Is Democracy Dead in New Zealand?

Last year, I wrote on the issues of co-governance,  He Puapua, the rise of Ethno Nationalism in New Zealand, and the potential impact it will have on our country. In recent weeks, this process has taken another step forward with the Rotorua District Council (Representation Arrangements) Bill. In addition, the Labour government “has heard advice from groups such as the Iwi Chairs Forum about how the United Nations Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) should be implemented” (Stuff, 11 April 2022). I will discuss this later.

Mainstream media, and a range of both left- and right-wing bloggers, have failed to mention the Rotorua District Council (Representation Arrangements) Bill, except for David Farrar. In his blog, he headed this as the end of “one person, one vote”. This bill has passed its first reading in parliament, supported by Labour, the Greens, and Te Pāti Māori. Surprisingly, neither ACT or National asked questions about the demise of democracy in the house that is embedded in this bill.

Essentially, what “this bill does is legislate for 22,000 voters on the Māori roll to elect three ward Councillors and 56,000 voters on the general roll to elect three ward Councillors. This means the votes of people on the general roll will be worth 39% of the votes of those on the Māori roll – which is of course restricted to those who have had at least one Māori ancestor.

“So, Labour and Greens (and the Māori Party) have voted for a bill that will, in Rotorua, reduce the votes of those on the general roll to 39% of those on the Māori roll” (David Farrar – Kiwiblog).

Yet the Local Government Commission has set a structure that provides for three Māori Ward Councillors in Rotorua, but retains equality of suffrage. So why is the government trying to push through a bill that would override this and remove one person, one vote?

If this bill passes, it could become the standard throughout New Zealand, and it may well creep into the parliamentary system too. Te Pāti Māori openly advocates this, something I have previously written about when they openly denounced democracy and capitalism.

Newshub reported on 22 April 2022 that the Attorney General, David Parker, has said “As the disadvantaged group is those on the General roll, changing representation arrangements away from proportional representation therefore creates a disadvantage for non-Māori as they cannot in future elect to change rolls.”

Parker concluded, “The Bill appears to limit the right to be free from discrimination affirmed in s 19 of the Bill of Rights Act and cannot be justified.”

The Newshub article also quoted National MP Paul Goldsmith that “it would be a “constitutional outrage” if the legislation went ahead in what appeared to be a breach of the Bill of Rights Act. 

“If they don’t drop the Bill, the Prime Minister, or at least the Minister of Justice, should front up and explain why they think it’s no longer appropriate that all New Zealanders should have equal power in deciding who governs them.”

Further, Bryce Edwards of the Democracy Project at Victoria University, noted that “A sign of where things might be going can be seen in liberal Māori political commentator Morgan Godfery coming out against the proposed law, effectively siding with National and Act. Last night, just before submissions on the bill closed, Godfery tweeted: “In general, I support Māori wards, but this Bill is so disproportionate in pursuit of its apparent aim that I can’t support it. Parliament should probably vote it down”.

Also, “Public law expert Graeme Edgeler wrote yesterday that the bill is entirely unnecessary in terms of bringing about greater Māori representation on the Rotorua District Council, and that the “Council’s rationale for the bill is non-sensical”, and the effect of the law change is “profoundly contrary to established democratic principles”. He concludes that “the bill is bad, and should not pass”” (Bryce Edwards, The Democracy Project).

Yet, the proponent of this bill, Labour’s Tamati Coffey, stated in parliament that this is a mere tweak of democracy, (a gross understatement) and that we have become too embedded to something that is Greek and defined by the English Westminster system. He obviously does not like the concept of democracy, because simply put, this bill actually reverses all the principles of democracy, of one person, one vote.

Slowly but surely, democracy in New Zealand is being eroded. The concept of one person, one vote, is being clearly attacked by this government and its supporters. It is coming in the guise of co-governance. David Seymour has openly criticised the concept of co-governance and what it means for New Zealand and democracy. Yet, some journalists have attacked David Seymour as a racist, without considering the wider, deeper, and troubling aspects of co-governance. One of these critics is Tova O’Brien. She openly rants in her opinion piece dated 28 March 2022, about racism and the impacts of colonialism over the last 182 years, and how this has impacted Māori. She attacks David Seymour for wanting a referendum on what the Treaty stands for, and by extension, what co-governance means (note, I am neither for or against a referendum on this matter). She is looking backwards, and not forwards. Essentially, her argument is about perceived racism and not the wider political implications of co-governance that could affect both non-Māori and Māori alike, and what this means for democracy.

Bryce Edwards has written extensively on how the liberal left have moved away from open and honest debate and the need for free speech. I quote, “This elite left-wing approach is very compatible with a more censorious approach to politics and that partly explains the authoritarian impulses we are seeing today. Traditionally the left has been the force in society most favourable to “free speech” and mass participation in politics – championing the rights of the oppressed or marginalised to organise, to communicate politics, to win human rights and political gains. In contrast, it used to be the forces of the right and the Establishment that clamped down on political expression and activity. This is why it’s all the more jarring that increasingly the left wants either the state or society to put limits on political debate and expression”. In essence, this describes those like Tova O’Brien.

The government, via Willie Jackson, is consulting with Iwi in the form of several huis regarding how to implement the United Nations Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP). So far, he has received some extreme feedback, much of which confirms what I have written above. The question is, will the government consult New Zealanders on the matter of co-governance, separatism, and the demise of democracy in the form of one person, one vote? Yes, they will probably pay lip service to any dissenting view, and in all likelihood totally ignore those dissenting opinions.

Thus, “The fraught issue of the Rotorua bill is important to the overall co-governance debate, as it raises questions about principles of democracy and social cohesion. After all, it’s long been a core value of democracy that votes should be of equal value. As some have pointed out, this is even a key part of the Labour Party’s own constitution, which states: “All political authority comes from the people by democratic means including universal suffrage, regular and free elections with a secret ballot.” (Bryce Edwards, Democracy Project).

If Labour allows this bill to pass, they are essentially in breach of their own constitution, and the Human Rights Bill.  My fear is that if a Labour, the Greens and Te Pāti Māori coalition win the election in 2023, then democracy will be dead in New Zealand. Right now, democracy is on its knees and if Labour allows this bill to go through, it is about to put a gun to its head and shoot it.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Chris

    New Zealand has changed since I left in 2011. from what was a relatively cohesive proud nation. to a forcibly divided place where people are told they are victims or victors not friends and neighbours. only bad things will come from driving a wedge between. Australia never had the same respect nz has for its original inhabitants and there is a far greater divide here. the answer to both countries problems, to me is still equal treatment for all. not special rules for some and not others. help where it’s needed but not because of race. Australia has failed it indigenous people by treating them differently. generational dependence on hand outs will never be a hand up. special treatment because of race creates the opposite of its goals. it demotivats and divides.

  2. Robyn

    A good read and a terrifying trend. Democracy is indeed dead on its knees and I agree to the sentiments in Chris. Help where needed but not because of race and equal treatment for all.

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