President Malcolm? The SST has gone beyond the pale with that idea for constitutional change

They’ve got to be kidding – aren’t they?

The awful tossers who run things at the Sunday Star-Times today have gone beyond the pale by tossing up the names of Robyn Malcolm, Dave Dobbyn and Jason Gunn as prospective Presidents of New Zealand.

Dame Susan Devoy, Richie McCaw and Bernece Mene are on the list too, plus two lefties – Geoffrey Palmer and Helen Clark – and just one obvious Nat, John Key, who already has a job as our leader.

The name of Alf Grumble is glaringly absent, but perhaps that’s because the editors at the Sunday rag recognise that Alf would never put his hand up as a candidate for President of NZ, because he happens to be a staunch monarchist, and sees this constitutional review nonsense as precisely that. Nonsense.

Sadly, the SST is asking if it is time to dump the Queen and elect President Richie McCaw or one of the others on it’s light-weight list in the context of the Constitution Conversation it is featuring. It wants our views about which New Zealand traditions could do with a shake-up.

Maybe getting rid of the Sunday element of the Fourth Estate would be a good starting point.

The SST says (here) –

As part of its coalition pact with the Maori Party, the National-led government has launched “The Constitution Conversation” – a $4m consultation exercise designed to get the whole country chattering about constitutional matters, complete with chirpy TV ads starring Pio Terei and Bernice Mene, an interactive website and a very funky jingle. The idea is to encourage New Zealanders to make submissions to an independent “Constitutional Advisory Panel” that’ll report back to the government.

It’s a ludicrously large topic, covering everything from the way elections and parliament work and who runs the country, to the status of the Treaty of Waitangi in law, and the rights of New Zealanders.

The Sunday Star-Times is getting into the spirit of things with this “Constitution Conundrums” Poll. But while we’re talking about shaking up the constitution, we think a few other Kiwi traditions could do with a tweak. Do you?

And so – among other silly questions – we are asked if NZ did become a republic, who would you most like to see as our first president?

We are told we may feel free to write in our own choices.

Of course the SST is several months behind with the news, if it had to wait for the TV ads to learn what is going on.

The Listener (here) was on to it some time ago, and they acknowledged the review had been going on for some time.

Perhaps most of NZ was kept in the dark because The Boss made a huge blunder in going along with the Maori Party and allowing lots of hui among Maori to be conducted and lots of ideas to be crystallised about the role of the Treaty of Waitangi before anyone got around to asking the rest of us what we think.

The Listener said –

New Zealand’s constitution is under review, which may come as a revelation to those who didn’t know we had a constitution in the first place. It has also come as a surprise to many people who do know about our constitution and say that it works pretty well as it is, so why tamper with it? The answer to that question lies in the political horse-trading that followed the 2008 general election. It’s hard to find anyone who argues that New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements are in urgent need of an overhaul, but a review was on the Maori Party’s shopping list when it entered coalition negotiations with National. Under the confidence and supply agreement that emerged from those talks, the Maori Party extracted a commitment that the Government would conduct a “wide-ranging” review of the constitution.

And when did this nonsense get under way?

Years ago, suckers, if you haven’t been paying attention.

Announcing the terms of reference in December 2010, Deputy Prime Minister Bill English and Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples said the review would cover issues such as the size of Parliament, the length of the electoral term, Maori representation, the role of the Treaty of Waitangi and whether New Zealand needs a written constitution.

Despite what the SST says, the review came under fire among other things because of the notable omission of any reference to a republican option.

But the daft prospect of the Treaty of Waitangi being part of a written constitution is causing the most disquiet.

Critics claim the review is working towards a predetermined outcome: namely, the creation of a written constitution with the Treaty, or its “principles”, entrenched as supreme law. Under such an arrangement, the critics argue, the Supreme Court would have the power to strike down any laws deemed inconsistent with the Treaty.

Constitutionalists point out that this would subvert the principle of parliamentary supremacy, which underpins our constitutional arrangements. Ultimate power would shift from the people’s elected representatives in Parliament to the judiciary. James Allan, a former legal academic at the University of Otago, now a professor of law at the University of Queensland, says a written constitution would be a disaster for New Zealand, and that he would “run a mile” from incorporating the Treaty into any such document – “not least because no one knows what it means when applied to any specific issue”.

That sounds like a good pointer to what we should do.

But when it comes to kow-towing to the Maori Party, The Boss is apt to become thoroughly soft-headed.

This is reflected in the nature of the appointments to an advisory panel.

What’s unusual about opposition to the review is that alarm bells are ringing right across the political spectrum.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters says a constitutional advisory panel appointed by the Government is stacked and the outcome already decided. “The so-called ‘principles’ of the Treaty will creep into all laws that shape our existence.”

In particular, critics have seized on Sharples’s statement that the review will provide an opportunity to consider how New Zealand’s legal and political systems can reflect tikanga Maori, or Maori custom.

Former Act MP Muriel Newman, who has launched a campaign against the review, says a Treaty-based constitution would enshrine Maori privilege and turn non-Maori New Zealanders into second-class citizens. “New Zealand would forever be locked into a future of separatism and racial division.”

Even left-wing political commentator and historian Chris Trotter is worried. In a recent newspaper column, Trotter accused the advisory panel of being on a quixotic quest to incorporate the Treaty in a new, bicultural, binding constitution.

His particular concern is that parliamentary supremacy might be threatened, but he’s also unsettled by the possibility that “identity politics” – whereby minority groups (in this case Maori) mobilise around political goals aimed at advancing their own interests – could intrude on our constitutional arrangements.

So where was the SST when those criticisms were being levelled?

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