Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Unbridled power again

There's a couple of pieces about architect-of-our-constitution Geoffrey palmer's views on the current government doing the rounds today. The first, on Newsroom is an excerpt from a speech he gave to a Young Labour meeting last weekend, in which he says NZ an executive paradise, not democratic paradise. The Spinoff seems to have done some followup, interviewing Palmer about the speech and his other views, crossing over with their Juggernaut series on the Revolution. Both are worth reading. And both make it clear that Palmer thinks we are returning to the dark days of unbridled power again, when the executive stomped all over us and used Parliament as a mere rubberstamp for its decisions.

Palmer lists the problems: too much concentration of power, too little consultation, a lack of checks and balances. He has some very good suggestions about changing the legislative procedure to put consultation at the start, rather than the end of the process, so that it might actually make a difference (and slow the whole thing down). Unfortunately, he somewhat ruins it by presenting four year terms as a solution - which runs counter to his whole "more accountability, more checks and balances" theme. Because the ultimate check and balance is the power to get rid of a bad government swiftly and expeditiously. And that means we need to cut the parliamentary term, not extend it. Politicians will get the time they need if they convince us they are governing well. If not, fuck them.

Palmer also laments the failure of successive governments to reform the OIA, and suggests it is because Ministers - I would say the political class as a whole - hate the Act and the accountability it brings. And he's very clear about what needs to happen:

A new Act should be drafted, and a new independent information authority should be set up to restructure the administration of the Act, with the aim of improving transparency. The Authority should have the power to decide upon disputes about release, and those decisions should be binding, which means dealing with such disputes is not an appropriate role for the Ombudsman. A whole new Act will enable the original aims of the reform to be achieved. Successive governments have resisted efforts to improve the Act. Yet a strengthened Act would increase protection against corruption and questionable decision-making.
As he says, we need to take this seriously, "or trust will be further eroded in a system that purports to be open but in practice contains blemishes and weaknesses". I think the same applies to his broader constitutional suggestions as well. At the moment, a terrible government is trampling on our constitutional and democratic norms, in the process burning the trust our political system is built on. We will hopefully stop them at the next election. But the weakness having been demonstrated, it cannot be allowed to continue. The next government needs to restore trust in our democracy. And it can only do so by reforming our constitution to enable more participation, bring the executive under control, and finally bridle their power.