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]