BARRIE SAUNDERS: Exiting the constitutional rabbit hole

  • Barrie Saunders writes – 

Very well-intentioned politicians, judges and others have taken New Zealand down into a Treaty rabbit hole, from which few know how to exit without creating more social divisions. The modern interpretations of the Maori version of Treaty have set aside a common understanding of a few decades ago, and there is now heaps of anxiety and aggravation.

We face the reality that some iwi leaders, academics and others, think the Treaty created a “partnership” between the Crown and Maori leaders, and they should have equal say in the governance of the country, even though the terms “partnership” was not in any version. Furthermore, the textual ambiguities in the Treaty have led to Parliament legislating for recognition of the “principles” of the Treaty for which it has not provided any definition.

There is an amazing amount of literature for such a short Treaty, which in itself shows up its practical limitations. To some it appears we have infinitely flexible avenues for iwi to ask for more. Continue reading “BARRIE SAUNDERS: Exiting the constitutional rabbit hole”

Essay competition winner might opt for the money and surrender the bag – but that would be to eschew a robust chat with MPs

As the general election approaches, the Association of Former Members of the Parliament of New Zealand has organised an essay competition to to foster democracy.  Secondary school students are being challenged to identify the important elements of a successful democracy, explain their value and consider whether they can be improved – in New Zealand.

The association – chaired by former Ohariu MP and Cabinet Minister Peter Dunne – is made up of MPs who either have retired gracefully or been given the heave-ho at an election by disgruntled voters.

Holding elected representatives to account and getting rid of them at an election if they don’t do their job satisfactorily is a key component of a robust democracy.  But this right has been taken away from Canterbury region voters.

The legislative process that resulted in Canterbury’s regional democratic structure being eroded is among many issues worth examining when the shortcomings of New Zealand’s democracy – and Treaty-brandishing politicians’  disinclination to defend it  – are considered.   Continue reading “Essay competition winner might opt for the money and surrender the bag – but that would be to eschew a robust chat with MPs”

Thanks for the news about the UNESCO appointment, but has the new chair already taken up her job?

The appointment of Elizabeth Longworth as Chair of the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO was one of just two press statements on the government’s official website today.

Perhaps that’s because ministers have been busy preparing speeches for the Labour Party faithful who have gathered in Wellington for the party’s annual congress this weekend.

No, it’s not a hui, we note from an RNZ report which was republished by Newshub.  A congress.

It will be Chris Hipkins’ first since taking over as Labour leader from Jacinda Ardern. While he will be preaching to the converted, Hipkins will use his time at the podium on Sunday to explain who he is and his vision for election year and beyond.

Point of Order’s checking quickly established that Elizabeth Longworth has a track record as a champion of open government and of democracy.

We are delighted she  passed muster with a government that regards democracy as subservient to the Treaty and which has a patchy record in responding to Official Information Act requests.

Associate Education Minister Jo Luxton was charged with announcing the Longworth appointment. Continue reading “Thanks for the news about the UNESCO appointment, but has the new chair already taken up her job?”

GRAHAM ADAMS: Te Pāti Māori – Kingmaker or Labour’s albatross?

  • Graham Adams writes – 

 Chris Hipkins must be fast realising that with friends like Te Pāti Māori he really doesn’t need enemies. In fact, the strong possibility Labour will require its support to form a government is looking like a real threat to its chances of re-election in October.

When Chris Luxon last week ruled out coming to an arrangement with Te Pāti Māori in post-election negotiations it lost its crown as “kingmaker” — although some journalists persist in calling it that. Mostly it will now be seen as tied to the Labour-Greens bloc on the left.

After Luxon had drawn a line in the sand — and dubbed a union of Labour, the Greens and Te Pāti Māori a “coalition of chaos” — Hipkins felt moved to assert his own authority by warning Te Pāti Māori not to get too far ahead of itself in issuing “bottom lines” as conditions for its co-operation. Its demands so far have included some sort of wealth tax, the removal of GST from food, and withdrawing from the Five Eyes intelligence alliance.

