Opinion by Tony Orman
Politicians have always had a penchant to forget they are elected to serve the public and the public interest.
Way, way back in 1974 I wrote to the Labour government and in particular the Minister of Internal Affairs Henry May about a government proposal to reorganise acclimatisation societies the predecessor of today’s fish and game councils.
The proposal was a thinly disguised attempt to impose state control on the politically independent acclimatisation society structure of its democratically elected councils.
Most concerning was the proposal for a national executive which would see sportsmen’s representatives in a minority to government appointees.
Politely but firmly, I made my opposition clear. I was not alone. Many trout anglers and duck shooters were concerned too.
The reply from Henry May was startling.
In a three page typed letter he ranted back about how great his department’s scheme was and then berated me as being “ignorant, emotionally obsessed and loose with the facts.”
MP Henry May – childish tirade
My friends reaction to minister Henry May’s tirade was that it was “appalling for a public servant”, “What happened to democracy and the people’s viewpoint” to “what a plonker”, “a bad joke” plus one or two friends laughing as they suggested May had correctly psycho-analysed me!
I then sought an interview with Prime Minster Bill Rowling in Picton which came into his electorate. A good friend and fellow Marlborough Acclimatisation Society councillor, came with me. On the arranged time, we stepped into the interview room at the Oxley hotel on Picton’s waterfront. I introduced myself and before I could introduce ourselves, the Prime Minister erupted.
“I know who you are!” he shouted. “You took a swing at my minister!”
He continued to shout. The two of us stood there rather bemused.
PM Rowling recovered somewhat and spluttered “Ahem, well what do you want to see me about?”
It was all very bizarre and unreal, but it was happening.
Prime Minister Bill Rowling -bizarre behaviour
Now some 50 years later, an attempt by the Adern-led Labour government via the Department of Conservation is making the same play for a takeover of Fish and Game Council’s, the successor to Acclimatisation Societies. Searching back through history, it’s probably the 15th or 16th state takeover attempt by my reckoning.
And like State Bully Boy Henry May’s scheme, the proposals would see government appointees – or state puppets – on not only the national council but regional fish and game councils too.
Palmer Speaks Out
New Zealand governments have been trying to grab control of the democratically elected Fish and Game organisation for decades.
In 2017 former prime minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer wrote a startling blog post expressing concern about the state of democracy in New Zealand. It surely should have been headline news but it wasn’t. Which raises a large question marks about the media’s competency and sense of responsibility.
Palmer’s statement was aimed at a National government, led by John Key.
Palmer had very good reason to be concerned. One action the State take-over of Environment Canterbury, was totally unprecedented.
Almost eleven years ago, on April 1,(April Fool’s Day) 2010, the government – with Nick Smith, Minister for the Environment and Government leading the assault – passed the ECan Act and sacked the democratically elected Environment Canterbury (ECan) council. ECan was replaced with sycophantic puppet-like state commissioners.
The move outraged the Law Society Rule of Law Committee which denounced the ECan Act as repugnant to the Rule of Law. Most were appalled.
But it went through pushed arrogantly by National’s Nick Smith.
But when you think about it and back to 1984, Geoffrey Palmer was guilty of hypocrisy. 1984 is incidentally the title of George Orwell’s famous novel about Big Brother is watching you and a dictatorship ruled.
In 1984 Palmer as a senior cabinet minister was in the 4th government which had swept to power at the election of 1984, promising open government and giving people the say.
It started well. Led by David Lange as PM, the 4th Labour government held a Summit Conference proclaiming a new day in democracy and public consultation.
But within months Rogernomics was born and democracy went into the incinerator. Public assets were sold without asking the owners, i.e. the public.
Democracy was under attack.
So the erosion has gone on and is accelerating today as Geoffrey Palmer hypocritically warned in 2017.
In April 2016 Nick Smith was at his dictatorial best when he removed the right of local councils to consider and hear submissions on 1080 poison aerial drops and put the final and only say with central government i.e. Nick Smith. Public input was abolished.
Strange in political philosophy terms for a National government, the 1080 issue and the ECan takeover both were moves for dictatorial state control.
But then I guess it’s simply the lust for power.
