National and ACT MPs this week were given a platform to express their objections to the democracy-enfeebling Canterbury Regional Council (Ngāi Tahu Representation) Bill.
This legislation will give one group of Canterbury citizens, Ngāi Tahu tribal leaders, a governance privilege that has been given to nobody else in this country. They will be able to avoid the challenge of nominating candidates, then campaigning for popular support at the ballot box to win places on the regional council. Rather, they will appoint two councillors who will have full decision-making powers (often on matters affecting the tribe’s considerable business interests).
National MP Paul Goldsmith, during the second reading debate, said the Nats were opposing the bill
“… because it alters and offends two key principles of the democracy that we have enjoyed in this country for many decades and is fundamental to the success of New Zealand as a democratic country.”
The first is that all New Zealanders have equal voting rights.
The second is that there is accountability at the ballot box on a regular basis.
His colleague, Matt Doocey, said several people in their submissions had contended the bill should not proceed. One submitter said
“… adding appointed members in addition to those democratically elected is a move away from democracy towards oligarchy”.
Doocey echoed what Goldsmith had said: this legislation will fundamentally change democracy in New Zealand.
“We are going to move away from equal suffrage—one vote and one person.”
He recalled Labour list MP’s Tāmati Coffey talking of “tweaking democracy” and warned:
“Well, I think we just need to look around the world at what happens when you start tweaking democracy.”
The vote in favour of the bill – 65 votes from Labour, 10 from the Greens and two from the Maori Party – is an ominous measure of the strength of the tweakers.
A critical question is whether the Ardern government, under the heavy influence of its Maori caucus, believes the Treaty trumps democracy.
Justice Minister Kris Faafoi did not speak during the debate. But he was given an opportunity during Question Time yesterday to assure us the Treaty does NOT trump democracy.
He began by saying the Government is committed to every New Zealander’s right to participate in our democracy “on a fair and equal basis”.
This principle plainly is being over-ridden in the case of Labour’s support for special seats for Ngai Tahu on the Canterbury Regional Council.
But Faafoi took a different tack and said he had announced that the Government will be introducing a bill to allow Māori voters to switch electoral rolls at almost any time.
This is a privilege which non-Māori voters do not have, obviously.
Faafoi explained that
“… this responds to repeated calls from both a number of justice select committees and the Electoral Commission to address the issue of the timing of the frequency of the Māori electoral option.
“Removing the restrictions that currently lock Māori voters into their roll choice for two general elections will be a significant improvement to the status quo that prevents Māori voters from fully exercising their electoral rights.“
Asked why equal voting rights for New Zealanders and accountability at the ballot box were important, Faafoi gave a simple – almost glib – response:
“For good governance.”
This paved the way for the palpably undemocratic Canterbury local government bill to be brought back into the reckoning.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Then how can the Government claim it’s committed to equal voting rights when its Ministers voted for the Canterbury Regional Council (Ngāi Tahu Representation) Bill, which allows for two additional representatives to be appointed by Ngāi Tahu, thereby moving away from equal voting rights for all New Zealanders and the ability of voters to remove councillors?
Hon KRIS FAAFOI: As has just been pointed out by the Leader of the House, that is a local bill that has been brought forward by the Environment Canterbury council, and also Ngāi Tahu, which the Government has supported in order to make sure that that representation and request from the local community can be prosecuted.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he agree with the Ministry of Justice’s advice on the Canterbury Regional Council bill, which said the bill breached the Human Rights Act, in that it draws distinctions based on race, but that breach is justified by the Treaty?
Hon KRIS FAAFOI: I will also note that that bill has been through the Attorney-General’s New Zealand Bill of Rights Act process and has come through with a tick.
Readers will recall that concerns were raised by the Attorney-General regarding the Rotorua District Council (Representation Arrangements) Bill, which would have given a Māori vote much greater weight than a non-Māori vote.
Goldsmith cited a part of the Attorney-General’s advice on that bill:
“This proposed arrangement detracts from the key constitutional principle of equal representation in a representative democracy. I consider that there must be strong reasons to depart from this fundamental constitutional principle, and accordingly, to justify the limit on the right to freedom from discrimination.”
If this be so, Goldsmith asked, did Faafoi have concerns with the Ministry of Justice’s different advice in relation to the Canterbury Regional Council bill, which equally moves away from equal representation?
Good question. Alas, it was ruled out of order because Faafoi is not responsible for advice from officials from another Minister’s office.
Goldsmith had another question.
When did we decide that Treaty principles trump democratic norms that we enjoyed for a century; namely equal voting rights and the ability to throw our representatives at elections?
Hon KRIS FAAFOI: No one’s decided that. That’s an assertion that the member is making. I would point out again that the bill that member is asking about has been called on by the locals and the local iwi. I’m not sure if that member whakapapas back to Ngāi Tahu, I’m not sure which iwi he is from, but we want to honour the commitment that that local government body has to make sure that this bill is put before the House.
That’s a far-from-convincing assurance.