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Dr Muriel Newman

Grassroots politics

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Democracy is said to be government ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’. It is meant to protect individual freedom and liberty, since the government’s powers derive from citizens themselves – either through their elected representatives or directly through public referenda. But the system breaks down when those elected representatives in government develop ‘tin ears’, putting the demands of their party – and the bureaucracy – ahead of the public interest.

That was certainly the case in 2009, when elected representatives in the new Key government blatantly ignored the wishes of the public who voted overwhelmingly in the citizens initiated referendum to oppose the ban on smacking. That ban, introduced under the guise of stopping child abuse, imposed state control deep into the heart of every family with children. It is a disastrous piece of legislation that is an affront to parents and grandparents everywhere, and the very fact that John Key could ignore the wisdom of over 87 percent of the population to impose his own misguided will, remains a strong indictment of his judgment and leadership.

However a more insidious threat to freedom and liberty lies in the massive expansion of bureaucratic state control at central and local government level. Perpetrated by the last Labour administration, which expanded the public service bureaucracy by 50 percent, the National government has done little to reduce this bureaucratic millstone. As a result, New Zealand is awash in a sea of regulation that infiltrates and dominates almost every aspect of our lives.

The situation has now become so bad, that last month, the government took the unprecedented step of granting itself extraordinary powers to bypass almost every Act of Parliament so it could avoid the bottleneck of bureaucracy and get on with the job of rebuilding Christchurch after the earthquake. If ever there was an indictment of the depth and scope of New Zealand ’s regulatory burden it is surely that!

Doesn’t every citizen deserve that same right to live their lives free from the burden of overbearing state control?

The dictatorial powers sought by National came in the form of the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Act, which gives Ministers unilateral powers to change any New Zealand law without public input. Using Orders in Council, which are Parliament’s regulation-making powers, only five constitutional Acts have been exempted from National’s new law – the Bill of Rights, the Constitution Act, the Electoral Act, the Judicature Amendment Act, and the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

What this means is that under the auspices of facilitating a response to the Canterbury earthquake, a Minister can make a recommendation to change any New Zealand statute (apart from the five listed) to the Governor-General, who will rubber stamp the request through an Order in Council. These Orders in Council have been specially designed to exempt Ministers from any form of judicial scrutiny and possible court action: Clause 6 (3) of the Act states, “The recommendation of the relevant Minister may not be challenged, reviewed, quashed, or called into question in any court”. In other words, by removing all of the normal checks and balances that citizens usually have over the executive, the government has given itself such unparalleled powers that 27 legal scholars from New Zealand and overseas have felt compelled to write an open letter to the New Zealand public stating their concerns about the new law.[1]

A similar concern over the use of Orders in Council as a means of granting unilateral powers to Ministers exists in the Marine and Coastal Area Bill, currently in front of Parliament’s Maori Affairs Select Committee. This Bill uses Orders in Council to effectively privatise vast tracts of New Zealand’s publicly held coastline to corporate iwi. Because these Orders will arise from secret political deal-making, rather than through a process involving legal proof in an open court of law, the public will have no say whatsoever over crucial issues such as: whether a claim is really valid, whether an iwi intends to charge people who want to use the coast, or indeed whether it is right that Ministers should have the power to transfer vast mineral reserves, that presently belong to the Crown for the benefit of all New Zealanders, to a tribal aristocracy without any form of public scrutiny.

It could be said that National also used dictatorial powers to get the senseless Emissions Trading Scheme passed into law. To win the support of the Maori Party, tens of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money and many thousands of acres of public land were pledged to the iwi elite in a secret deal made at the last minute without any public input. And no doubt the announcement last week that two Maori farmers have been appointed to a quango, set up to advise the Government about the “unique aspects to Maori-owned land and Maori farming which need to be taken into account” as the ETS regime for agriculture is developed, is just another ongoing part of that deal![2]

The imposition of the Emissions Trading scheme represented a breathtaking display of arrogance. The National Party went to great pains to assure the public that under their stewardship New Zealanders would no longer lead the world on climate change, yet during the Parliamentary debate boasted, “This emissions trading scheme will be the first of any country outside Europe, and on 1 July 2010 will be the most comprehensive by including transport, industrial, and energy emissions. New Zealand is the first country in the world to include forestry, and under these amendments will be the first country in the world to include agriculture.”[3]

This week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator is British journalist and writer James Delingpole, who in his article Global Cooling and the New World Order, explains how, as temperatures around the world continue to fall, the international power elite are switching their concerns from ‘global warming’ to ‘global cooling’, a change which will have serious repercussions for countries like New Zealand, which is now lumbered with the world’s most comprehensive emissions trading scheme:

“Almost every government in the Western world from the USA to Britain to all the other EU states to Australia and New Zealand is currently committed to a policy of “decarbonisation.” This in turn is justified to (increasingly sceptical) electorates on the grounds that man-made CO2 is a prime driver of dangerous global warming and must therefore be reduced drastically, at no matter what social, economic and environmental cost. In the Eighties and Nineties, the global elite had a nice run of hot weather to support their (scientifically dubious) claims. But now they don’t. Winters are getting colder. Fuel bills are rising (in the name of combating climate change, natch). The wheels are starting to come off the Anthropogenic Global Warming bandwagon. Ordinary people, resisting two decades of concerted brainwashing, are starting to notice.

“Our fuel bills have risen inexorably; our countryside, our views and our property values have been ravaged by hideous wind farms; our holidays have been made more expensive; our cost of living has been driven up by green taxes; our freedoms have been curtailed in any number of pettily irritating ways from what kind of light bulbs we are permitted to use to how we dispose of our rubbish. And to what end? If man-made global warming was really happening and really a problem we might possibly have carried on putting up with all these constraints on our liberty and assaults on our income. But if it turns out to have been a myth…… Well then, all bets are off.

James, who helped break the Climategate scandal, believes that the politicians who have forced through massively expensive and pointless emissions trading schemes should be held to account. He believes it is our duty as free citizens to make sure they are punished: “It is time we put a stop to this. In the US , the Tea Party movement is showing us the way. We need to punish these dodgy politicians at the ballot box”.

In the US , the Tea Party movement has become a force to be reckoned with. Arising as a grassroots organisation to support the Republican Party during the Presidential election, Tea Party groups can now be found not only right across the United States but in Europe and Asia as well. Opposed to the restrictions on freedom and liberty caused by the unconstrained growth of government, the movement is actively punishing career politicians with ‘tin ears’ – who have lost touch with the needs and aspirations of the decent hard-working citizens who voted them into office – by standing candidates against them.

The voter outrage at the heart of the Tea Party movement has been sparked by federal government spending that has risen to 25 percent of GDP. Their goal is to cut it back to 20 percent of GDP. Here in New Zealand , core government spending under National now stands at a record 36 percent of GDP – up from 29 percent in 2004 – and the restrictions on our freedom and liberty continue unabated. Whether New Zealanders are angry enough about the size and intrusiveness of government to spawn a grassroots revolt against the political establishment remains to be seen!

1.Open letter to the New Zealand’s people and their Parliament
2.Radio NZ, Maori farmers appointed to ETS advisory board
Climate Change Res ponse (Moderated Emissions Trading) Amendment Bill – First Reading