Technically we could be seen as a dictatorship

September 15th, 2010 at 8:38 pm by David Farrar

Some commentators have been declaring that the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill has turned NZ into a dictatorship and Gerry Brownlee is our new Supreme Overlord.

Of course this is not true. We remain a democratic country, with parliamentary sovereignty. Parliament can repeal the said act, and indeed remove the Government – which is a minority Government.

But there is an argument to be made, that we could be seen as under the rule of a dictator – if you know your classics.

In modern history, a dictator is seen as an evil bad ruler – Hitler, Stalin, Kim, Hussein etc. They have absolute rule for life. We definitely do not have that sort of dictatorship.

But a long time ago, a dictator was seen in positive lights – in fact some are seen as democratic heroes. Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix changed the office from a noble one to a tyrannical one when he was made dictator for an indefinite period in 82 BC. Prior to that, it was well regarded.

Normally Rome was ruled by the Magistrates (mainly the two Consuls) and the Senate. But in times of emergency, the Consuls could appoint a sole ruler, to act as dictator for a period of no more than six months. Their job was to deal with the threat or emergency, and then they give up the office.

Now in terms of what has happened in NZ, there are some parallels. There has been an emergency which is unable to be dealt with under current arrangements. So a temporary granting of power has been given to deal with the situation. And like in Roman times, the exercise of the power is not generally subject to challenge (the dictator could be be prosecuted for their actions). Another parallel is the dictator had power to change any law as he saw fit, just as can happen in NZ now.

The most popular dictator was Cincinnatus. He was made dictator in 458 and 439 BC. The first time saw him working on his farm when he was told he had been appointed Dictator of Rome. He crossed the Tiber, drafted every man of fighting age, and in 16 days defeated the Aequi. He then resigned his dictatorship and returned to his farm.

So my hope is that our temporary “dictators” will use their power as wisely as Cincinnatus, and surrender it when it is no longer needed!

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54 Responses to “Technically we could be seen as a dictatorship”

  1. jaba (2,146 comments) says:

    just because you are not paranoid, doesn’t mean they are not out to get ya

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  2. Sam (502 comments) says:

    You will never get me takinga up arms to support a war lead by Brownlee ;)

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  3. burt (8,312 comments) says:

    I think Daveosaurus @ the standard makes a very valid comment on this.

    To any Tory who still thinks this is a good idea… here’s a hypothetical situation for you.

    It’s September 2011. After losing his majority due to ACT’s complete implosion and the Māori Party’s withdrawal of support, John Key had called an early election, with the result that there is now a Labour/Māori/Green government with a narrow majority. Trevor Mallard has just been made Minister for Reconstruction, and has taken over the extraordinary powers of this Act, which he will hold for another six months or so. Do you still think it was a good idea to give him such extraordinary powers?

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  4. Minnie (98 comments) says:

    “He then resigned his dictatorship and returned to his farm.”

    Except in this case it’s likely got gaping fissures, and has moved West a couple of metres.

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  5. jims_whare (403 comments) says:

    You need to think of the consequences DPF………..what if Brownlee decides to nationalise all bakeries and pie shops in NZ and have all deliveries directed to Earthquake HQ? Huh? What about the pies and sausie rolls for the rest of us??
    No compensation required to be paid……………no substitution; lettuce leaves for mince and cheese pies what an injustice!

    I might lead a Hikoi to the nearest pie shop in protest………(Free pies anyone?)

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  6. Will de Cleene (485 comments) says:

    Sulla proscribed the wealthy. The Nats are bailing them out.

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  7. krazykiwi (9,186 comments) says:

    But a long time ago, a dictator was seen in positive lights – in fact some dictators are seen as democratic heroes

    DPF endorsing an classic, apparently more noble form of dictatorship.

    I’m lost for words.

    If the Greens were in office (shudder) and this same bill was rushed through there’d be a torrent of condemnatory posts.

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  8. ben (2,384 comments) says:

    Let’s just hope nobody decides to torch the Reichstag. Then it’s all on.

    More seriously, look at what’s happening here, folks. An over sized, out of control bureaucracy comes up against an event large enough to embarrass its masters. The response by government is to unanimously vote itself vastly more power. And National wanted this abomination for five years. It took Labour – LABOUR – to talk them down to two. When Phil Goff is the voice of reason then you have problems.

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  9. ben (2,384 comments) says:

    Burt: the comment is spot on. Even if it happens to be your party that’s just grabbed gobs of power, that’s no reason to celebrate, because sooner or later it won’t be your party in control. And a government big enough to give you whatever you want…

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  10. Jeremy Harris (319 comments) says:

    Excuse me DPF, but if you are going to talk about history in relation to this Act why aren’t you talking about certain members from the ex French royalty..?

