Is Democracy Under Threat from Today’s Politicians?

Opinion by Rupert Pye          

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 under a national government, led by John Key.
Palmer had very good reason to be concerned. One act by the government was totally unprecedented.
Almost eleven years ago, on April Fool’s day 2010, Nick Smith, then minister for the environment and government sacked the democratically elected Environment Canterbury (ECan) council and replaced it with state commissioners by passing the ECan Act.
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.
Other issues relating to the outdoors and environment will suffice.
In April 2016 Nick Smith also removed the right of local councils to consider and hear submissions on 1080 poison aerial drops and put the final say with central government which became solely responsible for 1080 poison and pest control methods – with no reference to the public. Strange for a National government – it and the ECan takeover were dictatorial state control.
At the time, Waikato regional councillor Clyde Graf told Radio NZ the change withdrew the ability of the community to engage at the consent process, and stopped local government from being able to manage their own pest control.
In effect, the public’s right to comment was abolished. 
Kangaroo Court
There was the 2004 ERMA review of 1080 which was a “kangaroo court” with submitters restricted to only five minutes. it was a token gesture to consultation. – lip service only.
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 credibility.
It’s not outdoors related so much but today – just the last week –  the Labour government pushed the the Maori Wards Bill though its final reading in Parliament in just a few days. There was virtually no meaningful government instigated public debate.

Democracy is being eroded and harder to find

Brazen Hijack
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.”
Ignore the issues whether it be the firearm laws, 1080, ECan or Maori wards, what is important and so very alarming is the erosion 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. There is deep concern New Zealanders are oblivious. They think New Zealand has a strong democracy and therefore don’t focus enough attention on the need for protections against undemocratic behaviour and corruption.
People’s Apathy
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 Council of Outdoor Recreation Associations of New Zealand (CORANZ) raised red flags last year 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 dealing with the Resource Management Act (RMA). 
After being beforehand, granted 15 minutes speaking time the chairman 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 another insult to democracy. 
The five minutes now regularly accorded to submitters by select committees is in strong contrast to years ago when select committees listened to an oral submission for half an hour, an hour or more.
Tony Orman, who has over decades made several submissions to select committees, wrote on the CORANZ website some months ago, saying “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 he is wrong, it is a charade – more than a bad joke.
Little wonder the public rate politicians, political parties and governments as among the most untrustworthy.


Is apathy by people and failure to hold politicians to account a major obstacle to retaining democracy?

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21 Responses to Is Democracy Under Threat from Today’s Politicians?

  1. Tony Orman says:

    I agree to the fullest. I recall (as stated above) making a submission against trout farming about 1969. I must’ve been before the Select Committee for an hour giving submissions then half an hour questions. The Maori Fisheries Bill 1991, I had an hour. Contrast that to the 2007 ERMA 1080 review when I was given 5 minutes. That meant travelling across Cook Strait at considerable expense and time for 5 minutes speaking. It was a token gesture by ERMA to the public. In fact not even that, it was a rude fingered gesture. Consider ERMA are public servants too. Similarly with government’s ultra-rushed firearm bill following the mosque shooting. It was rushed in the extreme and was bad, ill conceived law. Gangs are better armed thanks to that and the Police Association’s president’s strident manner. Again the police are public servants – or meant to be.

  2. Alan+Rennie says:

    APATHY is the biggest battle we fight in this country, we all need to stand up and be counted . and thats what we are doing from now on.

  3. Barry Day says:

    In reading this, my mind 1st looks at legalities vs elected officials.

    1. 1080 with no public comment? Yet the stuff could land in your back yard killing stock.
    This has happened.

    2. To shut down a persons presentation from his legally slotted time.

    Apathy seems to be a worldwide trend.

    The apathy I’m seeing here is, where’s the legal recourse?
    Politicians should be held accountable.

    Then I guess, is the judicial system politicized as well.

    The numbing of the masses.

