Good news and bad news. First, the good news: New Zealand repeals its blasphemy law

When I was a kid, my dad would ask me this question. “Jerry, I have some good news and some  bad news. Which do you want to hear first?”

I’d say, “The good news.”

My father would respond: “The good news is that there’s no bad news.”

Then I’d ask, “Well, what’s the bad news, then?”

And my father would respond, “The bad news is that’s the only good news there is.”

You can do the same if the person asks first for the bad news. You then say, “The bad news is that there’s no good news.” When the person responds by asking, “Well what’s the good news?”, you answer, “That’s the only bad news there is.”

But today we have genuine good and bad news.  The good news is that today New Zealand finally repealed its law against blasphemous libel, passed in 1961, which stated this:

Note that what they’re talking about here is, as this site reports, anything that “condemns Christ or Christianity.” But the proviso in (3), which says that you’re not blaspheming if you’re making arguments in good faith and decent language, pretty much rendered the law toothless.  And indeed, there’s been only a single prosecution for violating this law in sixty years:

To date the only prosecution for blasphemous libel in New Zealand has been the case of John Glover, publisher of the newspaper The Maoriland Worker in 1922, although the poem was widely available at the time. The Crown laid a charge of blasphemous libel over the 12 October 1921 issue of The Maoriland Worker which included two poems by British poet Siegfried Sassoon. The alleged blasphemy was the closing lines of Sassoon’s poem ‘Stand-to: Good Friday Morning’:

O Jesus, send me a wound to-day,
And I’ll believe in Your bread and wine,
And get my bloody old sins washed white!

The case was tried in the Supreme Court in 1922. The jury returned a verdict of not guilty with a rider: “That similar publications of such literature be discouraged”.

NZ authorities also tried to censor Monty Python’s Life of Brian and an episode of South Park using this statute, but both efforts failed. The law is, as are all such laws, a vestige of an earlier and more religious time, and, at least in the West, hardly every used.

So today the New Zealand Parliament voted to scrap it.  According to the NZ site Newshub,

[On] Tuesday the Government scrapped the law it labels as “archaic” with the passing of the Crimes Amendment Bill.

“The offence of blasphemous libel has not been prosecuted in New Zealand since 1922, and raises potential Bill of Rights Act concerns,” said Justice Minister Andrew Little.

“This obsolete provision has no place in a modern society which protects freedom of expression.”

Mr Little said laws should be relevant to modern society and the last time a blasphemous libel case was considered, in 1998, the Solicitor-General rejected it.

“The view was expressed that it would be inconsistent with the freedom of expression as protected by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act,” said Mr Little.

As the Wikipedia page notes, “The Bill passed the second reading on the 11 December 2018, the Committee of the Whole House on the 20 February 2019, and the third reading on 5 March 2019. It awaits the royal assent to become law.”

For crying out loud, Kiwis, you are still under the thumb of Queen Elizabeth. Can a bill not become law without the fricking Queen assenting?

Curiously, I have yet to find a single Kiwi who wishes their land to be free from any sort of royal oversight, which seems to me an equally vestigial remnant of an earlier time. A land full of royalists! I’m sure some readers will defend the fact that Elizabeth is officially the Queen of New Zealand, but this makes no sense in a democracy, nor does the idea that the Queen of England should have any iota of power over the citizens of New Zealand.

h/t: Grania

145 Comments

  1. Posted March 5, 2019 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    I’m English, I agree… But why has the Queen any influence on my Democratic rights…let alone Bishops in the House of Lords…

    • Posted March 5, 2019 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

      She doesn’t. It is a constitutional monarchy and she has no political say or power.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted March 5, 2019 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

        Exactly! It frustrates me that some USians don’t get the understand the difference between a constitutional monarchy and the queen having power over us. She has NONE.

        NZ is actually a much freer country than the US, at least according to multiple international indices.

        That said, I’m glad our blasphemy law is finally gone. It was a complete embarrassment. We inherited it from the time when we were a British colony and used their laws. The 1961 Act was part of the decades-long process of changing laws to reflect the fact we were no longer a colony but made our own laws. It wasn’t a new law per se.

        BTW, it wasn’t NZ authorities who tried to bring prosecutions over an episode of ‘South Park’. It was religious authorities. You needed the permission of the AG to even bring a prosecution, and he refused every time they tried, including in the cases mentioned above.

        Religious authorities also tried to use the blasphemy law to ban a couple of artworks in the national museum (Te Papa). They got nowhere with that either. (For more info see here: https://www.heatherhastie.com/abolish-new-zealands-blasphemy-law-must-be-abolished/ )

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted March 5, 2019 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

          Kia ora!

        • GBJames
          Posted March 5, 2019 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

          Some of us understand, Heather!

          • Heather Hastie
            Posted March 5, 2019 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

            I know you do!

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted March 5, 2019 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

          Thanks Heather. I get quite frustrated when furriners misrepresent things like the attempted ‘South Park’ prosecution – which, as you note, was properly legally STOPPED by the ‘authorities’ rather than perpetrated by them.

          I was never particularly worried about the blasphemy law; it was just one of those curious old laws that everybody ignores. (Can’t say I’m sorry it’s gone though). Even the C of E supported its repeal – “Former prime minister Bill English – a practising Catholic – last year said the law was outdated and should be repealed. The comments were echoed by the bishops of the New Zealand Anglican Church who said God did not need to be defended by a statute.” Can you imagine a ‘Murican church saying that?

          cr

          • Heather Hastie
            Posted March 6, 2019 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

            Dr Peter Linehan was talking about changing it so that it covered all religions! I think he’s a Methodist lay preacher. (He was actually one of my lecturers at Massey back in the 80s.)

