Trampling democracy

22/02/2021

Fast forward to a future political cycle when National leads a government with Act’s support.

Neither party campaigned on radical changes to local government legislation but the government decides to make them under urgency.

It introduces a Bill that reinstates the right for residents to petition a council for a referendum on Maori wards and it goes further.

It adds a clause to allow people who own more than one property, a vote for every property whether or not they are in the same local authority area.

It then cuts the Select Committee process form its usual six months to six days and the time to lodge submissions from 20 days to just one.

Adding anti-democratic insult to authoritarian injury it advises groups it knows will support the move six days notice to prepare submissions for the Select Committee and alerts those it knows will oppose the Bill just one day before submissions are due.

Imagine the uproar that would ensue.

The Minister responsible would be pilloried by the media which would also give wide coverage to anyone who took issue with the Bill and the process.

Why then has there been hardly a ripple to the way Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta is doing exactly this:

The Government’s parliamentary process on its Bill to allow Councils to have separate Māori Wards has been a sham, National’s Local Government spokesperson and Electoral Reform spokesperson Christopher Luxon and Dr Nick Smith say.

“Electoral law is important as it determines how we are governed, yet the Government is running a sham process and giving supporters an unfair advantage through the short Select Committee process,” Dr Smith says.

“Labour cut the normal Select Committee process from six months to six days and the time for submissions to be lodged from the normal 20 days to just one day,” Mr Luxon says.

“What’s more appalling is that Councils supporting the Bill were told on Friday February 5 of the Bill’s timeline, that the Select Committee process would be exceptionally short and to prepare to lodge their submissions by February 11.

“Giving those who support the Bill six days’ notice and those opposed just one day would be called insider trading in the business world.”

“To have read the submission on the Bill in the timetable set by the Government, I would have had to read three submissions every minute with no sleep for three days,” Dr Smith says.

“Further, the Labour Chair told the Committee there was insufficient time to consider any amendments to the Bill, raising the question as to why the Government bothered with a Select Committee.”

“Labour is making a mockery of Parliament with this Bill. New Zealanders deserve a better process on the laws that determine how we are governed,” Mr Luxon says. 

The Taxpayers’ Union says the process has been so badly screwed the Bill should be referred back to the Select Committee:

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is condemning Local Government Minister Nanaia Muhata’s decision to give local councils supporting her Māori wards legislation advance notice of the short submission process.

This decision was revealed by National MP Dr Nick Smith during Question Time this week.

Union spokesman Jordan Williams says, “The Minister gave her allies a five-day head start to prepare submissions on the Bill to entrench Maori wards. Meanwhile, members of the general public were given just one day’s notice to prepare for the disgracefully short two-day submission window.”

“The Minister knew perfectly well what she was doing. The decision to warn her mates before blindsiding the general public can only be read as a cynical attempt to manipulate the consultation process and limit the contributions of New Zealanders opposed to the Bill.”

“The Taxpayers’ Union has 60,000 subscribed supporters, thousands of whom would have likely produced personalised submissions on the legislation, had they been given the time. Instead, these voices were effectively silenced while the Bill’s allies were able to spend six days writing screeds for the select committee.”

“If a National Government did a favour like this for corporate special interests, Labour would rightly be up in arms.”

“This is a complete betrayal of the promise of open and transparent government. It shows a complete disrespect for not just the public, but Parliament as an institution. It undermines trust in the Select Committee process and justifies the Speaker stepping in so that public submissions are reopened.”

Local body elections are nearly two years away. There is plenty of time to go through the proper process of consultation.

That her government has a majority is even more reason to follow correct processes.

By using urgency, truncating the submission process and giving her allies nearly a week more to prepare than the Bill’s opponents, the Minister is trampling all over democracy and opening herself, and her government, up to accusations of acting like a dictatorship.

 


Separate wards not needed

05/02/2021

The government’s move to rush through legislation cancelling the right to a referendum on the establishment of Maori wards on local councils is based on a big lie:

The Government is planning to rush through Parliament under urgency retrospective legislation that will cancel nine local referendums on whether or not to establish a Maori Ward in nine local authorities. This will disenfranchise several hundred thousand New Zealanders.

They effectively argue that it is vital to have Maori wards, because without them, racist New Zealanders will not vote for Maori and they will be under-represented in local Government. Nanaia Mahuta said that “Increasing Māori representation is essential to ensuring equity in representation”. This implies that there is a huge under-representation. . .

