Thursday, August 11, 2005

Reporting on the constitution

The Constitutional Arrangements Committee has released its report, and predictably National has already labelled it "codswallop" and a waste of time because it produced few recommendations. But as should be clear from the terms of reference, the purpose of the review was to tell us where we stand, not where we should go, and its limited recommendations reflect this. The core duty of the committee was always to investigate what our constitutional arrangements actually are, what processes other countries have used to embark on constitutional change, and therefore what processes we might use - and it seems to have covered this ground comprehensively. Contrary to National's assertion, this was not a waste of time, but the first step in the long process of more firmly establishing our constitution.

The committee describes our process of constitutional change as one of gradual "pragmatic evolution", tinkering with the core system as needed. This has been done by a number of different mechanisms - ordinary legislation, expert advice, royal commissions and referendum - with the method chosen depending on the perceived importance of the change and on political considerations. They regard this flexibility as rather useful, and consequently make no recommendation as to a set process which should be followed - instead recommending greater public education so as to encourage greater involvement in debating future changes. They also recommend sufficient time for public debate to occur - fundamental change should not occur by stealth. Perhaps their most interesting idea is that of an independent "constitution institute" to foster understanding and debate - though predictably ACT disapproves because an independent body might disagree with their particular constitutional prejudices.

They have also developed a "menu" of possible constitutional issues which we may or may not want to address and clarify. The role of the Treaty and the relationship between Parliament and the judiciary were highlighted in public submissions, though the latter seems mostly a matter of verbal sniping from politicians displeased with one recent decision (and one politician displeased with the very idea of enforceable human rights standards) rather than a real issue. The section on Parliamentary sovereignty has more on this, and its chief virtue is pointing out that there is more than one possible balance which can be struck. The chief variable here is the perceived need to limit the power of the legislature - something which hasn't really been an issue in New Zealand, but might become so in the future.

There's a lot more here to read (I haven't even looked at the 52 pages of constitutional milestones, or 38 pages of processes used in other countries yet), and I'll dig through it over the next few days.


This comment has been removed by a blog administrator. Posted by t selwyn : 8/11/2005 01:05:00 AM

I have established the constitutional convention here and encourage people who care about the issue to make comments. Please ensure these are made anon. or they will be deleted.

I/S: Quite by serendipidous accident I just finished it when I was going to alert you when I saw this post. Tumeke!

Posted by t selwyn : 8/11/2005 01:07:00 AM