The Oath of Allegiance - Yet Again

13 December 2008

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At the opening of the 49th New Zealand Parliament all elected members were required to swear an oath of allegiance to Queen Elizabeth, and her heirs and successors according to law.    As has been the case with previous parliaments, some of the new members of New Zealand’s purportedly “democratic” legislature baulked at being required to swear allegiance to the hereditary monarch of a foreign state.   The “New Zealand Herald” reported that “When Green MP Kevin Hague tried to slip allegiance to the Treaty of Waitangi into his [oath] he was made to read the oath proper again”.   It is difficult to fathom why Kevin Hague would want to swear allegiance to the Treaty of Waitangi, which is not by any stretch of the imagination a political constitution (despite having important constitutional implications for the regime).  It would appear that Hague was simply trying wiggle out of giving unqualified allegiance to the monarch.   But the crown would allow no wiggle room, and following the lead of his Green Party colleague Keith Locke, Hague capitulated.   Such brief acts of momentary rebellion have come to be expected with every new parliament.   The Maori Party Member of Parliament Hone Harawira is one of the few to have persisted in a show of disobedience to the crown past his first term in office.   Harawira, according to the Herald, swore “allegiance to everything but the Queen, including the Treaty of Waitangi, the good people of Tai Tokerau, their whanau, iwi and hapu, and then to all Maori of this great nation of ours” but “escaped a scolding by tagging the oath proper to the end of his own effort”.

On the face of it, the whole performance was quite silly.    Hague and Harawira, like all previous dissenters, were made to look undignified and weak-kneed by the Crown’s officials.   The “Herald”, as spokesman for the regime, took the opportunity to insinuate that Harawira was simply being childish - a hard claim to refute.   To my knowledge not one New Zealand parliamentarian has ever taken a stand on principle and refused allegiance to the monarch, as was the norm for Irish nationalists elected to the British parliament.   The inescapable conclusion is that New Zealand parliamentarians are a particularly spineless bunch.   All parliamentarians know that the oath of allegiance to the monarch is morally indefensible.    Keith Locke (to give him credit, one of the few Members of Parliament who is brave enough to discuss the issue) claims that if he did not swear allegiance to the Queen he would not be in a position to oppose her unwarranted demands at some future time.   This is fairly tangled reasoning.   Locke may naively believe it to be the case, but the other 119 members of parliament are under no illusions.   They know that if they take a stand on patriotic or democratic principle they will lose their parliamentary seat and their parliamentary salary.   In the monarchist parliament money and power always trumps democracy and patriotism.

On November 17, following the Parliamentary election I had sent an open letter to Anand Satyanand,  the Governor General of New Zealand, and all the elected members of the House of Representatives of New Zealand stating as follows:
It is the custom of the Crown to require an oath of allegiance to “Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law” from all elected members of the House of Representatives before they are permitted to take their seats in the House.

In the nineteenth century our  people were driven out of their homes and off their lands solely on account of their refusal to give such an oath.   In the twentieth century, they were denied the right to engage in the practice of law, or to teach in the public schools.   Now in the twenty-first century those who refuse the oath are still denied the right to become citizens of New Zealand or to take political office.

I do not question the right of others to affirm their loyalty to the British monarchy.   But the crown should realise that it cannot compel the loyalty of its subjects in New Zealand.   An obligatory oath is worthless to you.   It serves only to obscure the distinction between genuine and feigned loyalty, to  corrupt the souls of  those who acquiesce in the oath without conviction, and to disenfranchise those who refuse to utter a false oath.

To the elected members, I urge you to show yourselves as persons of courage and principle, by yourselves refusing to take the oath of allegiance, at least for so long as it remains an obligatory oath.   To Anand Satyanand, I urge you to declare that the oath of allegiance to the crown shall no longer be obligatory in any circumstances.   To all, I urge you to bring an end to this long, dark and shameful chapter in New Zealand history.   The decision is yours.

I was not surprised by the failure of the Governor-General and members of parliament to respond positively to my urgings.   But neither am I particularly disappointed.    Every time Anand Satynanand affronts democratic and patriotic principle he undermines his own claim to political legitimacy.   Every time he does so, he confirms the people's right to resist his pusillanimous colonial regime.