The Green Party’s urge to strengthen our democracy through a Member’s Bill, the Electoral Strengthening Democracy Bill, should portend Green willingness to try to stall a Ngai Tahu power grab in Canterbury. But don’t hold your breath.
Green electoral reform spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman, who is introducing the bill, said New Zealand proudly has a strong democratic system – but
“… there is definitely room for improvement to ensure we have the best democratic system possible and that access is fair”.
And: “The Bill seeks to stop unfair influence and potential corruption in politics.”
This implies the Greens will help to stymie passage of the Canterbury Regional Council (Ngāi Tahu Representation) Bill, a measure designed to allow Ngai Tahu to bypass the electoral system and appoint two representatives with full voting rights on to the Canterbury Regional Council.
Enactment of the bill would set an ominous constitutional precedent, paving the way for appointees with voting rights to sit on regional councils – and other local authorities – throughout the country.
Ngai Tahu’s two appointees would sit alongside 14 members to be elected after the 2019 election.
Ngai Tahu people living in Canterbury accordingly would have two votes – one as a member of the wider community, the other through runanga appointees.
Oh – and representation on the regional council, better known as Environment Canterbury, would be granted to Ngai Tahu members living outside of Canterbury.
Point of Order emailed Labour, National, New Zealand First, the Green Party and ACT for their positions on this profoundly anti-democratic legislation.
Only New Zealand First declared its determination to oppose the bill.
“New Zealand First does not support having appointed members for Environment Canterbury and will not support the Canterbury Regional Council (Ngāi Tahu Representation) Bill. New Zealand First has maintained that this provision is undemocratic and should not be in the Act. New Zealand First is committed to effective regional democracy, with which appointed members is not compatible.”
National’s Local Government spokesperson, Jacqui Dean, said:
“We will make our position known closer to the First Reading.”
None of the other parties responded.
National has been placed in an awkward position because the Key Government scrapped regional democracy in Canterbury in 2010 and installed its appointees in their place to facilitate more irrigation development.
The Greens, on the other hand, issued a statement in 2015 headed Time to restore democracy to Canterbury and Labour similarly was pressing for the restoration of democracy in Canterbury – until it became the government.
A Newsroom report last year provides an ominous pointer to how the land lies.
It provides some background: after six years of Government-appointed commissioners at ECan, seven councillors were elected in the 2016 local body elections, joining five appointees. Days after that hybrid election, a private member’s bill was pulled from Parliament’s ballot – authored by Labour’s Wigram MP, Megan Woods – which would have forced a full regional council election.
The bill failed to get to its first reading in December that year.
Speaking before the vote, Woods called it an opportunity to rectify a wrong.
“This is not something that I, as a Cantabrian, am prepared to sit by and watch happen, because it simply is not good enough.”
After Labour formed a coalition Government in 2017, local government academic Dr Jean Drage, of Lincoln University, a staunch opponent of the ECan sackings, wrote to Woods urging the Government to hold elections in February 2018.
Newsroom reported that this letter was referred to Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta, who wrote back in December 2017.
Mahuta said little time would be saved by holding elections early, considering the time needed to pass new legislation and with ECan about to embark on a representation review.
Mahuta’s private secretary confirmed to Newsroom that after having examined all the options, the 2019 local body elections was the “earliest practicable time” ECan could have full elections.
And so we come to the more recent bill, which critics denounce as profoundly anti-democratic and discriminatory on the grounds of race.
Among many flaws, it introduces a significant conflict of interest between the commercial interests of the South Island’s largest business and protection of the Canterbury environment.
The potential for this conflict of interest is palpable: Environment Canterbury’s job is to regulate activities which may have adverse environmental effects.
Ngai Tahu’s appointed councillors would be batting for their iwi and their runanga, the governance organisation of a billion dollar (charitable) enterprise. It holds farming, forestry and aquaculture interests, commerical and residential buildings as well as other businesses such as Go Bus (two-thirds owned by Ngai Tahu) which are regulated by ECAN.
Malcolm Harbrow, who blogs on the left-leaning No Right Turn blog, addressed this serious concern in a post which noted the bill would bypass the usual process for creating Maori wards and electing members and allow Ngai Tahu to directly appoint two members to the Canterbury Regional Council.
