So, we find (oddly, from overseas sources) that our government has agreed to a change in the line of succession. The male primogeniture (boys before girls) and prohibition on marriage to someone Catholic are to be removed.
The change was heralded by David Cameron in a speech at CHOGM:
“Attitudes have changed fundamentally over the centuries and some outdated rules, like some of the rules on succession, just don't make sense to us anymore: the idea that a younger son should become monarch instead of an elder daughter simply because he's a man, or that a future monarch can marry someone of any faith, except a Catholic. This way of thinking is at odds with the modern countries that we've all become. People have been talking about changing the rules for some time, but when there are 16 countries sharing the same head of state and each have their own constitutional, legal and political concerns, it's absolutely right that we should all discuss this together. That's why I asked Prime Minister Gillard for the opportunity to chair this meeting today with the heads of government from all 16 nations. I'm very pleased to say that we've reached a unanimous agreement on two changes to the rules of succession. First, we will end the male primogenitor rule so that in future the order of succession should be determined simply by the order of birth. We've agreed to introduce this for all descendents from the Prince of Wales. Put simply, if the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were to have a little girl, that girl would one day be our Queen. Second, we've agreed to scrap the rule which says that no one who marries a Roman Catholic can become monarch. Let me be clear, the monarch must be in communion with the Church of England, because he or she is the head of that church. But it is simply wrong that they should be denied the chance to marry a Catholic if they wish to do so. After all, they're already quite free to marry someone of any other faith. We agreed today that this has to change.”Hmmm. I think we’re meant to be excited by this.
Don’t get me wrong. The changes are some improvement. Republicans like me have been pointing out the daftness of these rules for years and years.
But there is still much wrong with a system that sees a British monarch automatically assuming the highest constitutional office in New Zealand.
The line of succession is not just a set of arcane rules about which of the Windsor off-spring next assume the British throne. They’re also our own constitutional statement of the qualifications for the position of Head of State for New Zealand.
The changes announced do make some difference: in 60-70 years, assuming the Duke and Duchess’ first born is a girl, she will be able to be Queen before any younger brothers.
But limited modernisation of this senior constitutional office in three or four generations leaves me cold. The office needs modernisation in this generation, now, in anticipation of the end of the present Queen’s reign.
For Kiwis, the main defects with the monarchy remain. The essential qualification – being born a foreigner of “special” blood – basically prevents any Kiwi from acting as our Head of State.
Let’s be clear about that. Even with these changes, no Kiwi – Pakeha, Maori, Asian, Pacifika – will be our head of state.
Go back to Cameron’s speech and replay it with a Kiwi lens:
“Attitudes have changed fundamentally over the centuries and some outdated rules, like some of the rulesAnd, also astonishing is the fact that the government unilaterally agreed to this change, without involving Kiwis in the change process.
on successionwho can be New Zealand's Head of State, just don't make sense to us anymore: the idea that someone born to a particular British family younger sonshould become monarchour Head of State instead of an elder daughter simply because he's a mansomeone born in Westmere, Wairoa, or Winton, or that a future monarch can marry someone of any faith, except a Catholicour Head of State must be British, not someone Kiwi, not someone Maori. This way of thinking is at odds with the modern countries that we've all become.”
Sure, the accord in an agreement-in-principle and legislation will still need to passed. But the die has already been cast. It's theoretically possible for some of the Realms to adopt a different course – but unlikely and impractical.
And we know that New Zealand isn't just a passive participant in the initiative. Earlier reports from the UK indicated New Zealand was leading a behind-the-scenes working party on the issue. And the CHOGM news indicates New Zealand will continue that role for the implementation phase.
Set this against the government's domestic position on any changes relating to our Head of State. They opposed the Head of State (Referendum) Bill, opposed any updating of the appointment process for Governor-General, and deliberately omitted the Head of State question from the constitutional review.
Also, the government has said elsewhere it will not be making major constitutional changes without "a broad base of support", either "broad cross-party agreement or the majority support of voters at a referendum".
The government is desperate to suppress any debate amongst Kiwis about whether we should have a home-grown Head of State. Yet it is happy to tinker with the line of succession, without any public involvement or discussion.
The sooner we have a genuine discussion between government and the people about whether a Kiwi should hold our most senior constitutional office, the better!