Overhaul ahead for local authorities and their governance – the big issue should be whether local democracy is enhanced or further eroded

There was an international flavour to two of the new statements from the Beehive and a cosmic flavour to a third, when we checked earlier in the day.  But the most ominous announcement, signalling big changes in the offing very close to home, emerged from the office of Nanaia Mahuta, as Minister of Local Government.

She advised us – or warned us, maybe – she has appointed a team to review our local government arrangements.

She mentioned the evolution of local democracy.

Evolution?  Or further erosion?

One outcome could be a quickening of the pace of change that already has weakened citizens’ right to decide who should govern them and their ability to hold their governors to account for their performance at three-yearly elections.

On the international front, we learned – Continue reading “Overhaul ahead for local authorities and their governance – the big issue should be whether local democracy is enhanced or further eroded”

Capital thinking on decolonisation – give voting rights to tribal appointees on council committees and mute the voice of non-Maori

Eight Wellington City Councillors – given the critical constitutional choice of Treaty partnership or democracy – yesterday voted in favour of further undermining the council’s democratic election and decision-making structures by granting voting rights to the representatives appointed by Maori tribes to sit on council committees.

Only six councillors voted against an arrangement to allow one representative from each of Taranaki Whānui ki Te Upoko o Te Ika and Ngāti Toa Rangatira to sit on most council committees and subcommittees with full voting rights from 1 July.

The council will reimburse each tribe by paying an annual fee, equivalent to the remuneration of a full time elected member, which is currently $111,225.

Some councillors egregiously magnified their anti-democratic instincts by rebuking the Mayor (as the Dominion-Post reports) for

“ … putting forward an amendment calling for the ‘significant’ change to be put out for public feedback before going to a council vote.”

Curiously, the words “significant” has been put in quotes.

Does the newspaper think otherwise?

Apparently yes, because its report of this governance vote (relegated to Page 4 this morning)  focused on Mayor Andy Foster being accused of “delay tactics” for suggesting the proposal be taken to the public for discussion.

One councillor, Jenny Condie, said the proposal did not require formal public feedback because it would be “rectifying an injustice”.

But shouldn’t the public be allowed to assess the nature of this injustice and influence the remedy? Continue reading “Capital thinking on decolonisation – give voting rights to tribal appointees on council committees and mute the voice of non-Maori”

A prisoner’s lot will soon be a better one (in Waikeria, anyway) in partnership with local iwi

Our Beehive bulletin

So what has Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis been up to during the Easter holiday?

Among other things, we learn today, he has  gone to prison.

Waikeria, to be specific, to check on progress on a prison development which will boost mental health services and improve rehabilitation opportunities for the people banged up inside.

The statement drawing attention to what Davis has been doing was posted on the Beehive website along with news that –

  • The Government is expanding its Pregnancy and Parenting Programme, which tailors services to women who are pregnant, or with children aged under three, who experience issues with substance abuse, “and who are not well connected to health and social services”.
  • Temporary COVID-19 immigration powers will be extended to May 2023, providing “continued flexibility to support migrants, manage the border, and help industries facing labour shortages”.
  • An Independent Expert Panel on Drug Driving has proposed criminal limits and blood infringement thresholds for 25 impairing drugs to reduce the trauma of road crashes caused by drug impaired drivers.

Continue reading “A prisoner’s lot will soon be a better one (in Waikeria, anyway) in partnership with local iwi”

Moaning Meghan triggers howls for our Head of State to be cut off – and a blogger proposes a 50:50 race-based upper house

Newshub was among the many media who seized on Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s accusations directed at the royal family to put the spotlight on the Queen’s role as New Zealand’s head of state.

Many here and throughout the Commonwealth think it’s another step towards severing the ties, Newshub reported, especially in the light of a remark that triggered the belief the Royal Family is racist:

But The Daily Blog’s Martyn Bradbury took considerations beyond whether New Zealand should become a republic and proposed entrenching the so-called “Treaty Partnership” into an overhaul of our constitutional arrangements.

An Upper House would be established.  Half the seats would be filled by Maori, giving governmental expression to what “partnership” really means.

The clamour for constitutional change largely stemmed from remarks that were highlighted early in the Newshub report:

During the pair’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, Meghan claimed there had been “concerns and conversations” about how dark the colour of baby Archie’s skin would be when he was born. The Duchess of Sussex said that the issue had been raised with Harry, who relayed the information back to her.

So somebody unnamed said something to Harry, who mentioned it to the duchess, who now has told the world, but without identifying the person who made the remark or explaining the context in which it was said. Continue reading “Moaning Meghan triggers howls for our Head of State to be cut off – and a blogger proposes a 50:50 race-based upper house”

Democracy or partnership – which do we want, because we can’t have both?

Guest Post

By Barrie Saunders

The departure of Donald Trump from the White House was a victory for the US democratic system, which only just succeeded.   If then Vice President Mike Pence had wavered under enormous pressure from President Trump and his cult-like supporters, Joe Biden might not be in the White House and there would have been serious civil disorder. 

The Republicans haven’t given up;  they are now trying to make voting more difficult in several states.  Democracy is a model under threat from many quarters, and it is losing around the world.

It is easy to forget how recently democracy has become mainstream.  In Britain women over the age of 21 only got the vote in 1928 and in the US, universal suffrage only became accessible to all Afro-Americans in the last 55 years because, prior to the 1960s voting reforms, there was serious voter suppression in parts of the country.  Some former East European countries like Hungary have retreated from the democratic model and others like Greece and Italy have struggled to deal with major economic challenges.

At present New Zealand has a quality democracy.   We have fairly-drawn electorates, an easy voting system, and a reasonable level of political literacy.  Money struggles to buy Government policy, which is all as it should be. 

