<em>The Queen in New Zealand in 1954</em>

The Queen in New Zealand in 1954

The former prime minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark, has said it is only a matter of time before the country abandons the Queen to become a republic.

Helen Clark, who lost power last November, told MPs in a speech to parliament in Wellington that the country’s institutions had “evolved a long way from our colonial heritage”.

She said: “It is inevitable that our constitutional status as a monarchy will also change. It’s a question of not if, but when.”

Miss Clark, 59, giving her valedictory speech to the House after 27 years as an MP, is leaving politics to take up a post as head of the United Nations Development Programme in New York.

She also launched a bitter attack on a recent government decision to restore the titles of knights and dames to the New Zealand honours system, nine years after her administration abolished them.

“Many of our forebears came to this land to escape the class-bound nature of Britain, where their place in the economic and social order was largely prescribed by birth,” she said.

“I deeply detest social distinction and snobbery, and in that lies my strong aversion to titular honours. To me they relate to another era, from which our nation has largely, but obviously still not completely, freed itself.”

During her time in office from 1999 until last year, Miss Clark was accused of pursuing an agenda of “republicanism by stealth”.

When Prince Charles visited in 2005, she said: “At some point, this country, 12,000 miles away, will seek its own destiny.”

At the time, she deflected questions over whether she thought the Prince would ever become New Zealand’s head of state.

Opinion polls have shown a majority of people, particularly the elderly, favour retaining the monarchy, but the number has declined in recent years to only slightly above 50 per cent.

In April last year, the Republican Movement published a poll showing support for the monarchy slipping to only 43 per cent should Prince Charles become king, with 41 per cent backing a republic.

John Key, the Prime Minister, has said that while he believes the country will one day become a republic, his National Party government would take no active steps towards it.

Analysts are convinced that the catalyst for change in New Zealand would arrive if Australians vote to change their constitution.

Kevin Rudd, the Australian Prime Minister, has said he believes his country will become a republic and has promised a referendum on the issue, without specifying when one will be held.

Last week, Quentin Bryce, the Governor-General in Canberra, said in an interview that she shared Mr Rudd’s opinion.

Malcolm Turnbull, the opposition leader, also supports Australia becoming a republic.

See Related: ROYALTY


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