The erosion of democracy has had a big impact on parliamentary select committees. I always believed that Parliament was the Court of last resort, where you could get a fair deal based on a history of honour, truth and justice.
And it was fifty years ago, not totally, but far, far more than today.
I can recall making a submission on trout farming in the early 1970s where I was allowed to speak for over an hour and then answer questions from MPs for half an hour. I made submissions to other Select Committees.
To the Maori Fisheries Bill 1990 I was granted over an hour. I argued the fisheries were a public resource and for all New Zealanders, regardless of wealth, class or ethnic background.
But at that submission, two government MPs were having no bar of that egalitarian credo. Hawkes Bay Labour MP Bill Sutton and chairman Ken Shirley were downright aggressive. They had no intention of listening and considering any submission.
During the onslaught, in walked select committee member MP Winston Peters, who quickly sized up the situation and delivered stinging tirades the rudeness of the two government MPs.
It was obvious, the erosion of democracy was underway.
In 2004 the government’s conducted an Environmental Risk Management Authority review of 1080 poison at the behest of the two biggest poison users, the Department of Conservation and Animal Health Board.
That alone aroused my suspicions. Would DOC and AHB asked for review if they knew it would curtail their poison drops?
My suspicions deepened when ERMA restricted submitters to only five minutes. It was a token gesture to consultation. – lip service only.
There was no sense to spend over $300 flying to Wellington for just five minutes speaking time.
\It was a farcical “kangaroo court”. The ERMA review in 1080 gave the poison the green light.
The Council of Outdoor Recreation Associations of New Zealand (CORANZ) raised red flags in 2020 that parliament’s select committee democratic process was being undermined to the detriment of the public giving submissions.
Current CORANZ Chairman Andi Cockroft made an oral submission to a select committee on the Resource Management Act (RMA).
After being beforehand, granted 15 minutes speaking time the chairman Labour MP Duncan Webb interrupted Andi Cockroft’s submission after five minutes and said the committee had heard enough thereby cutting the oral presentation short by ten minutes.
It was an insult to both Andi and democracy.
MPs are really public servants voted in to serve the public interest. Don’t call our Prime Minister our leader. Jacinda Adern is simply the most senior public servant in NZ.
The National government was voted out in 2017.
But the new coalition government of Labour, Greens and NZ First continued the government trend of diminishing democracy.
Firearm law changes following the Christchurch March 15, 2019 mosque tragedy, were rushed through in just a few days. Over 12,000 submissions were considered in just two days – defying any scrap of credibility. The rushed law proved counter productive with the consequences being gangs acquiring banned semi-automatics and adding to their arsenals while law abiding firearm owners were forced to relinquish their firearms.
Last year the Labour government pushed the the Maori Wards Bill though its final reading in Parliament in a few days.
Jordan Williams executive director of the Taxpayers’ Union said “This law is a brazen attempt to hijack local democracy, and the use of Parliamentary urgency betrays of the promise of open and transparent government.”
Whether the issue be the firearm laws, 1080, ECan or Maori wards, the very alarming aspect is the erosion which is now bordering on abandoning democracy.
Some columnists have examined the erosion of democracy. A number have identified complacency by the public or in other words apathy.
Greek philosopher Plato wrote “The price of apathy is to be ruled by evil men.”
I’m deeply concerned that New Zealanders are oblivious. Some were numbed by the Rogernomics dictatorship of the 1980s.
Others just couldn’t care less born out of selfishness with no thought for future generations.
Recently respected writer and columnist Karl du Fresne looked at complacency, saying: “One thing we do very well in this country, besides rugby, is evasion of responsibility. We get reports and inquiries, hollow apologies and hand-wringing … and then it’s back to business as usual”. He found there is a glaring “accountability deficit” throughout New Zealand.
The public believe Parliament is the place of democracy – where you could get a fair hearing from elected representatives based on a historical and moral constitution of honour, truth and justice. It is not a charade.”
But it is a charade – more than a bad joke.
Little wonder then that the public rates politicians, political parties and governments as among the most untrustworthy.
Cries of not being interested in politics are just inane bleatings and evasion of responsibility.
People should be less inclined to tug their forelocks, more determined bring the debate to the public for its judgement and never to be duped into believing that politics and the environment are other than “cause and effect.”