Sunday, September 18, 2016

Mike Butler: Palmer's Aotearoa constitution

For years former Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer has been deploring the “unbridled power” that New Zealand’s constitutional setup affords, but he was perhaps among the worst offenders during his time as Justice Minister in the way he pushed his personal Treaty of Waitangi solutions while circumventing public opinion.

Along with fellow lawyer Andrew Butler (no relation to this writer), Palmer is about to release A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand, a book that argues why New Zealand needs a written constitution and what a first draft of that constitution entails.

Any sentence containing the words “constitution”, “Aotearoa” and “treaty” would alarm those who have witnessed the damage to race relations caused by 30 years of policy to accommodate the demands of a handful of Maori separatists.

The pre-story for the Palmer-Butler book shows that Palmer wants:
1. A written constitution;
2. That enshrines the Treaty of Waitangi, limited to the Maori text and the official English text referred to in the Treaty of Waitangi Act;
3. That replaces the Queen as head of state with a governor general appointed by Parliament to a five-year term;
4. With a locked-in four-year election cycle.
5. That allows senior judges to invalidate acts of Parliament
The alleged problem that Palmer and Butler are seeking to solve is that he says that there is nothing to prevent a worst case scenario where one powerful person could influence Cabinet, which in turn controls Parliament, which enacts laws the courts cannot overturn, in other words, a dictatorship.

There have been a few such figures, like Sir Robert Muldoon and “King Dick” Seddon, although we could probably add Helen Clark and the Lange Labour government, of which Palmer was a part.

But the worst case scenario that Palmer warns of has not eventuated in 176 years because the way our system works is that voters get tired of these domineering leaders and vote them out.

Palmer used the “unbridled power” of the 1980s Lange Labour Government to set the treaty grievance gravy train in motion.

He wrote in his earlier 1992 book New Zealand’s Constitution in Crisis that because addressing Maori grievances was politically unpopular, legislation to address grievances ran the risk of being outvoted. So he set up “processes, and procedures and the principles on which decisions should be based”.

His 1985 amendment to the Treaty of Waitangi Act allowed claims all the way back to 1840, which led to the re-litigation of old issues, the rewriting of history, and resulting in the payment of $3.2-billion in grievance money.

Palmer wrote that in 1985 he did some research on the outstanding grievances and it did not appear that looking into them would open a can of worms, which many feared. I took the view that the claims may take a decade to deal with, that it would cause some anguish but would be worth it in the end.

Three decades later those claims are still going strong.

There is little evidence that we’re all champing at the bit for a new constitution with a Treaty clause in it, as Palmer appears to believe.

The Constitutional Review that took place in 2013 turned up the data on attitudes that showed.

There is no sense of an urgent or widespread desire for change,” Deputy Prime Minister Bill English said when releasing the official Constitutional Advisory Panel’s final report.

Moreover, 96 percent of the 1222 written submissions to the Independent Constitutional Review’s parallel consultation opposed the inclusion of the Treaty of Waitangi in our constitutional arrangements.


Angry Tory said...

The Douglas/Lange labour government, and especially the first term of the Richardson/Bolger government demonstrates why NZ needs constitutional support for stronger government, not weaker.

The first thing Palmer should recommend is going back to democracy, that is FPP.
The second thing should be going back to a taxpayer franchise -- bludgers don't vote.

Kiwi Dave said...

So, a lawyer leading a firm which consults on constitutional issues and who is responsible for one of NZ's most careless and damaging laws, who quickly lost the support of his own party before the public could demonstrate its lack of support for him, wants to give more power to lawyers and a written constitution at the expense of the public's say in its future. What could go wrong?

Helen said...

I would be vehemently opposed to anything that involved Palmer. He's done enormous harm to this country with his invented Principles of the Treaty but obviously he's looking for more work for his firm regardless of the harm he would do.

Barend Vlaardingerbroek said...

Point 5 flows pretty well automatically from Point 1. Any law passed by Parliament that is successfully challenged on the basis of it contravening the Constitution will be scrapped by a constitutional court. Otherwise there's no point in having a 'written constitution'. It's also a potent argument against having a written constitution as unelected judges can override the will of the elected legislature which presumably reflects the will of the people.

paul scott said...

It looks as though old long tooth has been appointing himself to imaginary uplifting status again. He must be the last and only person in the country who takes him seriously.
I wrote to the Government a while ago to tell them I have Geoff Palmer’s punishment residence ready in Bangkok, as soon as they expel him.
Its over there in Klong Toei, and its perfect for him; the people there paid me to take it off their hands

It is hard to imagine how any single person could have damaged an entire economy to the extent that Palmer has done. The Bolger Government were culpable also, in actually introducing his monster , the Resource Management Act.
That pompous, and verbose Act, has never enabled anyone, except of Palmer’s ilk, and in fact it has only recently been discovered that it makes more sense read backwards.

Constitution recommendations from Palmer will be a good indication of what not to do.
Starting where we need to start.
No Constitution. No Constitution, and no constitution.

Anonymous said...

And we should not forget that Palmer was architect/draftsman of that great enabling piece of legislation - the Resource Management Act.

David Nicholls said...

Cool then we can be like the Americans thinking a constitution is a substitute for a brain