  2. Ken Kukec
    Posted March 5, 2019 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    How many times did you fall for Daddy Coyne’s good news/bad news ruse?

  3. frank bath
    Posted March 5, 2019 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    It is rather ridiculous and unnecessary. It’s no more than a rubber stamping exercise as in the UK. Here it hasn’t been withheld since Queen Anne in 1708.
    The president of the USA however can veto bills, and does.

  4. Tom Besson
    Posted March 5, 2019 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    It’s the power of myth, Jerry, the power of myth. When we stop thinking in terms of what we think things are and start thinking about how things really are, this, too, shall pass.

  5. randallschenck
    Posted March 5, 2019 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    It beats the hell out of declaring an emergency where there is none.

  6. Posted March 5, 2019 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    The Queen’s assent is just a formality, and practically automatic. New Zealand is a member of the Commonwealth, after all, and has the Union Jack as part of its national flag.

    • norm walsh
      Posted March 5, 2019 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

      And a fine flag it is too. We have a shitty red one because the Libs were in power at the time.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted March 5, 2019 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

        No way! The Canadian flag is lovely.

        • Jonathan Dore
          Posted March 6, 2019 at 1:20 am | Permalink

          Agreed. The Canadian flag is an instant classic. And I love the story of the how the Liberals on the flag committee in 1964 bamboozled the Tories into supporting it because they thought they were voting against Pearson’s favoured 3-leaf design.

      • Posted March 6, 2019 at 10:12 am | Permalink

        I like this flag:

        https://goo.gl/images/aivgGs

        It amazes me that it has still got the Union Flag in it.

    • rom
      Posted March 5, 2019 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

      A nit-picky thing.

      The image is not correct. The Saint Patrick’s Cross should be offset.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_New_Zealand#/media/File:Flag_of_New_Zealand.svg

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted March 5, 2019 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

        I was hoping for this flag when everyone was voting.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted March 5, 2019 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

          Ha ha! That one didn’t make it into the final four, thank goodness. A whole lot of people would probably have voted for it as a joke thinking no one else would, then we would’ve been stuck with it!

          I wanted one of the new versions. I don’t want the Union Flag to be part of our flag as if we’re still a colony. But there were two things against a new flag. Firstly, the Returned Services Assn did a major campaign making it seem that if you didn’t vote for the old flag, you didn’t value them. Secondly, the whole flag referendum process was really badly managed and made to seem like a vote for a new flag was supporting the then PM’s pet project.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted March 5, 2019 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

            That hokey pokey one I think might have won as well. I liked the black one with the fern but everyone kept saying it was too much like the ISIS flag.

            • Heather Hastie
              Posted March 5, 2019 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

              The black one with the fern is used all the time for sporting events, and that’s the one the PM of the time wanted. I thought the similarity to the ISIS flag was a silly reason, but at the time ISIS was making a lot of noise. I liked one of the others which had the fern as well as the Southern Cross.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted March 5, 2019 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

                That black one with the fern was horrible. Black and white – ugh. And also, totally identified with the Rugby Union and they can go to hell.

                I was much relieved that was not chosen as one of the possible preferred alternatives.

                The one you liked was this one, I think:

              • Heather Hastie
                Posted March 6, 2019 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

                Yeah, I think that was it. It’s hard to remember now. It was, imo, the best of what we had to choose from. It’s not great, but I wanted to change.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted March 5, 2019 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

            I agree. John Key very much made it into a personal ‘I am going to change the flag’ issue and I’m sure a lot of the anti votes were ‘Fuck you, Key!’ votes.

            Mine was 🙂

            I would have been okay with the leading light blue/white/black version, but I’m also okay with the old one.

            cr

    • Posted March 5, 2019 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

      Both the NZ flag and the Australian flag have the union jack and the southern cross on the same blue background. Which came first? Don’t you worry about mistaken identity?

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted March 5, 2019 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

        The NZ flag cam first. The Aussie flag has two more stars. The four stars represent the Southern Cross visible in our skies. The two extra stars are two stars called the pointer as joining a line between them they point to the Southern Cross. At sporting events, NZ usually uses the Silver Fern flag ( https://www.silverfernflag.org/black.html ), and the Aussies often use the Kangaroo flag ( https://open.abc.net.au/explore/116686 ).

        People, incl NZers and Aussies do get it mixed up, which is one reason I want to change.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted March 5, 2019 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

          Sadly, if the NZ flag changes, I can no longer make my joke about them being communists with red stars.

          • Heather Hastie
            Posted March 5, 2019 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

            With all our socialist policies, many of your southern neighbours probably think that about us even though one of those international indices has NZ one of the best countries re Ease of Starting a New Business and Easy Tax Law – better than the US on the first and HEAPS better than the US on the second.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted March 5, 2019 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

        New Zealand has other problems besides the flag when it comes to being noticed.

      • Gordon Anderson
        Posted March 5, 2019 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

        NZ did cos Aussie didn’t exist until 1901ish

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted March 6, 2019 at 4:02 am | Permalink

        What I think is *worse* in free speech terms than the never-used blasphemy law is this: It’s illegal (in NZ) to burn the New Zealand flag.

