A guest post by Simeon Brown, MP for Pakuranga:
In the long run, a Government will be judged on what it achieves for the future of our country. Contrary to what the Labour Party might believe, a successful government is not composed only of the ingredients of an ‘ambitious’ agenda and rapturous applause. Our new Government is a coalition of contradiction with persistent indulgence in inconsistent principles. This will ultimately be the defining trait of its short tenure.
Virtue signalling has become the norm of this new government, however the virtues it signals are consistently contradictory. Whether it be promoting Smoke Free NZ 2025 while the Greens seek to relax cannabis laws, New Zealand First now heralding the triumphs of free trade in the CPTPP after opposing its near identical predecessor for nearly a decade, or Labour calling for ‘open government’ whilst refusing to release the coalitions foundation document, it is fairly impossible to know what contradiction will be pursued next.
Most recently, the Government has flouted its disregard for any sense of ideological or logical consistency by promoting contradictory pieces of legislation with regard to human rights. In just a few short weeks, the Government has argued that courts should be able given the power to declare legislation as inconsistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, while also progressing legislation that will destroy freedom of speech through the so-called ‘waka-jumping’ Bill. The Waka Jumping legislation, Winston Peters’ desperate attempt at self-preservation, puts party politics over public representation. It gives much more power to the internal structures of a party, rather than letting a MP act according to the views of those they represent. This piece of legislation is a dangerous change to New Zealand’s constitutional framework and curtails the rights of both Members of Parliament and their constituents. Just because Winston Peters has a perennial problem with his MP’s breaking rank, that does not justify the curbing of MP’s rights and their duty to respond to the voice of those in their electorates. But when you’re King-Maker and appointer-in-chief-of-Government, the views of constituents and the public at large are disregardable.
This legislation is being pursued at the same time as legislation is being brought forward that undermines the fundamental principal of Parliamentary Sovereignty by allowing the court to declare legislation inconsistent with the Bill of Rights, something previously reserved solely for the Attorney-General. To be fair, we should expect little else than such disjointed and contradictory legislation when the Government is made up of parties with such radically different views of the world, such as NZ First and the Green Party. These Parties virtually encompass the poles of our political spectrum, so there should be little surprise that in the need for these two to collaborate, the Government appears bi-polar.
Parliamentary Sovereignty is one of the greatest hallmarks of Westminster democracy. The right of Parliament, which is the embodiment of the will of the people, to be uninhibited by the beliefs and views of a few unelected individuals, be they monarchs, judges, or international bodies, is paramount. The New Zealand Bill of Rights is an important piece of legislation that reflects our country’s belief in and respect for the rights of all people, but that is not to say that the perspective or agenda of a handful of appointed individuals should dictate what is or is not acceptable law. The irony is that Peters’ Waka Jumping legislation would most likely be declared inconsistent with the Bill of Rights by a court empowered with the power to do so. How can the Government support both?
Without greater cohesion within the Government, this Parliamentary term will be defined by a mismatch of conflicting laws that come from opposite ends of the political spectrum. Yet, with the Greens and New Zealand First cooking up policy with little supervision from a Labour Party prone to empty rhetoric, half-baked ideas are probably all that’s on the menu; unfortunately, contradiction looks like it will be here for a while. A famous saying goes, ‘The signature of mediocrity is not an unwillingness to change. The signature of mediocrity is inconsistency.’ The mediocrity of this Government continues to plumb new depths, as a wilful disregard for inconsistency continues to define its entire agenda, as ambitious as it supposedly may be.