The British Monarch serves as New Zealand's Head of State, currently Queen Elizabeth II. However, the monarch is given the title Queen of New Zealand and is legally considered a distinct monarch from the monarch of the United Kingdom. This has been the case since the passage of the Statute of Westminster 1931 which introduced the concept that though Britain and the dominions have sovereigns who are legally and constitutionally distinct even though they are shared in body. New Zealand is thus a Commonwealth realm. The Constitution Act 1986 declares that "The Sovereign in right of New Zealand is the head of State of New Zealand, and shall be known by the royal style and titles proclaimed from time to time."
The Royal Titles Act 1953 first introduced a New Zealand royal title for use by the sovereign, in this case Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of New Zealand and Her Other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith. With the passage of the Royal Titles Act 1974 Queen Elizabeth II's royal title in New Zealand has been Elizabeth the Second, By the Grace of God, Queen of New Zealand and Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.
The Queen of New Zealand is the head of a distinct New Zealand Honours System and is the head of the armed forces and patron of a number of societies in the country.
The Queen's constitutional roles have been almost entirely delegated to the Governor-General of New Zealand. When the Queen has visited New Zealand she has presided over the opening of Parliament, and has performed other acts normally delegated to the Governor-General. The only constitutional act she regularly performs with respect to New Zealand is to appoint a new Governor-General, which she does on the advice of the Prime Minister of the day.
New Zealand's constitution specifies that the royal succession is governed by the British Act of Settlement 1701.
Symbols of Monarchy
References to the monarchy are commonplace in public life in New Zealand. There are references to the Crown (which forms part of the country's coat of arms) in legal documents, the use of the term 'Royal', as in the Royal New Zealand Navy and Air Force, government stationery still bears the letters O.H.M.S (On Her Majesty's Service), and oaths taken by politicians, judges, members of the armed forces and new citizens are to the Queen. The Queen's Official Birthday, unlike in the United Kingdom, is also a public holiday. The Queen's portrait appears on the obverse (front) of New Zealand coins, and all banknotes feature the portrait of the Queen as the watermark. However only the $20 banknote bears her image as the main feature.
Future of the Monarchy
See also: Republicanism in New Zealand
Unlike in Australia where republican sentiment has been strong, there has not been the same agitation for ending the role of the monarchy in New Zealand. In 1994, when Prime Minister Jim Bolger told Parliament that he expected the country to become a republic by the end of the decade, this was met with incomprehension from much of the public. Opinion polls held at the time showed that most New Zealanders were against such a move.
There has, nonetheless, been a loosening of constitutional links with the United Kingdom, such as the ending of the British honours system, the awarding of knighthoods, and the severing of the link to the Privy Council in London, which has now been replaced by the Supreme Court of New Zealand. Other proposals included the replacement of the title of Queen's Counsel, given to barristers, with that of Senior Counsel, and the removal of references to the Queen from oaths. These changes have already occurred in Australia, where they have been criticised by supporters of the status quo as 'republicanism by stealth'.
Although New Zealand's traditional ties with the former 'Mother Country' are not as strong as they once were, the situation is still quite different from Australia. Many Maori see the Crown as a guarantor of their legal rights under the Treaty of Waitangi, which was an agreement signed between the Maori tribes and the Crown, not with the New Zealand Government. Another factor is that whereas Australia has large populations of Irish Catholic and Mediterranean European descent, most Pakeha (New Zealanders of European origin) are of British descent. However, Jim Bolger was the son of Irish immigrants, and as in Australia, citizens of British heritage are not united on the issue, with many still regarding the monarchy as an irrelevance or an anachronism.
New Zealand's present Labour Party Prime Minister, Helen Clark has expressed her support for a republic, describing the role of the monarchy as 'antiquated', although leaders of the more conservative National Party has expressed less enthusiasm for a change of status, despite former leader Jim Bolger's earlier pronouncements.
Were New Zealand to move towards becoming a republic, the change would occur with far more ease than in Australia. This is because New Zealand is a unitary state and has no written constitution, unlike Australia, where constitutional change must not only be approved in a referendum by a majority of voters, but also by a majority of states. New Zealand has made radical constitutional changes without difficulty in the past, such as the abolition of its upper house of parliament in 1951, and the introduction of proportional representation in 1996.
In November 2004, Prime Minister Clark announced the formation of a parliamentary committee inquiry into the constitution, chaired by United Future leader Peter Dunne, which will investigate a possible process on the creation of a republic. Dunne has said he supports the end of the monarchy in New Zealand. Both the National Party and New Zealand First have refused to participate, however, calling the committee a "political stunt", accusing her of using republicanism as a distraction from the subject of the grievance industry of Maori land claims in the hope of avoiding fall-out in the run up to an election.
Two former governors-general Sir Paul Reeves and Dame Catherine Tizard have both said publicly that the Queen should be replaced by a New Zealand head of state. There is also a Republican Movement, whose patron is writer Keri Hulme, whose supporters include former MP Michael Laws and cartoonist Murray Ball.