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  11. xy (189 comments) says:

    ‘There has been an emergency which is unable to be dealt with under current arrangements.’

    This is the bit I really don’t see – what, specifically, is unable to be dealt with under current arrangements? Building permits were already being handled in retrospect by the council without requiring legislation to be suspended.

    It’s fucking terrifying to be honest, because (from down here in Christchurch) we don’t know what problem it’s actually intended to solve. Reconstruction is going great, why is Wellington passing catchall laws without actual specific real-world problems to be solved?

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  12. Stuart Mackey (337 comments) says:

    You should not be so selective in your history David. Human nature being what it is, the Roman system could and did lead to exploitation..which of course happened, not long after Gaius Julius Caesar crossed a the Rubicon.

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  13. somewhatthoughtful (467 comments) says:

    seriously dpf, how fast do you have to spin before you get dizzy and pass out? This really is beyond pathetic.

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  14. Chicken Little (741 comments) says:

    Will – Sulla proscribed some of the rich, specifically those who opposed him and a few who were just too well off not to kill.

    Cincinnatus = Brownlee = crap from DPF.

    They way this National government has been operating since WE voted them into power I’d have to think the day is not far off from addressing our leader as Keyus Caesar Augustus.

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  15. Banana Llama (1,043 comments) says:

    Dose he get to cut someones hands off and nail them to the parliaments door as well?

    So exciting!

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  16. ephemera (557 comments) says:

    What a strange way to sell a bill; attempting to convince us that Gerry Brownlee is in fact following ancient democratic tradition.

    It reads like someones partially digested holiday-reading regurgitated onto a computer screen.

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  17. flipper (4,199 comments) says:

    Put aside all the political and pshrink bull shit and contemplate the real reason for the legislation.
    It is obvious that anticipated “compliance” delays/costs and capricious objection/legal action are major problems.
    If they are now a problem in Canterbury why not the rest of the country ? What this shows is a need to scrap probably 60 % of all red tape BS.

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  18. Murray (8,847 comments) says:

    I’ve lived in a dictatorship. It was WAAAAY better than this.

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  19. theodoresteel (91 comments) says:

    Yeah, the entire argument you put is kind of pathetic. Less worrying than blatant wrongs under this Act are any “recommendations” that are made in a grey area, where the need to help the recovery may also coincidentally help the rich, or a specific National-friendly industry. Laws are about keeping those in power in check so they can’t abuse thier role, not giving them power then hoping they are one of the good dictators, rather than the bad ones of modern times

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  20. dad4justice (8,309 comments) says:

    We in Canterbury can’t wait for GST to go up. Thanks Key you ####!!!!!!!!!!!

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  21. krazykiwi (9,186 comments) says:

    “Dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme liberty.”

    Plato

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  22. Murray (8,847 comments) says:

    Well D4J swiftjafa would say you deserve it just like the quake its justice for calling him a jafa.

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  23. Murray (8,847 comments) says:

    Krazy couldn’t help noticing that dictatorships were around a long time before Plato lived where “democracy” was the natural by product of extensive slavery.

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  24. dad4justice (8,309 comments) says:

    Name me one politician with integrity? No thought not.

    Gerry – Name one politician without ongoing weight problems.

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  25. Craig Ranapia (1,915 comments) says:

    Well, I prefer to take Abraham Lincoln as my pole star — who suspended habeas corpus, but still realised he had to stand for re-election in 1864 (an election that he and many in own party thought he could well lose, BTW) Civil War or not.

    Now, do I believe for a moment Brownlee is in the Beehive basement with a can of petrol as we speak? No — but you don’t have to be some paranoid pinko to see the colossal potential for abuse here, and think we should restrain overweening state power without good cause, not hope and pray nobody will abuse it.

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  26. dad4justice (8,309 comments) says:

    “Brownlee is in the Beehive basement with a can of petrol”

    Petrol sniffing can be added to his list of addictions.

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  27. krazykiwi (9,186 comments) says:

    @Murray – True. It’s all rather cyclic isn’t it? I rather regard our ‘current’ version of democracy as a sort of civil dictatorship punctuated by inconvenient, periodic elections.

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  28. Murray (8,847 comments) says:

    I think democracy is a great idea. Hope someone can get it to work one day.

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  29. burt (8,312 comments) says:

    I hope that with these new powers that National are not as self serving as Labour were with the conventional powers. Perhaps when Gerry excuses himself from a court case using retrospective legislation we will have truely descended as low as Labour did.