        The practical solution is, of course, to burn the Aussie flag instead: It will have the same impact since nobody will notice the difference, but you will have an absolute defence in court since it is not illegal to burn any other flag than NZ. (And also, no Kiwi jury would ever convict anyone of offending the Aussies anyway… 😎

        cr

  7. Steve Pollard
    Posted March 5, 2019 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    OK, then, I’ll try to defend it.

    1. Many – most? – nations have a non-political Head of State. One of their duties is to give formal assent to Government legislation.

    2. The people of New Zealand have freely chosen to retain HM the Q as their Head of State.

    3. HM the Q is represented personally in NZ by an individual known as the Governor-General. (What’s in a name?)

    4. The G-G of NZ is a distinguished NZ citizen.

    5. In practice, therefore, the Government and people of NZ are totally in control of everything that pertains to their country.

    And I personally would far sooner have a non-political Head of State than an executive President, even a benign one, let alone the present US incumbent.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted March 5, 2019 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

      Yes. I agree. I’m actually not a monarchist and would prefer Canada leave the Commonwealth but lately, seeing how the world is falling apart, perhaps I will change my mind. The whole royal assent is not a view of the bill by the actual queen but a ceremony to get the bill passed and it’s done by a citizen of the country.

      • Steve Pollard
        Posted March 5, 2019 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

        Diana, I’m not sure whether you’re opposed to the Commonwealth as an institution to which Canada belongs, or just to having to put up with HM the Q as Head of State. If Canada’s citizens wished, they could stay in the Commonwealth and have their own elected or appointed Head of State.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted March 5, 2019 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

          It’s more the HM as head of state I think and all the issue with a GG and such. A group of pals in the Commonwealth doesn’t bother me.

    • James Walker
      Posted March 5, 2019 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

      Agreed. I’m a Canadian with dual UK citizenship through my father and living in Australia. These countries all share the same head of state but are free to pass their own laws. “Royal assent” is a formal rubber-stamping usually done by the GG, and usually not even in person. I’d far rather have a non-political head of state that (mostly) people are united around rather than an often (usually?) polarizing political head of state.

      • norm walsh
        Posted March 5, 2019 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

        +1

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted March 5, 2019 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

        A Canadian with dual UK citizenship living in Oz — so triple vexed with Her Highness, huh?

    • Gordon Anderson
      Posted March 5, 2019 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      To add to Steve Pollard and partly to reply to Jerry:
      (a) there are plenty of people who would prefer a republic but a key issue is the character of any new head of state as hinted at by Steve. Probably a factor is also respect for Elizabeth-things might change when Charles becomes King
      (b) The Head of State of New Zealand (at the moment) is the Queen of of NZ, a person legally separate from the Queens of the UK, Canada etc. This distinction is of constitutional importance as the Queen of NZ must act only on the advice of her NZ ministers. I believe Elizabeth II once (in her capacity as Head of the Commonwealth) refused to accept the advice of UK ministers that she not travel to a particular Commonwealth meeting)
      (c) and in practice its largely irrelevant (other than to people who deal with international protocol) as the Queen is virtually never in NZ and the Governor-General is a New Zealander appointed (in practice) by the NZ government.

    • tjeales
      Posted March 5, 2019 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      We have the same system in Australia and it is viewed as a mere formality however as the 1975 constitutional crisis in Australia showed, those powers that are usually regarded as ceremonial, can still be used and can in the right circumstances remove an elected government and install a new unelected one.

  8. Ken Kukec
    Posted March 5, 2019 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Is there a notion more inimical to Enlightenment principles than that power and privilege should descend along bloodlines?

    • Jonathan Dore
      Posted March 5, 2019 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

      Indeed. As Gibbon says in chapter 7 of “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”: “Of the various forms of government which have prevailed in the world, an hereditary monarchy seems to present the fairest scope for ridicule.”

      He was talking about the Severan emperors, but the principle holds wherever actual power is involved. The key point about modern constitutional monarchies is that actual power is not involved.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted March 5, 2019 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

        As the Enlightenment philosopher Denis Diderot said, “Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.”

        (I like to think of that as metaphorical, though I’m not so sure Diderot did.)

        • Jonathan Dore
          Posted March 6, 2019 at 12:59 am | Permalink

          I’m not sure he was, and it’s certainly a sentiment with wide appeal in the 18th century — again, an era in which kings and priests wielded real political power.

    • A C Harper
      Posted March 5, 2019 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

      Then you should consider whether or not politicians’ sons and daughters should be allowed to become politicians themselves.

      You can, of course, reasonably argue that those sons and daughters also have to be democratically elected… but they curiously find that many of the normal barriers to a political career magically vanish.

      • Posted March 5, 2019 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

        I’d add the wives as well.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted March 5, 2019 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

          How’d Jeb! and Hillary make out last time around?

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted March 5, 2019 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

      Well, HM the Q has plenty of privilege (but not, I would suggest, appreciably more than your common-or-garden US President), but no real power. Each to their own; but I much prefer a non-political Head of State to a Chief Executive. And the monarchy is, like it or not, part of the UK’s USP.

  9. mark
    Posted March 5, 2019 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    Reality is no one in the USA has any moral superiority in this. Constitutional monarchy coupled with MMP has given NZ a government system that has been benign Including benefits foreign to most citizens of the USA. It’s better to be ruled by an old queen that an orange gibbon.

    • Posted March 5, 2019 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      Need I point out that at least people elect our leaders. You don’t have any choice about your Queen. And I should also point out that the Orange Gibbon can last no more than 8 years, while the queen can go decades.

      I, for one, would not curtsey or bow to any head of state, which is what Kiwis have to do to the queen.

