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Monday, November 07, 2005

Constitutional void

Parliament being sworn in - live on the radio. That's one of the things I approve of in our democracy.

One after another our political representatives have sworn allegience to Queen Elizabeth II "under law". This isn't the only peculiar thing about these events.

The Speaker, Wilson, was appointed by the jack-up coalition-that-isn't using their majority to lever her into the office in a trade-off with the deputy position from what I heard. She somewhat proudly reminded us that we are one of only three countries not to have a formal unitary written constitution. That's the result of expediency, inattention and complacency bordering on the inept by members of parliament and the people who elect them. That is a New Zealand paradigm in need of a solid thrashing.

She then told us what a great tradition of select committees and hearing submissions and participatory democracy we have. Yes - for stuff that isn't important or the government doesn't know what it's doing, then they go through that process - properly. But if the government wants to do something bad then it just cuts all that short and rams it through. So, really, when the time comes to actually use those procedures and when they are most in need they are suspended by the government. So that sort of talk about how the parliamentary system works is just a load of shit, isn't it. I recall when they told me my select committee submission on a the confiscation bill could not be heard because they were in a hurry. Mr Fairbrother, the mug who lost Labour the safe Napier seat, was in charge of that but was no doubt "just following orders." I just hope they will only have to live to regret that decision on my terms.

The other odd thing is that I am listening to the swearing in of the MPs and yet the Ministers which form the government supposedly from the ranks of the MPs have already been sworn in - a few weeks ago. According to the Constitution Act 1986 (which is an ultra-minimal, ultra-vague statute that doesn't even mention the existence of the Supreme Court!) any candidate in the election can be sworn in as a minister and that will continue for some time (30 or 60 days?) until they can be confirmed as winning their seats -or not. So, as I read it, the PM could appoint people who may have come last on the list, or a crack-pot who might not even had scored a single vote and they can be sworn in as a minister. We do legally have a full government of ministers and not one of them has yet been confimed/sworn as an MP (as it was until a few hours ago) or even a set of ministers who were candidates but were unsuccessful. What a great constitution-that-isn't. The government is far more important than the House of Representatives in our system because we are still operating a colonial-type constitution that has heavily centralised administrative and political power. The fact of their proper election to the House is just a formality as far as governance is concerned. It must be the other way around: MPs are sworn in and a vote taken on the government and then, after that the Ministers are sworn in. (Any contributions to the Constitutional Convention.)

Finally, a minute silence for Rod Donald. Thought about without him we might not have MMP. How he changed the entire format and rules of the game although he couldn't quite get to the top table to achieve the big policy goals that would have allowed. Any constitutional change in this country is quite some accomplishment, the move to a proportional representation democracy was a great feat.

2 Comments:

At 7/11/05 10:51 pm, Anonymous Ryan said...

Tim,

Two great setback backs for our parliamentary democracy this week. The passing of a gentleman politician and the reappointment of an incompetent speaker.

 
At 8/11/05 1:00 pm, Blogger t selwyn said...

Rod was just too nice a guy to ratchet things out of Labour using the usual techniques. He played his hands in the open and stuck to his principles - all disasterous as far as leverage goes in forming a government unfortunately for him and the Greens. His objection to the tie rule that males must obey in the chamber is a good indicator of him: a mild-mannered gentleman who wanted to overturn the pomposity and veneer that those who are not gentlemen wish to hide behind.

I note that the Maori Party MPs inserted their allegience to the Treaty of Waitangi into their swearing in oath/affirmation - and good on them. They are quite correct when they ask: how can they swear allegience to the Crown and not to the instrument that instituted the Crown? How can every public sector job in the country demand an understanding from their employees of the Treaty and a commitment by every organisation in the public sector to uphold the principles of the Treaty when the MPs themselves don't have to acknowledge it formally? Is this not hypocrisy? Is this just another hollow tokenism, fending off the true nature of our constitution? How would swearing on the Treaty actually change anything?

 

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