Reconstituting the Constitution

September 2nd, 2010 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

I’m attending the Reconstituting the Constitution conference today and tomorrow. Topics being discussed are:

  • Overseas constitutional reform lessons
  • The republican question
  • The need for a written constitution
  • The future of electoral law
  • Australian constitutional reform
  • Influence of international treaties
  • The trans-tasman relationship
  • The role and governance of sub-national government
  • Protecting future generations

I hope to blog some of the contributions.

UPDATE: The conference is being webcast for those who are interested in these issues – http://www.r2.co.nz/20100902/

Grant Robertson, as host, did the welcome address. He must have read my blog this morning as he remarked how looking around the people gathered in the Legislative Council Chamber, he thought what a fine upper house they would make. Then seeing me at the back, he hastened to add on “except for David Farrar”. I guess Grant prefers one party rule :-)

In a  nice twist the opening speech is not from one of the “good or great”, but a couple of recent Victoria law graduates – Greg who now works for Crown Law and Catherine who is a clerk to Justice Arnold of the Court of Appeal.

Greg made the point that most people probably know more about the US constitution, than the NZ one. He went on to say this is partly because our arrangements do work. He does see the future as NZ having a document which is supreme law, and NZ being a republic.

He also touched on how to get better engagement with these issues. Looking around the room I note there are very very few MPs or media present. If one really wanted to get constitution debate going you need the people who can actually do something about it there and participating.

Catherine touched on how the projected population growth for Maori (21% vs 11% for non Maori) means it is likely treaty issues will become more important in future. She compared our approach to as being like McGyver – we patch it up with number 8 wire and think she’ll be fine mate.

Was a very good idea starting with two young graduates. Any constitutional changes in future will affect them most of all, and it was refreshing hearing from them.

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45 Responses to “Reconstituting the Constitution”

  1. peterwn (3,144 comments) says:

    The biggest problem with trying to sort out a constitution as I see it, is that vested interests all want their ‘interests’ incorporated in a constitution. This happened when Geoffery Palmer put up his Bill of Rights in the late 1980′s and was a major reason it was significantly ‘watered down.’ Canadians had a similar problem.

    For example beneficiary advocates will argue that as a constitutional right benefits should be set at levels so beneficiaries can partake fully in society without regard of any issues of affordability or moral hazard (making a lifestyle choice to be a beneficiary).

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  2. krazykiwi (9,189 comments) says:

    @peterwn – exactly. We need constitution that limits government, defines liberty and promotes civil responsibilities ahead of personal rights. Can’t see it happening anytime this side of a major societal meltdown, and with so many powerful vested interests in play today I’d suggest a constitution is not currently in our kid’s best interest.

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  3. Graeme Edgeler (3,262 comments) says:

    Being streamed here: http://www.r2.co.nz/20100902/

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  4. JeffW (320 comments) says:

    “Craig made the point that most people probably know more about the US constitution, than the NZ one. He went on to say this is partly because our arrangements do work. He does see the future as NZ having a document which is supreme law, and NZ being a republic.”

    Inferring that the US system does not work quite as well as our’s, but we have to move to their system anyway!

    The single greatest thing in a consitution should be to limit the power of government, but I suspect the main outcome if NZ were to try to write a constitution now would be “the rights of individuals”, as in what one can receive from government, each of which causes an expansion of government: the opposite of what we need.

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  5. krazykiwi (9,189 comments) says:

    Catherine touched on how the projected population growth for Maori (21% vs 11% for non Maori) means it is likely treaty issues will become more important in future

    And the those generating 68% of the growth? Do they have any voice? Perhaps it’s time all of NZ recognised ‘treaty issues’ for what they really are: a giant apartheid trough for the Maori elite.

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  6. wikiriwhis business (3,883 comments) says:

    I just found out we come under the patriot act which must have been signed into NZ law in Wellington

    If this is true This will over ride any future constitution under martial law.

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  7. PaulL (5,872 comments) says:

    A written constitution would be a great idea if we could have a good one. However, a bad constitution would be a disaster. It seems to me that the odds would be on a bad constitution – a classic horse designed by a committee (= a camel). And I think we’re better off without one, than with that.

    On Treaty claims being important. Ultimately Treaty claims are a transfer of wealth from one group of citizens to another. As are progressive taxes, I suppose. The question is, at what proportion of the population being entitled to a treaty claim, will it become untenable to make this transfer? And at what point will newer NZers (those whose ancestors emigrated in the last 40-50 years, for example) become unwilling to make this wealth transfer?

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  8. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    What a farce. Keynote speaker Frank Brennan is a communist. So is Heinz Klug. Don’t know the third speaker but he probably is too. I mean, that’s how the left get things done. Set up phony boards, commissions, hearings etc, stack them with their political allies and then pass the resolutions they always intended to, and smokescreen this chicanery with a multitude of waffle about “consultation” and ” a wide cross section of society” when the whole damn outcome is already pre-ordained.