      Don’t you see how ridiculous it is to argue that last sentence? You could use that to say that it’s better to have a benevolent but absolute monarch than a President because the President could turn out to be Trump. That argument is ridiculous.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted March 5, 2019 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

        Jerry, we’ve told you many times that no one is forced to bow and curtsey. I even pointed to an article in Canada about greeting monarchy and no one expects that. Some people do it because they want to but no one forces them and it isn’t required by the queen or anyone else. I mean really, do you think we would face fines or go to jail if we didn’t do what she wanted? Pierre Trudeau, as head of the Canadian government, famously pirouetted behind the queen’s back!

        As for not electing the queen, she doesn’t get to run the government. I’m anti-monarchist but not for these reasons….I just think Canada is grown up enough now that we don’t need it but recently, I’m starting not to care so much given democracy is so under siege lately that I don’t want to mess with what’s a good thing and what is working.

        • Steve Pollard
          Posted March 5, 2019 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

          Hear hear. It’s also worth noting that the Head of State of many countries is not elected, but appointed by Parliament or an electoral college. The appointed President of Germany, for instance, has almost exactly the same powers as the Queen, ie none.

          And would we care to see a future German President appointed by a Bundestag dominated by, say, the AfD? I’ll stick to our constitutional monarchy, thanks.

          • Posted March 5, 2019 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

            I don’t think that such a hypothetical future German President would create a worse mess than the current (still) Chancellor.

        • Posted March 5, 2019 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

          “…no one is forced to bow and curtsey…”

          Theresa May obviously didn’t get the memo – hers is the most obsequious and ridiculous curtsey to Prince William!

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted March 5, 2019 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

            As I mentioned, it’s not a requirement but some people do it. No one is thrown in jail, reprimanded, looked st sideways, fined or otherwise punished for not bowing or curtsying.

        • Posted March 5, 2019 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

          I’d prefer to bow to the Queen than have to stand when Trump enters the room.

      • David Evans
        Posted March 5, 2019 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

        How long before the damage done to the Supreme Court (not to mention the planet) by the Orange Gibbon can be put right?

      • tjeales
        Posted March 5, 2019 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

        If you think there’s any actual enforcement of deference or royal protocol you should take a look at this photo of comedian Paul Hogan meeting the queen in 1980

        • tjeales
          Posted March 5, 2019 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

      • Posted March 6, 2019 at 10:02 am | Permalink

        The Queen has no political authority. Now that the New Zealand government has passed the bill, it will become law. It doesn’t matter that New Zealand’s (or the UK’s or Australia’s or Canada’s) head of state is not elected. She can’t refuse to sign the bill into law.

        Contrast this with the USA. Your legislature makes laws, but the president can say no. This is also perfectly fine because the president is elected and there is a mechanism whereby Congress can overrule a veto and yet, it can still lead to dysfunctional situations such as the recent government shutdown.

        I’ve heard people argue that benevolent dictatorship is the best theoretical form of government. The only drawback in the real world is that dictatorships can become malevolent or just incompetent at any time.

        • Posted March 6, 2019 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

          I don’t know what it is like in NZ, but in Canada I have (on the authority of an undergraduate level textbook, anyway) come to understand that, now, if a GG were to refuse “Royal Assent” *nobody knows* what would happen – it hasn’t happened since the 1920s, which is at least one constitutional regime ago.

          • Posted March 6, 2019 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

            What happened in the 20’s?

            • Posted March 8, 2019 at 11:30 am | Permalink

              If I recall, exactly what one would expect if one assumes the power is a veto.

              • Posted March 9, 2019 at 6:16 am | Permalink

                No, I mean what happened in the Twenties that caused the GG to exercise the veto.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted March 5, 2019 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

      Mebbe so. But the orange gibbon will be turned out of office in two years (if not sooner, and in no case later than 20 January 2025). Your Queen, on the other hand, was crowned in 1953 and, should she live as long as her Mum, could reign another decade.

      Or, as Mister Churchill told Lady Astor (when she told him he was drunk, and he her that she was ugly), at least we shall be sober on the morrow … 🙂

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted March 5, 2019 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

        This whole thing is a false equivalency. The Queen doesn’t have anything to do with the government of the Commonwealth. It’s called Royal Assent out of history and tradition but the Queen doesn’t read this stuff. The way this argument is proceeding, it sounds as if she’s a dictator that runs all our governments; that isn’t the case and I think that’s pretty clear in the functioning of our democracies.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted March 5, 2019 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

          I know, I know. I just like to give you Commonwealth cats the needle.

      • Mike Cracraft
        Posted March 5, 2019 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

        Isn’t there another supposed quip that goes:
        Lady Astor – If you were my husband I’d shoot you.
        Churchill – If you were my wife I’d let you.

        • Posted March 5, 2019 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

          From memory it is more like:

          “If you were my husband I’d poison your tea.”

          “If you were my wife I’d drink it!”

      • mfdempsey1946
        Posted March 5, 2019 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

        According to another story, when Lady Astor and Winston Churchill, who despised one another, found themselves face to face at a party, Lady Astor said, “Winston, if you were my husband, I’d put poison in your coffee,” and Churchill replied, “Nancy, if I were your husband, I’d drink it.”

        Or are both stories apocryphal?

      • Posted March 6, 2019 at 10:32 am | Permalink

        On the first point, the Queen became Queen in 1952. She assumed all the powers of the monarchy (such as they are) at the moment her father died. The coronation wasn’t held until 1953 presumably because it took that long to organise.

