Thursday, March 14, 2024

The return of Muldoon

For forty years, Robert Muldoon has been a dirty word in our politics. His style of government was so repulsive and authoritarian that the backlash to it helped set and entrench our constitutional norms. His pig-headedness over forcing through Think Big eventually gave us the RMA, with its participation and consultation rights. The backlash to his secrecy forced him to pass the OIA. His top-down control of Cabinet by holding the finance portfolio gave us a since-unbroken norm that the Prime Minister cannot also be Finance Minister, because it is too great a concentration of power. His abuses of the "elected dictatorship" and election "victories" where he won fewer votes than the Labour opposition laid the basis for our modern constitution and MMP.

All of which now seems awfully familiar. People are noting the similarities in abuse of the parliamentary process, and in the steamrolling through of pet projects. And now there's another one: "legislating" by press-release, with Associate Environment Minister Andrew Hoggard purporting today to "suspend" the Significant Natural Area provisions of the National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity:

Associate Environment Minister Andrew Hoggard has today announced that the Government has agreed to suspend the requirement for councils to comply with the Significant Natural Areas (SNA) provisions of the National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity for three years, while it replaces the Resource Management Act (RMA).
The problem is that there is an actual legal process required to change a National Policy Statement, requiring public notification and submissions, and a board of inquiry or independent report. The government hasn't done any of it. And until it happens (or the government rams through an amendment under urgency), the law is still the law. Muldoon learned that the hard way in Fitzgerald v Muldoon; you'd think both Ministers and public servants would be aware enough of that case to stop Hoggard from making a similar mistake.