As the dust settles from the flag debate attention is now being turned to whether we could have a better organised, saner, less partisan debate about the constitutional implications of becoming a republic.

Perhaps the biggest lesson out of the flag debate is that if we rely on National or Labour to lead it, it will become bogged down in their own partisan rivalries.

And the other lesson is surely that it must involve experts (or elitists as Steven Joyce would probably call them); people who actually understand our constitutions and know how constitutions work.

There is however not much enthusiasm around Parliament for such a debate.

The Prime Minister is opposed to the country becoming a Republic (thereby revealing the great structural weakness in his flag campaign) and Labour just talk vaguely about it happening some time in the future.

The Greens are Republicans but not currently in favour of a debate and NZ First presumably would oppose it.

That leaves (apart from the Maori Party and ACT) Peter Dunne.

He is a republican and increasingly exploring the clout that he has gained as a centrist after National lost the Northland by-election.

He’s not yet ready to personally lead a debate but he’s close.

Looking back at the flag debate he says the result while clear was much closer than many people thought.


“I think it says that we are a very divided country,” he says.

“I think that’s quite an interesting debate in terms of the constitutional one because it suggests people are much more open to the prospect of change than we might have thought.”

He says that the changing pattern of our migration means that we have a decreasing percentage of our population who have a traditional allegiance to the monarchy.

He has plainly given some thought to how we might go about conducting a debate on becoming a Republic.

“”the Republic issue is actually the easiest bit because it’s a yes or no and the actual reality of a change to a Republic is minimal difference.

“You have an elected President instead of a Governor General, the same powers, they’d probably live in the same house and so not a lot would change.

“You would still have a Prime Minister and a Parliament.

“We would be the 33rd Republic of 53 members of the Commonwealth so all those things wouldn’t go.

“You can’t dismiss our heritage. The British link remains because you can’t pretend it doesn’t.”

But where he sees harder questions are over the whole Constitutional package which would logically be debated at the same time.

Much of that would centre around the Treaty; where would it sit and if it wasn’t at the centre where would it sit and if it was at the centre what would that mean in terms of all the other relationships.

“That’s the much harder issue,” he says.

What he would like to see happen is a much longer period of consultation than was undertaken on the flag.

“Even if it is meetings in small towns at which only four people turn up.”

And he would then have parliament draw up the legislation and hold a referendum on whether to implement the Bill or not.

So is he going to try and lead a debate on this?

“It’s certainly something I’m giving very serious consideration.” he says.

“I think that both the major parties are tarnished on this issue and I suspect there would be a pretty strong sense of distrust of either of them taking it on board as to what was their hidden agenda.

“For someone like me, there is no hidden agenda in the sense that my views are well known and I’m also known for being quite focussed ion process.

“So it’s a possibility.

“I think it is going to need something to kick it off and then you’d put the process sin place and I think the politicians at that point should back out and let the process live its own life.”

It’s an interesting position for Mr Dunne and in many ways marks a growing understanding on his part of the role of a centrist MP and party.