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Republicanism in New Zealand is a political position that holds that New Zealand's system of government should be changed from a constitutional monarchy to a republic.

New Zealand republicanism dates back to the 19th century, although until the late 20th century it was a fringe movement. The current main republican lobby group, New Zealand Republic, was established in 1994. Because New Zealand's constitution is uncodified, a republic could be enacted by statute, as a simple act of parliament.[1] However, it is generally assumed that this would only occur following a nationwide referendum.[2] Several prime ministers and governors-general have identified themselves as republicans, although no government has yet taken any meaningful steps towards enacting a republic. Public opinion polls have generally found that a majority of the population favour retaining the monarchy.


The term "republic" in New Zealand has been used as a protest and a pejorative against the central government and/or royalty, to describe an area independent of the central government.

19th centuryEdit

The first use of the term "republic" to connote an independent state in New Zealand came in 1840 when Lieutenant Governor William Hobson described the New Zealand Company settlement of Port Nicholson (Wellington), which had its own governing council, as such.[3] Later, Wellington became the centre of agitation by settlers for representative government, which was granted by the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852. Samuel Revans, who founded the Wellington Settlers' Constitutional Association in 1848, advocated a New Zealand republic.[4]

In 1879 the people of Hawera declared themselves the "Republic of Hawera," due to a campaign by Māori leader Te Whiti against European settlement.[5] They formed their own volunteer units to oppose Te Whiti. In 1881 government troops invaded Parihaka and arrested Te Whiti, bringing the "republic" to an end.

20th centuryEdit

In the 1911 general election Colonel Allen Bell, the Reform Party candidate for the Raglan seat, advocated the abolition of the monarchy. The armed forces considered that Bell had broken his Oath of Allegiance. He was asked to resign his commission, which he did in January 1912.[6]

In 1966 Bruce Jesson founded the Republican Association of New Zealand, and later the Republican Party in 1967. The party had a stridently nationalist platform.[7] Republican Party activity petered out after the 1969 general election and the party wound up in 1974.

In May 1973, a remit was proposed at the Labour Party national conference to change the flag, declare New Zealand a republic and change the national anthem (then only God Save the Queen, God Defend New Zealand becoming the second anthem in 1977), but this was voted down.[8]

In 1979 the Mana Māori Motuhake Party included republicanism as part of its policy platform. However, the issue was never raised as Mana Māori Motuhake became a member of the Alliance Party.

Jim Bolger, Prime Minister 1990–1997 and leader of the National Party, raised the republic issue in 1994.

In March 1994 the Republican Coalition of New Zealand was formed to promote the move to a republic and Prime Minister Jim Bolger suggested to the 44th Parliament in the Address In Reply debate that New Zealand should become a republic by 2001. Bolger stated that New Zealand's links with Britain were in decline, and that the country should acknowledge that "the tide of history is moving in one direction."[9] The following year Monarchist League of New Zealand was established to defend the constitutional monarchy.

Bolger denied that his views relate to his Irish heritage.[9] Bolger spoke to Queen Elizabeth about the issue of New Zealand becoming a republic when he was premier and recalled "I have more than once spoken with Her Majesty about my view that New Zealand would at some point elect its own Head of State, we discussed the matter in a most sensible way and she was in no way surprised or alarmed and neither did she cut my head off."[10]

In 1998, Richard Nottage, the Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade, called for New Zealand to consider becoming a republic, arguing that the position of the "British monarch" [sic] as head of state "looks strange in Asian eyes".[11]

In 1999 the Republican Coalition relaunched itself as the Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand, similar to the Australian Republican Movement, due to the 1999 Australian republic referendum, and again renamed itself in 2014 as New Zealand Republic.

