Saturday, September 17, 2016

New book asks New Zealanders how much power the government should have

The authors of a new book are seeking New Zealanders’ views about whether this country should have a written constitution and, if so, what should be in it.

Former Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC and constitutional expert Dr Andrew Butler have been working on a proposed new constitution and their book, A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand, will be launched at Parliament on Wednesday 21 September.

The book, published by Victoria University Press, seeks public comment about issues such as whether New Zealand should replace the monarchy with a New Zealander as Head of State, whether the Bill of Rights or the Treaty of Waitangi should be included in a written constitution, and what limits there should be on government powers, among other topics.

Dr Butler says the pair wants to start a nationwide conversation about what sort of nation New Zealand should be and how New Zealanders want their government to work.

“We are asking all New Zealanders, from young to old, in towns and cities across the country to think about these issues, because they make a real difference to how our society works,” says Dr Butler.

Sir Geoffrey says it is time New Zealand’s Constitution was modernised so it is more easily accessible, as it is currently located in many different laws and is hard to understand.

“We are proposing a new codified constitution that will bring the rules under which the country is governed into a single document. The law needs to be brought into step with modern New Zealand,” says Sir Geoffrey.

The proposed Constitution preserves the core branches of government and affirms the central importance of free, fair and democratic elections. It guarantees fundamental civil and political rights long recognised in our constitutional tradition.

It also proposes overhauling some aspects of the system the authors believe need changing. For example, the book proposes the creation of a new Head of State, elected in a free vote of the House of Representatives, with duties similar to those of the current Governor-General, and replacing the concept of “the Crown” with the legal establishment of the State.

“We already live in a disguised republic,” says Dr Butler. “We propose replacing the British monarchy with a domestic Head of State, while emphatically stating New Zealanders’ desire to remain within the Commonwealth.”

Under the proposed constitution, Parliament would have a fixed four-year term. The functions of the House of Representatives are set out, along with a new, politically neutral method for electing the Speaker.

Parliament’s law-making powers are set out and the powers of the Government are defined. The constitutional jurisdiction of the courts is also set out and a new Judicial Appointments Commission is provided to bolster the independence of the Judiciary.

To promote transparency, the availability of official information is constitutionally enhanced and the principles governing the public service and local government are set down. The authors also propose protecting human rights by including the Bill of Rights in the Constitution, as well as the Treaty of Waitangi.

Members of the public are invited to give their views to the authors through All comments will be considered before the proposals are finalised at the end of 2017.

“Public participation is important,” says Sir Geoffrey. “A Constitution is for the people and the people should have a say about what they want to see protected in the law.”

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