Sunday, November 22, 2020

Tony Orman: Erosion of Democracy Cause for Focus

Over the last decade or two I have had increasing concern that democracy is being eroded and is under continuing siege.

Earlier this year, the Council of Outdoor Recreation Associations of New Zealand (CORANZ) expressed concern that parliament’s select committee democratic process was being undermined to the detriment of the public giving submissions.

Current CORANZ Chairman Andi Cockroft made an oral submission to a select committee dealing with the Resource Management Act (RMA).

After being beforehand, granted 15 minutes speaking time the chairman Labour MP Duncan Webb, interrupted Andi’s submission after five minutes and said the committee had heard enough thereby cutting the oral presentation short by ten minutes.

The rudeness and snub to democracy left Andi bewildered and angry.

It has been happening for some years now. Several years ago was the ERMA 1080 poison review in which submitters were mostly given just a token five minute slot. I said at the time, it was evident the ERMA 1080 review was nothing more than a “kangaroo court” and a “token nod” to consultation.

Covid19 Cover

Currently the government  under cover of the Covid19 scare has been pushing law changes through which lack proper democratic scrutiny. Perhaps the Governor-general should be stepping in and giving government a stern reminder about its duty to democracy?

To reiterate it’s been happening for quite a while and it’s fair to say the erosion of democracy is not confined to the current coalition government. The National coalition government (2008-2017) was guilty of a blatant breach of democracy when Environment Minister Nick Smith sacked the democratically elected Environment Canterbury council and grabbed control by installing its own “state puppet” commissioners.

Another example was Environment Minister Nick Smith taking resource contents over 1080 poison aerial drops away from regional council and public scrutiny and giving the government the sole, unassailable power to approve.

MP Public Servants

Politicians are treating the public with disdain, just making a token consultation to listening. After all MPs are in reality, public servants and the Prime Minister is not the people’s leader but the most senior public servant.

Behind central and local government elected representatives were bureaucrats who seemed to manipulate MPs and the procedures to suit political and/or self-serving agendas.

The public believe Parliament is the place of democracy – where you could get a fair hearing from elected representatives based on a historical and moral constitution of honour, truth and justice. It is not a charade.

The manner in which firearm law changes following the Christchurch March 15, 2019 mosque tragedy, were rushed through with “thoroughly indecent haste” showing a total disregard for democracy. Consider the manner of the select committee dealing with 13,000 submissions in just two days. It defies credibility and shows a total lack of integrity.

It was therefore a logical reaction for the public to rate politicians, political parties and governments as among the most untrustworthy.

Tony Orman, once a town and country planner, is now a  part-time journalist and author.


Alan said...

20 years ago, I made a few submissions to select committees. Now I don't bother. Labour MPs get told how to vote and don't even read the bill. Greens walked out if they disagreed with a submission. Labour pays organisations to produce submissions they want.

In one committee, Chairman Tato Phillip Fields kept talking loudly about an early lunch. My MP Jill Pettis (Labour) appeared to be having a stroke. Two MPs were friendly and courteous: an elderly Maori gentleman Labour MP (who did not agree with me) and Dr Muriel Newman.

Rob McMillan said...

Is anyone naive enough to believe we really live in a democratic country? Certainly we have the opportunity at regular intervals to vote for members of parliament or councillors on local bodies but what happens then? For the next three years the politicians you elected will do almost whatever they like, not at all necessarily what the electors would choose. And besides having agendas of their own, which they failed to mention honestly before the election, those politicians are often heavily swayed by unelected public servants and council officers and even their own "public relations" staff. History has shown that kings or governments tend eventually to become arrogant about their decisions, totally ignoring the desires and even the welfare of their subjects. The catch comes when the subjects get desperate and revolt. It is too late then for the frightened politicians to bleat: "What? They want bread? Give them cake!"

Vgard said...

While this rhetoric is not hard to find overseas, it's not hard to find evidence of these developments in the New Zealand context. Following the example of many other liberal democracies, New Zealand has adopted stronger anti-terrorism measures, even though, by comparison, the actual threat of terrorism is low.

The New Zealand government has also been engaged, in a cooperative arrangement with its other “Five Eyes” partners, in tacitly allowing and condoning mass surveillance of communications, and under the Key govt it introduced legislation to legitimise spying on its own citizens. Given the broad definition of terrorism used in the legislation, and the very low risks and limited effects of domestic terrorism, it would appear that these institutional measures are targeted foremost at the surveillance and suppression of domestic political dissidents and/or opposition groups, including environmental activists, that are perceived as a (potential) threat to the existing political and economic order. Considering the surveillance that was implemented didn't help in any way to actually assist to stop the Christchurch attacks, what reasons exists for a mass facial recognition surveillance system, akin to those of China and the US being implemented, without public consultation in 2020? On the other hand, the New Zealand government has introduced a range of institutional changes, including the suspension of the Canterbury Regional Council, and radical amendments of the Resource Management Act 1991, that remove perceived environmental and other obstacles to development and economic growth. At the same time, there is evidence that some of the essential conditions for a well-functioning democracy have also been in decline in New Zealand. Between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s, inequality in New Zealand increased significantly, contributing to the concentration of economic wealth and power. In the mass media sector, a process of ownership concentration, deregulation (including to allow foreign ownership), financialisation and privatisation, have led to a largely diminished ideological diversity, to the homogenisation and trivialisation of content, and to the decline of quality journalism, conditions essential for healthy public debate about matters of collective importance. Combined with the steep rise of the role and influence of PR and the use of “dirty politics” in the blogosphere, both of which involve the manipulation of information and communication to serve the narrow interests of wealthy and already powerful parties, the media contribute to the decline of democracy rather than to its functioning as a fourth, independent branch of power. Perhaps most concerning are the signs that the belief of New Zealanders in the importance and efficacy of civic engagement, and the value and legitimacy of the existing liberal-democratic institutions, are also weakening, which has the potential to lead to the ultimate and complete demise of democracy.