The debateEdit

Arguments for changeEdit

Supporters of a New Zealand republic say:

  • New Zealand should have a New Zealander, or more correctly a New Zealand citizen resident in New Zealand, as its head of state;[12] a "resident for President";[13]
  • New Zealand needs to assert its independence, nationhood and maturity to the world;[14]
  • New Zealand's constitution—and indeed the attitudes of New Zealanders—are republican in their outlook.[15]
  • New Zealand already maintains the Governor-General—who is described as a "virtual head of state".[16] The Governor-General is a New Zealander and does everything the head of state should do;
  • Because the Governor-General and Sovereign have little real power, they are not an effective check on the Parliamentary executive (the Prime Minister and Cabinet), the argument that the Sovereign or Governor-General "denies power" to politicians and is politically neutral yet can fire a Prime Minister is contradictory;[17]
  • An elected or appointed head of state would be a more effective check on the executive;
  • A Republic does not necessarily mean withdrawing from the commonwealth. 32 of the 53 commonwealth member nations (60%) are republics.
  • The Prime Minister should not have the power to dismiss the Governor-General at will and vice versa.[18]

Other republicans focus on the principles of a monarchy: many disagree with the hereditary principle (based on a form of primogeniture) that determines succession of the throne. They argue that in a modern and democratic society no one should be expected to defer to another simply because of their birth.[19] Some assert that the hereditary monarch and unelected Governor-General have no mandate to dismiss an elected government.[20]

At the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting of October 2011, the leaders of the 16 Commonwealth realms agreed that they would support change to their respective succession laws regarding male primogeniture, and allow the monarch to marry a Roman Catholic. The ban on Catholics from being the monarch would remain, because the monarch has to be in "Communion with the Church of England."[21]

Arguments against changeEdit

Supporters of the monarchy in New Zealand say:

  • "Constitutional monarchy is tried and proven system of government, some of the most politically stable nations in the world are constitutional monarchies; whereas some of the most unstable and repressive regimes have been republics."[22] In the words of former Governor-General Sir Michael Hardie Boys "If it ain't broke, don't fix it".[23]
  • For New Zealand, "...monarchy summarises the inheritance of a thousand years of constitutional government and our links with a glorious past,"[24]
  • New Zealand is already an independent, sovereign nation with a national identity of its own;[17]
  • The monarch is Queen shared between New Zealand and the fifteen other Commonwealth realms.[25]
  • The monarch is politically neutral and is a symbol of national unity rather than division;[17]
  • The monarch has "little real practical political powers and is a protector of and not a threat to democracy";[26]
  • Hereditary selection of the Sovereign is the "most natural" non-partisan way to choose a leader.[27]


Supporters of the monarchy argue it costs New Zealand taxpayers only a small outlay for royal engagements and tours, and the modest expenses of the Governor-General's establishment. They state "[t]his figure is about one dollar per person per year", about $4.3 million per annum.[28] An analysis by New Zealand Republic in 2010 claimed the office of Governor-General cost New Zealand taxpayers about $7.6 million in ongoing costs.[29] They compared this cost to the President of Ireland, a head of state of a country with a similar population size, who cost €3.4 million – NZ$6 million on the exchange rate at the time.[30] However, Monarchy New Zealand accused the republic supporters of arbitrarily inflating the costs on the Governor-General, pointing out the Irish President's cost was closer to NZ$12.8 million once the extra costs were included.[31]

Public opinionEdit

The New Zealand public are generally in favour of the retention of the monarchy, with polls showing it to have between 50 and 70% support.[32] Polls indicate that many New Zealanders see the monarchy as being of little day-to-day relevance; a One News Colmar Brunton poll in 2002 found that 58% of the population believed the monarchy has little or no relevance to their lives.[33] National Business Review poll in 2004 found 57% of respondents believed New Zealand would become a republic "in the future".[34]

However, the institution still enjoys the support of New Zealanders, particularly those born before World War II. Some show a majority of younger New Zealanders support a republic.[35] With the approval of the current monarch, and the position of the Treaty of Waitangi under a republic remaining a concern to Māori and other New Zealanders alike, as well as the question of what constitutional form a republic might take unresolved, support for becoming a republic is still the view of around a third to 40% of the population.[35] On 21 April 2008, New Zealand Republic released a poll of New Zealanders showing 43% support the monarchy should The Prince of Wales become King of New Zealand, and 41% support a republic under the same scenario.[36] A poll by The New Zealand Herald in January 2010, before a visit by Prince William to the country found 33.3% wanted The Prince of Wales to be the next monarch, with 30.2% favouring Prince William. 29.4% of respondents preferred a republic in the event Elizabeth II died or abdicated.[37]

An October 2011 survey of 500 business professionals asked "What Is Your Level Of Support For New Zealand Becoming A Republic?". 27% said not at all, 24% said somewhat opposed, 23.1% were neutral, 14.8% said moderately in favour and 11.1% said strongly in favour.[38]

