Heather du Plessis-Allan: New Governor General talks ‘republicanism’ but still helps monarchy

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If you want to know why New Zealand won’t become a republic any time soon, you don’t need to look much further than the charade of announcing the new Governor-General this week.

In Parliament’s old Legislative Council Chamber, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stood at one lectern to make the announcement. At the lectern next to her stood Dame Cindy Kiro, our new GG from September.

One an open republican, the other a suspected republican. There wasn’t much pomp because the public don’t care enough to warrant it nowadays.

The charade peaked when, at the very event announcing the next GG, the Prime Minister predicted the end of GGs in New Zealand. We would, she thought, become a republic in her “lifetime”.

It became even more ridiculous when the incoming GG was asked if she was a republican, and the only endorsement of the monarchy the Queen’s next representative could manage was to say: “Clearly I accept the Queen as the head of state of the Commonwealth and I am here to support her.”

Both players seemed quite comfortable signalling their republicanism, but continuing to help the monarchy maintain its grip on New Zealand.

This isn’t a criticism of the pair of them. Frankly, most of us would happily move into the GG’s beautiful residence for five years, chew the fat with Her Majesty on the phone, or take a gong regardless of how anachronistic we think the institution has become.

But this kind of charade is exactly why the PM might be proved wrong in her prediction. She says there’s no “urgency” in NZ to move towards a republic. And she’s right. Because we’re all happy to signal our values, do nothing more and then take a gong.

Case in point, Sir Michael Cullen, who helped abolish gongs in 2000, called for a republic in 2010 and then took a gong in 2012. Again, not a criticism.

But if we’re happy to have it both ways, can we truly agree with the PM that NZ will become a republic within her lifetime?

She probably has a good 50 years ahead of her, which seems long enough to ditch the royals – until you cast your mind back 50 years and consider all the events that could’ve prompted us to leave, but didn’t: the UK abandoning us in favour of EU trade, the royals’ plunging popularity around Diana’s death, anything to do with Charles.

We tried moving on a wee bit a couple of times. We ditched the gongs under Helen Clark’s Government. We missed them, so we brought them back under Sir John Key’s Government.

We tried changing the flag with its Union Jack tramp stamp in the corner. We decided we still liked it after all.

We wrote our own national anthem back in ’76. But we couldn’t quite part with God Save the Queen. So now, we’re one of only two countries with two national anthems of equal status.

If we’re this reluctant to cut the apron strings, seriously, what’s going to happen in the next 50 years to prompt us to set off on our own?

Maybe the Queen’s death. It’s often said that we’re just hanging in there out of respect for her. Maybe that’s true. Maybe it’s not. You’d have thought Prince Phillip’s recent death might’ve started that conversation up but – apart from a couple of big newspapers in Australia trying to stoke the subject – it didn’t. Maybe William will cut just as popular and sympathetic a figure as the Queen.

Perhaps Australia will pull the pin first and cause a domino effect. But then, even Australia’s republican movement has suffered a popularity slump lately. And even if they do decide to fly the nest, it’s probably simpler for them than it is for us. They don’t need to consider the implications of a treaty signed between iwi and the Crown.

It’s obviously impossible to predict what might happen 50 years from now. But as long as we all want to have it both ways – hold values but not act on them – it doesn’t look like republicanism is an inevitability in the PM’s lifetime.

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