Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Police, local elections, and urgency

One of the core principles of our constitution is the separation of powers. The people that make the laws shouldn't also be responsible for implementing them. That's why we forbid state servants from serving as Members of Parliament, and require those seeking election to take leave and resign immediately if elected.

The government today is using urgency to ram through a bill which undermines that principle. The Policing (Involvement in Local Authority Elections) Amendment Bill, currently going through all stages under urgency, will reverse a ban in the Policing Act on police officers contesting local body elections as e.g. city councillors, and applies the same rules as would apply to general elections (i.e. leave and resignation if successful). It was imposed because the police are responsible for enforcing local authority by-laws, meaning that they would be both law-maker and law-enforcer if elected. This isn't just a basic conflict of interest - a quick perusal of this blog will show that local body policies around gang patches, boy racers and ASBOs have been some of the most contentious policing and human rights issues of recent years.

The Police Association thinks that the ban is unjustified. They're wrong. But worse is the way the bill is being progressed. As Dean Knight points out, this is a fundamental constitutional issue with potential to lead to significant abuse of power. It is inappropriate that it be rammed through under all-stages urgency without proper scrutiny or a chance for the public to have their say.

Ideally, the government should can the bill. But at the least, they should not pass it under urgency, and instead send it to select committee so the issue can be thoroughly investigated (and in particular, the police and local authorities can explain how they intend to prevent conflicts of interest and abuses of power from arising). But this is National, who seem to take a perverse pride in shitting all over our constitutional procedures so they can appear "firm" and "decisive". So I expect it'll be law by the end of the week.