On the eve of a Royal tour by HRH Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall in November 2012, a ONE News/Colmar Brunton poll reported 70% of people questioned responded they wanted to keep the Queen as head of state, while 19 percent supported New Zealand becoming a republic.[39][40] Following the tour, a different poll by Curia Market Research commissioned by New Zealand Republic found 51% of respondents wanted Charles as King once the Queen's reign ends, while 41% supported a republic.[41]

On 17 July 2013, a televised debate on TV3's The Vote held three polls, two separate votes by the studio audience at the start and end of the programme, and one via Twitter, Facebook, web and text voting, on the question "Should we ditch the Royals?" The first studio audience vote before the show was 43% yes, and the second after the show was 65%, while the public vote result was 41% yes and 59% no.[42]

From 8 April to 24 April 2019, a poll of 15,000 random nationwide voting-age New Zealanders was conducted, which showed that 55% of New Zealanders want a New Zealander as the country's next head of state, while 39% want the next British monarch. Support for a New Zealander being the country's next head of state was recorded strongest among Māori respondents, with 80% in support, and respondents aged 18–30, with 76% in support.[43]

Political party positionsEdit

Three political parties currently with members in New Zealand's parliament have a policy of holding a binding referendum on the republic issue.[44]


The Labour Party adopted a policy of holding a binding referendum on the issue at their 2013 conference.[44] Andrew Little supports a New Zealand republic, saying "[w]hen it comes to our constitutional arrangements in New Zealand I have a firm view that our head of state should come from New Zealand."[45] Former leader David Cunliffe[46] has expressed his support for a republic. Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark stated that she thought "[t]he idea of a nation such as New Zealand being ruled by a head of state some 20,000km away is absurd. It is inevitable that New Zealand will become a republic. It is just a matter of when the New Zealand people are bothered enough to talk about it - it could be 10 years, or it could be 20 years, but it will happen."[47][48] Then deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen, however, declared that he supported the monarchy, stating in 2004 he was "a sort of token monarchist in the Cabinet these days."[49] However, in 2010 he repudiated that stance, taking the view that New Zealand should move towards a republic once the Queen's reign ends.[50] Former Prime Minister David Lange expressed support for a New Zealand republic, stating: "Do such things matter? They certainly do. We suffer in this country from a lack of emotional focus... New Zealand will become a republic just as Britain will be blurred into Europe".[51]


National's constitution specifies that the Party's visions and values include "Loyalty to our country, its democratic principles and our Sovereign as Head of State". In 2001 a constitutional policy task force recommended a referendum on the monarchy once the Queen's reign ends, along with referendums on the future of the Maori seats and the number of MPs.[52] Only the policy on Maori seats was passed by the party's regional conferences. Former MPs John Carter, and Wayne Mapp and Richard Worth have been among the most vocal supporters of the monarchy within the party. At the 2011 elections, former Chair of Monarchy New Zealand Simon O'Connor was elected as MP for Tamaki and his Deputy Paul Foster-Bell was later elected a List MP in 2013 and both were re-elected at the 2014 election. At the 2014 election the former Chair of New Zealand Republic, Lewis Holden, was announced as Candidate for the Rimutaka seat but failed to enter Parliament with Chris Hipkins retaining the electorate and holding a low list ranking. Among the 2014 Caucus of new National Members of Parliament, a number of portraits of the Queen have been placed in their Wellington offices through an initiative led by Monarchy New Zealand. Former Prime Minister John Key has said he was "not convinced it [a republic] will be a big issue in the short term",[53] but that he thinks a republic is "inevitable"; however, since this statement he has affirmed his support for the monarchy and made it clear that while he was prime minister a republic would not happen "on his watch".[54]

Minor partiesEdit

Support for a republic is strongest amongst the supporters of the Green Party, and it is party policy to support a "democratic and participatory process, such as referenda".[55] Former Green MP Keith Locke had a Private Member's Bill drawn on the issue, the Head of State Referenda Bill, for a referendum on the issue, but it was voted down at its first reading in parliament.