        The Queen in her entire reign has done no damage to any of the countries of which she is head of state because she has no real power whatever. In the last two and a bit years, Trump has already caused lasting damage to the USA and to the World and if he is impeached tomorrow, he still has time to nuke North Korea and all the congressional districts that elected un-American liberal lefty Democrats.

        On the second point, it wasn’t Lady Astor involved in the drunk quote, it was Bessie Braddock. I don’t like that quote because drunkeness was entirely within the control of Churchill (within the limits of alcoholism), but Braddock was born with the face she had.

  10. Jonathan Dore
    Posted March 5, 2019 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    The Queen isn’t personally involved. Royal Assent is given by the Governor General, the monarch’s representative in New Zealand, who is appointed by … the NZ Prime Minister, thus ensuring that actual accountability remains with the elected head of government. (Notionally, the prime minister “recommends” the appointment to the Queen; no such recommendation is ever turned down.)

    These are the hoops that countries jump through when their head of state is a different person to their head of government. In many countries (like France or the US) the two roles are combined, but I don’t think the record of those that have a constitutional monarch for the ceremonial role (not just the Commonwealth but Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands) have anything to be embarrassed about, since they’ve evolved to ensure that arbitrary abuses of power by the monarch don’t happen. In fact it seems to me that having a head of state who’s uninvolved in party politics helps provide a unifying figure that’s especially useful when party politics becomes fractious.

    The fact that you’ve never met a New Zealander who objects is surely an indication that the arrangement works pretty well.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted March 5, 2019 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

      And you certainly can’t say that NZ has suffered for it as they’ve passed laws that were ahead of other countries – being the first to allow women to vote (1893) for example.

  11. randallschenck
    Posted March 5, 2019 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Every country has their burdens. We have the Senate and for what purpose. To keep the current executive in office?

    • Posted March 5, 2019 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      My first suggestion to improve our government is to get rid of the senate.
      Good comment.

      • randallschenck
        Posted March 5, 2019 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

        Here is another idea that might get Trump out faster. The house of rep. determines that it is best to go after him and his company as a criminal activity. Then they indite family members with him as an un-indited co-conspirator. Use RICO. Need to ask a lawyer.

        • Posted March 5, 2019 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

          I was not just talking about getting rid of Trump. I have thought that for a long time. House is just more democratic and representative than the senate.

          • GBJames
            Posted March 5, 2019 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

            “more democratic and representative”

            With gerrymandering, that is hard to tell.

            • Posted March 5, 2019 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

              That’s true. But the democrats were able to regain the house. So there is some hope.

              • GBJames
                Posted March 5, 2019 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

                IMO, It is likely the Dems will gain the Senate the next time around.

                I don’t think getting rid of the Senate is as important as eliminating gerrymandering, getting rid of the Electoral College, and trashing Citizens United.

      • GrahamH
        Posted March 5, 2019 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

        I’d get rid of the electoral college so, you know, the person who gets most votes gets to be president.

        • Posted March 5, 2019 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

          I agree, but I would want a run off between the top two unless one got a majority of the votes.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted March 6, 2019 at 7:45 am | Permalink

        I think the whole point of your having a Congress, a Senate, a Prez and a Supreme Court was to diffuse power and so make it less likely to end up with a dictator (you know, like the much-maligned Mad King George).

        Separation of Powers, Checks and Balances, all that stuff.

        Britain has the House of Commons, the House of Lords, and Royal Assent for approximately the same reasons (though given that Royal Assent is never in practice refused).

        New Zealand has only the one House of Parliament and this – when there was a ‘strong man’ as Prime Minister – did start to look much like a dictatorship. So now we have MMP (proportional representation) which in practice results in more parties in parliament, and coalitions, which diffuses the power somewhat.

        cr

        • Posted March 6, 2019 at 9:27 am | Permalink

          I understand the history and the reasons our system was set up like it is.
          But Montana with five hundred thousand people gets two senators. California with thirty million people gets two senators.
          That is an imbalance that was not foreseen and needs to fomehow be corrected.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted March 7, 2019 at 12:46 am | Permalink

            I do most certainly agree with that. The obvious ‘fix’ is to make the number of senators proportional to the state population. AND, not to award all the seats for one state to the ‘winning’ party, but pro rata according to votes cast.

            Obviously the less populous states will scream about ‘states rights’.

            Britain had a similar problem in the early 1800’s with ‘rotten boroughs’ or ‘pocket boroughs’ – parliamentary electorates with only a handful of population so the local landowner could dictate which MP got elected.

            cr

            • Posted March 7, 2019 at 10:13 am | Permalink

              Our constitution states that each state will have two senators. It also states that any part of the constitution can be amended except the part that says that each state will have two senators.

              Those small states were very stubborn and outnumbered the large states. I think the large states, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia should have formed a parliamentary government and made the small states part of it be force. Like England did to Wales, Cornwall, Ireland and Scotland. They should have had the war then instead of ninety years later in the eighteen sixties

              • GBJames
                Posted March 7, 2019 at 10:27 am | Permalink

                You should have told them at the time!

              • Posted March 7, 2019 at 10:35 am | Permalink

                I feel like I am old enough to have been there.

  12. Jenny Haniver
    Posted March 5, 2019 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    “Curiously, I have yet to find a single Kiwi who wishes their land to be free from any sort of royal oversight…”

    Have you met Heather Hastie? I’m making an assumption, of course, because I can’t recall if she stated her preference in a post on her site but I can’t imagine that she likes being ruled by a monarchy, unless it were a monarchy of hedgehogs and kakapos.

