Wednesday, November 24, 2004

A strong constitution

All this talk about a review on our constitution is stirring up a heap of interest in the media:

NZ Herald
Republic question 'to be raised' in constitution inquiry
Editorial: Are we ready to have a constitution?
Ditch Queen, say former Governors General
Editorial: Constitution issues can't be left to MPs
A timely review
Brash criticises constitution review
Editorial: A long and winding road
Constitution debate vital, Dunne says
PM playing down constitutional review

As far as can be determined, the story goes something like this. For whatever political reasons, the Prime Minister has raised the subject of a constitution review. Maybe Brash is right and this is a herring to detract from the Foreshore and Seabed Bill. Perhaps it's closer to our Philosopher Queen's personal vision than many suspect. The romantic idealist in me is betting on the latter. The wary cynic doesn't care.

Around a hundred years' ago, the New Zealand Women's Christian Temperance Union was pushing for alcohol prohibition. Clued-up Christian socialist Kate Sheppard figured that prohibition would be passed if women got to vote. She lobbied conservative former premier, Sir John Hall, to introduce the women's suffrage bill to Parliament. Hall did so believing women would vote for against Liberals given the chance. Sure enough, many Liberal ministers absented themselves from the vote. Party squabbling and in-fighting led to New Zealand being the first sovereign state to give women the vote. (Thanks to Michael King's History of New Zealand for the refs, pg. 264-265.)

There is a very good chance of history repeating itself. Whatever the reasons, our politicians are handing us an opportunity. This chance is rare and must not be squandered.

No-one under 40 cares a whit for the Queen as Head of State. Her last visit to New Zealand had a lower turnout than an All-Blacks match. Although she's a nice old bird with a dysfunctional family I can relate to, her titular spot on our political structure is meaningless, an irrelevance.

No-one under 40 remembers the days before the Common Market and the European Union. New Zealand's special place as England's pastures has been and gone. Our export market now focuses on regional trade with Oz, China, the US, and Peru.

Nothing compares with the current groundswell of support for Kiwi self-awareness. We are crying out for symbols we identify with. The referendum on changing the New Zealand flag is proving a nexus for this sentiment. We may be a diverse bunch of people, but heaps agree that anything has got to be better than this cloth, with a quarter of it dedicated to a colonial hangover.

Nowhere are the Crown obligations to its citizens made clear. The Treaty of Waitangi doesn't spell it out. The English version promises "to secure to them the enjoyment of Peace and Good Order" by "a settled form of Civil Government with a view to avert the evil consequences which must result from the absence of the necessary Laws and Institutions alike to the native population and to Her subjects." What. The. Fuck.

The post-Sept 11 climate has given the government all the reasons to spy, detain without trial and confiscate property, but none of the constraints to prevent the abuse of same. So what if Helen Clark raised the enquiry to distract from other matters? So what if Peter "Captain Sensible" Dunne is chairing the committee? We need to straighten out what we want from government and what limits they have imposed of these goals.

Bring on the constitutional review!