By Dr Muriel Newman
Earlier this year the Economist newspaper’s Intelligence Unit (EIU) released their 2018 Democracy Index of nations. They ranked New Zealand the world’s fourth most democratic nation.
This position is now under threat – but more on that later.
The EIU found that while just over 4 percent of the world’s population lived in 20 “full democracies”, forty-three percent – including the US, Indonesia, and Mexico – live in 55 “flawed democracies”, seventeen percent live in 39 “hybrid regimes”, and almost 36 percent live in 53 “authoritarian regimes”, which includes China, Russia, and North Korea.
Norway was rated as the most democratic country, followed by Iceland, then Sweden, with Denmark ranking fifth, Canada and Ireland sixth, Finland eighth, Australia ninth, and Switzerland tenth.
The United Kingdom ranked 14th and the US was in 25th place, largely as a result of a perceived lack of public trust in the country’s institutions. This is due to the highly partisan nature of Washington politics whereby political parties are increasingly seen as being focused on blocking one another’s agenda, rather than on enacting policies in the public interest.
The EIU found an increase in the number of people around the world willing to engage in lawful demonstrations reflected a failure of mainstream political parties to address the concerns of a growing proportion of their populations. As a result, support for anti-establishment parties, on both the left and right of the political spectrum, is on the rise.
Of the Democracy Index’s five categories – electoral process,function of government, political participation, political culture, and civil liberties – only political participation improved globally. The EIU believes this shows that while voters around the world are disillusioned with formal political institutions, rather than being disengaged from democracy, they have been spurred into action.
The results also found that civil liberties, which form the bedrock of democratic values, is continuing to be eroded particularly through increasing restrictions on free speech.
New Zealand’s overall score of 9.26 out of 10 was made up of 10 for electoral process, 9.29 for the functioning of government, 8.89 for political participation, 8.13 for political culture, and 10 for civil liberties.
While these results indicate that, as far as the EIU is concerned, our democracy is in relatively good shape, Dr Simon Chapple, the director of the Institute for Governance and Public Policy at Victoria University, believes “serious storm clouds” are on the horizon. In a policy brief he identified a number of concerns including political lobbying, voter turnout, and the influence of China.
He also highlighted race-based representation as a problematic area, noting that the MMP electoral system had led to lower levels of public scrutiny for list MPs, “and a developing notion that at least some of these MPs informally represent an ethnic community rather than New Zealanders as a whole. The move to MMP has coincided with the growth of identity politics, which has a tendency to formalise and reify the fracture lines of identity groups as the basis for political action, rather than to break down group barriers, emphasise a common humanity and seek shared ground.”
Indeed, the growth in race based representation in local and central government – through appointment rather than election – is creating increasing levels of public concern. The on-going drive by iwi leaders to institutionalise 50:50 co-governance is a growing threat to our democracy.
What’s worse, is that their demands for power are fraudulent. They claim the Treaty of Waitangi established a 50:50 partnership between Maori and the Crown iwi so they should have half the say in official decision-making in New Zealand. They are ignoring the reality that the Treaty was not a partnership, but an agreement that endorsed the Queen as our sovereign, protected property rights, and established the rule of law. However, truth is no obstacle to the supporters of the Maori sovereignty movement.
The fact is that Treaty partnership rights do not exist in law. They are a political construct invented by the iwi elite to pressure politicians and persuade the population at large, that the Treaty confers special sovereign rights that justify tribal groups being elevated to a position of power above everyone else.
In light of the inexorable growth of race-based governance in New Zealand, let’s use the EIU criteria to see what effect it is having on our democracy.
EIU Criteria: “Electoral process and pluralism, including whether elections are free and fair.”
Undoubtedly race-based representation has eroded the “fairness” of our democracy when the Maori seats, established as a temporary measure in the 1860s to give Maori men the vote, are responsible for creating significant over-representation of Maori in Parliament. A fair electoral process would not embed racial privilege in our democracy but would treat all New Zealanders as equals, regardless of race, gender, religion, or any other defining feature.
EIU Criteria: “Function of government, with indicators such as whether freely elected representatives determine government policy, whether the legislature is the supreme political body, and whether there is an effective system of checks and balances.”
An important matter to be considered when assessing the functioning of government is whether it is freely elected representatives who determine government policy.
The reality is that wherever iwi co-governance bodies have been established, it is a racial minority with vested interests that are directing policy outcomes for their own enrichment. The Labour Government in particular has been very outspoken about not only ensuring that iwi play a pro-active role in running government agencies that deal with Maori, but that they also have a greater say in the Government’s legislative programme. Whether that includes the right to veto laws or regulations that do not advantage Maori, remains to be seen. There’s also the question over whether governments have effective systems of checks and balances in place. When iwi co-governance is adopted iwi representatives have no public accountability at all.
By the EIU’s standard, governance without public scrutiny and accountability is not democracy, its authoritarian rule as in China, Russia, and North Korea.
Furthermore, by setting up governance bodies with 50 percent membership based on race, the important principle of proportionality is being ignored. This breaches section 19(1) of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 – freedom from discrimination based on race.