    Perhaps we should trade the Kiwi emblem for a sheep

  4. Sue Grey says:

    Thank you for this sad but excellent summary. It is heartbreaking for me as a lawyer and avid Outdoors adventurer with an interest in diverse public and environmental rights issues to see the serial decline in the rule of law, spin replacing competent research, analysis, accountability and action. Despite our United best efforts it feels as if our decision makes sit in a self created capsule disconnected from those they represent. We must keep seeking creative solutions to hold them to account to ensure New Zealand reflects our vision, not theirs.

  5. Carcass says:

    Kiwis have got to get off their backsides and say enough is enough.Education,health and productivity is going down the drain.N Z is on a slippery slope to nowhere with to many restrictive regualations,Health & Saftey issues to start with which affects the productivity of our business and poor training of staff.This is what we have in parliment now and our future is not looking bright.

  6. Dave says:

    I think it is time that NZ woke up to what is happening to our democracy. You all must remember that our PM was filmed on stage saying that she is taking NZ down the path of Agenda 21/30 and those of you who have researched this will know this is socialism and then communism. Those like Nick Smith and our PM are running out of time. Apathy is just the way Kiwis act as they leave the problems to other people but those who do get involved get all the labels unhung. The tall poppy syndrome is very alive in our society.
    The eroding of free speak and democracy has a short timeline and I am not concerned as any day now we will see a complete change but many people are not ready for it. The media will be made to change their ways and there will be big alteration in the way we are governed. My advice is to just stay calm as there are good times ahead and our democracy will be restored and all the toxins will stop.

  7. Joe says:

    Apathy is our biggest enemy, the number of times at smoko, at the pub a social event around a campfire on a fishing or hunting trip the amount of complaining about everything that’s going wrong always comes up in discussion I always pose the question “what are you doing about it ” the response is generally a shrug of the shoulders or I know what you are saying.

  8. Dave Rhodes says:

    Apathy has it!

    Watch TV, drink wine, watch democracy go down the tubes.

  9. Christina Humphreys says:

    This last episode of Mahuta and Ardern fast tracking over night and abolishing NZ people’s right for a referendum on Maori Wards is just a disgusting abuse of our Democracy and equality. Even the submission time of 2 days was just thumbing govt’s nose to people’s rights of opinion and even then kiwis managed over 12000 submissions in that time which should have shown the depth of feeling. NZ can’t stand another two years and more of this Treasonous, Socialist Govt they have just about totally wiped our Democracy already, shame on Labour. This is one time NZ needs an Upper house to hold this Govt to account! Equality has gone a privileged minority of 15% and the majority must pay to uphold their privileged lifestyle something is radically wrong, you can only push people so far for Anarchy to burst forth.

  10. Bud JonesQSM says:

    If one is even casually observant you will have noted the demeanor and tone of all the PM’s delivery & camera ops. They are always dictatorial in delivery,[“this is what we will be doing”this is the Alert level from11:59″,a Nazi type tone, always with the touchy phony,”team 5 mill.” and the 2 puppets nodding on strings ever so earnestly, Hipkins & the gruntingly forced,”DOCTOR BLOOMFIELD”!!
    Largely under the radar in Sept. 2017 was the dirty racist undemocratic backroom deal of the PM & Kelvin Davis decree of the Araphiti Agency,[ or maori Agency].In short, a new beau acracy whereby ALL official undertakings, from research to legislation must pass a rubber stamp by this dictatorial “Agency” to show benefit to maoris. Thus giving a veto option to Parliamentary works by Araphiti. As pointed out above the latest dictatorial move under urgency on undemocratic maori wards is just one of a long list of govmnt. acting as dictator.
    The house arrest of Lockdown particularly affected me.

    • Bud JonesQSM says:

      Following an interview”Lockdown” question. This very day, the PM on TV used these words–“I will be ruling on that in due course.”
      Words of a dictator I say.

  11. Emily Sharp says:

    The idea of an Upper House idea to vet government bills and reject bad law, is great.
    The problem is how do you pick those to be in Upper House? We do not want state puppets like Key and Smith’s ECan commissioners were. But we need brakes in the Adern government’s rushed, invariably bad laws.
    Scheming bureaucrats and government with own agendas, need reining in from passing undemocratic laws.