However, we have no reason to be smug, because this democracy is under threat. Governments since 1987 and the Courts have been entrenching a modern view that the Treaty of Waitangi means there is an ongoing “partnership between the Government and Iwi”. Continue reading “Democracy or partnership – which do we want, because we can’t have both?”

Ombudsman invokes the Treaty and declares his aim to be fair – particularly to one group of citizens

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.  This was the declaration of the pigs who control the government in George Orwell’s novel, Animal Farm – a tart comment on the hypocrisy of governments that proclaim the absolute equality of their citizens but gives power and privileges to a small elite.

This country’s chief ombudsman – of all people – has tweaked this and declared that, for the purposes of his office, all citizens are equal but some are more equal than others.

Peter Boshier has established a panel of Maori advisers, which (he says)

“ .. conveys our role as a watchtower ensuring fairness for all, particularly Māori.”

The panel is called Pūhara Mana Tangata and is made up “of prominent experts and rangatahi leaders”.

Boshier says it has been

“ … formed by representatives of tangata whenua for tangata whenua.”

We think he is acknowledging this is a race-based panel to meet the needs of just one of the population’s several ethnic groups.

But creating a watchtower to ensure fairness for all, particularly Māori, will require a rewriting of information we found on the Ombudsman’s website which explains the office’s current purpose: 

The Ombudsman and their staff help New Zealanders in their dealings with government agencies. We handle complaints against government agencies, undertake investigations and inspections, and encourage good administration.

We focus on fairness for all. We are independent and impartial.

Not any more, apparently.

Boshier further focuses on race distinctions when he says:

“One of my highest priorities as Chief Ombudsman is to be more responsive to Māori.”

None of the country’s many other racial groups are embraced by this expression of his mission.

Boshier says he expects the Panel’s experience in Māori governance and iwi engagement will help steer his office’s engagement and communications

” … to focus on matters that have the most positive and enduring impact on Māori communities.”

“We know we have work to do to raise our profile so more Māori are aware of our work”

Why not aim to make ALL citizens aware of his office’s work?

Boshier is supported as Chief Ombudsman by a Deputy Ombudsman, two Assistant Ombudsmen, a General Counsel and more than 100 staff located in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

So what is the reason for reinforcing this support by appointing a panel of Maori advisers?

His press statement says:

“The Chief Ombudsman acknowledges the partnership between Māori and the Crown established by the Treaty of Waitangi, and recognises it to be a critical factor in carrying out his work as the independent watchdog for Parliament overseeing and reporting on the actions of New Zealand crown agencies.”

Oh dear.  He has invoked the troubling “partnership” which is not actually mentioned in the Treaty of Waitangi.

When Kelvin Davis’s ministerial domain was expanded by the establishment of the Office for Māori Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti, we emailed questions to him to establish if he supports the establishment of more co-governance arrangements around the country and – if so – in which areas of public administration and governance?

We also asked:

  1. Will the promotion of co-governance arrangements be among the objectives of the newly established Maori-Crown relationship agency?
  2. What does the Minister believe is meant by the Treaty “partnership” (it is not actually mentioned in the Treaty of Waitangi) and when was a Treaty “partnership” first officially invoked for governmental policy-making purposes?

We did not receive answers.

More recently, Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage told Point of Order:

“The principles of the Treaty of Waitangi are not explicitly stated in the articles of the Treaty itself.  

“They have evolved primarily though jurisprudence…”  

They also have significant governance and constitutional implications.

Sage further said:

Section 4 of the Conservation Act 1987 requires the Minister of Conservation and DOC to give effect to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi in the interpretation and administration of the Act (including all enactments listed in Schedule 1 of the Act). This is one of the strongest weightings of Treaty of Waitangi principles in legislation.

The principles of the Treaty of Waitangi are not explicitly stated in the articles of the Treaty itself.  They have evolved primarily though jurisprudence, most notably the Lands case (New Zealand Maori Council v Attorney-General [1987] 1 NZLR 641).

The Treaty principles most relevant to DOC’s work are as follows:

–       Partnership – mutual good faith and reasonableness

–       Informed decision-making

–       Active protection

–       Redress and reconciliation

Mark Burton, Minister of Justice in the Labour-led government in 2007, reflected on the history and development of the Crown-Maori “relationship”. 

He referenced Sir Robin Cooke, writing in 1994, who observed that 12 decisions from the Court of Appeal between 1987 and 1993 on matters relating to the Treaty of Waitangi

 ” … enabled a new line of jurisprudence to emerge in New Zealand – Treaty jurisprudence.” 

Burton also acknowledged “treaty principles” being hard to pin down:

” In the view of the Courts and the Waitangi Tribunal, Treaty principles are not set in stone. They are constantly evolving as the Treaty is applied to particular issues and new situations. Neither the Courts nor the Waitangi Tribunal have produced a definitive list of Treaty principles.

“As President Cooke has said:  ‘ The Treaty obligations are ongoing. They will evolve from generation to generation as conditions change’.”  

Further information on the Treaty principles and DOC can be found here. 

What about the Ombudsman’s job?

He has authority to investigate approximately 4,000 entities in the public sector in New Zealand.

According to the Ombudsman, the public sector includes:

  • government departments and ministries
  • ministers and the Police (in relation to decisions on requests for official information)
  • local authorities
  • crown entities
  • state-owned enterprises
  • district health boards
  • tertiary education institutions
  • school boards of trustees.

All government agencies must cooperate with the Ombudsman’s investigations.

But the co-governance partners which are spouting at local authority level around the country are not “government” agencies – are they?

Boshier could clarify this during his meetings with the panel and ascertain whether Maori co-governance partners are willing to be subjected to the Official Information Act and Ombudsman’s investigations – or whether they would rather be held accountable only to fellow Maori.