In an effort to reassure voters that the tail wouldn’t be allowed to wag the dog too vigorously, Hipkins said Labour would release its own “bottom lines” before October “because, ultimately, the larger parties do need to be able to implement the commitments that they campaign on”. He reiterated the point at this week’s post-Cabinet press conference: “It may well be, as we get closer to the election, that there are some areas where we don’t agree with [Te Pāti Māori], where there are things that we take off the table.”

Te Pāti Māori’s co-leader Rawiri Waititi, predictably, didn’t take kindly to being told his party should “be careful” with its non-negotiable policies. He described it as “oppression”, and warned the Prime Minister:

“You don’t tell indigenous peoples what our bottom lines are.”

Hipkins’ instructions to Te Pāti Māori to play nice were bound to backfire. It’s simply not in its DNA as a revolutionary party to kowtow to anyone. In fact, its electoral purposes may be best served by continuing to show just how contemptuous it is of the conventional political hierarchy. Chances are that snaffling a government minister to its ranks in the form of Meka Whaitiri was just an opening move. Who knows what other disruptive tactics it has up its sleeve? Continue reading “GRAHAM ADAMS: Te Pāti Māori – Kingmaker or Labour’s albatross?”

THOMAS CRANMER: Are political parties too tribal?

Assessing the impact on democracy and the escalation of polarisation

  • Thomas Cranmer writes –

Political parties play a significant role in democratic systems, including in New Zealand. They provide a means of organising political representation and facilitating the functioning of the government. However, the question arises whether political parties, with their inherent tribalism and policy conformity, are necessary for a functioning democracy.

The shortcomings of political parties are apparent on an almost daily basis with elected representatives and supporters encouraged to maintain a blind support for party policies even when faced with legitimate criticism. The adversarial nature of the Westminster system makes it difficult for politicians to admit mistakes and the net effect is an exacerbation of polarisation.

When New Zealand’s parliament was first formed, there were no political parties. Members of Parliament were independents, who were voted into Parliament by their local electorates. The first formal political party was the Liberal Party, which won enough votes to become the government in 1891. Grouping together as a party gave them advantages in gaining votes and financial support. In 1909 the opposition came together and formed the Reform Party.

This early model allowed for a more fluid system in which representatives could form alliances based on specific issues or shared values, akin to the ad hoc alliances of senators in Ancient Greece. This approach fostered independence of thought and the ability to question policies without fear of party backlash.

Continue reading “THOMAS CRANMER: Are political parties too tribal?”

DR MICHAEL JOHNSON: How can education help our democracy?

  • Dr Michael Johnston writes – 


Hate speech and misinformation are both real and undesirable. But trying to curb them through criminal law risks undermining democracy. So what can education contribute to shoring up the foundations of an open society?


What can education contribute to shoring up the foundations of democracy? 

According to the Forum on the Future of Local Government, a greater emphasis on Civics, or citizenship education might help. It’s certainly no bad thing for young people to learn about the way our electoral system and government work. But research has shown that Civics education tends to have disappointing results when it comes to political engagement.

Besides, if we want a citizenry that’s truly prepared to participate in democracy, it’s not enough just to teach them how the system works, nor even that they engage when it’s time to vote. Instilling certain values is important too. Foremost amongst these values is a respect for the importance of open debate. 

Safeguarding open debate is one of the most important reasons to uphold free speech in a democracy. But free speech remains at risk in New Zealand. Hate speech and misinformation are both real and undesirable. But trying to curb them through criminal law risks undermining democracy. The true foundation of open societies is not voting, but the free exchange of ideas. When people can say what they think without fear of censorship or prosecution, the result is a robust public discourse that leads to better information and more sophisticated ideas. 

Continue reading “DR MICHAEL JOHNSON: How can education help our democracy?”

Anzac Day is about remembrance – but did our Veterans Minister forget about Second World War and the saving of democracy?

Dalius Čekuolis, a career diplomat who served as Lithuania’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations from 2006 to 2012, championed democracy in a speech to the UN General Assembly on May 6 2010 to mark the 65th anniversary of the end of the Second World War,

Veterans Minister Meka Whaitiri, on the other hand, didn’t mention “democracy” in a press statement she issued to encourage all New Zealanders to  mark Anzac Day this year.

