An increasingly common theme expressed by New Zealanders returning home from overseas is: this is about as good as it gets compared with most of the places they have visited, and it is not just the scenery they are talking about (beautiful as it is). The unspoken premises are that, by world standards, we are a settled and prosperous country and spared the increasing sectarian violence which now mars many of the popular tourist destinations. Our political differences are conducted (Waitangi Day excepted) in a civilized and generally retrained way (which explains why the whole Dot Com beat up redounded to the detriment of the Labour Party at the last election.) We have no state religion, but all are free to follow their brand. We rank among the least institutionally corrupt societies and economies in the world, and that bearing in mind that we have taken in hundreds of thousands of settlers from countries where corruption is the norm, which is a tribute to those settlers who quickly recognise the benefits of honest dealing, and the innate strength of our institutions. Our education system is second to none and produces many students who are in international demand, and domestically contribute to a well-informed society. Of course there are always exceptions but we are known as a friendly people who welcome visitors and settlers on their merits, and we believe in giving people a “fair go”.
None of this happens by chance. The twin foundations of these increasingly rare attributes are: the Rule of Law by which all are equal before the law, and that includes the Crown and government, buttressed by a generally learned and impartial judiciary in all branches of the Courts – there being no known case of judicial corruption in the history of New Zealand (unlike some of our near neighbours.) The other pillar is that we are a homogenous society with one set of values in all of those matters comprising the glue which keeps us so.
Never in our history have we succumbed to lure of separatism whereby different ethnicities, or religions enjoy unearned privileges which are not available to the general body of the population, while others suffer corresponding detriments. Sadly this is no longer true and nowhere is this drift to separatism becoming more establish than among those who can claim some Maori blood – no matter how diluted. This trend is becoming so well entrenched that even to write about it risks accusations of “racism” and worse. Witness the recent distasteful spectacle of a leading University academic being excluded from a University function convened to celebrate the signing of Magna Carta generally thought to be the foundation of our civil liberties, which he had helped to organise, because some Maori people who were attending objected to his published views on Maori separatism. Similarly the attitude of the Wellington insiders who support this agenda, no better expressed than by one of their number (recently elevated to the High Court) who patronised a very intelligent friend by telling him not to worry about such things as it would all be sorted out by those who understood the issues properly. This is redolent of the advice which Joseph Gobbles gave to the German media on the eve of the 1936 Berlin Olympics:
“I don’t see why you should have the slightest difficulty in adjusting the trend of what you write to the interests of the state. It is possible that the government may sometimes be mistaken – as to individual measures –but it is absurd to suggest that anything superior to the government might take its place. What is the use therefore of editorial scepticism? It can only make people uneasy.”
For good measure the same week the Reichstag enacted legislation that made the publication of “treasonable articles” a capital crime subject to the death penalty.
The same insidious forces are at work in the global warming debate. Recently seminars were held in Auckland and Wellington to discuss the issue. At Auckland there were a range of views expressed from religious adherence to the warmists party line propagated relentlessly by the media on the one hand, to open scepticism some of it suggesting that the whole charade is the greatest fraud ever perpetrated on mankind. All very healthy one might think, but when interviewed on the radio about the two events one of New Zealand’s most distinguished retired politicians, and a sometime lawyer who was present at both cawed (I can think of no better word) that the deniers dared not show their faces at the Wellington symposium. Only conforming views were heard at that event.
Highly educated people who tell others not to question the wisdom of those who know about such things as the need for ethnic separatism, or require that those who voice views contrary to their own be excluded from public University functions, or cannot contemplate a dissenting view on a matter of international importance which has to date resulted in the squandering of billions of dollars of hard won wealth see no irony in their position, and have learned nothing from their history.
THE RESOURCE MANAGEMENT ACT
When first enacted to replace The Town and Country Planning Act, and related statutes the Resource Management Act as the name suggests was about the management of scarce resources upon which life on the planet depended – air, water soils etc. It replaced legislation under which everything was forbidden unless specifically allowed with a regime that everything was allowed unless forbidden. In its initial conception it was ground breaking legislation and truly marked a sea change in social thinking.
Sadly over the years it has become a ragbag of more and more extraneous material much of which has little or nothing to do with the management of resources.
The latest amendments, some of which might be useful in breaking up the log jam of consents visited on the public by so many territorial local authorities, follow that pattern.
Clauses 58K to 58P dealing with participation of persons of Maori descent in the planning process are of a different order. Put simply the Government is contemplating a revised process for introducing and amending District and Regional planning documents requiring that in all such cases the Territorial Local Authority must first consult with “Iwi groups” having “authority” in their area before making any changes to a plan or introducing a new plan. Thus the democratically elected representatives of the locality covered by the plan are required to take into account the views of an ethnically selected group who are of necessity citizens of the district and who had the same rights as any other citizen to submit on the contents of a plan. In this way the ethnic group has two opportunities to influence the contents of the plan whereas the rest of the voters have only one. A clearer breach of the Rule of Law, which mandates equality before the law is hard to imagine, but some government Ministers appear to be oblivious to such constraints.
Even if those who believe in equality before the law can hold their noses and swallow this rodent the practical problems remain. In the Marlborough District Plan area for example there are eight iwi (other areas have many more) and no doubt each of them asserts “authority” in the area it claims to represent. Presumably the effect of the proposed amendments is that District Councillors or appointed Commissioners must consult with each of these groups before finalising a plan change or introducing a new plan. They will have the responsibility of understanding and reconciling the views of iwi members not only with what is proposed in the Plan but any conflicts between the respective iwi. The Courts have made it clear that when a process of consultation is mandated by statute merely listening to and then ignoring the views expressed is not sufficient. It must be clear from the outcome of the process that the party consulted has weighed the views expressed and has given tenable reasons why they are accepted, rejected or modified. That is a big ask for lay councillors and will probably require the intervention of trained lawyers and planners to ensure that a Plan once enacted is not later overturned in the Courts resulting in a planning vacuum of unknown consequences.
In the event that the Council does not adopt all or part of the iwi views then there is to be a process of mediation. Anybody who has participated in a mediation will understand that it is neither inexpensive, simple or necessarily speedy, as mediations held by Environment Court Commissioners under the existing provisions of the RMA will testify. All of this will add to the cost and the time taken to effect the Plan change and be of no real added benefit as the iwi views can be expressed by any member of the iwi in the existing process without the necessity of group consultation.
Lurking over all this is the requirement in the Bill that iwi submissions cannot delay the finalising and implementation of a Plan. Quite what is intended if at the time a Plan is completed a dispute still exists between the iwi and the Council is not clear. It would be a brave Council which enacted its Plan while a mediation was in progress. The prudent Council will then be caught between the requirement that the Plan process is not to hold up the consultation process and the legal requirement that the consultation process be meaningful. One way or the other the introduction of a Plan will of necessity be delayed or its legality called into question
Those with any experience of negotiating with iwi interests will know that such a process can take a very a long time indeed with no certainty of outcome. Requiring a mediation in the event of a dispute does nothing to produce finality because of necessity mediators decide nothing; they exist solely to try and bring warring parties to a compromise acceptable to all. If they can’t then the mediation fails and the parties are back to square one with no further means of resolving the dispute.
In their present form these provisions are unworkable, expensive and time consuming. They stand exposed for what they are – a political sop to the votes of the Maori Party needed to pass this legislation. And for this the Government further erodes the Rule of Law. Joseph Goebbels will indeed be chuckling.