King Charles coronation: Former NZ diplomat Peter Hamilton says we should enjoy occasion, but calls for referendum on becoming republic

  • 05/05/2023

New Zealanders should celebrate the coronation of King Charles this weekend, a former Kiwi diplomat says.

But Peter Hamilton, the former deputy secretary of New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, wants to reignite the longstanding debate on ending Aotearoa's association with the centuries-old monarchy.

King Charles is the head of state in New Zealand although his role, in Aotearoa, was mostly ceremonial. 

The debate reignited earlier this year over the need to keep the UK royal family in New Zealand after the death of King Charles' mother, Queen Elizabeth. However, a February 2022 Newshub-Reid Research poll - taken several months before the Queen's death - found almost half of New Zealanders wanted to remain with the monarchy.  

"Let's enjoy the coronation; nobody does coronations, weddings and funerals like the British," said Hamilton, who detailed in his 2021 autobiography his long-held beliefs New Zealand was mature enough to ditch the monarchy. 

"I think a lot of New Zealanders will tune in, watch it and enjoy it but, we need to ask the very hard question, 'What does it mean for New Zealand in the 21st century?' And the problem is, the King is our head of state but he cannot perform the role expected of him," he told AM.

Hamilton said that's why he believed the matter should go to a public vote.

"There should be a referendum to allow New Zealanders to choose whether or not they want to keep the status quo - King Charles - or have a head of state of our own - a Kiwi - doing the job… It's time for us to have a debate about what is good for New Zealand going forward."

The conversation should be reignited after the King and his wife Camilla had made their first visit to New Zealand following the coronation, Hamilton said.

Acting Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni held a neutral view when asked about moving toward a republic. "There are no plans to become a republic at this point in time," she told AM on Tuesday.

"I'm not a hardcore republican, I'm probably someone that's a bit on the fence who does think that, at some point in time, we need to become a republic but it's not front of mind for me as a priority right now," Sepuloni said.

Similar republican debates were taking place across the Tasman. However, a 1999 referendum in Australia on becoming a republic lost - with 55 percent of voters opposed.