    Here’s a post she wrote in 2015 about the blasphemy law https://www.heatherhastie.com/abolish-new-zealands-blasphemy-law-must-be-abolished/.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted March 5, 2019 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      Heather’s okay with the monarchy. Most Kiwis tend toward monarchists. They see it as part of their tradition.

    • Posted March 5, 2019 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      Yes, Heather and I argue about this all the time. But she admits that she doesn’t have a good defense (as I recall) and is adhering to the Queen’s authority (via the GG) largely out of tradition. That is in fact the reason I think many Kiwis don’t object: tradition.

      But I think that there are many anti-royalist Brits, Hitchens among them.

      It is interesting to me to see atheists argue for a Queen who gets to inherit power and wealth and who has to be curtseyed and kowtowed to. “No gods, no masters” apparently doesn’t apply to Queen Elizabeth.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted March 5, 2019 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

        And many Australians are anti-monarchists as well. I think they are split along the same lines as Canada. Of course, with Canada, we have the French side of our history and that is a sore point with them. As a Canadian, I would be for leaving the commonwealth if it meant better relations with French Canadians alone.

        • Gordon Anderson
          Posted March 5, 2019 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

          Of course the Aussies blew their chance to become a republic when a referendum was held in 1999 with about 56% against. To be fair to the poor benighted fools opposition to the method for choosing a head of state (appointed by Parliament) may have partially split the republican vote

          • tjeales
            Posted March 5, 2019 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

            The referendum was put up by an anti-republican government and was deliberately set up to spoil the vote. Had the question been “do you want a republic?” the answer would have been yes.

          • ratabago
            Posted March 6, 2019 at 7:06 am | Permalink

            It was worse than that. Not only did the Parliament, not the people, get to appoint the President, it removed a mechanism of constitutional oversight on the government. The person with the job of seeing to it that the government complied with the constitution would be able to be removed at the whim of the Prime Minister, and would no longer have the protection of tradition. Most of the republicans I knew, including me, thought the status quo better than gambling a PM would never abuse their power when they were being removed for already abusing their power. In other words it kept all the bad features of the old system, and introduced some new worse features.

            And so we failed to remove a ceremonial wearer of hats. Poor gullible us.

      • Posted March 5, 2019 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

        Yes, the Queen inherits wealth (but then so do many Americans!), but she doesn’t inherit power (that issue was settled in the era of Charles I vs Cromwell), and no-one has to curtsy or bow to royalty these days (see, e.g. https://www.royal.uk/greeting-member-royal-family “There are no obligatory codes of behaviour when meeting The Queen or a member of the Royal Family, …”).

        These days the royals are public servants, performing a civic ceremonial role, and raising money for charities (and also providing a soap opera for the tabloids, and attracting rich American tourists, etc).

        I think that America loses out by not having any comparable above-politics figure. America seems so divided currently. Is it really good, for example, to have Trump as ceremonial head of the armed forces?

        • Posted March 5, 2019 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

          The scariest part of that is, he’s not the CEREMONIAL head of the armed forces, he’s the actual, legal, Commander-in-Chief of the US armed forces.

        • Hrafn
          Posted March 5, 2019 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

          Actually, the British monarch retained considerable power until the time of Queen Victoria, who was peeved that she couldn’t appoint her preferred candidate as Prime minister. In fact it was her Hanoverian ancestors who created the British Cabinet, as they did not want to put all the power into the hands of a (local English) Lord Treasurer, so created the Lords of the Treasury instead (and the First Lord of the Treasury eventually became the PM). Same happened to the position of Lord Admiral.

      • Steve Pollard
        Posted March 5, 2019 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

        For what it’s worth (not much), I’ve met the Queen twice, and as far as I can recall I never bowed or curtseyed even once. We shook hands and had a little chat. My head is still attached to my shoulders!

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted March 5, 2019 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

        But I think that there are many anti-royalist Brits, Hitchens among them.

        C. Hitchens, yes. But (if I’m recalling correctly from an appearance he once made here) his epigone of a brother, Peter, is a stone-cold monarchist.

      • Posted March 5, 2019 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

        I think that atheism correlates with political views only when it is confined to a small minority, and only within a culture. Before 1944, communists and atheists in my country were the same people, while democrats and supporters of right-wing dictators had faith or at least professed it. This distinction disappeared in the second half of the 20th century. Today, I see most US atheists as supporting income equality, climate stabilization, immigration, euthanasia, and determinism. Again, nothing like my country.

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted March 5, 2019 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

        My apologizes for second-guessing Heather. I must also tender my apologies to HRH for questioning the loyalty of one of her subjects.

        • Richard
          Posted March 6, 2019 at 4:22 am | Permalink

          The Queen is HM (Her Majesty), not HRH (Her Royal Highness).

          Off with your head!

  13. pk
    Posted March 5, 2019 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    While it is an anachronism, scrapping the figurehead G-G/Queen is not trivial. The Treaty of Waitangi was between iwi (Maori tribes) and the Crown. If the ‘Crown’ no longer has status then who is the Treaty with? The whole relationship and ‘constitution’ framework would need to be rethought and consented to.

    • Posted March 6, 2019 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      I’m an anti-monarchist Canadian who has thought about this (but is not a lawyer, etc.). I wondered if it were possible to simply do a global find and replace. 🙂 (E.g., “Crown” -> “Embodiment of Canada” or the like.)

