By Tony Orman
There’s an election coming later this year and in today’s increasingly bizarre world, I am in a real quandary who to vote for. I must vote. I have a duty and responsibility to do so.
I’m a swinging voter. That is I vary my vote from election to election to whichever party I feel has the best policies.
Apathy can be a problem with elections i.e. the danger of “I couldn’t give a stuff and won’t vote”. As the Greek philosopher Plato once said about 400 BC, “the price of apathy is to be ruled by evil men.” Take “evil” in the broader sense. You might use “corrupt”, “arrogant” or some other adjective. You might even use the word “undemocratic”.
Getting a fair hearing
Now democracy is the very foundation of our society and that’s why we have democratic elections where every three years political parties and MPs are held to account.
I was brought up to believe that Parliament was the place of democracy – where you could get a fair hearing from elected representatives based on a history and moral constitution of honour, truth and justice. Note the phrase “fair hearing.”
Part of parliament’s system is select committees where the public can comment on a bill proposing new law. In other words you expect a fair hearing.
I recall going before a parliamentary select committee about 1971 over a National government plan to bring in trout farming. I spoke for over an hour from my 44 page submission and I fielded questions from MPs probably for half an hour. In all I was allowed one and a half hours.
Then I remembered a 1986 Conservation Reform Bill setting up Fish and Game Councils. John Henderson and I delivered our joint submission for half an hour with probably 15 minutes of questions and discussion following. Then in 1991 I made verbal submissions on the Maori Fisheries Bill where I argued that the saltwater fishery was a public resource and should not be allocated on ethnic grounds. That took over an hour.
But that’s in the past and sadly so is the expectation of a “fair hearing.”
Recently the Council of Outdoor Recreation Associations of New Zealand (CORANZ) made a verbal submission on a bill amending the Resource Management Act (RMA). Despite being initially assured of 15 minutes to present the CORANZ viewpoint, chairman Andi Cockroft was interrupted by the chairman MP and abruptly dismissed after five minutes.
A week later Andi was scheduled to give another verbal submission on behalf of Public Access NZ (PANZ). Initially given 15 minutes he was told – for no valid reason – five minutes would be his lot. Angry, he refused to attend.
His refusal reminded me of the 2007 Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA), review into 1080 poison. Given just five minutes to present a submission, I refused since travelling across Cook Strait at $250 for five minutes speaking time was pointless. Instead John Henderson who lived in Wellington delivered my views, as best he could, under the handicap of five minutes. The RMA 1080 review was a farce – a blatant “kangaroo court” by public servants who had no intention of listening to the public.
The firearm law “reforms” following the Christchurch March 15 mosque tragedy, were rushed through with a total disregard for democracy. Forget the subject, focus on the claim of the select committee reading 13,000 submissions in just two days. It defies credibility and shows a total lack of integrity by MPs.
Dereliction of public duty
MPs are public servants. The Prime Minister is not our leader. Currently Jacinda Ardern is undeniably the public’s most senior public servant.
All three government parties — Labour, Greens and NZ First — are guilty of dereliction of duty to democracy. But then National isn’t blameless. Remember the shameful act of the Key government sacking Canterbury’s democratically elected Environmental Canterbury Regional Council (ECAN) to take over with their own State puppet commissioners? Or National’s Nick Smith giving himself sole power to approve 1080 aerial drops? And earlier there was the shonky 2007 ERMA review into 1080 which I referred to above.
The arrogance of power
The warning signs of politicians ignoring their role as elected representatives and public servants, have been happening for some time.
No wonder the public rate politicians, political parties and governments as among the most despised people and institutions.
There is an urgent crisis about the accelerating and alarming erosion of democracy and the strangling of the people’s voice. It needs strong reaction from an outraged public which is timely, as this is an election year. There’s an arrogance of an increasingly powerful, dominant bureaucracy with apparently most politicians now afflicted with the same amnesia about their democratic duty. Democracy is a big issue.
This election make sure you vote and give them the message.
(This was written at the end of June, but it seems Tony is still undecided. —Eds)