Who could disagree with Bob Jones’s assessment of corruption as a corrosive cancer that devours civil society? But is there anyone who genuinely believes that that we are free from this affliction – in spite of our regularly achieving international ratings as virtually corruption-free?
While we lack entrenched official corruption and bribery, what we can arguably call soft corruption is undoubtedly a factor in this country – and of our political scene in particular. Moreover, the claim that the increasingly popular option of not casting a vote for any political party as such is effectively a vote against democracy couldn’t be more wrong. On the contrary, it is an important weapon in the fight against political corruption.
Without doubt, more and more disillusioned voters are opting out of voting in local body and parliamentary elections. And as a deliberate strategy, our apolitical, non-aligned 100 Days movement recommends just this. Leaving aside the question of the merits of individual candidates, New Zealanders are fed up with broken promises, with being ignored and condescended to once the usual pre-election, wooing-the-electorate period is over. They are taking on board the fact that to claim back this country, we need to deprive political party machines of what they most want to consolidate their hold on power – the party vote.
It was indeed a learning experience when hearing from two well-respected friends, on two quite separate occasions, of the quite disgraceful treatment they encountered from the National Party central politburo, when, strongly backed by their local party members, they stood for election as candidates. Nor do New Zealanders have any more reason to believe that the Labour Party’s selection process shows any more integrity. Party politics is now a nasty business.
Neither of these two, highly intelligent individuals could be regarded as yes-men. Believing strongly in personal freedom, and worried about the directions in which the country was being so recently highhandedly steered by the strongly socialist and feminist Helen Clark, with her One World government agenda, they stood in different parts of the country to be counted in the battle against the creeping State.
What was essentially shocking was the treatment meted out to them behind-the-scenes, the virtual bullying, the incessant instructions issued, the orders to write nothing that did not pass the scrutiny of National’s central party headquarters. Worse, they were forbidden to speak on topics except according to the scripts sent to them, word for word – incidentally, too often poorly written, equivocating, and downright embarrassing to deliver.
Neither of them, highly respected in their own communities, would entertain standing for the National Party again. Moreover, the manipulation, the actual hostility, virtual bullying and ongoing machinations they encountered behind this party’s public front might well be a revelation to the public at large.
Another South Island National Party candidate, chosen two elections ago by local people to represent them when they resisted Wellington head office’s choice of a candidate they didn’t respect, subsequently had all pre-election assistance withheld – including even a list of e-mail addresses of National Party members in his electorate who might be prepared to help with his campaign.
National, a party founded on the principles of freedom, of the individual standing up to the State, has lost its way. Under its obligingly “relaxed”, smarm-and-charm leader, it now operates as a political oligarchy where the decisions of one man, supported by a very small clique, are inflicted on the party at large. As Minister Nick Smith admitted, when told to jump he asks how high. And we have all around us the evidence that when the same so very relaxed but highly determined John Key makes up his mind, everyone else does as they are told.
John Key rules, OK? The anti-smacking legislation? 87% of the country was against it. Too bad. Asset sales? The Coastal and Marine Area, the Emissions Trading Scheme…all forced upon the public, although National Party MPs know well, that, as a Dompost correspondent points out, buying and selling carbon credits has no effect at all on the climate – and New Zealanders have not been told where the apparently $1 billion in Emission Trading Scheme levies collected through increased taxation, fuel and power charges has gone. Moreover, as another correspondent points out, the selling of our assets for short term gain only- (and we should reflect upon the meaning of the word, assets) will disadvantage this country long-term.
There is no denying that New Zealanders at large, including our parents and grandparents, built and paid for assets which we use every day. Virtually robbing New Zealanders of these may well in the short-term reduce debt and help a government spending unwisely.
But our poorly-performing governments are now probably the biggest problem New Zealanders at large have to contend with. The present National Government, for example, has lavished many hundreds of millions of dollars on iwi compensation claims, some demonstrably spurious, even fraudulent – and, inexcusably, insufficiently investigated by Parliament. The former iwi lawyer, now Minister of Treaty Negotations, Chris Finlayson, is regarded as ignoring and disadvantaging majority New Zealanders, markedly lacking impartiality in his decision-making concerning iwi claims. At the same time, we have emergency situations in the field of health care, with our cash-strapped hospitals today severely constrained in trying to provide essential services for all New Zealanders…and no longer able to do so.
It is an indisputable fact, that once assets are sold, very probably as usual largely offshore, to corporate or wealthy buyers, they are lost to New Zealanders as a whole. For example, how many ostensibly New Zealand-owned companies are today not owned by New Zealanders at all? New Zealand King Salmon, for example, is Malaysian-owned. So is Opus International Consultants Ltd, contracted by both central and local government.
