Professor James Allan
I spent 11 wonderful years living and working in New Zealand, from 1993 to 2004. During that whole time one of my pet peeves was the MMP voting system, one of the world’s most proportional systems and the one the Americans imposed on the Germans after World War II.
I am a long time believer that an unwritten constitution of the sort you find in New Zealand today, or the United Kingdom before it was enmeshed in the European Union, is a very good sort of constitution indeed. Among its strengths are its flexibility and incredibly democratic nature.
In this article I want to turn to the question of process, and how a country might legitimately change its constitutional arrangements. Let me lay my cards on the table straight up and say this: For a country in today’s democratic era to change its constitution without in any real way asking its own citizens would be a disgrace, the sort of thing one might expect after a military coup in Pakistan or as a consequence of a passing whim of Mr. Mugabe in Zimbabwe.
I think it would be a disaster for New Zealand to move to a written constitution of the sort almost certain to be offered. And I would run a mile from incorporating or entrenching the Treaty into any such instrument, not least because overwhelmingly no one knows what it means when applied to any specific issue. So all you will be buying is the views of the top judges, instead of your own, the voters. That’s not a trade I would ever make.