Given the current state of the country, the election campaign has so far been disappointing.
First, I’m over the petty stuff already. One party launches a pledge card with eight pledges. A week later the other party launches their own, with nine pledges. Really? Who is advising these people?
Then there are the attack ads. In my view, the trade union advertisement attacking the National Party leader is an unfortunate step for our democracy. The ad and the comments made are disrespectful and irrelevant. I’d say the same thing if some right-wing support group targeted the Labour Party leader in a similar way. It stoops too low.
To those organisations supporting the centre-right, my plea is simple: don’t respond to that stuff.
As Tend founder Cecilia Robinson said in an excellent article, we need highly capable people of good character to step forward and take on these roles as our country’s leaders. If we can’t treat them with respect, we won’t attract the quality candidates.
And while I’m on the topic, I don’t care how many houses a politician has, or what type of food they like. I care about their capability, their policies and their capacity for work. We need capable people with good policy, who can get on with the very large job ahead.
We need to know where they stand on the very big issues of the moment. The economy. The cost of living. Law and order — meaning both policing and the justice process. What on earth has happened to our tertiary education sector and how do we fix it? As for our recently restructured health system, what we are hearing is that waiting times are worse, staff shortages are worse and health outcomes are worse. Our secondary schools bounce from crises around attendance to crises of attainment.
“One of the things we should be concerned about is the amount of legislation that has been passed under urgency by the majority government in the last three years.”
There are also some other heavyweight issues that don’t seem to get any airtime. One thing we should be concerned about is the amount of legislation passed under urgency by the majority Government in the past three years. Passing a bill under urgency means the traditional process of a bill becoming law is fast-tracked. Instead of the bill being presented for a number of readings, with consultation and select committees considering it between readings, the multiple stages are “mashed together”, consultation is minimised and the readings happen almost simultaneously.
Historically, a government would seek to pass a bill under urgency primarily because the timing was critical. But that has not been the case with this Government. From the outside looking in, it appears they have developed an attitude that because they have a majority, they can do what they want, and they have.
Someone once said that “with great power, comes great responsibility”. If one is given a lot of power, it is important to be measured and constructive in applying that power to the decisions you make.
This Government, the first majority one under MMP, has failed that test.
Plenty of experienced people will tell you that legislation passed under urgency often turns out to be bad legislation. And yet, this Government has passed so much new legislation under urgency, including such “urgent” matters as the enabling of the divisive Three Waters policies and the replacements for the Resource Management Act. These policies have such major ramifications that ramming them through under urgency is the opposite of good and considered management.
The Government has been keen to push through legislation that it knows is not broadly supported outside of its own agenda. Opening those discussions up to a proper process would take time and invite in-depth questioning of the motivations and reasoning behind the proposals. A proper process would and should also highlight the imperfections of the legislation and seek to get a better outcome.
While I respect any government driving the agenda on which it was elected, it is disrespectful to our democracy to do so under urgency, minimising debate as a result.
While I suspect it’s not at the top of anyone’s list, I would like to see a new government commit to review all legislation passed under urgency in the past three years, and where appropriate to repeal and revisit that legislation with a view to getting a better outcome.
The Natural and Built Environment Bill is part of the replacement for the Resource Management Act. The second and third readings occurred just four weeks apart and it became law a month ago, two months before the election. A former MP has told me that six weeks between readings is considered a rush job for any legislation.
Although not related to urgent legislation, the same mindset is on display with the announcement this week that Auckland Light Rail has contracted to purchase the Kiwi Bacon factory in Kingsland in Auckland, as part of the land acquisition requirements for the city’s light rail. The purchase price is $33 million.
“… why, five weeks before the election, would someone think it’s a good idea to have an unconditional contract on a piece of land for a project that has already wasted millions of dollars and is about to be terminated?”
Assuming that the polls are correct, the “government in waiting” has already said the unaffordable light rail project will be terminated before Christmas.
So why, five weeks before the election, would someone think it’s a good idea to have an unconditional contract on a piece of land for a project that has already wasted millions of dollars and is about to be terminated?
This behaviour is not new. Michael Cullen, with Helen Clark’s Government months away from losing the 2008 election, agreed to buy back the rail and ferry system for almost $700m. That decision gave the John Key Government a whole new set of headaches.
These are the actions of people desperately clinging to their own agendas.
The word “trust” keeps coming up in this campaign. I suggest that these are not the actions of people who are acting in the best interests of the country.
Rather, this behaviour speaks to the standards that members of this Parliament have set for themselves. And the standards need to be much higher.
Pursuing narrow and controversial policies has taken priority over what most of us would consider the basics. As a result, we’ve seen careless attitudes towards government borrowing and spending on pet projects, while politicians seem uninterested in the real issues affecting the people, such as crime, roading, health and education.
The damage to political standards over the past six years has been immense.
Over that period, the polarising nature of the former Prime Minister, coupled with the aggressive promotion of controversial policies such as co-governance and Three Waters, has contributed to a perception that our Parliament is not operating in our interests. Meanwhile, the Government’s stated objectives on housing, waiting lists or child poverty have languished, unattended and in some cases ignored.
In this election campaign, our Prime Minister tells us Covid vaccines were not compulsory, or he says they will toughen up on gangs, or enhance financial education in schools, but nothing he and his colleagues say is believable because they’re not in it for us. They’re in it for themselves and the agendas they want to pursue, probably under urgency.
One of the things we must see as a result of this election is a return to the standards of behaviour, respect for the process of establishing law, and appropriate prioritisation of matters that we should expect from our Parliament and our politicians. The shenanigans of the past six years must be put aside and replaced by politics of democracy and dignity.
Perhaps then, if our politicians lift their standards, the rest of the country might follow. And if we did, we might just drive ourselves out of the hole we’re in, faster than we thought possible.
This article first appeared in The New Zealand Herald, Saturday 16th September, 2023.