This, he said, “… is both undemocratic – they should be elected, not appointed – and creates serious conflict of interest problems. We’d be horrified at the thought of Fonterra being allowed to appoint members to a council responsible for setting policy around water and pollution, but Ngāi Tahu’s dairy investments and ongoing conversions put it in the same boat.”
Harbrow supports guaranteed Maori representation on councils but says they should be democratically elected and proportionate to population.
The bill, which has yet to be given its first reading, meets neither criteria and Harbrow insists “it should either be amended so that it does, or rejected”.
The most fundamental constitutional shortcoming is that the bill will deny Canterbury citizens the right to elect those who govern them and to sack appointed councillors who don’t pass muster.
Hobson’s Choice, which is campaigning to stop the bill’s passage, further objects…
- it contributes to the absurd notion that people with one or more Maori ancestors have an innate superiority over matters of environmental management.
- it contributes to a growing Maori Aristocracy, where New Zealanders with Maori ancestry have separate and distinct political and legal rights.
- Its discriminatory thrust breaches section 19(1) of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act and section 21 of the Human Rights Act: Prohibited grounds of discrimination including race, colour and national origin.
Ngai Tahu, on the other hand, does not think much of this democracy lark.
Restoring full democratic elections would be a “step backwards” for Canterbury, Ngai Tahu says.
The iwi expressed that view before a select committee hearing in 2015 on the Environment Canterbury (Transitional Governance Arrangements) Bill, the legislation designed to introduce a mixture of elected councillors and government appointed commissioners from 2016.
This bill provided for, but did not guarantee, a return to full democratic elections in Canterbury this year– six years later than originally expected.
Ngai Tahu referenced the highly dubious Crown-iwi “Treaty partnership” (a concept which was not mentioned in the treaty but is increasingly being parroted to give the impression it is contained in the treaty and justifies the burgeoning of co-governance arrangements).
“The proposal to return to a fully democratically elected model does not provide sufficient recognition towards the Treaty partnership,” its submission says.
“It is considered that the proposal would be a step backwards for Canterbury as a number of other regions have moved towards equitable representation for iwi at a governance level.”
The iwi supported continuing the mixed model after the 2019 local government elections and it proposed it be given even greater power by incorporating three Ngai Tahu appointed commissioners alongside three appointed by the Government.
On the strength of what they have said previously – reinforced by their statement today on enhancing our democracy – the Greens should be determined to gazump Ngai Tahu.
Time to restore democracy to Canterbury
Monday, June 29, 2015 – 13:06
People in Canterbury should not be second class citizens having to live with second class local body representation, the Green Party said today.
The Green Party is concerned at the prospect of the National Government failing to restore a fully elected Environment Canterbury Regional Council (ECan) in announcements later this week about the council’s future.
“No other regional or local council in New Zealand has a mix of elected and appointed representatives,” said Green Party Canterbury spokesperson Eugenie Sage.
“It is high time for the return of a fully elected, democratic regional council in Canterbury.”
“Having appointed commissioners involved in making decisions on Council spending fails to honour the central democratic principle of no taxation without representation.
“When there was a fully elected regional council there was far more responsiveness to public concerns about the health and state of Canterbury’s waterways, biodiversity and natural environment.”
A week later, responding to the Key Government’s postponement of the return of a fully elected council until 2019, Sage said:
“Democracy is our greatest asset yet National is denying Cantabrians a proper vote for almost a decade. Citizens deserve more than the second class council they are getting which the Government can continue to influence and dominate.
Labour’s Megan Woods seemed keen on restoring democracy, too, once upon a time.
Her Member’s bill – just drawn from the ballot at that time – aimed to return full democracy to Canterbury by triggering new elections for the full slate of positions on the council.
“Right now, there are 7 elected councillors but 6 government appointed commissioners. Half a democracy isn’t a democracy. We need full elections as soon as possible.
“There was never any justification for why Canterbury should be the only region that doesn’t get to elect its regional council. National is out of touch with local people’s desire to have a say in the people who will take their region forward.
“I urge all parties in Parliament to support this bill and restore democracy to Canterbury,” says Megan Woods.
But it was a Labour MP, Rino Tirakatene, who introduced the Canterbury Regional Council (Ngāi Tahu Representation) Bill – with enthusiastic Ngai Tahu support, let it be noted.
Bob Edlin is a veteran journalist and editor for the Point of Order blog HERE.