    I have read the list of speakers and it horrifies me that this bunch of committed statists socialists communist progressives and racists are presuming to represent NZ and to author something as critically important as a Constitution. One might as well give an Orangutan a hammer and chisel and ask him to fashion a diamond from the raw stone.

    If one wanted to search out the exact opposites to the men who drafted the American Constitution, one of freedom’s greatest historical documents, one couldn’t do better than to assemble the bunch of arrogant leftist elitists attending this conference. That they are the completely wrong kind of people for the task is amply demonstrated by Grant Robertson’s obvious contempt for the American document.

    No good constitution could ever be drafted by this contemptible and disreputable lot.

    (excluding our kind host from such adjudications of course)

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  9. gazzmaniac (2,317 comments) says:

    The US has a good constitution, but it’s significantly undermined by partisan judges, and is conveniently placed to one side with laws like the Patriot Act. Zimbabwe also has a good constitution that’s not worth the paper it’s written on. It’s not the lack of constitution that’s the problem here and I don’t see it changing anything for better or for worse. It’s the people running the government.

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  10. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    “It’s the people running the government.”

    Actually, its the citizens who tolerate bad government who are really to blame.

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  11. gazzmaniac (2,317 comments) says:

    Red, I’m pretty sure the people in Zimbabwe don’t want to tolerate Mugabe. They are forced to tolerate him.

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  12. Fot (252 comments) says:

    A debate about republicanism chaired by Bolger………..not exactly impartial is it.

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  13. eszett (2,332 comments) says:

    Redbaiter (11,166) Says:
    September 2nd, 2010 at 10:53 am
    What a farce. Keynote speaker Frank Brennan is a communist. So is Heinz Klug. Don’t know the third speaker but he probably is too. I mean, that’s how the left get things done.

    But everyone left of you is a communist, Red. Including the present government.

    And yes, the left get things done. Thanks for admiting that. You rightwingers are just useless at anything. How else could we have secretly ruled the world, the media, the schools, the university, everything.

    Masterbaiter paranoia par excellence. What a farcial post, indeed.

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  14. eszett (2,332 comments) says:

    @fot:
    Who exactly would be imparial? Only someone who doesn’t care either way.
    Hardly someone to chair such a discussion.

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  15. Pete George (22,754 comments) says:

    It would be kinda nice to have our own written constitution but as gazzmaniac says, it’s only as good as the people in government and in the country.

    However we don’t have a pressing need for one, things are operating reasonably well now, and while there is always plenty of government that can be grizzled about I have faith in most NZers to not do or allow anything too crappy. If you ignore the uber pessimists that want everything exactly as they idealise (a bit hard when you have 4m ideas) things aren’t too bad here. Much better to work on improvements rather than running everything down.

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  16. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    “But everyone left of you is a communist, Red.”

    Nice to read such an admission. Given up on bullshit like “Social Democrats, Progressives, Socialists, etc have you? About time. You’re fooling nobody these days.

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  17. Pete George (22,754 comments) says:

    Father Frank Brennan is a committed advocate for human rights, having worked tirelessly for others for over 30 years and has won a number of human rights awards. Father Frank is a Jesuit priest, a Professor of Law at the Australian Catholic University and Visiting Professorial Fellow at the University of New South Wales. He was the founding Director of the Uniya Jesuit Social Justice Centre in Sydney. He has also written extensively on aboriginal land rights and, in 1995, he was awarded an Order of Australia for his services to Indigenous Australians. In 1998, he was named a Living National Treasure, during his involvement in the Wik Debate.

    Strange sort of bio for someone being called a communist. He’s religious, I thought that ‘the right” wanted to side up with the Christians. Maybe he isn’t a proper Christian.

    RB, what is your bio so we can compare your credentials and credibility with Brennan?

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  18. backster (2,074 comments) says:

    REDBAITER is right on. The Socialists set the agenda and suck in well meaning Liberals and we end up with a logjam of rights and liabilities that cost a fortune, impoverish us ,and achieve nothing except greater power to the troughers.

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  19. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    “things are operating reasonably well now”

    NZ is at the worst possible position it has ever been in in its history. Riven by racial disharmony, huge welfare roles, a world leader in crime stats, a broke government and with an economic future that looks worse than bleak, and with a quarter of its population choosing to live somewhere else in the world.

    Operating reasonably well for crooks bludgers and parasites probably, or those internationalists whose objective is to reduce us to such straits as we are in today, but not any real patriotic NZer.

    No time for a Constitution to be drafted that is for sure. Maybe in three of four generations when the socialist syndrome has run its course, and the country has bottomed out and is rebuilding from the ashes.