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  30. krazykiwi (9,186 comments) says:

    @Murray – I think a working democracy would need to include the state being constitutionally limited to less than 25% of GDP, thus limiting this problem:

    “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until a majority of voters discover that they can vote themselves largess out of the public treasury.” — attribution unclear

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  31. erentz (6 comments) says:

    It is this part of the argument they’ve given that is frankly a load of bullsh*t: “There has been an emergency which is unable to be dealt with under current arrangements. So a temporary granting of power has been given to deal with the situation.”

    1. Our systems have been doing a fantastic job so far, just a shining example to the world in emergency prepardness to be honest.

    2. As they demonstrated last night it is quite easy to put through emergency legislation very very quickly on the occasions that something that can’t be “dealt with under current arrangements” does arise.

    Absolutely unecessary to grant such dictatorship powers in this case, its simply capitalising on the CHC disaster to grab power. The only good reason to have this power is to do things on the quiet that would attract too much negative attention if debated in urgency in Parliament. Is that what people really want Gerry to be doing? It sickens me that any leader of our country would consider such a thing.

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  32. MikeE (555 comments) says:

    so wait… are you suggesting that every man of fighting age is gonna get drafted…

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  33. Murray (8,847 comments) says:

    You can’t vote yourself rich because taking money off people who have earned it and giving it to people who haven’t creates nothing but apathy and removes the drive for success. The lazy, small minded and failures of society will always vote for this however.

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  34. Murray (8,847 comments) says:

    MikeE the manpower act has yet to be repealled. In fact it goes beyond a simple draft, our government can legally put anyone it likes into any job it wants.

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  35. MikeE (555 comments) says:

    Its scary when I find myself agreeing with the standard more than kiwiblog..

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  36. Ben Wilson (523 comments) says:

    The day NZ becomes like Ancient Fucking Rome is the day I pack up the household gods, carry my family on my back and get the fuck out of Dodge.

    Even the Romans only elected dictators when faced with very, very serious threats, like foreign invasion. Unfortunately for them that was a very regular occurrence. And the position was abused sorely, Julius Caesar drove the Republic to civil war wearing the title, and was only ousted by being murdered. In fact it had such a bad name that Augustus wisely chose not to wear it himself, preferring to simply be a dictator without the name, when he demolished the Republic and established the Empire. He worked hard to be seen as a “democratic hero” as you put it, whilst systematically murdering every political opponent he had.

    Why you would choose this example to shine a golden light on what happened on Tuesday, I can’t fathom. To even think of Ancient Rome in this context fills me with fear.

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  37. Monty (980 comments) says:

    For gods sake D4J – gst is going up – but tax rates are coming down for everyone. Get with it.

    In terms of Dictator – NZ evicted the worst dictator NZ ever had. Certainly the people revolted and sent her off to the UN. and good bloody riddence.

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  38. krazykiwi (9,186 comments) says:

    @Monty – She still pines after us: World should emulate NZ – Helen Clark

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  39. Tom Gould (141 comments) says:

    Beware the Ides of March, Gerry. While the emergency legislation is the correct response, the government cannot legislate away the damage. Although the government has done well in the short term at milking this crisis thus far, the grind will wear them down, and I feel they will pay a heavy political price in the end.

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  40. MT_Tinman (3,257 comments) says:

    Technically because of party politics, the whip situation and a completely irrelevant head of state NZ is always ruled by a dictatorship.

    Nothing has changed.

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  41. GPT1 (2,122 comments) says:

    Without having researched it I would have thought that any actions undertaken under the Act would be delegated powers and thus subject to Judicial Review as well.

    On a wider note is this not just another example of trying to find the right balance between efficiency and democracy? In an emergency the balance has tipped away a little from democracy to efficiency. Something to be carefully watched and sparingly used but I do not think that the world is going to end over it. Of particular comfort is the relatively early sunset clause.

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  42. burt (8,312 comments) says:

    MT_Tinman

    That’s exactly the point we need to consider. If we are worried about this “new” power then the reality is we didn’t understand the “old” powers. Fastest law makers in the west…. We have always had a parliament that was virtually unconstrained and the party leader of the major party running the show has always been able to dictate how the “majority” of parliament votes.

    Wake up NZ, this is just a slightly more formal variant of what we have been living with all along under our half Westminster system.

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  43. Ben Wilson (523 comments) says:

    Actually, Tinman, a lot has changed. Murder was illegal for all New Zealanders as recently as Monday.

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  44. krazykiwi (9,186 comments) says:

    @burt – Yes, as I noted above “I rather regard our ‘current’ version of democracy as a sort of civil dictatorship punctuated by inconvenient, periodic elections”.