If you click on the link above you’ll get to Kiwiblog where a graph shows a positive trend with the proportion of local government elected officials who are Maori tripling from 4.2% in 2004  to 13.5% now .

That is only fractionally less than the percentage of Maori in the population.

These people will have stood for a variety of reasons and on a variety of platforms. People will have voted for them for a variety of reasons, which might include their ethnicity.

Why they stood, on which platforms and why people voted for them is irrelevant. What matters is that they were free to stand, did so and succeeded without the assistance of government patronage.

Why then is the government rushing through legislation to cancel nine local referendums on whether or not to establish a Maori Ward in nine local authorities, disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of residents in the process?

The Taxpayers’ Union has the answer to that question:

The Taxpayers’ Union has launched a nationwide petition against Labour’s plan to entrench Māori wards for local councils.

Union spokesman Jordan Williams says, “Nanaia Mahuta’s legislation has nothing to do with equity or justice. It is quite simply an attempt to dominate local politics, guaranteeing more councils will be controlled by Labour-aligned councillors. These councillors will consistently vote for higher rates to fund the pet projects that Labour supports.”
 
“It has been a long tradition that electors can vote on, and veto, fundamental changes to local voting systems. For example, voters get to approve any change from an FPP voting system to an STV one. Labour now plans to disenfranchise voters, overturning convention in order to privilege its local candidates and allies.”
 
“Labour knows perfectly well that new Māori ward candidates will disproportionately come from the political Left. That’s already true for Māori electorate seats and in existing Māori wards and statutory boards.”
 
“In short, the Government is ramming a law change through Parliament under urgency to cancel referenda because they think people will vote the wrong way. It’s a disgraceful hijacking of local democracy that we must oppose with all our strength. We’re calling on ratepayers across the country to add their names to the cause.”

If you oppose the government’s plan to hijack local democracy by ramming a law change through Parliament under urgency to cancel referenda because they think people will vote the wrong way you can sign the petition here.


Discrimination doesn’t solve discrimination

02/02/2021

The government has major problems to address.

Among them are dealing with Covid-19, including issues with border protocols, shortcomings in MIQ and lack of certainty around when and if we’ll get vaccines; the housing crisis; and increasing numbers of people in poverty.

Is it an admission it has no answers to these problems that instead of focusing on these, it is going to prioritise a law change to take away the right for people to petition against Maori wards on local councils?

The government is to introduce legislation to uphold council decisions to establish Māori wards, said Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta who made the announcement in New Plymouth today.  . .

Mahuta said the rules needed to change.

“The process of establishing a ward should be the same for both Māori and general wards. . . “

Maori and general wards are very different – the latter apply to all people in the area, the former doesn’t.

If that difference isn’t a strong enough argument against the change and the issue is that general and Maori wards are treated differently a better solution would be to allow petitions over changes to all wards.

Discrimination isn’t solved by more discrimination, although a lack of Maori wards isn’t discrimination when Maori have the same rights as other New Zealanders to stand in local body elections.

If the issue is that in spite of this there are too few Maori on councils, the solution isn’t special wards, it’s addressing whatever stops more standing for councils in existing wards.

There is no single Maori view that will be given a voice by separate wards but this law change will give some Maori more control over councils with less accountability than general wards provide.

That is another good reason to support the Taxpayer’s Union’s call for the right to petition for recall elections:

Stronger accountability tools for local government will be needed if the Government succeeds in entrenching Māori wards, says the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union.

Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke says, “As more councils introduce Māori wards, a significant proportion of our local representatives will be accountable to just one segment of local of voters. This loss of accountability needs to be offset with new accountability tools.”

“An obvious example is recall elections: when a councillor breaks a promise or brings disgrace to their authority, voters shouldn’t have to wait until the next election to vote them out of office. Voters should be able to petition to recall a councillor. Under this model, as practiced in the UK and many parts of the United States and Canada, if the petition reaches a given threshold of signatures a recall election will be triggered for that ward.”

Last year the Taxpayers’ Union, the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance, and Northern Action Group jointly released a paper proposing recall elections. It is available at www.taxpayers.org.nz/recall_paper

Disfunction in several councils in recent years provide good arguments for the ability to petition for recall elections. Losing the right to petition against Maori wards is another one.

What makes this worse is that it appears this was on Labour’s agenda before the election but wasn’t in the party’s election policies.

That wouldn’t have made a difference to the outcome but it is a very bad look for a government that aspires to be open and transparent.

 


%d bloggers like this: