Convenient Fictions

By   /   April 9, 2019  /   17 Comments

TDB recommends Voyager - Unlimited internet @home as fast as you can get

THE APPALLING CONDUCT of the Waikato DHB raises broader questions about the robustness of New Zealand’s liberal democracy. Most particularly, it challenges the whole notion that the administrators of New Zealand society remain accountable to the people they administrate

THE APPALLING CONDUCT of the Waikato DHB raises broader questions about the robustness of New Zealand’s liberal democracy. Most particularly, it challenges the whole notion that the administrators of New Zealand society remain accountable to the people they administrate. The DHB’s treatment of Dave Macpherson, Jane Stevens and their family; its consistent refusal to accept its responsibility for the avoidable death of their son and brother, Nicky, poses a further question. Do our political leaders still cleave to the Jeffersonian principle that government derives its just powers “from the consent of the governed”? Or do those who now inhabit the upper echelons of the New Zealand state consider themselves beyond the reach of democratic sanction?

Because it’s not only Dave Macpherson and his family who have been on the receiving end of a state apparatus that seems completely unconstrained. Consider the treatment of investigative journalist, Nicky Hager, and the editor of The Daily Blog itself, Martyn Bradbury, at the hands of the New Zealand Police. Recall the efforts of the New Zealand Defence Force to destroy the reputation of New Zealand’s leading war correspondent, Jon Stephenson. The extreme lengths to which the NZDF was prepared to go to undermine Stephenson’s credibility; and the hundreds-of-thousands of taxpayers’ dollars expended in the process; beggars belief.

The situation would appear nowhere near so grim if there was the slightest sign that the election of a progressive coalition government had led to the rapid correction of these abuses. To date, however, there is no sign that anyone in the new regime is seized with an urgent desire to put things right. Has the new Minister of Health instituted a full inquiry into the extraordinary decision-making of the Waikato DHB? Has he been there for Dave and Jane? Is there the slightest evidence that David Clark is committed to making his health administrators accountable to the people they are being paid to serve? Not so far.

It’s the same story with the supposedly independent inquiry into the NZDF’s “Operation Burnham”. What was supposed to be an open and transparent inquiry into allegations of officially undisclosed civilian casualties, has become an exercise in keeping the public at bay. The excuse of “national security” has been accepted by former prime minister, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, and former Solicitor-General, Sir Terrance Arnold, to the point where the possibility of the NZDF being held to public account – let alone charged with breaches of military and civilian law – has diminished to near zero.

The legal and political assumptions on display at the Operation Burnham inquiry bear closer scrutiny. Palmer’s and Arnold’s acceptance of the proposition that national security concerns over-ride the right of New Zealand citizens, in whose name the NZDF supposedly acts, to judge for themselves both the objectives, execution and consequences of military operations, implies the existence of secret set of state protocols from which even the most basic democratic principles have been rigorously excluded. The disturbing inference to be drawn from the rulings of Palmer and Arnold is that National Security and Democracy have very few – if any – areas of overlap.

As above, so below. If those on the lower rungs of the state apparatus are confident that the principles of democracy and accountability are regarded by their masters as convenient fictions, then they are hardly likely to pay them much mind themselves. If the preservation of the secrets of the state’s most daunting institutions is accorded an over-riding priority, then hiding their own failures from close public scrutiny is unlikely to strike them as objectionable. And, if they see the Police and the NZDF engaged in the ruthless pursuit of troublemakers, then why shouldn’t they screw over the likes of Dave Macpherson and Jane Stevens?

The repudiation of democratic accountability at the highest levels of the New Zealand state cannot help but contribute to the dangerous derangement of the moral compasses of its civil servants. Pressures from actors outside the state apparatus: business leaders; public relations firms, lobbyists, bloggers and press gallery journalists; are less and less likely to be resisted. Indeed, it is probable that the distinctions between public and private interests will blur and fade to the point where the only factor worthy of consideration is whether or not the persons or groups seeking the services of the state apparatus are powerful, or powerless.

Dave Macpherson’s treatment by the Waikato DHB is instructive in this regard. Determined to get justice for his son, and for the children of so many other New Zealanders let down by this country’s woeful mental health system, Dave stood for – and won – a seat on the Waikato DHB. Democracy in action, you might think. Unfortunately not. Dave is explicitly excluded from all discussions relating to the death of his son, on the grounds that he has a clear conflict of interest. Not perceived to have any kind of conflict of interest are the persons who are currently pursuing every legal means of overturning the Coroner’s verdict on the death of Nicky Stevens.

