Thursday, June 30, 2022

Point of Order: PM condemns disinformation and upholds democracy in speech in Madrid – now let’s see what happens back in NZ

Legislation to tighten things, legislation to relax things and a speech which reminds us of threats to our democracy – from the PM, we are delighted to note – feature in the latest posts on the Beehive website.

Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister David Clark has had a busy day, announcing two lots of legislation.

* Legislation that bans major supermarkets from blocking their competitors’ access to land to set up new stores, to pave the way for greater competition in the sector, is the first in a suite of measures after a Commerce Commission investigation found competition in the retail grocery sector is not working. The Commerce (Grocery Sector Covenants) Amendment Bill amends the Commerce Act 1986, banning restrictive covenants on land, and exclusive covenants on leases. It also makes existing covenants unenforceable and enhances the Commission’s information-gathering powers.

* The Financial Markets (Conduct of Institutions) Amendment Bill, which has passed its third reading, will establish a new financial conduct scheme that ensures financial institutions put customers before profits. This follows reviews by the Reserve Bank of New Zealand and Financial Markets Authority which found banks and insurers in New Zealand lack focus on good customer outcomes, and have insufficient systems and controls to identify, manage and remedy conduct issues. The FMA will work with financial institutions to ensure they are prepared for the new regime, and licensing applications are expected to open in mid-2023. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment will develop supporting regulations. The regime is expected to come fully into force in early 2025.

Associate Local Government Minister Kieran McAnulty advised us about the Local Electoral (Advertising) Amendment Bill, which was taken through its final stages in Parliament yesterday. It will come into effect on 1 July, in time for this year’s local government elections.

It replaces the requirement for candidates to include a physical address in an authorisation statement by providing other options – a physical address, an email address, a telephone number, a PO Box number or a website address that includes another contact option.

“This creates a safer playing field for all candidates so that no one is discouraged from standing,” said Kieran McAnulty.

Meanwhile in Spain, the PM was batting for democracy in a speech to te Tech 4 Democracy Summit in Madrid

She placed her remarks in the context of the NATO Leaders’ Summit, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the issue of a sovereign nation’s democratic right to exist and to determine its own future.

“The war in Ukraine is being prosecuted not only by artillery, tanks, and missiles. It is also a war of information. And, in that, it carries important lessons for all of us in how we think about the use and abuse of technology. The challenges, but also opportunities.”

Ardern said the proliferation of publicly available information channels had changed the nature of conflict, just as it had changed the nature of media, business, and democracy.

“It has been well understood for centuries that carefully crafted manipulation campaigns could be used to upend institutions and civil order. Europe knows this better than most. But technology has now allowed that to reach a global scale, where asymmetric information campaigns can be carried out across borders and geographical distances at very low cost, with limited traceability.

“Beyond the reach of missiles and artillery shells, it is apparent a well-coordinated effort is underway to erode and, ultimately, to undermine the democracies that enable our citizens to express their collective will. The will to confront the presenting challenges of the age – from coronavirus to climate change, to collective security.”

In her wrap-up remarks, Ardern said she was pleased to be at the Tech for Democracy conference,

“.. supporting a positive, forward-looking effort to see our values embodied in the way we develop and deploy technology. It is encouraging and inspiring to see the work you are doing on disinformation, on responsible AI, election integrity, and on building a multistakeholder community to sustain this work.”

Election integrity?

But when Parliament voted for the shameful Rotorua District Council (Representation Arrangements) Bill to be considered by the Māori Affairs Committee, not one Labour MPs voted against it.

It was scuttled only when Attorney-General David Parker​ released his Bill of Rights Act report on the bill, which said it would move the Rotorua council away from “proportional representation” and diverged from normal representative democratic practice.

The report also said the Māori wards would have “disproportionately higher” representation at council.

This was evident to every MP (or should have been) before the first-reading vote was taken.

The same Labour MPs are supporting the local government bill that has been crafted to give Ngāi Tahu permanent seats on Environment Canterbury (ECan).

When it becomes law – which can only happen with the support of the PM’s party – the tribe will be empowered to appoint two councillors who will have full decision-making powers.

The Ngai Tahu appointees will be beyond the reach of voters who might want to dump them.

In her speech in Spain, the PM went on to say she was pleased to see the forum engaging in the discussion on the global challenge of disinformation.

“For those of us who remain optimistic about a pluralistic and open internet, you can count on New Zealand’s support in mobilising a global community for action and helping to do what democracies do best – to give a platform to the brightest ideas, to adapt and flex to the challenges we face, and to work together to overcome them.”

This piqued Point of Order’s interest, too.

Disinformation is a threat, sure enough.

So is the promotion of the government’s contentious interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi and its application to governance issues by news media that have been made compliant by funding provided by the Ardern government.

Point of Order is a blog focused on politics and the economy run by veteran newspaper reporters Bob Edlin and Ian Templeton

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