    Shame really. It was a nice place until the Progressives gained political and social ascendancy.

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  20. gazzmaniac (2,317 comments) says:

    Was New Zealand not in a worse position in the mid 1980s after the Muldoon years?

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  21. Pete George (22,754 comments) says:

    Heinz Klug is Professor of Law at the University of Wisconsin Law School and an Honorary Senior Research Associate in the School of Law at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.

    His current teaching areas include Comparative Constitutional Law, Constitutional Law, Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Property, and Natural Resources Law.

    http://www.law.wisc.edu/profiles/klug@wisc.edu

    Don’t know why they would have someone like that at a constitutional conference. Another bloody law professor like Brennan. Maybe Palin was too busy to come and keynote.

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  22. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    “Was New Zealand not in a worse position in the mid 1980s after the Muldoon years?”

    A comment which pretty much proves how easy it is to manipulate some people, (especially the superficial) and how so many are so easily distracted from what is important to what is unimportant. I guess as long as the Constitution guaranteed homsexual marriage and free cocaine you’d be content right? I mean what else can possibly matter?

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  23. Luc Hansen (4,573 comments) says:

    From PaulL

    Ultimately Treaty claims are a transfer of wealth from one group of citizens to another.

    Perhaps a more accurate statement would be:

    Ultimately treaty claims are a partial reversal of a transfer of wealth from one group of citizens to another

    Just a thought for discussion.

    As regards a constitution, I see many, many difficulties, not least that encapsulated by the most prominent one, the US constitution, not aging well. The lunacy surrounding the so-called right to bear arms is a good example of what seemed the normal and acceptable, necessary, even, state of affairs a couple of centuries ago that is now just a disaster for their society.

    Could we be enlightened enough not to discriminate against minorities? Could we be enlightened enough to build in flexibility without being subject to capricious change by an unscrupulous government? Should Maori have the final right of veto?

    Let me say in closing (got to go and collect toddler from playcentre) that I do not expect any intelligent response from Redbaiter; it’s a bit like watching Glenn Beck – one just doesn’t know whether to laugh, cringe or cry in despair!

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  24. Pete George (22,754 comments) says:

    After reading his name RB was able to astutely ascertain that “Don’t know the third speaker but he probably is (a communist) too.”

    Professor Robert Hazell is Director of the Constitution Unit at UCL.
    He founded the Unit in 1995 as an independent think-tank specialising in constitutional reform.

    Robert’s research interests cover the whole of the constitutional reform agenda. They include devolution in Scotland, Wales and the English regions, freedom of information, parliamentary reform, Lords reform, a British bill of rights, referendums, electoral reform, the Crown and royal prerogative, constitutional watchdogs, and the process of constitutional reform.

    He is currently director of an ESRC funded project evaluating the impact of freedom of information (2007-2009), and an ESRC and government funded project monitoring the latest developments in devolution (2006-
    2008).

    Is reading not one of your strong points RB? It was just below his name, but you didn’t seem to get that either.

    Freedom of information, devolution, he might as well be preaching smaller government as well.

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  25. Banana Llama (1,105 comments) says:

    Why on earth as a free man in a free state would i let any of those three people decide my future?

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  26. gazzmaniac (2,317 comments) says:

    Red – how exactly does that comment “pretty much prove how easy it is to manipulate some people”? It was a question not a statement and you haven’t answered it, instead you decided to take your usual approach and throw your toys when it’s not going your way.
    For the record, I think that if people want to wreck their lives by smoking crack then that’s their business, but they can’t expect anyone else to help them pick up the pieces afterwards. It shouldn’t be free, it takes a lot of money to transport it across the Pacific from Columbia. As for gay marraige, if it doesn’t affect me then it’s not my business, let them get on with it.

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  27. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    Yep, that’s what you think, and that’s exactly why you are dumb enough to think Muldoon’s time was the worst in NZ ‘s history. Just for one thing, how was the crime rate then? Or are all those kind of things, well ignored by a partisan and dysfunctional media, as far removed from your thought processes as everything else that matters?

    “if it doesn’t affect me then it’s not my business”

    Well said, exactly the attitude the socialists nurture. That’s your whole problem actually. Too manipulated to know even if something “effects” you or not. And as such mental density is so prevalent in NZ, its proof that this is a very poor time in our evolution to be even thinking about a Constitution.

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  28. gazzmaniac (2,317 comments) says:

    You still haven’t answered the question, was New Zealand worse off after the Muldoon years than now?
    The brain drain to Australia was worse per capita in the 1980s. Is it right to be able to sell nails but not a hammer on a Sunday? Is it right that landlords were not allowed to set the rent to cover their expenses without the explicit permission of the government? Is it right that it took six weeks to connect a telephone?

