National’s repeated abuse of democratic process

Written By: - Date published: 6:53 am, October 19th, 2009 - 15 comments
Categories: democracy under attack, national - Tags: ,


The current National led government clearly regards the processes of democracy is an inconvenience to which it must pay lip service, but nothing more. The first signs appeared very early, with repeated abuse of the mechanism of urgency. This got to the point that even their fans at The Herald were moved to rebuke them:

Bulldozed rush of legislation makes mockery of democracy

It [National] has adopted a bulldozing approach that is disturbingly at odds with democratic Government. Gerry Brownlee would not even name the bills to be passed under urgency, but only the subject areas that they canvassed. Worse, he refused to give Opposition parties advance copies of any of the bills, until just before they were to be debated in Parliament.

The fact that the matters were being dealt with under urgency already meant that there would be no chance for public submission; there is no room in the action plan for tedious details such as the select committee process, by which interested parties get to express their view about proposed legislation. But the public was denied the opportunity to even see the legislation, because the Nats were producing for debate law that had not been completely drafted and officially tabled and therefore, under Parliament’s rules, cannot be formally published.

Extraordinarily, it was left to the Greens to scan paper copies and, in a samizdat-style operation reminiscent of the gulag-era Soviet Union, publish them on its own website. It is a state of affairs seriously at odds with the notion of a Parliamentary democracy.

It is entirely possible that National is in the grip of a first flush of legislative enthusiasm. If so, it will adopt a more measured pace in the new year. If not, there is cause for concern. The Clark administration was often described as taking a “nanny state” approach – but it did consult widely; the Nats, by contrast, are looking remarkably like bullies.

Unfortunately the misuse of urgency continued. The Herald seems to have lapsed back into comfortable quiescence, but No Right Turn is documenting it all for the record.

On top of urgency there is the abuse of the select committee process. One outrageous example was the treatment of Maori over the matter of Maori seats on the new Auckland Council. After the Hikoi Key advised Maori to wait patiently for the select committee: “we are going to go through the select committee process, that’s not a white wash we are actually going to listen to what happens there”. Liar. In the event of course the select committee process was ignored, and Key announced the decision that there would be no Maori seats before the select committee had even finished.

Another attempt to make a mockery of the committee process occurred last week, when National tried to force all submissions to the committee on the ETS to be heard in just one day. In all 160 submitters wanted to speak. National tried to cut that to 27, and to give each of them just 10 minutes to be heard. Universal outrage forced them to back down. But it was a travesty that this tactic was even attempted. Climate change is the most pressing global problem facing humanity, and National’s ETS is so inadequate and poorly conceived that it: “could add 8% of GDP to NZ’s debt by 2030, for a scheme that the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment says cannot possibly help us meet even the Nat’s tiny pollution reduction targets”. Apparently to National none of that was even worth a real discussion. The mechanisms of democracy seem to be far too inconvenient for them. We should all just shut up and do as we’re told I guess.

[In case you missed it last week, see also Surveillance state]

15 comments on “National’s repeated abuse of democratic process”

  1. This is not ‘a first flush of legislative enthusiasm’. It is a reflection of the fundamental difference in approach and understanding of democracy between workers’ parties and parties of Capital. The former understand that democracy is hard fought, hard wonm and hard defended. The latter regard it, often, as a irritating constraint on a natural right to rule, and, therefore, something to be used and abused. Never forget that true neo-liberals believe that democracy involves the tyranny of the majority over the individual.

  2. burt 2

    So rOb

    The same rOb who defended Labour passing validations for illegal spending under urgency outside of the normal budget cycle to kill a standing court case against Helen Clark now complains about the use of urgency….

    The same rOb who defended urgency for the passing of the EFA, the same rOb who defended urgency for passing the ETS….

    Suddenly in opposition rOb understands… partisan muppet…

    • r0b 2.1

      Urgency exists for a reason Burt, and its use is sometimes appropriate. National are abusing it. It wasn’t me who first called them on this, it was The Herald. I guess they must be partisan muppets too. I see myself as Gonzo – perhaps The Herald as Statler and Waldorf?

      As for the rest of your lies, same old same old.

    • Come on Burt

      Labour took 10 months from go to wo to pass the ETS. There were 6 months of select committee hearings.

      National intends to take 2 months go to wo and wanted to have ONE DAY for the hearing of submissions. And this is to give the corporates $70 BILLION worth of credits over the next 40 or so years.

      And the EFA was introduced in July 2007 and passed 5 months later. Compared to the rush jobs that have occurred during this parliament that pace is perfectly leisurely.

      I will not try and explain the need for validating legislation because this will be way over your head.

      Good try though.

      BTW any comments about what this Government is doing rather than what the last Government may or may not have done?

  3. roger nome 3

    oh, good ol’ Burt, the conscientious memory of NZ’s political blogosphere. Too bad it’s a notoriously faulty one…

  4. roger nome 4

    “Worse, he refused to give Opposition parties advance copies of any of the bills”

    It was the same in 1991 with the Employment Contracts Act. I don’t know why anyone expected the born to rule Tories to be any different this time…

  5. Clarke 5

    I think the difference between the Left and the Right is that the Left thinks there is a democratically elected government in New Zealand, where the Right thinks there is a democratically elected dictatorship in New Zealand.

  6. ghostwhowalksnz 6

    They dont think of themselves as the “Ruling Class” for nothing, its because they get to make the rules

  7. Tigger 7

    Bully State.

  8. Murray 8

    As the latest polls show nobody really cares what labour voters think.
    Their stupid conspiracy theories only serve to show up labour and drive more people towards national.
    Websites like the Standard are proberly the best tools national has

  9. Rex Widerstrom 9

    Labour abused the Parliamentary process, National are abusing it more. Personally I don’t give a damn what Labour did because it’s done. I’ll bear it in mind if I ever get to vote again, and will be looking for some acknowledgement that they were too dictatorial… but that’s an attitude adjustment I’d want to see from every party.

    What concerns me now, and what ought to concern everybody now regardless of their party afilliation and regardless even of whether they think the legislation being rammed through this way is the best law they’ve ever seen, is that the Executive is abusing the Parliament.

    Parliament exists separately to the Executive for a very good reason; one that is fundamental to our system and one that, by definition must be allowed to operate properly if we are to lay claim to having a democracy.

    As each successive government gets away with eroding the foundation of democracy, so it weakens the basis on which the next government stands. That government then has the choice of rebuilding those foundations or continuing their erosion.

    Yet the only debateable point since the days of Muldoon has been the speed and extent to which each successive government has further destroyed its own legitimacy through its contempt for the Parliamentary process.

    The only way this will stop is if the media highlight it (so kudos to the Herald, The Standard, NRT and anyone else who does so) and if the people make it clear that they will vote only for those parties willing to respect the process.

  10. JD 10

    I made that point here about retrospective legislation but labour supporters were hell bent on legitimising its use because it was done by labour so I think your calls will fall on deaf ears.

  11. r0b 11

    I made that point here about retrospective legislation

    What point?

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