The former Attorney General pointed this out when a private member’s bill to make Maori seats on councils compulsory was going through Parliament. Since the bill would have increased Maori representation to a level greater than their proportion in the population as a whole, the Attorney General said the bill was discriminatory and in breach of the Bill of Rights:“In a representative democracy, it is important to maintain approximately the same level of representation for everyone. The proposed formula would make the number of council members for Maori wards disproportionately higher than the number of council members for general wards in comparison to their respective populations. The Bill has a discriminatory impact on non-Maori by diluting their democratic participation in local authority elections.”
Essentially this means the co-governance ‘power sharing’ model favoured by iwi is having a discriminatory impact on non-Maori, by significantly diluting their democratic representation in decision-making. Since these co-governance bodies are in breach of the Bill of Rights, there is a legal case that they are illegitimate and should be disbanded.
EIU Criteria: “Political participation, with indicators such as voter turn-out, percentage of women in parliament, and willingness to take part in lawful demonstrations.”
The EIU criteria for political participation includes a “willingness to take part in lawful demonstrations”. Regrettably and shamefully, the displays of aggression and intimidation by tribal groups over the years has made many New Zealanders fearful of challenging divisive race-based initiatives.
This fear of standing up to iwi is especially prevalent amongst decision-makers, who worry that a denial of iwi demands will lead to accusations of “racism”. Few elected representatives have the strength of character to face such criticisms, preferring instead the easier and safer option of agreement and appeasement.
EIU Criteria: “Democratic political culture, including whether there’s enough societal consensus and cohesion for a stable, functioning democracy.”
The criteria to establish whether a county’s political culture supports democracy questions whether there is sufficient societal consensus and cohesion for a stable, functioning democracy. In those areas where iwi groups have been appointed into governance roles, the answer is largely no.
Racial preference is dividing our society along racial lines, and the divide is likely to widen as iwi increase their demands for preferential treatment.
EIU Criteria: “Civil liberties, with indicators such as whether electronic and print media are free, independence of the judiciary, and religious tolerance.”
Civil liberties, includes the freedom of the press, yet where once the media in New Zealand reported freely about Maori issues – both positive and negative stories – now they don’t, largely due to the shocking tactics of the Human Rights Commission to label media publishing negative reports as ‘racist’. Many in the press have now become cheerleaders for the Maori sovereignty movement.
Furthermore in an extremely disturbing trend, radical Maori sovereignty supporters are now calling anyone objecting to race-based rule and promoting equality as ‘white supremacists’ pushing ‘racial hatred’. They are clearly attempting to pave the way for the government to introduce hate speech laws, which would severely undermine free speech and democracy in New Zealand.
This week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator, communications consultant Fiona Mackenzie, outlines how co-governance is enabling tribal groups in Auckland to gain control of the Hauraki Gulf – a massive coastal area covering 1.2 million hectares that encompasses Auckland, the Hauraki Plains and the Coromandel Peninsula, and includes the Ports of Auckland, shipping routes, marinas, fisheries, marine farms, and other commercial and recreational facilities.
Fiona explains: “Increasingly, local bodies and successive governments have been transferring responsibilities for control of resources that we all use and cherish to unelected, unaccountable representatives of tribal groups.
The Hauraki Gulf is a prime example of where it’s happening. It is a treasure to all but has been managed under a statutory but rather dysfunctional co-governing body (the Hauraki Gulf Forum) since 2000. The Forum is comprised of government departmental members, elected Council representatives and iwi appointees. Witnesses have reported bullying and inflammatory comments promoting tribal control of the Gulf.”
Fiona explains that the Forum has been trying to come up with a spatial plan since 2013. As a result, a ‘Stakeholder Working Group’ of iwi and other interested parties took the project over coming up with 181 recommendations for the Gulf. “The recommendations support tribal elite having controlling rights in aquaculture, recreational and commercial fishing, harbour and catchment management plans.
Governing committees could prohibit recreational and commercial fishing in ‘their’ zone for any or all fish species based on ‘cultural values’ – with no need for scientific evidence. So the Plan could result in effective tribal control of the entire Hauraki Gulf and associated lands.”
So there we have it – control of the Hauraki Gulf is being taken by iwi groups for their own self-interest, right under the noses of the public. This erosion of the democratic process has only been possible through the appointment of large numbers of iwi representatives with a vested interest in the process. Surely that should have ruled them out of the decision-making process from the start.
Worse, as Fiona also points out, these iwi groups have also lodged claims under the Marine and Coastal Area Act for title to the coastline and the Hauraki Gulf itself, which is another reason why their involvement in the project is tainted with conflicts of interest and is illegitimate.
Whichever way you look at it, race-based representation is an anathema to representative democracy. Whenever government power is shared with private bodies, democracy is compromised. If the problem was limited to one or two instances, it would not be such a grave concern. But this threat to our democracy is widespread and growing and if it continues, it will lead New Zealand down a path towards becoming an authoritarian nation.