This National government has an unprecedented contempt for democracy. The media keeps noticing pieces of the picture, but never seems to put them all together. Here’s a sample:
Bulldozed rush of legislation makes mockery of democracy
Deny power to Super City’s faceless panels
Black day for democracy in Christchurch
SkyCity deal ‘selling’ exemption from law
Secrecy in investment talks mocks democracy
Tea tape: TVNZ, RNZ to be searched
Naked self-interest rules
Bill undemocratic, council CEO warns
PM sign off to enable domestic spying
US spy device ‘tested on NZ public’
This piece from the Herald on Sunday however, starts to connect at least some of the dots – bravo Susan Edmunds. Below are several extracts from her long and detailed article:
Govt slams door on Kiwi rights to appeal
The Government has declared war on judges, and regular Kiwis are caught in the crossfire. Family caregivers, Christchurch homeowners, Auckland neighbourhoods under the shadow of high-rise apartment blocks have all lost the chance to argue against decisions they feel are unfair. Susan Edmunds reports.…
Most of us assume the right to judicial review is a basic tenet of democracy. The Bill of Rights Act enshrines it in law when it says every person has the right to bring civil proceedings against the Crown – and to have those proceedings heard according to law.
And we exercise that right: the Criminal Bar Association took on the Government and won over its legal aid policy. Salisbury School in Richmond successfully challenged a decision to close it. Being able to challenge a government is one of the things that sets democracies apart from dictatorships.
But it’s an “ouster clause” that Walker [a family caregiver] has to blame for that route being blocked to her and other carers – and experts say they are becoming more common as legislators try to wrest back control from courts that have become a little too fond of picking apart their decisions.
There are many cases where the rights to appeal have been removed, especially when it comes to building and development.
The Resource Management Reform Bill, designed to speed up subdivision and regional infrastructure projects and to grease the progress of the Auckland Unitary Plan, was reported back from select committee on Tuesday and is expected to be passed before the end of this year.
A second stage of reforms is still coming – submissions closed in April – on a discussion document aiming to “limit the scope of participation in consent submissions and in appeals”. … Environment lawyer Philip Milne says there has been a slow move from a regime where there had always been a right to appeal to the Environment Court, to less opportunity for review. …
The John Key Government’s enthusiasm to emasculate the courts started, arguably, on the wide flood plains of Canterbury about three years ago.
Dairy farmers needed better irrigation, Key said, and the best way to get it to them was through a water-storage scheme. He wanted an irrigation-led boom for farmers and there seemed to be evidence the region’s elected councillors were not up to the job of overseeing it.
A review recommended Environment Canterbury (ECan) be handed to Government-appointed commissioners – the 14 elected councillors were out and the seven commissioners, referred to as “Dad’s army” by the departing deputy chairwoman, were in.
Laws were passed to turn on its head legislation that required ECan to consider protection of a waterway ahead of its economic potential, and it removed rights of appeal to the Environment Court and effectively allowed the Minister for the Environment to decide where and when New Zealand environmental law should be applied in Canterbury.
The commissioners were meant to be temporary – ECan elections were to be held this year. But earthquakes got in the way and they now won’t be held until 2016. That is despite the commissioners themselves saying the quakes should not be used as an excuse to suspend democracy for a further three years.
Since then, the implementation of the 90-day employment trial has allowed new workers to be laid off without appeal, unless they can prove discrimination has occurred.
The SkyCity convention centre agreement imposes hefty financial penalties on any future government that might dare review the approval of extra pokie machines to the casino, and the Immigration Act still allows anyone convicted of holding a visa under a false identity to be deported without appeal or review.
The new Housing Accords and Special Housing Areas Bill removes rights of appeal on developments of up to three storeys anywhere in the country where accords are signed.
And after the Christchurch earthquake, the Recovery Act offered no right to appeal decisions made by Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, except in very limited circumstances. …
Constitutional lawyer Stephen Franks, a former Act MP, says ouster clauses are becoming more common as a response to judges’ increased willingness to second-guess political decisions.
“I’m surprised it’s taken this long for legislature and Government to strike back at the courts. Courts have been claiming more and more rights to reverse decisions.” …
Professor Andrew Geddis, of the University of Otago, agrees: “If there’s one thing governments hate, it’s being told they have to spend money in certain ways. In order to stop courts doing that in future, they’ve just told them to butt out. The law might still require them to do something but if the courts can’t get involved, there’s nothing that will force them,”Geddis says.
It seems that powerful governments are steamrolling those who cannot afford to fight back: “Governments are big and strong. Poor little caregivers at home looking after relatives – what can they do? There are lots of people who take on government in court and win: people like the fishing industry who can hire lawyers, there’s no way government would do this to them.
“The precedent is that this has been done to people like these caregivers because the Government can get away with it.”
So what do you reckon, Granny Herald. I know it’s not as much fun putting the boot into your own team, but in the interests of journalistic integrity and balance, don’t you think it’s that time again?