Paid for by our taxes and our rates, its profits largely leave the country. However both Opus and the NZTA which outsources its contracts, but can second Opus staff members for temporary policy positions, are under fire for poor decision-making, including for an ongoing failure to prioritise measures which would undoubtedly reduce the toll on our roads – e.g. giving priority to median barriers to prevent head-on collisions. Instead, money is being frittered on poorly-planned road layouts, and on an increasing number of wordy hoardings not only distracting to motorists, but in effect detracting from the environment. The prioritising of a now planned undertaking to remove all roadside trees, shelter-belts, etc. along state highways the length of New Zealand – without holding any consultation at all with New Zealanders at large – is inexcusably arrogant.
We can contrast this destructive policy with decision-making overseas, as in England and elsewhere, where the experience of driving through beautiful landscapes enhanced by tree-lined roads is regarded as contributing to a national asset. In this country, however, the New Zealand public at large has not been consulted with regard to the present environmentally destructive planning to change the face of our rural environment. Moreover, it flies in the face of government’s former appeal to New Zealanders to plant trees alongside our highways to assist in beautify the countryside, and enhance the experience of tourists.
The claim that New Zealanders are becoming servants rather than owners of their own assets, and even the ownership of their own countryside, is not far-fetched. How many New Zealanders know, for example, that while the OIO (Overseas Investment Office) is required to consider the supposed benefits to New Zealand as a consequence of requests for foreign ownership of New Zealand land, it is largely toothless in its powers? Inexcusably, the OIO has no mandate to consider any detrimental effects on New Zealanders by any such sales. Why not?
The income assets formerly owned by all New Zealanders will generate will now go only to buyers welcoming for personal profit the privatisation of what this country’s citizens as a whole should still own. What we are essentially faced with is a continuation of a highly flawed ideology, with Finance Minister Bill English insisting that these sales will be a success, “despite cutting the estimated proceeds by hundreds of millions of dollars” and, at the same time, speciously claiming that “as well as being good value for taxpayers’ money they will achieve widespread New Zealand ownership.”
Weasel words: they will do nothing of the sort. On the contrary, what will be lost is widespread New Zealand ownership. They will be owned in future only by those buying the shares, managed so that priority will be o maximise the returns to investors – which, we have already seen, is the downside of privatisation. Already we are very familiar with the cost to us all in terms of corner-cutting and reduced service to the public. How many New Zealanders needing today to speak to an actual person in so many of our now privatised companies are compelled to jump through the hoops of diminished service; time-wasting, digitised voices; forced to listen to utterly irrelevant messages; to press a sequence of numbers which issue directions to press another sequence of numbers – all in the interests of returning greater profits to shareholders of such companies – while sacrificing the public good?
Asset sales are in essence the thinking of near bankruptcy – selling something profitable for short term gain while knowing that in the years ahead the government coffers will be much emptier because of this.
Nevertheless, to reject the results of the recent asset sales referendum has been no problem to a party leader who himself usurped the long-established rights of its members nationwide to rank List candidates in order of perceived merit, to make sure he got those he personally wanted into Parliament. What does that say about the state of democracy in a country where our successive governments blithely ignore each of five referenda in turn – referenda supported by troubled New Zealanders wanting a genuine say in decision-making – referenda which have passed a high hurdle showing a genuine level of public support? Worse, as has been pointed out, John Key and other top-down rulers not only ignore referenda: they announce to the public at large that that latter are wasting their time voting because they themselves fully intend to ignore the public’s wishes.
This is not probity in politics. Furthermore, as a former well-qualified candidate points out: “Any shenanigans involving the gifting of a seat to a candidate from another party is utterly undermining of democracy and a slap in the face to the voting public. It is the party system that corrupts democracy by giving party ‘leaders’ the power to determine who goes into Parliament. As you rightly point out, the only way forward is the utter denial of the party vote, and, I would argue, an insistence on the diminishing role of the party vote on legislation. We are over-legislated as it is, and the need to get a mandate from MPs across a broad spectrum may not be such a bad idea.”
We have moved far from the days of men of integrity such as former National Party leader and Prime Minister “Kiwi” Keith Holyoake, who, when first elected to Parliament, stood up in his maiden speech to represent his constituents, opposing his own party’s stance in doing so. Today he would be expected to do as he was told. Whether or not Holyoake would have capitulated to the party machine is another matter. But how heartening it would be to see honest MPs still standing up to a leader – when they disagreed with his/her stance. More than a few of today’s National Party have MPs been very unhappy with some of legislation inflicted upon the public. Not one of them has publicly said so. Labour’s closed ranks are no different.
What of the role of the media in relation to this central issue of the ongoing attack on our democracy? Of particular interest is that, separating the wheat from the chaff, more informed insights into what is happening in this country now tend on the whole to be coming from independent individuals, commenting in their own blogs, journal entries, letters to the print media , and even on talkback, than we are getting from the mainstream media.
