Gerry Brownlee said it was disappointing a “democratic process can potentially be subverted by this sort of activity”.
That’s Brownlee talking about the Greens fiddling with submissions to ECan. It is deeply ironic that the Minister, or anyone in the National party, can try and take the moral high ground on democratic issues relating to ECan, the regional council which they sacked in 2010, promising new elections in 2013. Then in 2012, using the excuse of the earthquakes, they extended the commissioners remit through till 2016. If they are re-elected, there is no guarantee that they will return the mandate to the people who pay their rates to ECan. The only party “subverting” democratic processes at ECan are National.
When he was campaigning in Christchurch last week, John Key said that “elections are over-rated”. That was an incredibly insulting thing for him to say – let alone for him to say it in Christchurch, a city where many in the population feel totally disempowered by the dictatorship at ECan, the sidelining of the City Council, and the frustrating struggle with EQC, a part of the government that was theoretically set up to help all New Zealanders. From my conversations in Ilam and elsewhere, there are many people who will be voting to remove Key and Brownlee – then they won’t have to be bothered with the nuisance of elections any more.
In the Greatest Australian Movie of All Time (which I also referenced yesterday), the Kerrigan’s take their case to the highest court in the land. Inspired by those battling, fictional Aussies in The Castle, Labour has done the same. We think that what the National Government has done by removing our right to vote in regional council elections is wrong, but as it has been introduced via legislation, there is no court we can take it to in this country. So we’re taking it to the UN instead.
Two important UN treaties, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, confirm that it is a human right that citizens have a say on the running of their country and take part in the conduct of public affairs.
I’ve been working with Conservation spokesperson Ruth Dyson and Justice spokesperson Andrew Little to write a letter to the relevant committee at the United Nations. Here is the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, of which New Zealand is a signatory. In the past, we have taken pride in our democracy, and our fight to preserve democracy around the world. But when our government has removed the rights of it’s own citizens, then we don’t have a leg to stand on when we try lecture other nations, like Fiji, about the need for democracy.
When your own government trashes the democratic rights of its people, there aren’t many places to go to seek redress, but the Human Rights committee of the UN is a place we can go to get the issue investigated, hence the letter written by my colleague and Labour’s Justice spokesperson Andrew Little.
Democracy is sometimes inconvenient, especially to those in power, but that’s the point. It is the basis of ensuring the interests of the powerful don’t ride roughshod over the powerless.
Today marks four years of the unelected commissioners running ECan. It is a black mark on the National Government, and New Zealand. We will be marking the occasion at the Cairn in Cathedral Square at 12:30 today, with Ruth Dyson and Russel Norman speaking about the importance of letting people manage their own resources and having the right to vote (more details here).
Labour will return the right of Canterbury people to elect their regional councillors immediately, but in the meantime it will help to have an independent external body judge whether our international rights have been breached.
Charlie Gates’ article from last week’s Press is now up online here. It is not a complete survey of public art in town, but there are some notable ommissions. One that I am personally very concerned about is the Cairn, which was set up in the Square in protest against the scrapping of ECan last year. One the one hand, water seems like a triffling issue at this point in time; on the other, urban Christchurch has never been more acutely aware of how precious water can be, and how we have taken it for granted. The council had been trying to move the Cairn, citing reasons such as the Buskers Festival and the Rugby World Cup. Now neither of those are at all valid; however I would not be surprised if when we are allowed back into the Square, the Cairn has mysteriously disappeared.
There is plenty of evidence, photographic and video, to show that the Cairn survived the quake. This video clearly shows that it’s still there. I will try and find some photos as well.
The Cairn may have been erected in protest to a a different water issue and a different concern about democracy, but now it’s values of community, water conservation and democracy take on a new, more important meaning.
Tonight, parliament are discussing the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery bill. No-one is saying that we shouldn’t be trying to make sure this process as swift as possible, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need checks and balances. There is a very good legal take on it over at Public Address; essentially, instead of amending individual laws, this bill says that is too difficult, so we’ll just write legislation that allows for the over-riding of EVERY existing law, except the Bill of Rights. It doesn’t even pertain specifically to Canterbury, so someone could use the bill to over-ride laws in Auckland, or Wairarapa.
It hasn’t been a good year for democracy fans in Christchurch – first the scrapping of ECan, then this. And now that the election has not been delayed, there will be very major issues with the campaign. I am running for community board, and we had 9 meet the candidate meetings / mayoral forums set up, from last week till the close of polls. All have been cancelled. So while Bob Parker tells us he’s too busy to campaign, whilst spending hours a day fronting for the cameras for whatever reason, the public have had almost all chance of local democratic interaction stripped from them. I would like to think that people are engaged with the political process, I really would; but sub-40% turnouts would suggest that it was a struggle at the best of times, and it certainly isn’t the best of times down here right now.
The rush to legislate, to demolish, to rebuild, seems a pathological obsession. Rushing leads to mistakes; mistakes with buildings can cost millions, mistakes with urban design could cost our city in ways that are more than just financial. We don’t need to have Christchurch rebuilt before the local body elections are over; a good suggestion might be to take a break with the rebuild until that date, just to let things settle a bit. Then the incoming council – whoever they may be – can work together for the next term to make this city great. Until then, let’s keep the focus on keeping people safe, well housed, and stabilising and minimising the damage to structures, so that proper assessments and timely decisions can be made.