Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Constitutional issues

Another pair of excellent posts on the Treaty and constitution from Justleft and Grey Shade. There's more in these two posts than I can really hope to do justice to, but here's a few random thoughts.

Firstly, Justleft is right; we need more debate and understanding of these issues if we are to reach any sort of consensus on where we're going. And it has to involve everybody, not just the elite. The Greens suggested a system of "study circles" as a way of promoting grassroots discussion, and I certainly think it's worth a try.

Secondly, I should point out that our constitution isn't entirely unwritten; we actually have a Constitution Act 1986 which collects various pieces of legislation and convention all in one place (it contains elements of the original New Zealand Constitution Act 1852 (UK), the Letters Patent covering the executive council, and conventions regarding judicial independence). The problems are that:

  • it's not entrenched;
  • it's not really enforceable; and
  • it's incomplete (or rather, more incomplete than usual).

    There are advantages to this - it gives flexibility and our constitution can grow and change as we do, but there's the obvious disadvantage of not providing firm enforceable limits on political action. We can further codify it, and make it enforceable, but this will require disabusing our politicians of their cultlike worship of "Parliamentary sovereignty". In a democracy, it is the people who are sovereign; our politicians are going to have to learn to respect this. Unfortunately, too many of them are still mired in FPP culture, and it will probably require generational change before the meme is expunged.

    But overall the real necessity is not a written constitution, but an entrenched and enforceable Bill of Rights. That matters far more than who our head of state is or the exact process for making laws in Wellington.