Thursday, March 10, 2011

Secret process is no way to select a head of state

Jerry Mateparae has been chosen as New Zealand's next governor general to replace Anand Satyanand. He is a former chief of NZ defence staff and is the current head of the NZ Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), our electronic spying agency.

By all accounts, Jerry Mateparae is an enormously capable man with a proven track record of good leadership. Not only that, he appears to be a thoroughly decent fellow. Everything a country would want in a head of state (actually, a proxy head of state because the person who actually holds that role doesn't even live in New Zealand - more on that later).

The first issue I have with his appointment is the appointment process itself. The process is secret, carried out by a small cabal of senior public servants under the direction of the Prime Minister. While in recent years under MMP, the PM has consulted leaders of other political parties, there is no requirement to do this. I find it incredible that in the 21st Century the people of New Zealand have no say directly in the selection of their head of state.

The second issue I have is Jerry Mateparae's current role. In his role as head of GCSB he is answerable to the Prime Minister as minister in charge of the security services. In a few months time, the Prime Minister technically will be answerable to Mataparae. The Queen's representative in New Zealand may be called upon to sack the PM at some point (as the person in this role in Australia did in respect of their PM in 1975 - and let's leave aside the issue of whether it was justified or not for the sack of the argument). What prospect is there of Mateparae sacking the man who appointed him and to whom he previously reported as a public servant? Also, the governor general fulfils another important constitutional role as the final signatory on all legislation. By convention this is seen as a rubber stamp to Parliament but there is always the prospect that the governor general might strike down a particularly odious piece of legislation. Such as the Search and Surveillance Bill currently before Parliament. Again, what prospect is there of the governor general taking the side of the people of New Zealand against the Prime Minister who appointed him. And bear in mind that Mateparae would have contributed to the Search and Surveillance Bill as head of GCSB.

All of this brings me to the real problem. New Zealand is still a monarchy with the actual role of head of state being a hereditary position held by a family living on the other side of the world. The current incumbent, Elizabeth Windsor, has done a pretty reasonable job as our head of state. Her son, Charles Windsor, who will be our next head of state, is a bumbling idiot who I am sure wouldn't be in any position of leadership if he was selected on his own merits. Under our current system, no New Zealander can serve as the actual head of state, no matter what the selection criteria.

In America, every child is taught that they could grow up to be President. In New Zealand, our own children are not deemed worthy to ever aspire to our highest office. As a New Zealander, I find that situation highly offensive.

It is high time we fixed this antiquated, feudal system of determining who the head of state of New Zealand should be. We must abolish the monarchy, become a republic, and allow ourselves to elect our head of state.

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