Dame Anne Salmond says it is imperative that New Zealanders stand up for democratic freedoms … A quiet, obedient, and docile population; a culture of passivity and apathy; a meek acceptance of what politicians say and do – these things are not consistent with democracy.
### NZ Herald Online 5:30 AM Sat, 13 Jul 2013
Dame Anne Salmond: A warning to New Zealanders keep hold of democracy
By Dame Anne Salmond
In 2007, John Key, then Leader of the Opposition, gave a powerful speech to the New Zealand Press Club against the Electoral Finance Bill. He declared: “Here in New Zealand we often take our democratic freedoms for granted. We think they will always be there. We have a Bill of Rights which is supposed to protect our right to freedom of expression. What on earth could go wrong?”
I have a different view. I believe what Thomas Jefferson said – that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. There are times when we have to stand up for our rights, and the rights of our neighbours and friends, and indeed the rights of people we totally disagree with, or else these rights will begin to erode away.
I agree with these sentiments, absolutely. New Zealanders must stand up for their democratic rights when they are threatened, or they’ll lose them.
Who could have imagined that in 2013, this same political leader would be presiding over an assault upon the democratic rights of New Zealanders? This is a matter of such gravity that last month, the Law Society felt impelled to report to the United Nations that in New Zealand “a number of recent legislative measures are fundamentally in conflict with the rule of law”.
When a body as authoritative and dispassionate as the Law Society feels forced to report to the United Nations that the Government in New Zealand is acting in conflict with the rule of law, all New Zealanders should be very worried.
Extraordinary though it may seem, this statement is no more than the truth. In its report to the United Nations, the Law Society lists a series of recent acts that have allowed the Executive to use regulation to override Parliament, that deny citizens the right to legal representation and cancel their right to appeal to the courts to uphold their rights under the law.
The Law Society also draws attention to the use of Supplementary Order Papers and urgency to avoid proper Parliamentary scrutiny of legislation. They express their concern that a number of bills formally declared by the Attorney-General to be in breach of the Bill of Rights have recently been enacted.
This report does not mention other key defects in the law-making process in New Zealand at present. These include the willingness of a minority government to pass laws that impinge on the rights and wellbeing of New Zealanders at the request of foreign corporations – Warner Brothers, for instance, or SkyCity and various oil companies. None of these deals, which amount to “legislation for sale”, can claim a democratic mandate.
● Anthropologist and author Dame Anne Salmond is the current New Zealander of the Year.
Posted by Elizabeth Kerr
*Image: tepapa.govt.nz – Dame Anne Salmond