    • John Robinson says:

      elect them for six years, changing one-third each two years … is one idea

    • Bud JonesQSM says:

      good notes, but whether Upper House or Super Stratosphere House ,all legislation will need a rubber stamp from the Araphiti Agency, to show benefit to maoris.
      Case in point, a member’s Bill to dissolve theAraphiti Agency. Easily stalled at the rubber stamp stage, what chance to pass??

  12. Today mostly in Parliament during the recent decade the game has been >>
    “Waffle Fest & Window & Dress ” ? Raving on & not really fixing anything ! >> Polluted Water ways ? with tripe like” Wadable ” ( Nick Smith MP ) > Housing Crisis ( the lot of them all parties) >> CONFISCATING Overseas Pensions from both Migrants & Kiwis who have Worked Off shore ? then Letting OFF CCP Old Migrants ! ( the lot of them all parties ) >> Taking away Freedoms ? nothing achieved by removing Workers Meal Breaks ? hence a DROP in production & we even give a bloody Dog a drink in NZ ,ask any Sheep Cockie on a hot day? ( ACT & National ) >> Fisheries ? Cameras on Boats ! have they got them yet ? if they have, do they actually work ! & so it goes on .

  13. Roger Childs says:

    An excellent summing up Rupert on the progressive eroding of people’s rights. Democracy is especially under threat when people are denied the right to petition the authorities. The announcement earlier in February that in proposed legislation citizens would not be able to challenge the racist provision of special wards for Maori on local bodies was disgraceful. Some supporters quoted the Treaty of Waitangi, but that much misunderstood document gave Maori equal rights with all New Zealanders, not special rights.

    • Bud JonesQSM says:

      I like Roger’s important, often misunderstood clarification of what the Treaty actually says: “equal rights not special rights. Therefore there is no place in NZ democracy for the Araphiti”Maori Agency”as seen above, nor special Wards, nor ANY statute or legislation containing the distinction word “MAORI”The mere presence of the word”maori in legislation indicates exclusive separate specialness.
      All legislation containing the word “maori must be removed from the books.
      To quote E. Rata, “Social Justice cannot be found on the pathway of ethnicity.”
      We must stop this separation before the ultimate separation–i. e.– WAR comes to our doorstep.

  14. John Robinson says:

    New Zealand democracy is lacking in one necessary and fundamental feature – there is a complete absence of checks and balances, with all power wielded by the Cabinet. As has happened several times, when a cabal have control of the Cabinet, a subservient party allow them control of Parliament and thus of the country. Most countries, and indeed most states as well in federal nations, have a second chamber, separately elected, of people hopefully having integrity and independence. Then legislation can be freely debated without party whips, providing the vital check on absolute power. A second requirement for a functioning democracy is freedom of local government from control of central government. The article refers to Geoffrey Palmer as if he is, in some way, a champion for democracy. But he was Deputy Prime Minister in the destructive Lange-Douglas government. They removed the right to call for a poll to challenge forced amalgamation of local bodies. And, more to the point, he disagrees with any need for a second chamber (in response to my comment at a public meeting). He likes an all-powerful Cabinet, a crippled democracy.

  15. Andy Oakley says:

    Apathy means a lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern.

    Apathy by itself is not the issue, I think that apathy is a symptom of a much wider issue and that the wider issue is a lack of philosophy and principles in politics. Without a philosophy or principles, politicians have only one method to gain power, poll the people and then say what they believe the people want.

    When the people have been educated without an underlying philosophy and have had Critical Race Theory drummed into them for at least 30-40 years, they want very bad things. They see the world from the Marxist perspective of group identity, proletariat v the oligarchy, men v women, white v black, transgender v straight etc. They constantly look backwards and see a world of oppression and want to set it straight.

    Consequently, we have a country of politicians who support that. The West is full of politicians and governments that increasingly want to look backward and address the past rather than having a vision for the future and philosophy to set that vision up on.

    The Judeo- Christian philosophy is on the way out, Darwin, made sure of that. Critical Theory or Critical Race Theory is the new philosophy, it’s evil, it’s antidemocratic and we need to replace it.

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