So inured has the DHB Board become to its unelected staff calling the shots, that they see nothing unusual or wrong about this state of affairs. Neither does the Minister of Health. Nor the Labour-NZ First-Green Coalition. What’s more, until the governed get up on their hind legs and remind their government that every power it wields, it wields only because they will it; and that they and their servants are accountable to the people – and only to the people; then the slow but steady diminution of citizens’ democratic rights will continue until they become, in reality, the convenient fictions which politicians and administrators have, for the past thirty years, been working so assiduously to make them.

 

***
Want to support this work? Donate today
***
Follow us on Twitter & Facebook
***

17 Comments

  1. Ngungukai says:

    Government Departments have an obligation to be honest and truthful with it’s citizens however over the past 40-50 years we have experienced the complete opposite ?

    The Erebus Crash Enquiry ?

    The Winebox Enquiry ?

    Most end up being a white wash defending the State and the parties involved, no wonder most New Zealanders have lost confidence in the Government and Government Departments who are supposed to be looking after the interests of the average New Zealander ?

    • CLEANGREEN says:

      Yes agreed. – Well said Chris.

      Where is the kinder, caring, Government now where this happens?

      To quote Chris Trotter= “Has the new Minister of Health instituted a full inquiry into the extraordinary decision-making of the Waikato DHB?

      Has he been there for Dave and Jane?

      Is there the slightest evidence that David Clark is committed to making his health administrators accountable to the people they are being paid to serve?

      Not so far.”

      So this is our result of a new Government now?

      Jacinda needs to clean her caucus house up and rid the neo-liberals I would say.

      • graemeholt says:

        Jacinda needs to clean herself up. She inspired those who believed her sermons on how the previous Government had neglected the social problems so badly. It is her that has chosen the ministers that were going to repair the terrible damage caused by National. Chris Trotter I am guessing would have preferred not to feel the need to write this article but is doing his bit to hold this Coalition to account. Labours Coalition Government is finding that the endless list of social reforms it promised is harder to action than the cheap talk it used at the last election. Mental health was way up on that list with no visible support pending. Im sure when they come up with a plan they will need three years to implement it..

  2. Marc says:

    “Do our political leaders still cleave to the Jeffersonian principle that government derives its just powers “from the consent of the governed”? Or do those who now inhabit the upper echelons of the New Zealand state consider themselves beyond the reach of democratic sanction?”

    Comrade Trotter – look at the State Sector Act again, that will explain a lot of what we see and hear, and suffer.

    I can tell you that some associates and I have had their own various run ins with ‘the authorities’ over many years, that is bureaucracy and so forth.

    Why does the state have access to Crown Law, the most powerful legal agency in this country, in my humble view, able to recruit and commission the best legal experts, often used AGAINST the people, who often enough have become victims of the state and its various institutions.

    What Dave and his family have suffered is at the more serious and extreme end of the spectrum, some suffered even worse.

    Yet when any part of the state, that includes the DHBs, is found to have failed somewhere, and is attempted to be held to account, they run to their various legal experts and advisors, they have their high calibre insurers, and they will ensure that no stone will be left unturned, to take measures to protect themselves, their interests and reputations.

    Look at the many sad stories of ACC insured, who were denied their compo for bizarre assessments saying the person suffered from preexisting conditions. Look at the many stories where WINZ clients got shafted for years, and never got compensated. Look at wrong assessments having been made, wrong decisions, people not even being advised about their entitlements.

    Look at how in Canterbury and elsewhere the state agencies employed private investigators to spy on victims of the earthquake, to spy on activists caring for the environment, to spy on others, who were just on the wrong side of the political spectrum.

    In some ways we do not live in a true democracy, we live in a technocratic and bureaucratic dictatorship, and given the way the law stands, every government that gets voted in, no matter whether wanting to bring improvements or not, it sees their hands are tied legally.

    The list can go on. And that is why there is an ever growing number of people who no longer bother to vote, who have no more faith in this system, and some are prepared to become violent, at some stage.

    I do not want to touch the incident in Christchurch and do not want to include such terror in dissent, but people with more sanity and even belief in good in humans and democratic ideals, they are becoming estranged from society as it is, they no longer trust and support this state of affairs.

    One day there may be a big ‘bang’ of sorts, an uproar, and more, but it seems, the powers that be have no interest in real change, or in the end no guts, and resign to the status quo.

  3. Marc says:

    “What’s more, until the governed get up on their hind legs and remind their government that every power it wields, it wields only because they will it; and that they and their servants are accountable to the people – and only to the people; then the slow but steady diminution of citizens’ democratic rights will continue until they become, in reality, the convenient fictions which politicians and administrators have, for the past thirty years, been working so assiduously to make them.”

    Decades of divide and rule in NZ Inc has ensured that this will not happen, i.e. ‘the governed get up on their hind legs”.

