“What If Our Government Tried To Guide Democracy, Rather Than Dictate To It?” And Other Rhetorical Remarks



Winning the election is one thing, doing the governing is another completely. I’ve been impressed by the level of resourcing that has been made available to new Councillors at the DCC, by in house management and Local Government New Zealand. For someone who liked to think they kept an eye on affairs from the outside, it’s taken some adjusting to the sheer scope of Council business and associated responsibilities. Perhaps it’s because there’s a sizable community of newcomers (with one returning), but the free and frank discussions we’ve been able to have as we come to terms with the job bodes well for the quality of korero to come. Come 2016, put your crisis of confidence at ease by knowing there’s a team of people on the otherside whose job it is to bring you up to speed. Stand for local government!

The biggest lesson so far is what you would call The Activist’s Dilemma. If someone had told me sooner, I may have been more sympathetic towards the silence of some who have come before me. If a bylaw (that is, a local rule) is up for review, expressing a public opinion for or against any proposal is judged to give you a greater interest than the general public. This is seen as a conflict of interest, and disqualifies you from being on the panel hearing and reporting on public submissions. This can mean that the people most able to work on an issue could rule themselves out of doing so, to the detriment of the policy making perspective.

The dilemma is this: Can you do more to advance the concerns of your constituents by making a public song and dance for them, or by helping as best you can to get positive policy outcomes? There will no doubt be occasions when the former may be worth the gamble. If making a scene triggers broader public support, it might pay off, but if people and/or the press ignore you, it may well be in vain. If you get the boot from the process, your colleagues may ask the questions you would anyway, but there’s no guarantee. Is the old adage that a politician on the picket line is worth two in parliament still true? The odds will change with each issue you face for the entirety of your tenure as an elected member. At times, people who support you will get frustrated by your lack of encouragement, and perceived lack of courage, in the public arena. Hopefully, though, it means that the decisions you make as a local authority are sound and grounded in evidence, and that’s surely why anyone runs for public office, right?

Another ideal effect of stemming the tide of political pontificating could be a better standard of public debate. If we aren’t able to take our cues from people making, or apeing, such carefully considered sloganeering, we might have the opportunity to look at things a little closer. Mapping local governance models to the Beehive is a blunt way of looking at these things, but I couldn’t help but wonder what might happen if (one day) all MPs stopped commenting on legislation while it was still going through the Select Committee process. Of course, our current government are happy to do this to deflect contentious issues (“This is only a proposal at this stage, and we are open to other alternatives” etc), but that’s another story.

To do this we have to accept the fact that our laws aren’t written by politicians, but by their staff and advisers, based on the direction and advice of their Ministers. The difference between local and central government is that in a party political environment, one group of representatives become the de facto champion of the work of their staff. The rest are there to critique it. I know the Westminster system is set-up to be as confrontational as a Council’s can be collegial, but I found it an interesting intellectual exercise nonetheless. Would the precious media minutes allocated to public debate shed more light than heat if they lacked the easy distraction of big egos? Would people more likely take part in the process if they didn’t feel like it was a fait accompli? What are the possibilities of a democratic discourse when both the public and The Fourth Estate take it more seriously?

With that flurry of rhetorical questions (apologies to any editors in attendance), I bring this proposition to a close. I’m not pretending to have all the answers, because any politician who tells you that they do is lying. From time to time, those of you more used to my righteous political outrage may be surprised to see me fall silent. I hope this goes some way to explaining just why that might be. One thing I will never be be quiet about is an ongoing discussion about how we govern, or are governed, and how we could be doing it better.


  1. @ Arron Hawkins .
    “What If Our Government Tried To Guide Democracy, Rather Than Dictate To It?”

    Well , that’s it’s job so you would wonder that wouldn’t you .

    I used to wonder that too until I donned my cynical hat and put on my glaring bullshit glasses , I can see clearer now .

    Put simply , our beautiful , rich little country with so few of us on it has attracted scum bags with no conscience or remorse , and while the majority of us have enjoyed our tenure on these lands in safety and security , they’ve infested the ‘store house’ and not only consumed all it’s resources but have shit where they ate and now almost everything is polluted and filthy .

    ” To do this we have to accept the fact that our laws aren’t written by politicians, but by their staff and advisers, … ”

    By advisers do you mean lobbyists ? Those Judas scum who promote greed and defilement despite watching their society and their more immediate communities crumble under the corruption they sell us out for ?

    Our politicians are in there boots and all of course . ” Perks of the job Mate . ”

    We , as a people , are adrift and Leaderless so you can only imagine the deals being struck . It wakes me up at 4.oo am .

    It’s my belief that there’s been a well planned effort to keep people from gathering and talking .
    For example, I believe the road traffic ‘safety campaign’ has two aspects to it . One , to justify autocratic intrusion into peoples lives.
    Two , to slow down and halt common discourse through gatherings and parties . Particularly in the country side where you can no longer go down to the pubs and talk with your fellow farmer without some cop stopping you on your way home . ( Don’t you dare ! All you self righteous Safety Zealots ! Don’t you dare come over all Ooo Ahh what about safety ? on me . This government has NO interest in your safety so that’s clearly not the reason . )
    Drug testing for bennies and slaves is also a way for the autocrats to reach into and manipulate your lives . If you can’t have a beer and a smoke with your mates on the weekend then what do you do ? You sit at home , isolated and alone watching tele then you go to bed for another weeks uninterrupted slavery .

