Monday, March 27, 2006



Petty traditionalism

While browsing the Office of the Clerk's website, I also noticed that the Government Administration Committee has reported back [PDF] on the Oaths Modernisation Bill. As can be guessed from its title, this bill modernises oaths and declarations, such as the Oath of Allegiance, so that they're not quite so archaic (unfortunately it does not remove the most archaic feature of all - the fact that people swear allegiance to the Queen rather than the people and constitution of New Zealand). The committee was unable to reach agreement on the bill, and so has not suggested amendments, but they have made comments. While some are quite useful (why should written affirmations be different in form from spoken ones?), most seem driven by nothing more than petty traditionalism and a love of purple prose. For example:

  • The bill would modernise the form of affirmation (currently "I, A B, solemnly, sincerely, and truly declare and affirm") to "I, [name], solemnly and sincerely affirm". This is deemed insufficiently solemn. More like insufficiently purple.
  • Currently, s4A of the existing Act allows the oaths in the Act to be made in Maori provided a translation is specified by regulation. The bill generalises that provision so that where any Act also provides a Maori version of an oath or declaration, it is considered equivalent to an English version. This is considered to be "not immediately understandable" (note that while the report references s4A(2), they are very clearly talking about 4A(1). Though I'd expect the petty traditionalists to be outraged at 4A(2) as well, as it allows oaths in Maori to "be effective" even where no translation has been provided, just as oaths are "effective" regardless of religious belief. ).
  • They don't like the Maori Translations, as "Maori groups" might interpret them differently.
  • They don't think the phrase "to act fairly and impartially" should be included in the judicial oath, as it is supposedly a part of "doing right according to law". But it is also very much what being a judge is all about - executing the laws impartially without fear or favour - and it is worth reminding people of.
  • The proposed Parliamentary oath would require MPs to be "loyal to New Zealand and... respect its democratic values and the rights and freedoms of its people" as well as to the Queen. The National Party specifically considers these phrases to be vague and undefined. They seem pretty clear to me - and a hell of a lot clearer than, for example, "bear[ing] true allegiance" to the monarch.

At this stage I think it is worth pointing out that the government did not have a majority on the committee, and the report was essentially written by the National Party. The question is whether they'll have a majority in Parliament to pass the bill, or whether this too will join the legislative gridlock...

3 comments:

All the oaths are empty, purely symbolic gestures, so why not scrap them altogether. Forget the word-tinkering, junk 'em. It's not like any of them are legally enforceable.

Posted by M'Lud : 3/27/2006 08:32:00 PM

Agreed I/S, it is petty traditionalism.

Posted by Lewis : 3/27/2006 08:52:00 PM

you really need a single oath - and since translations are not identical (maori groups know that) so we have a small problem.
Maori can take a maori one if they want as long as they afirm they are identical (or the maori one is more restrictive) and that they will not object to being held to the english one.
or we could all take a maori one as long as we afirmed what it meant.

Posted by Genius : 3/28/2006 04:18:00 AM