In modern monarchies, including New Zealand, the monarch has two extremely important roles. First, the monarch holds the political power of the nation in trust for all New Zealanders. She lends this power to elected governments, but remains the guardian of it at all times. In political systems that do not have a monarch, power is usually given to a president and he either uses it himself, or lends it to other elected officials. The danger in giving so much power to a president is that no one can ever be sure of how they will use it. While many elected and appointed presidents have been honourable figures, many have not. It only takes one corrupt president to badly damage a nation. This is one reason republics tend to have a bad track-record when it comes to democratic stability.
The Queen was born to defend the political power, or sovereignty, of all New Zealanders. She has no interest, need, or desire to use it for her own purposes. She was raised from birth with a fundamental respect for the citizens of all the Commonwealth Realms. The same cannot be said about any elected leader. Some countries have attempted to limit the danger of a politician wielding too much power, but not many nations have had much success. In monarchies, the monarch has turned out to be the ultimate check on politicians. They rein in politicians not by threatening to fire them or veto legislation, but by being able to call an election at any time. This way, the monarch allows the people to decide for themselves if a politician still has the best interests of the public at heart. Fortunately, the Queen and the Governor-General have not had to stop politicians very many times in the past, but it has happened, and no one can ever be sure that they won’t be necessary in the future.
The second role the monarch has in a modern democracy is as an advisor to governments. The Queen and the Governor-General of New Zealand both have the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to warn. Both are in regular contact with the government of New Zealand, though more frequent contact would always be better. The Queen’s many decades of political experience are always available to a minister who needs advice. Governors-General bring experience from a range of backgrounds, often outside the political perspective.
Conversations between the Prime Minister and the Queen or Governor-General are usually very private and confidential. This is so that Prime Ministers can trust them, and talk about sensitive issues with them. During these conversations the Prime Minister can get an honest second opinion on ideas and plans. The Queen, or Governor-General, has nothing to gain and so can always be trusted and can provide impartial advice. Both can encourage the Prime Minister, or warn her.
Many people believe that because the Queen and Governor-General cannot veto the wishes of the Prime Minister they must be powerless. This is a very simplistic view. The truth is that the Queen and the Governor-General use the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to warn to constructively improve government in New Zealand behind the scenes.
At the end of her term in 2005, Adrienne Clarkson, the Governor-General of Canada said, “My constitutional role has lain in … exercising the right ‘to encourage, to advise, and to warn.’ Without really revealing any secrets, I can tell you that I have done all three.”
There is evidence that Governors-General in New Zealand have used all of these rights as well. We may never know exactly how many times the Queen and the Governors-General have helped strengthen our political system, or protect our democracy, but evidence suggests that they have been quietly involved a number of times. Whenever they have been involved, it has been in support of the New Zealand public. As the Queen’s husband, Prince Philip, once said,
“it is a misconception to imagine that the monarchy exists in the interests of the monarch. It doesn’t. It exists in the interests of the people.”