People Apathy Threatening Democracy

A further opinion by Tony Orman on disappearing democracy

I’m a keen recreational fishermen and I revel in being down the Marlborough Sounds fishing for snapper or blue cod or casting a fly for kahawai at a river mouth.
But environmental trends are increasingly worrying me such as the depleted numbers of kahawai, the siltation in the Marlborough Sounds from “industrial activities” such as clear felling of commercial radiate forests and the proliferation of industrial style aquaculture in the Sounds.
I’ve been told by those who dive of the aggregated “sludge” under mussel and salmon farms and in the case of the latter, of truckloads of dead salmon rumbling up to the Marlborough District Council’s landfill.
Fish farming inevitably experiences fish deaths caused by either disease in concentrated, crammed fish pens or by warm water temperatures or a combination of both.
Back track to the last election for council and I was gratified to hear a couple of candidates speak of their concern for the declining environment of the Marlborough Sounds. One was elected to council. I voted for her and congratulated her on the success.
Now fast forward to a few months ago and I naively asked the councillor if she would find out for me the quantity of dead salmon dumped. She willingly – naively too in retrospect –  agreed.
A few weeks later I received an e mail from a council bureaucrat. The information would not be released under the Official Information Act (OIA)as it was “commercially sensitive.”
I was puzzled. I never requested the information under the OIA.
Why was it “commercially sensitive”? After all King Salmon occupy public space belonging to you me.  I reasoned that corporate King Salmon with heavy Malaysian ownership, pay no rates for occupying public seabed space. But I pay rates.
And after all, the council’s land fill’s operation is in reality, funded and operated using my rates.
I e-mailed my friendly councillor calling that I had never asked under the OIA. It was an informal request that should have been routine for a ratepayer to ask his elected representative who after all I had voted for.
There was no reply – silence. What was going on?
I e-mailed the deputy mayor who I know – silence. 
Hmmmm – the shutters had come down.
So I sought out a few other councillors. Blenheim’s thankfully a small place in case you hadn’t realised. 
I was told following my request dropping into the council’s bowels of bureaucracy, that a memo was immediately sent to all councillors ordering them not to ask questions on behalf of ratepayers.
It seemed to me that the people who elect councillors were being denied the right, by public servants paid by the people ratepayers, to ask their elected representatives for information relating to council. Surely an affront to democracy?

