On mandates

Written By: - Date published: 6:54 am, December 11th, 2008 - 16 comments
Categories: national/act government, workers' rights - Tags: ,

The National/ACT line in defending pushing through legislation like the Fire at Will Bill under urgency, without any select committee process, without any of the normal procedures for the proposed law to be publicly reviewed, even without tabling the Bill before it is to be voted on, is that the election gave them a mandate to enact these laws. Therefore, they argue (or would argue if they bothered to get to this level) that the normal democratic procedures are superfluous.

Let’s examine this claim: did the New Zealand public elect National/ACT to ram through major laws with normal democratic checks suspended?

No. National/ACT never sought this mandate and, so, they cannot claim to have received it. What they won is what any successful political party wins at an election – a mandate to govern and take their policies before Parliament, there to be examined, debated, improved, and passed into law if a majority of support can be secured.

Moreover, it stretches credulity beyond all bounds to argue that the public elected National/ACT to do anything that appears, vaguely outlined, in any of its policy documents. We all know, from talking to people and TV interviews, that most people had no idea of any National policies. Nor surprising, for it was National’s strategy, all they knew was the spin: tax cuts and ‘time for a change’. Even now, I am finding very few people have any idea about the Fire at Will Bill. Indeed, even our new Minister of Labour, Kate Wilkinson, has no bloody idea. To argue, then, that people voted for this law to be passed, and passed in this manner, does not stack up.

In fact, we know the real reason National/ACT is trying to ram through these laws: they want them through while the honeymoon is still in force and the public is distracted. They do not want a normal and proper public debate on these laws because they know the public would not support them. Unfortunately, in their hubris, it looks like National/ACT has badly miscalculated. The secretive, rushed, and undemocratic manner in which they have acted has alerted the media and the public that all is not right here. As some senior National MPs predicted, only to be overruled, the hubris of their actions has ended the honeymoon. Now, people are asking just what the hell National/ACT is doing, and just where they think they got the mandate to do it.

[addendum: another line is that because a 90-Day Bill went through Parliament in 2006, repeating the process is unnecessary. Well, a) this is a different Bill b) euthanasia Bills have been before the House in the past, does that mean it would be OK to ram through one now? c) the Mapp Bill was defeated, there was strong public opposition. If anything, that strengthens the argument for a complete process]

16 comments on “On mandates”

  1. lprent 1

    The process certainly offends me. What has been noticeable is the people who actually want these policies also seem to be offended by the process. Reading comments in the right blogs, you see that come up repeatably.

    This is the sort of parliamentary idiocy that I thought had gone out with the introduction of MMP. That in large part was voted for by a population who’d had a guts full of ad-hoc arrogant and autocratic decision making from the Muldoon to the Richardson eras.

  2. lprent 2

    Chris Trotter was writing about this same issue – but about Canada (been catching up on reading) and its current (recent?) constitutional crisis. Current, the GG got parliament to take a holiday for a week. I suspect that the confidence motion may still be there when they get back.

    I pose this question because there is an unnerving similarity in the constitutional misrepresentation that went on here in New Zealand over the issue of whether the party winning the largest number of seats had a “moral mandate” to govern, and Harper’s insistence that there is something constitutionally suspect about the Liberal, NDP and Le Bloc Quebecois decision to support a No-Confidence Motion against his government in the Canadian House of Commons.

    In both cases, the Right has wilfully misconstrued the essence of the Westminster System prevailing in both countries: that general elections are held to elect parliaments not governments.

    A government is what is formed when a political party, or group of parties, enjoys the “confidence” (i.e. the support of more than half the members) of the legislature. In neither Canada nor New Zealand do the electors choose a prime minister, they choose a member of Parliament and/or a political party to represent their locality and/or themselves. It is these representatives who ultimately decide who the PM will be.

    I added the bold because this is the main point. The government is the byproduct of the composition of parliament. To try and override it or abuse its processes is something that needs to be opposed at every step.

    I already have a monarch, I did not vote in an election to appoint another. I voted to elect representatives to work on legislation, and if they chose, to appoint a government to put up the bulk of that legislation.

  3. Tim Ellis 3

    A spell-check would be in order for both of you guys.

    How is it that this was an announced policy of the National Party well before the election, that so many unions registered as third parties to advocate for policies, yet according to SP so little scrutiny was done of National’s policy on this? Did the unions not do their job in highlighting that it was National Party policy?

    Or perhaps indeed, contrary to SP’s claims, this policy did get a whole lot of scrutiny. This is just one example at http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10520300 . As much as you want to attribute motives of secrecy SP, the facts just don’t support your case.

    [Tane: Sigh, wee Steve is constant work. Most of the typos should be fixed now.]

