Yet more Government contempt for New Zealand’s democracy

Dr Bryce Wilkinson
Insights Newsletter
2 December, 2022

This morning’s newspapers carried a full-page open letter from 42,576 signatories pointing out how undemocratic is one aspect of the Government’s three waters legislation.

The Government’s Bill confiscates local communities’ investment in water assets without compensation, and wrecks their future governance.

The letter focuses on the veto power the Government’s Bill gives to an unelected and unaccountable elite. The Bill gifts them 50% of the votes on issues that need a 75% majority to be implemented. This provision invites, even compels, extortionate demands.

The same contempt for one-person-one vote is manifest in the Government’s replacement legislation for the Resource Management Act.

Last week the Government took its contempt for our democracy and constitution one step further. It passed under urgency a measure that undermines the sanctity of entrenchment clauses that are fundamental to our democracy.

Specifically, the measure requires a future parliament to achieve a 60 percent majority to change a controversial ideological policy measure. (That measure reduces future options for putting water resources to their best use.) All this without the agreement of local communities.

The public was kept entirely in the dark. The issue was politically partisan. Both opposition parties voted against the measure. There was no emergency. The urgency was merely politically expedient.

To their credit, eight of New Zealand’s academic lawyers felt enough responsibility to New Zealanders to issue a public letter blowing the whistle on this constitutional outrage.

It is not to the Prime Minister’s credit that she has spent the last week ducking responsibility for what her government did.

On Monday, she created an impression that she did not know about it.

If not, she should have sacked those who should have told her. Her failure this week to sack anyone was self-incriminating.

In today’s news it is reported that she attended the Labour caucus meeting where the last-minute changes were discussed.

It is also clear that Officials warned her ministers against taking this step.

The Government’s arrogance and deceit in all this is breath-taking and deeply destructive.

The nation’s constitutional experts have acknowledged a public duty to speak up about the undermining of our democracy. Hopefully, having found their voice once, they will continue to do so.

More evidence of Law Society leadership would be helpful too.

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