    Also, how the hell is what two consenting adults do in the privacy of their own bedroom, or in their community church, anything to do with you?

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  29. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    “Freedom of information, devolution, he might as well be preaching smaller government as well.”

    ..and that’s your problem too PG, ever ready to be sucked in and disseminate propaganda. I’d take anything written by this lot with less than a grain of salt. You go for it enthusiastically. Most rational people learn from their mistakes. Socialists religionists are not able to ascend to this process. You are so mentally bogged down you cannot even discern what “social justice” is truly about.

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  30. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    Gazz please go away with your tired cliches. I have enough stalkers on here already without you and your feeble attempts to establish yourself as some protector of liberty and to recover from your hurt. You’re just another confused Progressive who gives priority to the wrong things and frames his arguments exactly as the socialist manipulators want him to. A sorry navel gazing enabler of socialism.

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  31. thedavincimode (6,528 comments) says:

    So Sheepbaiter, is it just crime statistics that attract you to the extreme socialist dictatorate of RD Muldoon or is there something more sinister afoot?

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  32. gazzmaniac (2,317 comments) says:

    Red – if you don’t want to answer questions, don’t. But don’t expect that anyone will take you seriously if you can’t defend argument when it’s being questioned.

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  33. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    Good. Do not take me seriously. Just go away. You’re a tiresome fool with political concepts that are paper thin. Talk to someone else. And take that other superficial and crosswired fuckwit who (paradoxically) has the utter arrogant and boasting presumption to assume the name of a true genius with you.

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  34. PaulL (5,872 comments) says:

    Luc – for it to be a partial reversal of a prior wealth transfer, the transfer would need to come from the previous beneficiaries, and go to the previous losers. I’m not at all convinced that is the case. Ultimately Treaty Settlements are becoming just another form of welfare, and a particularly inefficient one at that. I’m not sure that there is a good argument that a recently migrated Chinese businessman has an obligation to pay redress for past sins. Nor that a 1/16th Maori, with significant pakeha and asian ancestory, necessarily has a strong entitlement to that redress. Over time this will become the situation for a greater proportion of those impacted, and at some point surely someone will say ‘enough – this no longer makes sense’.

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  35. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    PaulL, the minute you even think about including a totalitarian socialist like Luc Hansen in the debate you’ve lost a piece of your liberty.

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  36. gazzmaniac (2,317 comments) says:

    Bit like talking to you then Red?

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  37. thedavincimode (6,528 comments) says:

    … answer the question ‘baiter …

    It would be easy to say that the only good thing about the Muldoon days was the crime stats, but nooooo. You couldn’t do it could you ‘baiter! Why is that ‘baiter?

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  38. Pete George (22,754 comments) says:

    # Banana Llama (936) Says:
    September 2nd, 2010 at 11:49 am

    Why on earth as a free man in a free state would i let any of those three people decide my future?

    No one has suggested those three people will decide your future. They are speakers at a conference. The organisers obviously decided they had some expertise to contribute, but they aren’t being elected into parliament.

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  39. kowtow (7,584 comments) says:

    It’s not surprising that the usual suspects are out to attack all things American.

    Their constitution has served them well for over 200 years. Can that be said of any of the other great democracies . ( I exclude Great Britain and the English speaking Dominions which are served well by the Brtish democratic tradition)

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  40. Graeme Edgeler (3,262 comments) says:

    It’s not surprising that the usual suspects are out to attack all things American.

    Their constitution has served them well for over 200 years.

    Tell that to the half-a-million plus who died in the US Civil War (less than 150 years ago).

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  41. Banana Llama (1,105 comments) says:

    No one has suggested those three people will decide your future. They are speakers at a conference. The organisers obviously decided they had some expertise to contribute, but they aren’t being elected into parliament.

    Thats great Pete i’m happy for you.

    Re: 10:53

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  42. kowtow (7,584 comments) says:

    G edgeler. What’s your point?

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  43. Pete George (22,754 comments) says:

    It’s not surprising that the usual suspects are out to attack all things American.

    ?? kowtow

    You mean RB attacking the keynote speakers at the conference? One is American and the other lives there.

    And – you really don’t get Graeme’s point?

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  44. Graeme Edgeler (3,262 comments) says:

    What’s your point?

    That the US Constitution did not serve the US as well as you claim for as long as you claim. The failure of the founding fathers to address slavery, which was protected in the constitution, helped cause the deaths of more Americans than all other wars combined.

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  45. kowtow (7,584 comments) says:

    The US civil war was a very complex issue. To this day historians find it hard to pinpoint its causes. To this day those issues are still alive ;central govt over states ‘ rights ie Arizona immigration .

    The US constitution is alive and well as is the United States of America. God bless her and the freedom and liberty it has come to represent in the world.

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