There are exceptions: Leighton Smith from NewstalkZB can be relied upon to go straight to the heart of issues with a healthy disrespect for the official take on the day’s events. A very few other commentators largely measure up. But by and large the day’s highly politicised, regular columnists apparently simply copycat one another, or talk to among themselves. Too often, viewing the comments of official commentators and editorialists can induce a perception of a kind of media incestuousness.
While too many of our prominent columnists regard themselves and their companions in print as having their fingers on the pulse of the issues of the day, in reality they are according themselves a level of respect far greater than that with which the public regards them. Not only are they palpably out of touch with public opinion at large, but they alienate a large part of their thinking audience by varying degrees degree of smugness, bias, sheer ignorance, or intellectual laziness.
With the democratic process now corrupted, a similar deterioration in integrity can undoubtedly be found throughout other of our institutions where individuals act not by scrupulously investigating and evaluating the facts of issues, but according to their own agenda. Even organisations in theory devoted to the public good such as the police force, the various government ministries – e.g. the highly compromised education bureaucracy – and any affiliation in particular of what might be regarded as intellectuals – including from among the legal and judicial fraternities – no longer automatically command public respect. Wherever ambitious, egoistical, high-ranked individuals can be found with a determined agenda to advance, an ideology to promote, or a competitive urge for greater self-advantage and recognition, the possibility and reality of a soft corruption exists. It by no means excludes a closing of ranks, and, not uncommonly a denigrating of those asking for accountability.
Recent protests by thousands in Hong Kong pressing China to permit full democracy contrast with New Zealanders’ slow awareness of what has been the very real corruption of our own democratic processes. However, not only in the Arab world, but in countries throughout the West, pro-democracy movements are now well under way. Our own 100 Days – Claiming Back New Zealand initiative highlighting what has gone wrong and how we can control our politicians has now been taken up in Australia under the banner of Give Us Back Our Country – in a book co-written by Professor David Flint and Jai Martinkovits which also pays tribute to our prior 100 Days initiative.
Neither of the two major parties in this country which dominate the political scene will be reformed from within. We would be extremely naive not to recognise that, dominated by tough, ambitious leaders, they can be charged with primarily operating in the party’s interests – rather than the interests of the country. We are very familiar with the deal-making which, with its damaging economic and social consequences, has considerably cost us all.
It is party politics above all which corrupts the democratic process with unelected MPs having power over decision-making, and with parties claiming the necessity for trade-offs to “excuse” routinely reneging on their pre-elections promises – as with National’s dishonourable abandoning of its pledge to abolish the undemocratic and divisive Maori-only seats.
We have long seen our members of parliament contriving for themselves special perks and privileges – and worldwide, the tide is turning on these issues. In the US, for example, members of the Tea Party now demand accountability from their own Republican Party for its perceived failure to act according to its principles. In Britain, Nigel Farage’s UKIP is successfully challenging the Tory Party for too readily surrendering British independence in the face of the autocratic, politically correct demands emanating from unelected EU powerbrokers committed to an ideology of European domination, with its totalitarian overtones.
If, as challenger Farage points out, what is needed in Britain “is a reconfiguration of British politics”; the same applies in this country. And the only practical chance of achieving this is by rejecting governments which pass legislation without the consent of New Zealanders.
This necessitates rejecting the call of our political parties to give them what they most want to hold on to power: refusing to give parties a party vote. Only by insisting that any would-be politicians stand before their peers to be subjected to electoral scrutiny and to be personally held responsible for honouring a pledge to represent their electorates – rather than to obey the edicts of a party leader – will we have any prospect of genuine reform.
Only this way forward will deliver to New Zealanders what Switzerland, the most successful democracy in the world achieved – the right to hold parliamentarians to a 100 Days period after any legislation has passed, to ensure that the people of this county have the right to determine whether or not it is in their best interests, and if necessary, to enable a far more reasonable proportion of New Zealanders to call for the majority’s wishes to be respected.
In the face of MPs expressed determination to ensure New Zealanders do not obtain this fundamental right, what are our chances of succeeding?
Realistically, excellent, given that nothing has more power than an idea whose time is right – and provided that individuals themselves understand the importance of each helping to spread the knowledge of our 100 Days movement right around the country for family, friends,and colleagues to support- www.100days.co.nz . In other Western countries, too, those rejecting the same kind of top-down government impositions we are also enduring have made considerable progress towards the same outcome.
All is takes are individuals, each of us – the most important units of society… and the reminder:
“New ideas pass through three periods:
It can’t be done.
It probably can be done, but it’s not worth doing.
I knew it was a good idea all along!” Arthur C. Clarke.