    Too many diverse people and groups of people with their own various interests and agendas fight for their own interests and shares of the pie.

    We have had endless discussions about homelessness, poverty, social and other injustice, also immigration.

    The ones who tend to win are the neoliberal minded, powerful business dominated and property owning class lobby groups dictate to the rest, often presenting selected ‘experts’, who are usually used anyway by all of them, to get their way.

    I will never forget the hearings for the Unitary Plan in Auckland years ago, where the Council mostly sided with developers and business interests, to push their agenda through. In the end a supposedly ‘independent’ panel of ‘experts’ was deciding what would make an ACT Party member proud, most went towards what the business and developer lobbies wanted anyway.

    And some of the panel members hearing submissions, they were consultants who had for years worked for the Council and various big businesses on and off, some on an ongoing business.

    That was a ‘hearing’ of sorts, most ordinary people got sidelined, ignored and ridiculed.

    We get the same with submissions to Select Committees, depending on the agendas of the government of the day. If submissions do not fit the agenda, they get a brief mention and will be filed away. You have been ‘heard’ they will say, but no more about the concerns that were expressed.

    NZ Inc is NOT a true democracy, democracy here stands on paper that is not worth much, and it has little meaning.

    Money rules, and we see again and again, how election promises and slogans are swiftly forgotten, once parties form a government, and once high ministerial positions have been taken up.

  4. Samwise says:

    I suspect the rot set in with the convenient excuse that some State activities could not be questioned because they were “commercially sensitive”. Then came “privacy concerns”. The latest is “these are operational matters”.

    Which then begs the question, why do we still have Parliament and elected representatives. Because they seem quite redundant to me.

    Well written Chris!

    • OnceWasTim says:

      That has now become normal. Put bluntly, the government of the day is constantly bullshitted to by public servants with their own agendas.


      “One of the risks, obviously, in a Westminster system where, in my view, the public service enjoys a constitutional personality in its own right, the risk is one of politicisation.”

      He said that could undermine the public service’s obligation to provide ministers with free and frank advice.
      So said Dr Chris Eichbaum back in 2015.

      Similarly, it also provides the opportunity for Senior ‘servants’ to advance their own agendas, whether to implement their own political views and prejudices, career advancement, or to cover up incompetence, under-resourcing or other failings.

      Martyn has a related post that also gets to the problem – no doubt it’ll be poo poo’d by senior ranks in the public service because of course Marty his a “hard leftie radical” (/sarc).
      https://thedailyblog.co.nz/2019/04/09/the-neoliberal-welfare-state-is-refusing-to-pay-the-politics-of-kindness-anything-other-than-lip-service/ *
      It’s an easier explanation than having to explain the constant failures in MSD, or MoBIE, or NZTA, or MPI, or Health, etc.

      I had hoped at one stage that Hipkins’ plans for public service reform might come to something – but (SO FAR) it looks like they only ever were going to be cosmetic in nature IF they ever come to pass at all.

      Sure….the coalition government (L/NZ1/G) faced a mammoth task when it came to power. Surely they should have realised that one of the biggest road blocks in implementing their ‘fairer and kinder’ policies was going to be the nature of our public service (at both central and local government levels)

      The ‘operational matters’, ‘commercial sensitivity’ and ‘privacy concerns’ are usually used as convenient excuses and their use should be questioned every time.

      Commercial sensitivity: OK (maybe) while negotiations are going on

      Operational Matters: WHY shouldn’t they be questioned

      Privacy Concerns (and its relative “We don’t comment on individual cases”) – a croc when the individual has consented

      *That screaming radical hard leftie Martyn (/sarc) provides a number of examples in his post – there are many more.
      Just off the top of my head – WHY are we still tying visas to a specific employer? A recipe for worker exploitation and slavery if ever there was one. I’d suggest that one reason is that they fear a flood of complaints from the exploited. And enough said about James Casson!

    • OnceWasTim says:

      Oh……and then there is this little gem from Rennie:

      Mr Rennie said the SSC was again working on a code following amendments made to the State Sector Act in 2013.

      “So since 2013, for the first time we’ve had now the tools to develop a code of conduct. We are moving towards, and talking with the relevant parties that we would need to about, how we go about introducing a code. I believe there is merit in doing that.”

      That’s 6 years ago! So what happened I wonder!
      I suspect that ‘Code of Conduct’ is either optional or ‘aspirational’ or it’s so wishy washy it isn’t worth having.

  5. CLEANGREEN says:

    Good work Commander Trotter, our whole justice system stinks.

    John Key did it, – and now the whole justice system is stacked against us., to protect the guilty.