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  45. Craig Ranapia (1,915 comments) says:

    Come back, Lord Acton, all is forgiven…

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  46. Psycho Milt (2,419 comments) says:

    DPF is right – we all know that democracy isn’t threatened by the govt giving itself unlimited power, it’s threatened by the govt attempting to limit how much people can spend on election advertising.

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  47. toad (3,674 comments) says:

    @GPT1 10:09 am

    Without having researched it I would have thought that any actions undertaken under the Act would be delegated powers and thus subject to Judicial Review as well.

    Sorry, wrong.

    6 Governor-General may make Orders in Council for purpose of Act
    (1) The Governor-General may from time to time, by Order in Council made on the recommendation of the relevant Minister, make any provision reasonably necessary or expedient for the purpose of this Act.
    (2) In making a recommendation under subsection (1), the relevant Minister must—
    (a) take into account the purpose of this Act; and
    (b) consult the recovery commission (if any) if practicable; and
    (c) have regard to the recommendations of the recovery commission (if any).
    (3) The recommendation of the relevant Minister may not be challenged, reviewed, quashed, or called into question in any court.

    7 Further provisions about Orders in Council
    (1) While it remains in force, every Order in Council made under section 6 has the force of law as if it were enacted as a provision of this Act.
    (2) An Order in Council made under section 6 must provide that it comes into force on a date specified in the Order in Council and that date may be before or on or after the date on which it is made, but not earlier than 4 September 2010.
    (3) An Order in Council made under section 6 expires on a date appointed in the Order in Council, being a date not later than 1 April 2012, and different dates may be appointed for the expiry of different provisions.
    (4) An Order in Council made under section 6 may be retrospective only to the extent provided for in subsection (2).
    (5) No Order in Council made under section 6 may be held invalid because—
    (a) it is, or authorises any act or omission that is, repugnant to or inconsistent with any other Act; or
    (b) it confers any discretion on, or allows any matter to be determined or approved by, any person.
    (6) Subsection (5) is subject to section 6(6).

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  48. Bevan (3,924 comments) says:

    How can D4J not have demerits from this thread?

    1. “Name me one politician with integrity? No thought not.

    Gerry – Name one politician without ongoing weight problems.”

    2. Petrol sniffing can be added to his list of addictions.

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  49. wikiriwhis business (4,116 comments) says:

    “Gerry – Name one politician without ongoing weight problems.”

    The biggest one on your screen full time, John Key.

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  50. JayMal (28 comments) says:

    Lets face it. This is just plain bad law. The most shocking thing is no media seems to have noticed (sure a bland piece in the herald but thats it). They’re all buying the spin (or is it the other way round).

    Fact… government has just usurped the whisper thin tendrils of democracy that existed in New Zealand.
    Fact… government has now set a precedent on how to deal with ‘emergency situations’.
    Fact… this will not be the last time such an act is taken… each time for a smaller emergency… where will it end

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  51. GPT1 (2,122 comments) says:

    Thanks Toad.

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  52. flipper (4,199 comments) says:

    Sorry , but much of what has been said above is, without apology, a load of crap.

    Grow up! Better still discard academia and conspiracy crap and work in the real world.

    Then turn your attention to things that really matter like the screwball over regulation in NZ, the nutty ETS and Helengrad’s UN (dont we love those food for oil deals) attempt to grab millions of dollars to “give to the poor”. Yeah, right.

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  53. Stuart Mackey (337 comments) says:

    burt (4,540) Says:
    September 16th, 2010 at 10:10 am

    That’s exactly the point we need to consider. If we are worried about this “new” power then the reality is we didn’t understand the “old” powers. Fastest law makers in the west…. We have always had a parliament that was virtually unconstrained and the party leader of the major party running the show has always been able to dictate how the “majority” of parliament votes.

    Wake up NZ, this is just a slightly more formal variant of what we have been living with all along under our half Westminster system.
    ************************************

    And when the same politicians who cry Republic pass this disgrace of a law does not one wonder how then can anyone trust them to set up a republic? Republicanism when it issues forth from politicians, I strongly suspect, is not altruistic it is a power grab, because the only person who can stop it is the GG, and there must be a worry that one day they may get one with an unnoticed spine and an ounce of principle.
    I have long maintained that there needs to be a set of basic laws to prevent such abuse of parliamentary sovereignty, especially as the PM selects the only possible brake on abuse of power in this nation, namely the GG.
    Such things as protection from arbitrary arrest, freedom of speech and so forth, must be permanently beyond the power of politicians to interfere with, and the standing of all laws subject to such a basic law. Indeed its worthy of note that Micheal Cullen has long been opposed to such measures, and one can now see why.

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