Queen Elizabeth II's death sparks NZ republic debate

The death of Queen Elizabeth II has led to a debate on whether New Zealand should become a republic, with Māori leaders divided on the issue.

Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi is strongly in favour of removing the royal family as New Zealand's head of state.

"It's time to remove the British royal family as head of state and move towards an Aotearoa that is a Te Tiriti o Waitangi-based nation," he said.

But many Māori are concerned a change in relationship from their original Treaty partner, the British Crown, could threaten their rights.

"I certainly want the debate and I want the certainty before moving into something," Ngāti Hine leader Pita Tipene said.

"We may lose the rights and obligations that are inherent in Te Tiriti o Waitangi."

There is currently no legal or constitutional certainty that the Treaty will be safeguarded if New Zealand does become a republic.

While constitutional expert Dr Claire Charters is fairly confident the Treaty won't be affected, she said it was possible.

"It would be really unlikely, because of the way in which the New Zealand Government and state have assumed those Tiriti obligations, but there's always that risk somewhere, right?" she said

"When you open up that can of worms in constitutional reform, there is always the potential that Māori rights would be watered down or would be insufficiently protected."

Charters said it wasn't clear what would be needed to ensure the Treaty could be protected.

"We''d have to make that up as we go along."

Under the current arrangement, Māori can hold the Crown accountable through the Waitangi Tribunal.

Tipene said there was too much uncertainty about whether important accountability mechanisms like the tribunal would remain intact.

"Who knows what that will be in the transfer or potential transfer to a republic," he said.

Human rights lawyer Annette Sykes said there was a clear bottom line in any move toward republicanism.

"Any constitutional adjustment requires first and foremost to recognise the constitutional foundation documents of this nation, He Whakaputanga and Te Tiriti o Waitangi," she said.

"We are all very cautious about what Pākehā law and Pākehā authority has done to us."