  6. Nitrium Nitrium says:

    “What’s more, until the governed get up on their hind legs and remind their government that every power it wields, it wields only because they will it; and that they and their servants are accountable to the people – and only to the people”:

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable rights; that among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.” –Declaration of Independence as originally written by Thomas Jefferson, 1776.

    The Founding Fathers realised that only if the government is actively frightened of its citizens can these sorts of grandiose proclamations be upheld, which indeed is one of the key reasons for the inclusion of The Second Amendment in The Bill of Rights. Needless to say, governments all across the world actively work to disarm citizens so that they can effectively govern uncontested and without fear of revolution. i.e., They’ve flipped that around now – we are slowly but surely coming to fear the government and what it might do. Not all that different to a dictatorship, when you think about it, except now subservience of the subjects is guaranteed by the burden of debt required by most to survive rather than a gun against your head.
    I have long held that most (if not all) modern “democracies” are really nothing more than a changing of the guard, i.e. “Left” vs “Right” is just double-speak for “Us” vs “Them”; hence the overblown emphasis on various wedge issues during election campaigns that are cynically used as blunt instruments to create fake division among voters.
    In this manner, modern democracy offers little more choice than “The King is dead. Long live the King” imo.

    • Mjolnir says:

      Delusional, Nitrium

      “The Founding Fathers realised that only if the government is actively frightened of its citizens can these sorts of grandiose proclamations be upheld, which indeed is one of the key reasons for the inclusion of The Second Amendment in The Bill of Rights. Needless to say, governments all across the world actively work to disarm citizens so that they can effectively govern uncontested and without fear of revolution”

      The Syrian uprising, the 1973 Chiliean military coup detat, the 1956 Hungarian up-rising, 1968 in Csechoslovakia, show you that govts don’t so much fear their citizens, as crush them ruthlessly. It took Vietnam DECADES to defeat the US at a cost of 2 million dead Vietnamese. It wasnt the VC that gained victory, it was the NVA assisted, armed, trained, funded by China and USSR.

      Even if 100,000 NZers hold semi-automatic weapons, how do you think they would organise in the face of a right wing coup? Especially supported by the US and their “military advisors”??

      How do you pit semi automitic guns against helicopter gunships, SAS, napalm, heavy bombs, ettc??

      You are living in a fantasy land if you think a bunch of untrained, un-coordinated civilians can mount an effective resistance

      How would we co ordinate? By the internet?? Fool, thats the first thing that would be closed down, as the Polish communist govt did when they cracked down on Solidarnos in 1981
      Remind us how that ended??

      Honestly you and others are in lala land

    • Samwise says:

      Nitrium, you want to go up against tanks , machine-guns, professional soldiers, as well as the SAS with semi-automatic rifles?

      Good luck with that, mate. You watch too much tv.

  7. peterlepaysan says:

    Actually the malaise we are in with public service has it roots in 1984/87 the douglas/prebble years, followed by the richardson/shipleyyears.

    A hiatus during the clark/cullen years did little to stem the damage.

    The key/english years of do nothing was Nero like as they sang to crosby textor’s tune as nz smouldered into a neo liberal pile of ashes.

    The current crop of govenment mps cannot be held to account for the idiocies of previous fwits. Their problem is how to undo the damage of 33 years of “do nothing” (= laissez- faire), = treasury ideologue, = wall street trader (boy has he got a bridge to sell you!) damage.

    Maybe slightly off topic but a longer government term could have altered the situation we are in.

    The three year term allows too much bullshit (sorry, I meant electioneering) to start almost immediately.

    A four or five year term would have altered the results of the past 34 years considerably.

    • Ann Roberts says:

      “The current crop of government mps cannot be held to account for the idiocies of previous fwits.”
      Yes, they can and should be. They are supposedly a Labour government, therefore one with a principled framework.
      This government seems to content with steady as she goes and don’t frighten the horses.
      I agree with you about the term of government.

  8. let me be frank says:

    I would suggest that Geoffrey Palmer’s inclinations have never been democratic and as so is an entirely ‘suitable’ choice for the Burnham inquiry

  9. Dave Macpherson says:

    Excellent piece Chris – our whanau is by no means the only ones being stonewalled & undermined by the state machine. And you are quite right about the fact that ‘conflict of interest’ doesn’t seem to go both ways – we have laid a complaint against Waikato DHB’s Board Chair & CEO, under the DHB’s Code of Conduct provisions, for ‘bringing the DHB into disrepute’, and demanded that the Board itself not hear or judge on the complaint due to THEIR conflict of interest; of course that will end up going nowhere, but in the meantime it’s been instructive watching the Govt appointees on the DHB run around like chooks without heads trying to work out how. EST to handle this.


 
Authorised by Martyn Bradbury, The Editor, TheDailyBlog,