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Monarchy debate off-topic in constitutional review

Published: 10:48AM Wednesday December 08, 2010 Source: ONE News

The government's review of New Zealand's constitutional arrangements announced today is being criticised for leaving the republic debate off the agenda.

The review, to take place over the next three years, was always planned as part of the National-Maori Party supply and confidence agreement signed after the last election.

It will look at how many MPs New Zealand needs, the length of the Parliamentary term, the status of the Maori seats, the role of the Treaty of Waitangi and whether New Zealand needs a written constitution.
 
But the question of whether New Zealand should sever ties with the British monarchy and become a republic is not on the formal agenda, something the Act Party and Phil Goff said should have been part of the discussion.
  
Goff said: "At the point that The Queen passes, New Zealanders will have to make a decision by referendum about who our future head of state should be. That's on people's minds, it should have been part of the discussion."

But Prime Minister John Key indicated he has already made up his mind on the debate.

"Some people will raise the issue of a republic but I personally don't support that," John Key said.

Key said he wants to see parliament run four-year terms rather than the current three.
 
"I support four-year terms in parliament. I think fundamentally three years is very short - you end up going back to the polls much more quickly than most people would want," he said.

Broad base

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English and Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples announced the review today.

English said that any constitutional changes will require a broad base of support, either through cross-party support or through a referendum.

He said: "New Zealand has a long history of incremental constitutional change and we are keen to stimulate debate on these matters, hear the public's views and consider whether any aspects require changes."

English and Sharples will lead the review in consultation with a cross-party group of MPs. They will write to all party leaders in the next few days and ask them to nominate a representative for the group.

"Public consultation will guide the review, and information and education campaigns will be part of the review process," Dr Sharples said.

"I know Maori want to talk about the place of the Treaty of Waitangi in our consultation, and how our legal and political systems can reflect Tikanga Maori. Proper consideration of these issues cannot be rushed," he said.

Sharples said it was "essential" all New Zealanders have their say on the review.

"Maori obviously have their goals and aspirations for this review, and we accept that other people and other parties will have their own priorities.

"This review is not intended in any way to close off debate, but to open it up."

Sharples said the review could cover issues such as whether aspects of Tikanga Maori could be recognised formally in law. He gave the example of the cultural practice of Whangai adoption where a baby is gifted sometimes to a relative.

"Tikanga Maori are not just for Maori - they could offer alternative approaches to legal and social issues, and enrich the lives of all New Zealanders."

He said that was not recognised in law and could be if New Zealand's laws recognised Maori tikanga.

Panel and terms

An advisory panel will support the ministers, who will make a final report to Cabinet by the end of 2013. The Government will respond within six months.

The ministers' first report to Cabinet - expected by June 2011 - will seek agreement on the makeup of the advisory panel, a plan for public engagement and how the review will interact with other government projects with a constitutional dimension, such as the referendum on MMP.

The review will take a break in the second half of 2011 to allow for the general election, before resuming in 2012. The ministers will then provide six-monthly reports to Cabinet.

Terms of reference to be covered
- The size of Parliament.
- The length of terms of Parliament and whether or not the term should be fixed.
- The size and number of electorates, including the method for calculating size.
- Electoral integrity legislation.

Crown-Maori relationship matters including:
- Maori representation including the Maori Electoral Option, Maori electoral participation and Maori seats in Parliament and local government.
- The role of the Treaty of Waitangi within New Zealand's constitutional arrangements.

Other constitutional matters
- Whether New Zealand should have a written constitution.
- Bill of Rights issues.

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