Zealand shares its head of state with the Cook Islands and Niue in the same way the United Kingdom shares its head of state with the other Commonwealth realms.

Commonwealth membership

If New Zealand became a republic its membership of the Commonwealth of Nations would be unaffected. Since the creation of the modern Commonwealth in 1949, republics are able to be members of the Commonwealth, recognising the Queen as Head of the Commonwealth. [69] Following the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2007, the Kampala Communiqué stated "Heads of Government also agreed that, where an existing member changes its formal constitutional status, it should not have to reapply for Commonwealth membership provided that it continues to meet all the criteria for membership." [70]

Recent developments

Constitutional Inquiry

In November 2004, Prime Minister Helen Clark announced the formation of a parliamentary committee of inquiry into the constitution, chaired by United Future New Zealand leader Peter Dunne. In its final report, the committee recommended wider education on the constitution and included a note on the republic issue, asking "Is the nature of New Zealand's head of state, as a monarch, appropriate to New Zealand's evolving national and constitutional identity?". [71]

Head of State Referenda Bill

Keith Locke's Head of State Referenda Bill for a referendum on the republic issue was drawn from the members' ballot and introduced into Parliament on 14 October 2009. [72] The Bill focused on reforming the Governor-General of New Zealand as a ceremonial head of state, creating a parliamentary republic. [73] Two models of a republic along with the status quo would have been put to a referendum:

On 21 April 2010 the Bill was defeated at its first reading 53 - 68 [74] with voting recorded as Ayes 53 being New Zealand Labour 43; Green Party 9; United Future 1 and Noes 68 being New Zealand National 58; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; Progressive 1.

See also

Lobby groups
Former political parties
Similar republican debates

Related Research Articles

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