  4. MikeG 4

    I’m sure that you’re aware Tim that there is a huge amount of difference between a thin policy announcement at election time and the detail of a bill before Parliament. It is the detail that needs close scrutiny – something that should happen in a Select Committee.

  5. Tim Ellis 5

    MikeG, the select committee considered the Bill two years ago. Submissions were called for and received. It was voted down by the then Labour majority. How would sending the Bill back to select committee improve scrutiny?

    This wasn’t a “thin policy announcement”. It has been National Party policy for years. Legislation has been on the table for years. A select committee inquiry into the legislation was conducted. Read it at http://www.parliament.nz/NR/rdonlyres/9232EB65-EC06-4377-921C-6176E994BDD6/42877/DBSCH_SCR_3574_3774.pdf if you like.

    I don’t know what else a further select committee process would achieve, other than an opportunity for National’s opponents to relitigate the election result.

  6. lprent 6

    Tim: Show me the policy that said National would ram through legislation without the usual checks in parliament.

    Show me where National campaigned that this was a legitimate practice.

    That is what this whole issue is about. In the normal course of events NACT would have put up their Fire at Will bill, and the unions and everyone else would have seen it going through 3 readings and a select committee process. This allows the legislation to be checked for flaws and for public and group inputs.

    Instead we have an autocratic government that is stupid enough to think that they will get it right first time – before they have finished drafting the bill.This is a substantially different bill according to Kate Wilkinson. It requires scrutiny

    And you support this idiotic practice?

  7. Tim Ellis 7

    LP, the unions ran a major campaign against the Bill in 2006. See at http://epmu.org.nz/news/show/61202 . Unions have already submitted on the legislation.

    I don’t personally approve of using urgency motions unless absolutely necessary, but really the hyperbole from you and others LP that this is “undemocratic”, that there hasn’t been scrutiny of the legislation, and that National was secretive about its support for the 90 day policy is just nonsense.

    It was a key policy for the last three years. Legislation was drafted, went through the second reading, and was defeated in Parliament after a hefty union campaign. National continued to commit to enacting the legislation if elected in 2008.

    I understand the motives among unions and the Labour Party in having the legislation sent back to the select committee, but that has little to do with improving the law and much more to do with relitigating the election result.

  8. Chris S 8

    Tim, it’s not the same bill. Even national admits it’s changed somewhat but won’t even table it. You can’t seriously be defending this?

  9. Tim Ellis 9

    Chris, very few pieces of legislation coming out of select committee are the same as bills going into select committee. As Graeme has said on another thread, the public don’t have a right to resubmit on that. National signalled its amendments in the minority select committee report in 2006.

    Labour made hundreds of changes to the ETS, tabled the day they were due to be passed, without referring back to the select committee, all passed under urgency. I haven’t heard a peep from Labour supporters about that.

    This was always National Party policy. It was clearly signalled and debated, as was the legislation in 2006. It is dishonest to pretend otherwise. National should have signalled that it was going to be part of their 100-day plan, which assumes urgency, and I think it was a blunder not to do so.

    But let’s back away from the hysteria about this being a “secret agenda” or that National kept quiet about its policy intentions. National was always going to pass this legislation.

  10. Kerry 10

    right wingers just love trying to sell there parties undemocratic ways…and lets me fair, Nats dont believe in democracy and never will!

    Interesting how wherever there is a major issue in a country that country is ran by right wing governments….eg Canada, Greece, Zimbabwe!

  11. Tim Ellis 11

    Thanks for playing Kerry. You omitted from the list the USSR, China, North Korea, Myanmar and Cuba.

  12. MikeG 12

    Tim – you seem to be the one calling it a secret agenda, the rest of us are talking about having a proper debate in the appropriate forums.

  13. Felix 13


    Although what Kerry said was a little silly, you might want to have a closer look at the authoritarian governments in some of your examples. It would take a very strange interpretation of “left wing” to allow inclusion of China or Nth Korea for example.

  14. Swampy 14

    You are wrong in your assertion of motives. National has the numbers to pass this legislation whatever the outcome of any process they might follow. As stated I accept that this same Bill has already gone through a select committee process. A new select committee process would be a waste of time and money as nothing new would come out of it.

  15. swampy. National doesn’t agree with you, they say it’s a new Bill.

  16. Pascal's bookie 16

    How can it have been through a select committee before it’s had it’s first reading?

    It’s either the same Bill that has been through committee and had some changes, or it doesn’t need a first reading. All else is sophistry.

    Any evidence it’s even been drafted?

    Seems that some people are arguing that National’s policy has been argued about, therefore whatever bill they decide to put together to represent that policy doesn’t need to go through committee. This is ambitious I’ll grant them, but kinda arrogant and not very conservative. It is also not an argument that assists anyone that thinks urgency should only be used for things that are urgent.

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