......but that would be to eschew a robust chat with MPs
As the general election approaches, the Association of Former Members of the Parliament of New Zealand has organised an essay competition to to foster democracy. Secondary school students are being challenged to identify the important elements of a successful democracy, explain their value and consider whether they can be improved – in New Zealand.
The association – chaired by former Ohariu MP and Cabinet Minister Peter Dunne – is made up of MPs who either have retired gracefully or been given the heave-ho at an election by disgruntled voters.
The legislative process that resulted in Canterbury’s regional democratic structure being eroded is among many issues worth examining when the shortcomings of New Zealand’s democracy – and Treaty-brandishing politicians’ disinclination to defend it – are considered.
The association runs an essay competition every three years to increase young people’s understanding of how New Zealand’s democracy works and to encourage young people to engage in the political process.
The competition, which closes on 9 July this year, is open to Year 12 and 13 students.
The topic is “What are the important elements of a successful democracy in New Zealand? Why are they important, does New Zealand currently meet them, and can they be improved?”
Essays will be judged on originality, creativity and substance by an independent judging panel.
The essay must be the original work of the student and no more than 1500 words.
“Democracy underpins New Zealand’s political system,” says Dunne in a press statement announcing the competition.
“But what makes a successful democracy? Do we have the essential components? How could we make our democracy better?”
Secondary school students come to this issue with fresh minds and fresh ideas, Dunne contends.
“The recent debate on the voting age shows that young people are engaged and thinking about democracy. We want to encourage that interest and provide a way for it to be channelled.”
Readers who remember the quizzes compered by Selwyn Toogood will be delighted to learn that the prize-winner will take both the money – a $1,000 cash prize – and the bag.
The bag is is a trip to Parliament including:
- A parliamentary tour
- Seeing MPs in action in the Debating Chamber and in a Select Committee
- A visit to the Parliamentary Library
- Meeting MPs including the Speaker and former MPs
The meeting with MPs might offer the opportunity to inquire about the democratic principles underpinning –
- Majority parliamentary support for the Canterbury Regional Council (Ngāi Tahu Representation) Bill which guaranteed Ngāi Tahu representation and decision-making powers on the Canterbury regional council. Two councillors are appointed by the tribe with full voting rights to the council. This is an attractive precedent for other Māori tribes elsewhere around the country. Labour MP Tāmati Coffey has certainly drawn attention to the potential for Māori to be given electoral privileges elsewhere:
“Ngāi Tahu have opened the door. And for that reason, all of those iwi out there that are struggling with how representation works for them in their rohe, I hope that they’re understanding that this is a potential pathway,” he told Parliament.
- The Rotorua District Council (Representation Arrangements) Bill, which would change local electoral rules and allow an equal number of Māori ward and general ward seats on the council. All Labour MPs supported it at its first reading but Attorney-General David Parker found it would breach the Bill of Rights Act because it discriminated against general roll voters. This prompted Labour to retract its support of the bill, sponsored by – guess who? – yep, the aforementioned Rotorua-based list MP Tamati Coffey, who also chaired the select committee overseeing its progress.
- The Three Waters legislation, co-governance and the entrenchment row. It seems Cabinet agreed against entrenching provisions intended to protect water assets from being privatised. Nanaia Mahuta supported entrenchment, which usually requires a supermajority of 75 percent of MPs to be overthrown – but the bill she championed was passed by a majority of Parliamentarians with just a 60 per cent requirement. An embarrassed government had some hasty repair work to do.
There’s potential for other healthy conversations – with Labour’s Willie Jackson and Maori Party co-leaders, for example – about why the Treaty of Waitangi requires Maori citizens to be given superior rights to non-Maori citizens.
Oh – and let’s not forget the opportunity to chat with Mr Speaker.
Moving protesters on with sprinklers and loud music was Trevor Mallard’s way of trying to rid the lawn in front of Parliament Building of unruly demonstrators. Winning the essay competition will provide a chance to ask whether sprinklers will be turned on and music blasted to irritate protesters camped outside Parliament during future demonstrations.
And he might like to discuss the rules which have enabled Meka Whaitiri to engage in waka-jumping and remain an MP as an independent.
Point of Order is a blog focused on politics and the economy run by veteran newspaper reporters Bob Edlin and Ian Templeton