CALEB ANDERSON: Democracy – A beacon that flickered over the weekend
Announcements over the weekend seem to have finally clarified Labour's intentions, and determination, with respect to co-governance.
After years of awkward double-speak and downright obfuscation, the message is clear – full steam ahead, no matter the consequences, and a pox on the houses of all who stand in our way.
This was always their intention.
To this government, and to those who pull its strings, co-governance means control, if not outright, then by veto. Control of water would be the first skittle to fall. Once precedent has been established, beaches will follow, air waves will be next, conservation land soon-after, and so on ... with the ticket being clipped at every point along the way, and in perpetuity.
And all this based on distorted interpretations of the treaty, lies about the past, manipulation of dubious legal rulings, and simple self-interest.
It would be difficult to think of more far-reaching constitutional changes than some of the co-governance scenarios being promoted by the Greens, the Maori Party and Labour's left. The implications of these changes would be far-reaching, and while some outcomes would be predictable, because we can see examples now, others would be unanticipated. Sometimes you don't get a true picture of whether change was worth it until you are picking up the pieces, it cannot easily be wound back, and once the damage has been done ... it has been done.
While the government is fast running out of examples, it persists in its efforts to draw attention to where co-governance is going well.
Perhaps we should actually show more interest in examples of where co-governance seems not to be going well. There are plenty. The government and the mainstream media are very good at highlighting the former, while ignoring the latter.
The reason we should look more closely at where co-governance is not going well, is that the downsides, and not the upsides of change, are always the things that impact most. At the end of the day, no-one will care if co-governance is working well in 70% of cases (which is unlikely), if it is a disaster in 30% of cases. The downsides will quickly negate any upsides in the mind of the public.
When we are assessing how reforms have worked, on balance, costs always trump benefits in the public mind, because these are the bits that bite.
So what do existing efforts at co-governance tell us more broadly? How are they unfolding at the local level, and at the level where most people transact life?
You will never read this in the public media, but the downsides of co-governance are becoming evident to many New Zealanders.
Some parks returned to Maori are now derelict, the public has been banned from beaches in some areas of New Zealand, some mountain walks, enjoyed by generations of New Zealanders, are now off-limits, and gates have been erected on public roads, moved only when council paid to have these re-opened. Our education system is in disarray, and we are being told that the health system is on the brink of collapse, both tainted by the darkening shadow of co-governance.
Stories abound about Kiwis heading to their family bach, only to find it broken into, property stolen, and Maori youth telling them to get off Maori land. I know of cases where those selling their properties in remote locations are being told by activists that they are to sell only to Maori.
I have heard time and again of cases where those managing government funds directed to iwi, have no idea where the funds have gone, or what they were used for, of people working for organizations with unpronounceable names, driving very nice cars, flashing their business cards, visiting clients on day one and never again, but still being paid. I have heard of funds being used in some cases to teach young Maori, not how to turn up to work, but how to engage in effective activism.
I have heard of non-Maori students at tertiary institutions leaving these institutions because of the constant denigration of their viewpoint, and even of their right to have a viewpoint.
The point is not whether these are majority or minority instances, and none of this should undermine the critical, and often selfless, work being done by some iwi. The point is, what might this tell us about where co-governance could end up? What does it tell us about what happens when an embedded sense of victimhood is coupled with political muscle?
The separation of powers inherent within the Westminster system of government, protection of property rights, the right to a fair trial, application of common law principles, and the sovereign rights of individuals, are things we take for granted, and yet these are historically the exception. Those who have lived under the Westminster type system of government are among the most privileged generations in history.
The concept that every individual has rights total and indivisible is a radical idea, it is not an accident of history, it is the product of a thousand years of common law, and of bloodshed on many a battlefield. The sovereign rights (not tribal rights) of each individual make these individuals accountable for their actions, and the state accountable for its actions. The whole concept of human rights is derivative of the very system that some of our politicians seem hell-bent on dismantling.
Democracy requires that even the most powerful people are accountable, that issues are debated openly in the public domain, that we can rid ourselves of our politicians when we want to, and that no person's vote should be worth more or less than another's. Human nature is constant, people are often self-interested, and nepotism and corruption are not the exclusive domain of any one group, Maori included ... we need safeguards. Maori themselves need safeguards.
The Maori party has called democracy a tyranny. Well if democracy is the tyranny of the majority, just wait for the tyranny of the minority which may just be around the corner.
The Maori Party, and some within Labour’s caucus (and cabinet), seem to have drawn a line in the sand. Give us exactly what we want, or else. I guess "or else" means civil unrest and marches on parliament. Perhaps we can console ourselves that parliament now has experience in managing this sort of unrest. Refuse to meet with them, legislate under urgency, ensure the media ignores them, or reports on them negatively, politicians can call them rivers of filth to their heart's content, the speaker can turn on the sprinklers and Barry Manilow music, the police can don their riot gear, and the PM can spout that this is all the product of misinformation. Yes, parliament knows exactly how to manage this sort of thing now.
Comments by Kieran McAnulty, and others within Labour’s caucus, that it is safe to play around at the edges of democracy are dangerous in the extreme and stunningly ignorant. Co-government and democracy cannot co-exist. Co-governance is antithetical to democracy.
While differentials in power, status, wealth, intelligence, health, propensity for political engagement (etc) will always exist, democracy remains a beacon to the inalienable right of the weakest among us to stand no higher or lower than others, and to hold to account those who seek to rule over us and to rid ourselves of them when we choose.
This beacon has shone brightly in our past but it flickered over the weekend, a reminder to us of just how much is at stake.
Caleb Anderson, a graduate history, economics, psychotherapy and theology, has been an educator for over thirty years, twenty as a school principal.
UPDATE - Watch the Jack Tame interview of Kieran McAnulty here