Our Democracy is at risk

elocal Magazine, ed. 250. 1 February 2022

Over the last year or so, I’ve read a lot of books (or more accurately, listened to a lot of books on Audible) on the US political situation – some by partisan authors like Adam Schiff, the Democratic congressman who chairs the House Intelligence Committee and who led those who argued for the impeachment of Donald Trump over his attempt to blackmail Ukraine into helping him win the 2020 election; some by authors who might be expected to support Donald Trump, like Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton; and some by non-partisan authors such as Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.


Without exception, they tell the story of a man without any moral compass, whose only ambition was to remain in power no matter what the cost to American democracy.  And what is absolutely clear as I write is that the United States is in very serious danger, with tens of millions of Americans having swallowed the lie that Trump actually did win the 2020 election and responsible writers speculating whether there could be some kind of overthrow of the current President if the Republicans win control of Congress in the upcoming elections.  There has even been speculation that there could be another civil war, so deeply divided the United States has become.


At very least, American democracy is at grave risk.
Alas, so also is New Zealand democracy, and most New Zealanders appear to be blissfully unaware of that fact, or at very least indifferent to it.
And I am not one of those who believe for a single minute that the current Labour Government did not really win the 2020 election, that somehow the election result was fiddled to achieve the single-party government which we now have.  Worryingly, there are even in New Zealand people who mutter that the current government is somehow not really legitimate.


Nor am I one who believes that the problem is MMP, even though I did not vote for that electoral system in either of the two referenda which we’ve had.  It is certainly true that a significant number of MPs are list MPs, and in that sense not directly chosen by voters.  But the reality is that even under the previous FPP system, few voters voted for individuals because they knew or liked them, but rather because of the party label they carried.  


And what MMP has delivered is a system where more voters want the governing party, or the governing coalition, than any other party or combination of parties.  Under the previous regime, it was often true that a government was formed which did not have the majority support of the voters, but only a majority of the electorates.


No, our problem is not MMP or the fact that the current Government was not properly elected.  It is the fact that the current Government has every intention of destroying democracy as it is commonly understood, where every citizen has equal political rights.
And for this reason if for no other it is imperative that they be comprehensively thrown out of office at the next election.


Of course, the current Government has failed in many policy areas – law and order, social welfare, education and most egregiously housing, a subject on which I have written many times in these columns.  But in all these policy areas it is possible to have more than one opinion.
It is not possible to offer any excuse for destroying our democracy.


But is that really what they are about?  It is simply not possible to interpret their policy in a raft of areas in any other way:


•    The plan to confiscate the Three Waters assets of all the local bodies in the country and place them into four enormous entities, drawn along tribal boundaries, and controlled by an equal number of tribal appointees as local body representatives.


•    The plan to create two separate health systems, one for those with a Maori ancestor and one for all the rest of us – though with both systems funded by the general taxpayer – and with the Maori health authority having a veto over what the rest of the healthcare system does.


•    The removal of the right of ratepayers to have a say about whether they want race-based wards – with legislation passed under urgency to minimize the time ratepayers had to express their views on the matter.


•    With moves afoot to give those with a Maori ancestor permanent representation on Environment Canterbury, and plans to create separate Maori wards in Auckland, where there is already an Independent Maori Statutory Board with strong representation on most Auckland Council committees.


•    The constant reference to the name of our country in all government documents as Aotearoa, or Aotearoa New Zealand, despite most New Zealanders not wanting any name for our country but New Zealand (as established by a scientific opinion poll), and the ever more frequent use of Maori words in government communications and on taxpayer-funded media, often without any translation – and this despite the fact that only a tiny minority of New Zealanders speak the Maori language.


•    The introduction of a mandatory and distinctly lop-sided History syllabus into all state schools from 2023.


•    The bribery of the media to promote a particular re-interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi.
And it is that interpretation of the Treaty which lies at the heart of the issue.
Did the Treaty involve Maori chiefs surrendering sovereignty in return for being guaranteed their property rights and political equality with all “British subjects”, or did it involve no surrender of sovereignty but instead the promise of some kind of partnership with the head of the mightiest empire the world had seen to that date?


Speeches made by chiefs at the time, and again at Kohimarama in 1860, make it quite clear which of those two interpretations was understood at the time.  And indeed, that is the interpretation which prevailed for nearly the next century and a half as explicitly reaffirmed from time to time by such Maori leaders as Sir Apirana Ngata.


More importantly, it is the only interpretation which is consistent with a peaceful and democratic future, where all citizens have equal political rights without any preference based on race, as politicians as different as David Lange, Winston Peters and David Seymour have made clear.
Are we to be a country where every person, regardless of when they or their ancestors came to New Zealand, has equal political rights, as Article III of the Treaty of Waitangi unambiguously promised?
Or are we to become a nation permanently divided by race, with those who chance to have one or more Maori ancestors (always with ancestors of other ethnicities too of course) having forever a preferred constitutional status?


A few weeks ago, political commentator Chris Trotter described the profoundly undemocratic moves being made by the current Government to entrench racial privilege for those who chance to have some Maori ancestry and asked:
Is the leadership of the National and Act parties capable of withstanding the unrelenting pressure of the ‘racist’ accusation that most New Zealanders currently go to almost any lengths to avoid? Does Christopher Luxon have the mental resilience to confront charges of racism head-on and, Jordan Peterson-style, out-argue his accusers? Does David Seymour? Or will the old saying “explaining is losing” cause them to throw in the ideological towel and join the merry ethno-nationalist parade?
Upon the answer to this question will turn the future of the New Zealand Right.1
Indeed, upon the answer to this question turns the future of New Zealand democracy.  Unless the Labour Government is comprehensively defeated in 2023, democracy in New Zealand is dead.


1    https://breakingviewsnz.blogspot.com/2022/01/chris-trotter-make-or-break.html

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Copyright © 2022 Don Brash.