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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Just 'cos you have an opinion doesn't mean the Herald should publish it 

You know that any Op-Ed piece beginning "Mike Moore is absolutely right..." would be a dubious contribution to the Sunday News, let alone the NZ Herald. Yet two chaps by the names of Sean Palmer and Simon O'Connor managed to have their "response" to Mike Moore published in that august outlet, furthering the Herald's downward spiral into the mire of incoherence and right-wing talking points.

The former is a doctoral student at AUT, the latter has a "background in political philosophy", by which I take it he means he completed a 200-level course on that topic at some point.

All by-the-by, let's take a look at what they had to say:
Recent constitutional changes have indeed been based on political expediency, ideological agendas, and an ironic desire to do what Australia does.

Well, unlike Australia we don't have the courage to even debate a Republic in any serious or sustained way. An actual referendum would send certain circles into "sky is falling"-style fits. Sure, we ended the knight- and dame-hoods a few years after Australia did, but Canada was the real leader in the field of abolishing imperial honours ... they did it in 1919.
No one with the best interests of Aotearoa at heart could support changes based on such divisive or ill-conceived ideas.

This is a vague assertion, not an argument. What changes? Who decided them? Were they voted on by MPs? What were the arguments pro- and con-?
He proposes that to combat the erosion of our constitution, New Zealanders ought to deliberately abandon it. The baby and the bathwater are both headed for the window!

No, he doesn't. His initial rambling contribution was conservative and elitist in orientation, in that he wanted change to be carefully considered, not populist or hasty, and the direction set not by the people or their representatives, but by a handful of plutocrats.
In reality, developing a new, republican constitution will only further the very problems he raises in his article.

Nice try, but Moore didn't call for "a new, republican constitution." Here's the extent of what he had to say:
If we are to be a republic, on which model - the US, French, Irish, or German model? There is a substantial difference.

An elected president could mean the end of our parliamentary system by establishing a potentially conflicting position of great power, but perhaps a congressional system has virtues. One attraction of the present system, a Queen or Governor General, is not the power they have but the power and prestige they deny others.

This is not an argument for a republic. Monarchists get their panties in a twist all too easily. Back to our two contributors:
The supporters of a New Zealand republic in the present Government have shown us, by their actions as much as their words, what their republic would look like. They have surreptitiously and systematically dismantled key elements of our constitution to create a new structure of government which the public does not support and which will give politicians extraordinary power.
Why do monarchists refuse to admit that Parliament is supreme? Politicians have had extraordinary power for a long, long time. The lack of a written constitution reinforces that (it would, in likelihood, turn some power over to the un-elected judiciary). As Lewis Holden put it recently: "the Sovereign would have to sign his or her own death warrant if Parliament handed it to them for assent." This is not due to any recent action on the part of Helen Clark and the "surreptitious republicans" in Parliament. But as Lewis suggests, the fundamentally dishonest claim that current politicians are grabbing royal powers is useful "in an era of popular dislike of politicians and the political process in general." Anyway, Palmer and O'Connor continue:
New Zealanders should not be under any illusion. Moves to republicanism have been made with stealth.

To date we have seen the abolition of appeals to the Privy Council, and the renaming of "Queens Counsels" to the meaningless title "Senior Counsel".

Oh fuck off. Senior Counsel makes perfect sense - it says "this person is an experienced and respected figure in the legal profession". "Queens Counsel" is actually less meaningful, in that those appointed QCs aren't actually personal counsels to Betty Windsor.
The General Salute of the armed forces has been taken away from the Governor-General and assumed by the Prime Minister. Even the portraits of our Head of State have been removed from our overseas embassies.

If true, these are changes in protocol, not the Constitution. Do these chumps even know what constitution means?
Each underhanded change has been justified with the absurd claim that the removal of our current constitutional monarchy will make New Zealand a more open and mature society. Such changes show a slow grab for power, and a disregard for tradition and democratic values.

I thought the republicanism was "by stealth"? That the politicians acted "surreptitously" and in an "underhanded" manner? But now, apparently, our elected MPs are openly arguing for "the removal of our current constitutional monarchy." Except, of course, they're not.
While Moore thinks a constitution and republic would solve this dismantling, it is much more likely that the new constitution would merely codify these very tendencies. In the Government's continuing grasp for power, as shown for example, in their restriction of free speech through the Electoral Finance Bill, we can see the inherent problems a republic would bring.

First, as we have seen above, Mike Moore didn't argue for a republic. He argued for an orderly debate, controlled by eminent personages. Second, I note the authors' beloved constitutional monarchy did nothing to prevent the Government "grasping" power through the Electoral Finance Act, thereby restricting "free speech" - or rather, preventing the rich from exercising their right to free speech in the shadows. Which rather suggests that, according to the authors' own logic, that constitutional reform is required. Indeed, reading on we see:
Republics do not prevent these abuses, they legitimise them. A constitution freezes the thinking and prejudices of those who wrote them.
And the prize for missing irony goes to ... those who criticize a republic for "legitimizing abuses" (i.e., legislation the right wing doesn't like), when those "abuses" were committed and legitimized under a monarchical system. Also, note there is no connection between the first and second sentences.
In the US thousands of people die because the outdated "right of the people to keep and bear arms" is in their constitution. It was included with the best of intentions, and may even have made sense two centuries ago. However, it now gives gun supporters tremendous legitimacy in that country.

Right, so because you don't like one amendment to one republican constitution, all republics are flawed. Sure. What about the clauses of our current constitution that determine who will succeed a monarch: male heirs are preferred over female ones, and the successor can't be a Catholic or married to a Catholic. Sounds like sexism and bigotry, respectively. I guess monarchies are really fucked, even if those rules were included with good intentions, and probably made sense at the time. Anyways...
The sacrosanct American Constitution is seen as largely infallible. This is an error made by many supporters of a written constitution. Written constitutions are designed to be inflexible; if they are easily amendable, they are self-defeating.

I think Americans are more likely to see the Bible than the Constitution as infallible, but that's beside the point for now. For people who are bewail any changes to current arrangements, it's a bit rich to complain that written constitutions are inflexible

All that can be said for Mssrs. Palmer and O'Connor is that they have an opinion, unlike a certain mustachioed someone who has little more than a knowledge of what happens when you highlight some text, push control-c, and then control-v.

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O'Connor and Palmer are, I suspect, both members of the Monarchist League. Palmer has had something published in the Monarchists newsletter a while back.

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