GUEST BLOG: Bryan Bruce – Citizens shall be seen but not heard.


Anyone who has attended a Parliamentary Select Committee hearing in recent years will have sensed there is something rotten in the state of our democracy.

It’s the odour of a system orginally designed to allow citizens to be listened to before a Bill is passed, decaying into a ritual where citizens are seen but not heard – and indeed, this week, have even struggled to be seen.

The machiavellian behavior of National, Labour and NZ First MPs surrounding the signing the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) is a prime example.

The process went as follows:

Minister David Parker signed the deal in Chile in March of last year.

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Nothing in the wording of the deal, we were told ,could be changed.

It went to a Select Committee stacked with largely National and Labour MPs who were absolutely determined the CPTPP would be passed,as is , into law.

It was a rigged set of hearings where nothing any citizen could say – however learned they may be (and I am thinking particularly of Professor Jane Kelsey here) – could affect the outcome.

And so our law- makers let us down. By contriving NOT to listen to the citizenery and draw on wise and experts opinions, a Treaty was pushed through that is legally and morally flawed.

That’s not Democracy, it’s Shamocracy.

More recently we have seen National members of the Finance and Expenditure committee stand outside the meeting room so a quorum could not be called and a day of meetings was lost and greatly inconveniencing the citizens who had turned up to be heard that day.

And just this week the Labour MPs on the Justice Select Committee, inquiring into foreign interference in the 2017 election and 2016 local elections ,voted to block China expert Professor Anne-Marie Brady from making her submission on the grounds that her request to be heard was late.

No matter that in the time the committee took to argue the toss about whether Prof. Brady’s submission could be heard or not they could have axctually listened her expert opinion.

I recently interviewed author Max Rashbrooke about his new book GOVERNMENT FOR THE PUBLIC GOOD.
During our conversation we agreed the interface between government and its citizens was not working as it should. (I will put the interview up on New Zealand Public Television this evening)

There’s a reason parliament is called The House of Representatives . It’s because the people we elect to it are there to represent us.

They cannot do that if they refuse to genuinely listen to us when we turn up to talk with them.


Bryan Bruce is one of NZs most respected documentary makers and public intellectuals who has tirelessly exposed NZs neoliberal economic settings as the main cause for social issues.


  1. +1000 in particular “That’s not Democracy, it’s Shamocracy.”

    Also spying on people who do protest and submit on committees, is also eroding democracy. Why bother to engage, when the system doesn’t listen to what you have to say, but spy’s on you later.

    Including some really disgusting scenarios with activists in relationships that they later find out were paid spies… and the people are often just ordinary people, hardly hard core activists!

    The politicians on the committees are themselves often highly questionable and for what ever reason the most questionable politicians seem to be the ones to be on the committees or even chairing them, aka Mark Mitchell / TPPA committee and Raymond Huo / foreign interference in elections.

    Sending Judith Collins as our NZ representative on the anti tax havens committees/post Panama papers fall out, in the EU… hilarious.

    Ignoring feedback on the Auckland councils is their number one priority from Supercity to unitary plan…. might explain why nobody votes on council elections.

    Soon a lot of people will not bother to submit on public feedbacks and committees or vote, with these types slap-in-your-face decisions.

  2. Well put, Bryan. You present a disturbing view how our elected representatives view us plebes with contempt and disdain. I’m not sure what the solution is, as New Zealander’s well known complacency just allows the rotten system to creak and grind on. The worst of ut is that National and Labour mps are elected by us, the New Zealand voter. So whatever shambolic behaviour goes on is ultimately our responsibility.

  3. I suspect it has always been so…though more pronounced as we have grown…..the voices of the entrepreneurs have always held sway and everyone else are also rans

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