Strengthening New Zealand’s constitutional framework

In 2002, when the then Attorney General Margaret Wilson announced that New Zealand would have a Supreme Court, I was torn. On one hand I believed it was a really good idea, but when she refused to hold a binding referendum to determine whether or not New Zealand actually wanted it, I began to wonder about the legality of her move. 13 years later, I still wonder some days whether or not a referendum should go ahead, but given the cost of having one, I have conceded it is here to stay.

The courts however are just one aspect of New Zealand’s constitutional framework that I am interested in. The absence of a formal constitution and the substitution in its place of several different documents is another. I am admittedly not altogether comfortable with such an ad hoc arrangement. The major documents are the:

  • Human Rights Act (1993)
  • Bill of Rights (1990)
  • Constitution Act (1852)
  • Treaty of Waitangi (1840)

My personal preference is for a codified Constitution of New Zealand that prevents these from being overturned by a simple majority in Parliament. My concern stems from a number of events in the last 20 years that on one hand appear relatively minor in effect, but on the other were quite brazen attacks on the basic civic and human rights that New Zealanders take for granted.

The Terrorism Suppression Act 2002 for example, might have been necessary in the post 11/09/01 context of ensuring New Zealand is able to deal with militants planning violence against itself and its people. However some significant concerns were rightfully raised at the time about encroaching on our freedom. Other nations such as Australia, the United States, Canada, and Britain all passed similar laws. In the United States, Senator Rand Paul has been having some success protesting the data gathering provisions of the Patriot Act which President George W. Bush signed into law following the World Trade Center attacks. More recently, which I have mentioned elsewhere, the Crown Minerals (Crown Land and Permitting)Amendment Act 2013 was pushed through Parliament with no input from the Parliament Select Committee for human rights, no public input and under urgency to discourage peaceful protests on the high seas.

I have a vision that the issue of New Zealand’s long term constitutional future might become a potential flash point in the near future. One of the reasons for believing so is the desire of the Government to sign the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement into law. This is dressed up as a Free Trade Agreement under another name, but is actually a potentially massive corporate power grab that will cripple the rights of nations to enact policies in the interests of their people.

Is not the first and foremost priority of ANY Government to its people, its taxpayers and ratepayers?

One thought on “Strengthening New Zealand’s constitutional framework

  1. The thing about referendums.
    Just like the populace gets the Government they turn out to vote for, so it would be that an answer to a referendum would be similar.
    When so many do not get out to vote, are not interested in voting, believe that their vote will not make a difference, are too uninformed to see both sides of an issue, and sadly may be too unintelligent to participate, then a referendum, like a vote cast in a general election is also a skewed one. Therefore, referendums are a waste of time and money unless everyone participates in an informed and motivated way.
    Just as well we have the judiciary. On the whole, a collection of intelligent, educated, rational, and reasonable citizens who, as well as considering all matters pertaining to a situation without bias, are able to argue a case that they do joy personally agree with.
    Politicians, on the other hand are mostly persons unqualified to manage the portfolios they are put in charge of, and who take advice from officials who research the issues and therefore influence opinion and outcome. Politicians are play actors whose strings are pulled and whose scripts are written to be played out.
    Now about a constitution.
    Yes a Constitution is sorely needed, so as you say, the human rights of the people van not be overturned by a simple act of Parliament (as is starting to be done).
    The best people to formulate such a document are the Judiciary as advisers to the politicians, and not the reverse.


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