Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Former Prime Minister calls for new constitution

Former Prime Minister and Victoria University of Wellington Distinguished Fellow Sir Geoffrey Palmer is calling for a modern written constitution in New Zealand to boost public confidence in government.

Sir Geoffrey and constitutional expert Dr Andrew Butler have been working on a proposed new constitution and will soon publish a book, A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand, setting out their ideas and seeking public comment on them.

New Zealand’s Constitution should be modernised to make it more easily accessible, says Sir Geoffrey.

“We aim to provide a model and stimulate the debate. We believe this country needs a modern constitution that is easy to understand, reflects New Zealand’s identity, enhances public confidence in government, and better protects rights and liberties.”

A constitution outlines the fundamental rules regarding the powers of government, how government institutions are structured and interact, as well as protections for human rights.

Compared with overseas constitutions, New Zealand’s Constitution was highly unusual in that it was made up of “a hodge-podge of rules”, was not located in one place and was very hard to find, said Sir Geoffrey.

Parts of what could be considered the current constitution were located in 45 Acts of Parliament, 12 international treaties, nine areas of common law, eight constitutional conventions, several executive orders and other legal instruments.

Trying to understand the current New Zealand Constitution was difficult and frustrating, says Sir Geoffrey. “It is unsurprising then that New Zealanders speak little of their Constitution and think about it even less.”

However, he believes the public will engage strongly once they have specific proposals to consider and its importance becomes clear.

Sir Geoffrey and Dr Butler today launched a new website on the subject at More specific detail about the proposals will be revealed on the site after Victoria University Press publishes the book at the end of September and the public will then be invited to make submissions to the authors.

New Zealand would be more successful and better governed if there was constitutional change, says Sir Geoffrey.

“The changes we will put forward we believe are a necessary part of preserving democratic freedom in New Zealand, and of protecting the fundamental principles which anchor public power and strengthen government accountability. We want to find out if New Zealanders agree.”
A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand, published by Victoria University Press, will be launched at Parliament on 21 September:

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