United Future New Zealand leader Peter Dunne is a supporter of a New Zealand republic. The party has a policy of "...a public education process on constitutional matters, leading towards consideration of New Zealand as a republic within the Commonwealth in the future."[56]

No other minor parties in parliament have policies on the issue.


In 2004 former Governor-General Dame Catherine Tizard said publicly that the monarch should be replaced by a New Zealand head of state. Her predecessor as Governor-General, Sir Paul Reeves, has stated that he would not oppose a republic. Sir Michael Hardie Boys has supported the status quo.[23] On 29 July 2006, outgoing Governor-General Dame Silvia Cartwright stated she had no views as to whether New Zealand becomes a republic, noting: "We often overlook the intense loyalty and love the Māori people have for the Queen - probably more intense than many people of European descent. This is a history that's never going to die."[57]

Constitutional issuesEdit

New Zealand is a unitary state and does not have a codified, entrenched constitution. Some have argued New Zealand is a "de facto" republic.[48][58] New Zealand has made constitutional changes without difficulty in the past, such as the abolition of its upper house of parliament in 1951, the introduction of proportional representation in 1996 and most recently the creation of the Supreme Court of New Zealand as the court of final appeal. Legal academics have espoused the view that the legal changes required for a republic are not complex.[59][60][61][62] Some have argued that the changes required are less radical than the move to MMP in 1996.[63]

The Treaty of WaitangiEdit

The Treaty of Waitangi was an agreement signed between Māori tribes and representatives of the British Crown in 1840. Because of the relationship between Māori and the Crown, the Treaty of Waitangi is often cited as a constitutional issue for a New Zealand republic.[59] Some academics expressed concern that governments could use republicanism to evade treaty responsibilities.[64] However, with the division of the Crown between the United Kingdom and New Zealand following the passing of the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act 1947, the "Crown in Right of New Zealand" became party to the Treaty. Legal academics state that the Treaty would be unaffected by New Zealand becoming a republic, as the new head of state would inherit the Crown's responsibilities. In 2004, Professor Noel Cox argued "In strict legal terms, if New Zealand became a republic tomorrow it would make no difference to the Treaty of Waitangi. Speaking as a lawyer, it's a long-established principle that successive governments take on responsibility for previous agreements."[65][66]

Realm of New ZealandEdit

The Realm of New Zealand consists of New Zealand proper and two states in free association, Niue and the Cook Islands. Should New Zealand become a republic, the Realm of New Zealand would continue to exist without New Zealand, the Ross Dependency and Tokelau.[67] This would not be a legal hurdle to a New Zealand republic,[68] and both the Cook Islands and Niue would retain their status as associated states with New Zealand, as New Zealand shares its head of state with the Cook Islands and Niue in the same way the United Kingdom shares its head of state with the other Commonwealth realms.

Commonwealth membershipEdit

If New Zealand became a republic its membership of the Commonwealth of Nations would be unaffected. Since the creation of the modern Commonwealth in 1949, republics are able to be members of the Commonwealth, recognising the Queen as Head of the Commonwealth.[69] Following the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2007, the Kampala Communiqué stated "Heads of Government also agreed that, where an existing member changes its formal constitutional status, it should not have to reapply for Commonwealth membership provided that it continues to meet all the criteria for membership."[70]

Recent developmentsEdit

Constitutional InquiryEdit

In November 2004, Prime Minister Helen Clark announced the formation of a parliamentary committee of inquiry into the constitution, chaired by United Future New Zealand leader Peter Dunne. In its final report, the committee recommended wider education on the constitution and included a note on the republic issue, asking "Is the nature of New Zealand's head of state, as a monarch, appropriate to New Zealand's evolving national and constitutional identity?".[71]

Head of State Referenda BillEdit

Keith Locke's Head of State Referenda Bill for a referendum on the republic issue was drawn from the members' ballot and introduced into Parliament on 14 October 2009.[72] The Bill focused on reforming the Governor-General of New Zealand as a ceremonial head of state, creating a parliamentary republic.[73] Two models of a republic along with the status quo would have been put to a referendum:

On 21 April 2010 the Bill was defeated at its first reading 53 - 68[74] with voting recorded as Ayes 53 being New Zealand Labour 43; Green Party 9; United Future 1 and Noes 68 being New Zealand National 58; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; Progressive 1.

See alsoEdit


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External linksEdit