Monday, June 18, 2012

Austerity and democracy

When people think about austerity, they think about cuts to headline government services. But it has more pernicious effects than that. Long-term zero increases to budgets mean the erosion of quite basic functions, things we take for granted in our democracy.

There's two examples of this on Parliament's website today. Firstly, the Privacy Commissioner has basically given up responding to media inquiries, and is "increasingly is providing minimal responses". Why? Because they're just not funded for them, and the number has increased by 50% in the last year. Faced with a choice between doing something which is a core statutory function and something which is merely expected of every public body in a democratic state, they've simply given up on the latter.

That's bad enough, but what's happening at the Electoral Commission is even worse. They've been forced to fund the MMp Review - a major undertaking - out of their reserves, with no additional money, and so are expecting to be short of funds over the next few years. And then there's this:

We heard that the additional funding required for the 2014 election has not yet been allocated, and the commission is concerned because it cannot therefore make the planning assumptions needed to organise the election.
Yes, that's right: money is so tight in the justice sector that they can't scrape up the funds required to hold the next election (something they do need to start planning for now if it is to go smoothly). Chasing dope smokers and getting "tough on crime" headlines by shining torches up prisoners' arses is apparently more of a priority.

Democracy is such a fundamental in this country that we take it for granted, and don't think about it. Clearly we need to start. Otherwise we might wake up one day and find its been inadvertently cut as a cost-saving measure.