  14. Posted March 5, 2019 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    Even in the UK “Royal Assent” needn’t involve the Queen, it’s usually done by “Lords Commissioners” (see https://www.parliament.uk/about/how/laws/passage-bill/lords/lrds-royal-assent/ ). All it is is the formal announcement that a bill passed by Parliament is now law.

    The term “Royal Assent” is retained from history, but doesn’t imply that the Queen actually decides on laws, any more that the words “Wednesday” and “Thursday” imply a role for Woden and Thor.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted March 5, 2019 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

      Let us know when Woden and Thor get a pad like Buckingham Palace (or any of the other properties in the Crown Estate).

      • Dave
        Posted March 5, 2019 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

        The English monarchy traces its descent from the Royal house of the West Saxons, whose traditional genealogy in turn begins with the god Woden. The Queen is therefore, distantly descended from a pagan Germanic god, as well as being the earthly representative of the Christian god in England. If that’s not worth a few bows and curtsies, I don’t know what is!

  15. randallschenck
    Posted March 5, 2019 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Separation of church and state. How does any atheist in the U.S. believe that with a straight face. It’s just a joke right? We have a Chaplain in both the house and the senate, just for equality I’m sure. They start everyday with a prayer. Jefferson would be sick in the grave.

  16. davelenny
    Posted March 5, 2019 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    When the Queen, who is studiously non-political, is succeeded by her more openly opinionated and wooful son, republicanism in NZ might well get a boost, especially as a decreasing percentage of NZers are of British descent.

    Meanwhile, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, especially if pk @13 is right and major major constitutional and legislative changes are needed.

  17. GBJames
    Posted March 5, 2019 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    I assume the Brits pay for the monarchy out of public coffers. Do other members of the Commonwealth pay, too? Does Canada have to contribute to keep this system running?

    Asking for a friend.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted March 5, 2019 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

      No, that’s all thrust upon the British though if you consider that tax dollars pay for a GG you could say we do in a way pay for our constitutional monarchy as an institution.

      • Posted March 5, 2019 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

        Although the last visit of QE2 to Canada (NS) did cost the Canadian taxpayer as QE2 was transported both ways in a RCAF Airbus crewed, fueled etc at our(Canada) cost.
        I saw the arrival from my office window at Halifax International Airport.
        I believe, but stand to be corrected, that if the the “hosting” country requests the royal visit, they pick up the tab so to speak.
        I mean, poor old royalty no travel fund!

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted March 5, 2019 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

          Yes that’s true but it’s the same with any dignitary. I’m sure there were costs when Obama came to visit (remember how Stephen Harper was walking with him and people were waving and cheering – sorry Stephen, that’s not for you….poor Stephen).

      • frank bath
        Posted March 5, 2019 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

        The Royal Family gets an annual sum of cash from the British Exchequer. The Exchequer gets tons of cash from the Royal Estates that the monarch gave up years ago to finance this. It was all done amicably and the Exchequer makes a handsome profit from the arrangement.

  18. Julian Cattaneo
    Posted March 5, 2019 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    The Queen reigns but does not rule. As pointed out by several here, Royal Assent is usually automatic and in NZ or Canada or Australia given by the GG who is a local.
    I’m generally speaking an anti-monarchist (but in Canada it’s not an important enough issue to make a fuss about, at least now). In the UK the Queen has a (very) slightly larger role (weekly audience with the PM) and I was quite taken with Stephen Fry’s argument in favour of that practice— see about halfway through the CFI video of his conversation with Richard Dawkins.
    Really worth a watch.

    • CJColucci
      Posted March 5, 2019 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

      I’ve long thought there was a good play to be written about the frustrations of a Queen who had far more policy chops, political judgment, and administrative ability than the elected politicians who actually make decisions and f**k things up.

  19. Posted March 5, 2019 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    The Queen gets paid to manage the total properties and is required to make something over 200 or more public appearances a year. Parliament votes on her budget/salary. If she dies not perform her duties she could be removed or replaced. She is basically a well paid civil servant with no power.

    It will be interesting to see if the British accepy Charles as king and how the role with change. William and Harry are very popular. Their popularity may allow the system to continue for the foreseeable future.

    • rom
      Posted March 5, 2019 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      Lets pray for Lizzie hanging on for a decade or two.

      • Dave
        Posted March 5, 2019 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

        Charles will be an old man himself by the time he succeeds his mother. He may have been opinionated in his younger days, but I doubt if he’ll have the energy or inclination to rock the boat when he eventually takes over. He knows the way the system works from decades of watching his mother. He knows his job will be to cut ribbons, wave at the crowds and sign what he’s told to sign until he hands the job over to William.

  20. rom
    Posted March 5, 2019 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    I must admit I am a mild monarchist.

    The process by and large works in the UK as it does in Canada. If Canada would decide to move to a Republic, lets do it better than our neighbours to the south.

    My experience with administrative systems is not so much the structure, but how well they are implemented.

    • Posted March 5, 2019 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      One of the reasons ours is implemented so badly is the way it is structured. It is way to difficult to amend the constitution, which is poorly structured in the first place. We have the undemocratic electoral college and senate we cannot get rid of.
      A presidential election process we cannot get changed.
      We do not have anything to feel superior to the British system about.

      • Posted March 5, 2019 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

        Also, the president should not be allowed to veto bills or issue pardons.

  21. Bruce Swanney
    Posted March 5, 2019 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    Royal Assent in NZ is little more than a quaint tradition.

    • A C Harper
      Posted March 5, 2019 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      Quite so. But that tradition has a mild stabilising effect, so perhaps the monarchy is another useful fiction?