We can only conjecture on whether this apparent oversight is related to Local Government Minister Kieran McAnulty earlier this month acknowledging that a co-governance component in its Three Waters reforms helps the Government give effect to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.  

And to rub it in:

“There are provisions in our laws around the Treaty that aren’t democratic.”

A highly contentious interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi similarly was invoked by the Government when it over-rode the principle that all citizens in a democracy should have equal rights to give one group of people in Canterbury an electoral privilege.  This small group was thus enabled to appoint representatives to two permanent seats on the Canterbury Regional Council without the bother of campaigning for electoral support.

Continue reading “Anzac Day is about remembrance – but did our Veterans Minister forget about Second World War and the saving of democracy?”

GRAHAM ADAMS:  Labour’s Three Waters refresh is a tragi-comedy


The government’s disdain for democracy is a gift to National and Act.


  • Graham Adams writes –

Last week, we watched the Prime Minister rebrand the contentious Three Waters project with a name so banal it is surprising he didn’t fall asleep while announcing it. “Affordable Water Reform” is, in essence, a Post-It note to stick on your computer while you struggle to come up with an arresting title. If you suggested “Affordable Water Reform” to your colleagues in an advertising agency they’d assume you were joking.

There’s a lot that is risible in Labour’s ongoing attempts to find a Three Waters arrangement the nation might even grudgingly accept.

The Water Services Entities Act was passed in December — and within hours a second bill that included extensive amendments to the first was introduced to Parliament. In fact, that bill is as long as the Act it seeks to amend.

Now, the government will introduce and pass further legislation to implement the changes Hipkins announced this month — as well as “associated matters” — all before this year’s election. Continue reading “GRAHAM ADAMS:  Labour’s Three Waters refresh is a tragi-comedy”

McAnulty comes clean on Three Waters – but Opposition MPs say his arguments for sinking our democracy just don’t wash

Buzz from the Beehive

Not for the first time, we have had to wait a few days for a minister to acknowledge that something vital was missing from a statement posted on the Government’s official website.

In this case, Local Government Minister Kieran McAnulty made no mention of “co-govern”, “co-governance” or “co-government” in the statement he issued last Thursday on a major shakeup which will see affordable water reforms led and delivered regionally.

The statement did set out plans to establish 10 new regionally owned and regionally led public water entities, to be owned by local councils on behalf of the public.  The entity borders would be based on existing regional areas, each entity would be run by a professional board, with members appointed on competency and skill, and strategic oversight and direction would be provided by local representative groups

“… with every local council in the country, as well as mana whenua, getting a seat at the table”.

Continue reading “McAnulty comes clean on Three Waters – but Opposition MPs say his arguments for sinking our democracy just don’t wash”

Chris Trotter: The road to October

Road Closed: For Chris Hipkins and Labour, the state highway to October has been rendered impassable by inaction and political slash. Christopher Luxon and National, meanwhile, have discovered an unsealed road without slips and fallen trees. It’s not their usual way of reaching the Treasury Benches, but, with a bit of luck, it just might get them where they want to go.  CHRIS TROTTER writes – 

THE NATIONAL PARTY stands at the beginning of an unsealed road which, if followed, might just carry it to victory. The question, now, is whether the party possesses the guts to set off down it. Sometimes politicians hit upon a winning strategy by accident, unaware that they have done so. National’s answer to the Government’s controversial Three Waters project may be a case in point.

Wittingly, or unwittingly, National’s policy reflects the principle of subsidiarity – i.e. the idea that the best decisions are those made by the communities required to live most closely with their consequences. Set against Labour’s preference for large, centralised (and almost always unresponsive) bureaucracies, National’s preference for the local and the accountable has much to recommend it.  

Labour, meanwhile, may find that its road to October has been closed. Rather than proceed with all speed down the path of repudiation and reprioritisation promised by Chris Hipkins when he became Prime Minister, the exigencies of dealing with the Auckland Anniversary Weekend Floods and Cyclone Gabrielle appear to have provided Hipkins’ caucus opponents with a chance to regroup and push back. Continue reading “Chris Trotter: The road to October”