One Person, One Vote: Democracy's heartbeat under threat Downunder

To slightly amend Schwarzenegger’s Terminator: “I’m back.”

To be honest, this series of modest little essays and opinion pieces has been in abeyance for far longer than anticipated.

There have been numerous attempts in the last month or so to commit some thoughts to keyboard during my travels in Europe but they always fell prey to either a pressing social engagement — usually drinks at 5pm — or another day’s travel or, towards the end of the trip, a somewhat debilitating flu which deprived me of both energy and cogent thought.

Anyway that is all behind me. I’m now back in the world’s most glorious environment — Central Otago — and returning to full health so there’s not much wrong with the world.

I haven’t posted anything on any platform for over a month, a month during which the country has voted for a change in political direction. Just how significant that change in direction will be is still under discussion, but I’m on the sidelines cheering for both ACT and New Zealand First to put a rocket up a National Party that is looking as wet as a Gisborne rugby ground.

Frankly the tendency of both Christopher Luxon and Nicola Willis to regularly revert to the spin doctor-invented line “strong and stable government” is both boring and cliched. It’s not even original. Teresa May started trotting out the phrase when she became the British PM until the BBC’s Andrew Marr stopped her after about thirty seconds of an interview and asked her to stop talking in soundbites.

Oh for some such sage political advice here!

While coalition negotiations are quite rightly happening behind closed doors with media kept on the sidelines, this news vacuum has allowed some of the most outrageous threats ever heard from elected New Zealand politicians to get more oxygen than they really deserve.

What Willie Jackson, Marama Davidson, Debbie Ngarewa-Packer et al. have been spouting in recent times about civil unrest, mass demonstrations and even in the case of Jackson “going to war” over a proposed referendum about the Treaty of Waitangi principles, is at best irresponsible and at worst, dismissive of the concept of democracy.

The root of the issue is that ever since the phrase “principles of the Treaty of Waitangi” was first inserted into legislation in 1975, half a century of parliaments and politicians have been totally remiss in not properly defining just what those principles are. It is 48 years of legislative neglect.

That time has allowed members of unelected institutions in the judiciary, academia, the civil service and at the Waitangi Tribunal to basically make up what they think these principles should be.

This is not the way a properly functioning democracy should work. As a participating voter in a democratic nation I want my politicians to legislate in a clear, uncomplicated manner whereby there can be no doubt about their intentions. Is that too much to ask for?

(Unfortunately despite Parliament’s best intentions, an activist High Court and Court of Appeal has decided they don’t like the Marine and Coastal Areas Act and have made some nonsensical judgements which go against both the spirit and the letter of the law. Surely it’s time for Parliament to make amends against this kind of judicial activism.)

But back to the Principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.

New Zealand First wants to dispense with the phrase completely and remove it from all pieces of legislation. While that would initially simplify matters considerably, it would only put the lid on a festering sore in New Zealand race relations which would be bound to explode at some stage in the not too distant future.

What David Seymour and ACT are proposing seems reasonable and non-problematic.

They want a Treaty of Waitangi Principles Bill passed in Parliament which would define the principles as based on the three original Articles of the 1840 document, or documents.

The principles as laid down by ACT are simple:

  1. The Government has the right to govern New Zealand.
  2. The Government will protect all New Zealanders’ authority over their land and other property.
  3. All New Zealanders are equal under the law with the same rights and duties.

As ACT has pointed out, no society has ever succeeded when differing political and societal rights are assigned by the circumstances of your birth. All good political movements have been about ending discrimination, not entrenching it.

So what is there not to like about a Parliamentary Bill that defines the principles of the Treaty as per above? Isn’t that what the original Articles of 1840 were all about? The Crown governs the country, one’s land and property is sacrosanct and everybody has the same rights to live and participate in society.

For the life of me I can’t see why anybody could possibly object to those principles. Aren’t they the basis of what a properly functioning elected democracy should be thinking every time it enacts new law?

Why is the National Party scared to take part in a debate about the basic tenets of democracy? Their leader’s current attitude smells of a lack of courage and susceptibility to bullying.

What have opposition politicians got to fear from such principles being defined? Do they see the end of the Treaty gravy train which has supported a taxpayer-funded industry for nearly forty years?

There is no plan to disestablish the Waitangi Tribunal, so iwi can continue to make claims for breaches of the Treaty. One may ask how much longer it needs to continue, but while outstanding issues, which are probably intractable, remain surrounding Nga Puhi, the Tribunal has a reason to exist. One would like to think though that it will have a natural life span which might end sometime around 2040.

What ACT are proposing is long overdue. But if the Bill can go to the House and through a full Select Committee process, it can be discussed, debated, submitted on and refined. There are three years to complete the process before the final version is put to the people in a referendum in 2026.

That is what democracy is. Participation in the process. And at the end, the people decide. There have been many times I didn’t like the outcome of democracy in this country. What happened between 2020 and October the 14th this year is but one example. But because I accept democracy is the will of the people I put up with it until I have a chance to change it.

New Zealand is the oldest continuous full democracy in the world. We accept outcomes. Let’s put these undefined Treaty principles to a democratic process and let’s see what the democratic outcome will be.

Until then, it is grossly irresponsible to suggest violence in response to a democratic process.

For more from Peter, listen to Pete's Ponderings on RCR.

Our Contributor

Peter Williams
Peter Williams scarcely needs an introduction. He is a veteran of New Zealand broadcasting with more than 40 years in the industry. Peter has worked for various media outlets, including TVNZ, Radio New Zealand & Sky Sport, and is considered one of New Zealand's most talented and experienced broadcasters. More recently Peter has made a return to speaking on the national stage to highlight issues that he sees as critical to the future success of New Zealand .

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    Steve (him/he adorable/intelligent) November 19, 2023 at 7:52 am - Reply

    Good to see you back, hale ,healthly and up to speed Mr Williams.

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