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted March 5, 2019 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

        Couldn’t the same be said of the C of E?

        Would you be willing to expend taxpayer money to support that, too?

  22. een
    Posted March 5, 2019 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    Okay, there’s also an important historical issue between the indigenous Maori and the British Crown. The Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 between the Maori tribes and the British Crown. New Zealand then became a British colony, and Maori became British citizens, with all the attendant rights and obligations. Maori were promised that they could keep their lands, estates, forests and fisheries, for as long as they wanted to retain them.

    When the NZ settler Government began breaching the terms of the Treaty with dodgy land dealings, confiscations and the like, Maori petitioned the British Crown several times, including sending deputations, for the Treaty rights to be observed. I would point out that in each case they were referred back to the NZ Government, which, back in the day, took no action.

    A process has been under way more recently to recognise and make redress for those breaches of the Treaty, but for many Maori the relationship between them and the Crown as the Treaty partner remains separate and distinct from their relationship to the Government of the day.

    For that reason, some Maori oppose moves toward NZ becoming a republic.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted March 5, 2019 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

      Couldn’t civil government be substituted in under the equitable right of subrogation developed in the English Court of Chancery? (Though I’m far afield of my own area of expertise here. 🙂 )

  23. frank bath
    Posted March 5, 2019 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    The Royal Family seems to work. The BBC seems to work. It is hard to find an intellectual justification for either. Like all institutions it finally depends on the honest work of good men, and women obviously.

  24. Posted March 5, 2019 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    Constitutional monarchies have proved to be among the freest, most stable and longest lived democracies on earth. Why are people complaining?

    • Dave
      Posted March 5, 2019 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

      Exactly. It isn’t a system anyone would create from scratch, but that’s the whole point – it wasn’t created. It evolved, over many centuries, with a lot of violence and upheaval along the way, to produce the nations we see today which, as you correctly point out, are among the best places in the world to live. We would tear it down at our peril.

      • Posted March 5, 2019 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

        Sorry, but taking away all governmental powers from the Queen, like eliminating her ability to have to give the final approval to laws (really, is there something to gain by her having that power?), will not hurt England one bit.

        There is all this overheated alarmism about how taking power from the royals will ruin England. I don’t believe that one bit.

        And I’m still amused that a bunch of atheists insist on the necessity of a privileged class of humans–the royal family.

        • frank bath
          Posted March 5, 2019 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

          And we mustn’t forget the Queen is the head of The Church Of England… LOL.

        • Jonathan Dore
          Posted March 6, 2019 at 1:14 am | Permalink

          In practice the monarch has no such right. The last time royal assent was refused was in 1708, so I think we’re pretty safe.

          • Posted March 6, 2019 at 5:02 am | Permalink

            In practice blasphemy laws aren’t enforced, either. So why not leave them on the books? Why? Because they’re wrong and shouldn’t be there in a democracy.

            I am again vastly amused to see a bunch of atheists who would object to unused blasphemy laws osculate the presence of a Queen whose political powers over New Zealand are equally unused.

            I’m also amused that the defense of royalism is “Well, you have Trump.” That’s not a defense, it’s a tu quoque.

            What we’re seeing here is a bunch of atheists exhibiting irrational deference to a person who doesn’t deserve it. The Queen is not anybody’s superior but she is granted heredity superiority and the right to live in a palace and have servants, and she wasn’t elected and she doesn’t deserve it. And yes, MOST people curtsey to her or bow. I am mystified about how strongly atheists defend the presence of a hereditary royalty.

            • Dick Veldkamp
              Posted March 6, 2019 at 7:04 am | Permalink

              As a Dutchman I feel somewhat connected with the Commonwealth people, since we also have a monarch.

              I definitely think we should have a president (or an elected Queen), but the problem of having an old fashioned hereditary monarch is about number 1543 on my list of things to get worked up about. Who cares?

              BTW The Netherlands must be one of the few countries that started out sensibly (as a republic) but introduced the monarchy later on. 😉

              • Posted March 6, 2019 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

                How *did* that happen? I remember seeing pieces of that when reading a biography of Spinoza and getting confused. (And there’s the perennial thanks to Canada from your country re: WWII and that same monarchy …)

            • Posted March 6, 2019 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

              I don’t see what atheism has to do with it. Countries have institutions and symbols. When those countries are free, democratic and the governments serve interests of the people, those institutions and symbols are worthy of respect. Why do we respect the flag?

  25. Nicolaas Stempels
    Posted March 5, 2019 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    In another constitutional monarchy, Belgium,@@w king Baudouin (aka Boudewijn or Baldwin) refused -as a rabiate Catholic- to sign an abortion law in 1990. Parliament simply declared him ‘mentally unfit’ for 24 hours, and passed the law.

  26. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted March 5, 2019 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    PCC seems far more exercised over our monarchy than we are. (‘We’ being most of us in Commonwealth countries).

    We have a system that works at least as well as the US of A, and demonstrably better at the moment. (Even allowing for the Brexit fiasco in UK, and that can be laid at the door of politicians and certainly not the Queen). If it works, don’t f**k around with it.

    I honestly can’t say I feel oppressed by Queen Elizabeth. Auckland City Council’s bylaws, yes, the traffic department, yes, numerous other agencies from time to time, yes, but the royal family? Nah.

    cr

  27. Nicolaas Stempels
    Posted March 5, 2019 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    To paraphrase Churchill: ‘Constitutional monarchy is the worst of all democratic systems of government, with exception of all others.’


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