Despite the insistence of the political parties in Parliament saying otherwise, I have the distinct impression that New Zealand democracy is under attack. There are some good reasons for saying this. One good example the number of Bills of Parliament that have been forced through under urgency when there was no legitimate case. Urgency and extraordinary urgency to me should only be used when a law may be about to expire, or situation exist where a rapid legal change is necessary to avoid significant and immediate adverse effects.
New Zealand once had a bicameral Parliament, that is a two level Parliament from 1852, which as established under the Constitution Act of that year. The lower house was known as the General Assembly, and the upper one as the Legislative Council. It was abolished in 1951 when Parliament became the current unicameral structure known today.
I believe that there is a case for restoring the bicameral legislature. However before that happens, the 1997 referendum on reducing New Zealand’s Parliament size to 100, which turned out 83% support should be honoured. The reduced number of Members of Parliament can make way for perhaps an upper house with two senators from each province. To enable this, there would need to be a binding referendum asking New Zealanders whether or not they support a bicameral Parliament.
A Parliamentary priority should be the entrenching of the Human Rights Act, Privacy Act and Constitution Act. I say this on the grounds that concerns about potential terrorist activities, changes in technology – particularly drones and smart phones – are potentially eroding ones liberty. Dictatorships and terrorism both win when people are fearful and willing to let Government run roughshod over established rights in supposed pursuit of justice. It is also said because there will always be a small minority of people with a malicious intent when they purchse devices capable of storing significant data or prying on others.
In light of recent proposed changes to local governance legislation, and experiences of Canterbury and Auckland where the elected Regional Council was replaced – or in Auckland’s case, disbanded completely – it is time for legislative change. The Local Government Act, 2002 needs to be strengthened so that the only way an elected Council can be voted out is either at the end of the three yearly election cycle, or via a recall vote. It is common knowledge that a Wellington based bureaucrat will never have certain knowledge about regional planning and governance issues, because that is vested in the local population – which most probably does not reside in Wellington.
Without depriving ourselves of a working law enforcement and national security apparatus, New Zealanders need to know that there are checks and balances in place to make sure Mr Dinosaur does not eat Ms Liberty. These steps would go some way towards achieving that and also improving our image as a democratic nation.