Ombudsman Action
The bureaucrat’s email at least had a constructive suggestion – if not satisfied, go to the Ombudsman. The bureaucrat probably didn’t expect me to do so!
But I did.
The Ombudsman was diligent and most helpful. I was informed that information prised from Council was not what I requested. There was no tonnage of dead fish but simply “the tonnage of waste in the category ‘Sludges and Animal Waste’ that Edwards Logistics takes to landfill for NZKS. The Council has confirmed that these figures include dead fish waste, old nets, feedbags and other waste. This is the closest available information the Council holds in relation to your request.”
The Ombudsman agreed with me that “Council ought to have confirmed what information it had before declining your request on the grounds of commercial sensitivity.” 
“Had the Council done so, it could have located this information earlier and explained to you that this was all it could find.”
The Ombudsman wrote to Council about its handling of my request. 
Significantly the Ombudsman revealed that the Marlborough District Council “had received submissions from NZKS to this effect and was persuaded that release of this information, if it was held, would be commercially prejudicial.” 
As  stated – and for obvious reason – NZ King Salmon did not want the tonnages of dead fish disclosed. Is “commercial sensitivity” a valid reason given the public’s vested  interest in funding the landfill, employing bureaucrats and in corporate King Salmon occupying public space for free? 
The exercise left me wondering with words like democracy, public interest, public servants, bureaucrats swirling around.
Executive Power
There is an alarming decline in democracy. And it’s often related to the power of the executive, i.e. the bureaucrats. When bureaucrats dictate to and order elected councillors not to ask questions for the people and when bureaucrats seemingly show reluctance to openly answer genuine questions and erect obstacles, then democracy is under threat. Transparency is vanishing.
The inevitable question is who are bureaucrats more interested in serving – commercial interests or the public?
As I said earlier “Blenheim’s thankfully a small place.” I’ve just been told by a reliable source, that the Marlborough District council would have at least approximate tonnages of dead fish dumped at the public’s landfill.
For over a decade there has been an increasing erosion within democracy at all levels of government, i.e. parliament, government departments and local government.
Both National and Labour
I’m not alone in my growing concern. 
A social sciences teacher for almost 50 years, Wayne Ryburn writing in the “NZ Herald” in late August  2022, cited several examples and going back some years.
“Aucklanders in 2009 were denied the right to decide whether to become a Super City.
He went further “typical is Auckland Transport continuing with its predetermined policies rendering consultation farcical—-National followed with additional co-governance policies and impositions. Among them was the Marine and Coastal Reform Act 2011 which over-turned the previous act that kept the foreshore and seabed in public ownership.  Iwi were extensively consulted, while all others were ignored.”
In 2017 preferential consultation rights were given to iwi under the RMA which will become further enhanced under new RMA replacement acts.”
“All of these policies are now being implemented in the Three Waters Reforms, Health, and Polytechnics to be followed by Resource Management, Local Government, Education and Justice.”
“In addition an attempt will be made to curtail freedom of speech  — with the imminent “Hate Speech” law.”
Minority Power
Wayne Ryburn commented further “Proportionality is lost when a minority assumes the same power as the rest of the population. Co-governance elevates the power of one group based on family and genealogy.”
“Democracy is egalitarian, embracing all groups in society and is accountable.”
The changes made by National and Labour were never mandated and lacked constitutional integrity. A counter revolution is required next election. Despite the proportional MMP (a system implemented to prevent an unelected dictatorship, unscrupulous politicians have worked to undermine democracy.
Voters will need to vote parties that uphold democratic principles and demand a written constitution. Changes must include binding referendums on all constitutional proposals wrote Wayne Ryburn.
Does New Zealand need an Upper House with the right to veto any bad law and particularly that which attempts to bypass or lessen full public consultation? 
Upper House?
Any Upper House should not be appointed by central government politicians who would, judging by past performances, very prone to appoint sycophantic political puppets. Perhaps an Upper House should be elected by the people!Wayne Ryburn rightly argues on the need for a written constitution.
The erosion of democracy his starting to plumb dark depths. The Labour government, virtually in coalition with the Green Party, passed ’traffic light’ covid legislation with no select committee. There was zero public input. Having no select committee for new law, has probably never happened before.
I referred in an earlier article, to the anti-firearm law following the March 15, 2019 mosque shooting by a visiting Australian. According to reports there were some 12,000 submissions, but the Jacinda Ardern led government, backed by National, rammed it through in a few days, thus defying credibility and integrity.
The law abiding firearm owning public were targeted by the law while criminals and gangs reportedly became better armed (illegally) by under-the-table sales.
Eighteenth century Irish-British statesman, economist, and philosopher Edmund Burke said “Bad Laws are the Worst Sort of Tyranny.”
And the manner in which the Key government and the Ardern government have by-passed democracy has been more akin to a dictatorship.
But the tyrannical moves by politicians are only possible because of indifference – call it apathy – by people. 
Hazen Pingree was a four-term Republican mayor of Detroit and the 24th Governor of the U.S. State of Michigan. A Yankee who migrated from New England, he was a successful Republican businessman turned politician. He so wisely said  “Voter Apathy was and will remain the greatest threat to democracy.”
Yet I see apathy commonplace and encounter comments saying they can’t be bothered with politics.
Well if you’re an outdoors enthusiast like me. you better be bothered. The firearm laws, plans to give ownership of the peoples’ national parks to a minority of people, based on ethnic background, my humble case of the Marlborough Sounds under threat from industrial exploitation, do impact – sooner or later – on your areas of interest.
Remember Hazen Pingree words  – “Voter Apathy was and will remain the greatest threat to democracy.”

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4 Responses to People Apathy Threatening Democracy

  1. David says:

    Democracy? In New Zealand? On a different subject, but further illustrating Tony Orman’s concerns over the growing political/bureaucratic dictatorship in New Zealand, I have just learned that the government’s apartheid-based health system is swinging into action on the West Coast. Everywhere you look the outrageous agendas kept secret during the last election campaign are being forced through. If they are not stopped I dread to think what New Zealand will be like in the near future.

  2. Ken says:

    Well, it started well. Concerns about state shielding and protection of the activities of commercial and multinational corporations are widespread and worrisome. Just look at Damien O’Connor’s refusal of the request by the Commissioner for the Environment for a review of the environmental effects of Fonterra’s latest law change. Which is widely expected to increase pollution of our land and waterways.

    But you really should have stopped digging when you got to the rabbit-hole. Co-governance is an expression of the Treaty of Waitangi. If you have a problem with that, perhaps you should be advocating rescinding of its legal status. (Good luck with that).

    And lamenting emergency procedures taken for valid public health reasons during a global pandemic is a little bit rich. But these things cut both ways. If you really want to discover just how draconian governments powers can be, take a look at what they could do in the event of a foot and mouth disease outbreak.

  3. John East says:

    Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing – John Stuart Mill (an English philosopher, political economist, Member of Parliament and civil servant. One of the most influential thinkers in the history of classical liberalism, he contributed widely to social theory, political theory, and political economy)

  4. Roderick King says:

    Apathy and evil go hand in hand. Apathy allows evil.
    Apathy doesn’t care as long as it’s not personally inconvenienced.
    It’s really utter selfishness with no thought for the legacy for one’s children and future generations.

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