|Sir Geoffrey Palmer (photo: NZ Herald) Recently, New Zealand's constitutional future has been a subject of low-key debate. What form might it take, and how are we involved in this?
Apart from a Listener column, former Labour leader Mike Moore has aired the issue in unlikely places like Muriel Newman's Centre for Political Research and Investigate magazine. Part of that choice may be perceived as yet another attack on the current Prime Minister, Cabinet and caucus.
However, Moore does have a point. To be sure, he expresses it in garbled fashion, but he is substantively correct. New Zealand does need a written constitution. Whether or not that means we eventually become a republic is a moot point; it'll probably be after the death of Elizabeth II, given the respect and sentimental attachment that she provokes amongst even many soft republicans for her commitment to public duty and responsibility.
However, we can accomplish a written constitution far sooner, and it's not as if we are bereft of relevant examples- for example, Canada, which adopted its current Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982. The Charter has deepened the quality and scope of democratic debate within that society, particularly insofar as the question of equality rights goes, and Canadian LGBT groups have won such gains as same-sex marriage from that context. Added to which, we have a sufficiently respected former parliamentary figure with expertise in constitutional law, namely Sir Geoffrey Palmer, who could supervise such a process as a Royal Commission into New Zealand's Constitution here.
Predictably, Labour and National would probably be averse to this. However, in the case of the government, I would ask whether Canada is necessarily so alien an example? And whether its goals of social inclusion and enhanced citizenship would be met through such a measure as a written constitution, akin to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for our own country. We need a more robust structure to insure that our baseline civil liberties and human rights are protected, and to insure that there is greater scope for democratic debate within a disciplined context.
It is time New Zealand had our own Charter of Rights and Freedoms. New Zealand needs a stronger guarantor of citizenship and social inclusion than Parliament alone. Craig Young - 4th February 2008