Written By: - Date published: 1:22 pm, September 16th, 2010 - 30 comments
Categories: democracy under attack, law and "order", Parliament - Tags: christchurch earthquake, gerry brownlee, gerry brownlee enabling act
The Right seems to have developed this concept that unrestricted power to authority is a good thing and we ought to just trust those we give powers to not to abuse them. I say developed because limiting State power was once a core value of the Right. Maybe it was only ever a certain kind of power they wee worried about – power over the rich. The Gerry Brownlee Enabling Act* isn’t the only example, look at the constant clamour for more powers for the Police and other State agencies.
We shouldn’t have to go through why unchecked power is a bad thing but judging by the righties in yesterday’s comments I guess we do. In democracies, we don’t give unlimited powers and trust that they won’t be abused. We set strict limits on the exercise of power to guarantee our freedoms and the rule of law on which our society and economy depends.
Will Gerry Brownlee run amok? Probably not. But, dear reader, I trust that you are the kind of person who would never go on a shooting spree. Even so do you think we should make it legal for you to do it? Should we put a gun in your hand and say ‘you can shoot people if you like but we trust you won’t'? Or is it f*cken stupid to give people dangerous powers they don’t need and cross our fingers that they won’t use them?
I haven’t seen a single argument that Brownlee needs the power to unilaterally alter or override the Building Act and the RMA, let alone the Crimes Act, the Cooks Islands Constitution Act, the Continental Shelf Act, the Companies Act, the Contracts Act, the Conservation Act, not to mention the hundreds of other laws Brownlee now has complete power over. Even David Farrar has found it impossible to directly support the huge powers that Brownlee has been given.
Farrar and other apologists have said ‘public opinion will keep Brownlee in line’. Yeah, because he’s always been so responsive to public opinion. It took the biggest march in generations just to force John Key to act to get Brownlee to back down over Schedule 4. Anyway, the abuses that we see will probably be small favours to National’s mates – not headline grabbing stuff that could get the public’s back up.
The deeper question is: in what circumstances do we give up the rule of law and Parliamentary sovereignty? Eddie wrote the other day that in World War 2 the democracies effectively became authoritarian states but that was total war and even then Winston Churchill didn’t have the right to alter any law as he chose with the flick of a pen. We didn’t become a dictatorship to deal with the Hawkes Bay Earthquake, which had flattened two cities, why would we need to do so to cope with relatively minor damage in Christchurch, which is still functioning on every level?
More than that, the idea that due process and the rule of law are hindrances that can to be thrown aside on the slightest of pretexts is very disturbing. Rule of law, the foundation of democracy, is what makes this country strong. It’s not something to toss out the window because it’s ‘in the way’.
I’ve got a technical issue too. The law says that when it refers to “Minister” as in “s12(3) The Minister must publish the terms of reference and any amended terms of reference in the Gazette.” means” the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery”. But there is no such minister. Gerry Brownlee doesn’t hold a ministerial warrant of that name, no-one does. There’s no such portfolio. Key made it clear when he named Brownlee as Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery that this was not an official portfolio, just an informal designation, like a nickname. So, if there isn’t an official Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery, who is the Act referring to?
Can’t even draft their Enabling Act correctly it seems.
I want a straight answer from the Right about why they support Brownlee being given the power the override or extend nearly every law in the land at the whim. And ‘the whole Parliament voted for it’ isn’t an answer. Not if you believe in freedom.
*(I changed my mind on the comparison to the 1933 Enabling Act. At least the SDP voted against the Enabling Act. Labour and the Greens were so scared of being called unpatriotic they failed to stand up when their country needed them)
PS. At least the Herald’s principles have overridden its National-love on this occasion – the editorial is damning.