Public participation prerequisite for democracy

17/05/2011

The Human Rights Commission is concerned that the lack of public participation in fundamental legal reforms is damaging parliamentary democracy.

 In the past five years fundamental human rights issues such as the lack of public participation in submission processes, diminishing collective deliberation about fundamental changes, rushed legislation, the by-passing of select committees, and what appears to be less respect for submitters in select committee proceedings have been of concern, says Commissioner Dr Judy McGregor.

In a submission to the Standing Orders Review, the Commission says that each of these on its own is a cause for concern but the aggregated effect warrants serious scrutiny so that parliamentary processes are not further weakened.

The problem isn’t just a lack of engagement with parliamentary processes, it’s the low membership of and interest in political parties.

What does it say about the strength and stability of a party when someone who isn’t even a member can execute a coup and become its leader?

What danger does it pose when that party is in government and that person can have so much influence without even being in parliament?

MMP gives much greater power to parties at a time when membership is declining.

This isn’t confined to politics – many churches, sports clubs, service groups and other voluntary organisations have difficulty recruiting and retaining members too.

That is a concern because they are part of a strong and vibrant civil society. The declining interest and involvement in political parties is even more serious.

A party leadership change by a takeover of a small caucus supported by a low membership is the sort of thing that should only be possible in banana republics. Now that’s it’s happened once, what’s to stop it happening again with more serious consequences?

Without a resurgence in participation in parties and the political process, how long will it be before our version of democracy becomes of the few by the few for the few?


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