    It’s infinitely better to have non stop drunken car crashes and stoned decapitations in the slave place then be under such control . We’ve gone from being brave , proud Kiwis living rough and tumble lives which produced great women and men who became world leaders to a sniveling , servile underclass kept busy kissing the feet of our oppressors .

    The banks , the insurers , the real estate industry , the communications companies , the abysmal TV content quality , the shambles our News Media is in , the seemingly unstoppable jonky … all those things are as a direct result of YOUR powerlessness .
    Here’s the thing about power by the way . You willingly give it away . No one can take it from you . In fact , the harder the oppressor tries to take ones power , the more resistance they will experience . Removing societal power has to be done by stealth , over a long period of time and in the most polite way imaginable if it’s to be truly successful .

    A Leader ? Is there a Leader out there ? We need a Leader ? Who will be our Leader ? If aliens landed and demanded ” Take us to your leader ! ” , we’d be fucked . ” Zap ! Frizzle ! ” Gone . New Dominant Earth Species . Done .

    I’d like Prince Harry to be our Leader . He’s down this way right now so lets ask him ? I watched him on tha Tee Vee and he certainly gives me the impression that he’s human . Not like jonky . Dead eye jonky . Mr I’mcomfortable Shrug . Mr Hawaii Five-O million – O x’s ten-O . Mr Oilmeup and call me rich Bitch !
    I mean ? How did we end up with that ? It’s like we woke up from a nice dream into a nightmare .

    • Apart from your odd effort to connect drunk driving with civil liberties, I pretty much agree with you… We are lacking real leadership.

    • Countryboy, I agree with you on almost everything – although perhaps the drunk driving could be downplayed. Although I understand what you say that it’s not about our safety, but more about revenue gathering. Yes, it is time we all woke up from this perverse dream that our country is run by people who care; that we are an egalitarian society where no one goes hungry and everyone feels safe.

      Well HELLO, that is no longer the case and I cringe when I think about what sort of country my tweens will approach in adulthood! It is time we all got off our arses, woke up to reality and make some noise about what’s going on here. It’s happening around the world, not just in little ole NZ, we just feel it more having less people to take taxes from. Those rich mates of Johnkey all know how to hide their wealth. It is time to close the gap, stop corporate greed taking all the wealth and hiding it. Everyone needs to feel there are opportunities and hope out there for them. We don’t all want to be rich, I’d rather feel good about being an exceptionally kind helpful person to others in need! Let’s start spreading the money around a bit more evenly and get people off benefits! Make it worth their while to work and don’t cut their benefit if they earn more than $80 a week – it’s truly pitiful and a disincentive for those at the bottom of the heap.

  2. It is my impression, and I dare to think there is validity in this, that the skill of a good political representative, be this at local body or national government level, is to advocate well for a cause, then get voted, then draw up bills, amendments or bylaws, and after that stand back and let the public debate it and submit on it.

    That is just basic professionalism, and the basic requirement to at least appear to be unbiased or “objective”.

    We all know that every voted for representative or councilor has his or her personal views and preferences, that is what politics is all about. You stand for a cause, for certain changes or for a status quo, or whatever, get voted by the voting public, and when you become the official representative, you become an “office holder”, kind of. You are then responsible for more than just the cause you were voted in for.

    On national level, in Parliament, you as an electorate MP are also responsible for all constituents and their concerns in your electorate, not just the ones that voted for you or your party. As a list MP you have loyalty to your party, but also have to be accepting of wider issues being brought to you, to consider on, and then make decisions on.

    We all know that select committees are a bit of a farce, as the majority always get their way, and as the government will ignore submissions it does not like. That raises questions about fairness, I would say, but nobody has challenged that in a court. The courts cannot really challenge the legislative process, as long as the procedures are followed. The courts can make determinations on the end result, and how the law or bylaw will have to be interpreted. They can also send signals that certain laws may be in breach of natural justice or other statutes or bylaws.

    Then it is for the Parliament or at local level the council to review it and correct things.

    I would say, that what Aaron is so concerned about is not really that much of an issue. You can advocate and lobby until you are voted in, and as you are party of council then, then you can draw up bylaws and propose changes, and vote on these. You do of course have to follow process and always be prepared to reconsider, to be open minded, to other opinions, when you hear and report on submissions.

    But that mostly applies to the submission process, and not so much for what you have been voted for, and what you can cast your vote for or against in council.

    Smart politicians and councilors let the advocacy continue by lobby groups outside, to whom they keep their respectful distance and independence, although they may well agree with them.

    With time comes experience, and with that Aaron will one day look back at his “apprenticeship” years, I suppose.

    Best of luck!

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