Government or playground bully?

Increasingly, our Government is behaving like a playground bully. If Ministers will not restrain themselves from abuses of power, others need to stand up and speak out.

In its editorial today, the New Zealand Herald joins Andrew Geddis in castigating the Government for a constitutional outrage denying the family carers of people with disabilities the right to appeal against unlawful discrimination to the Human Rights Commission or the courts.

How low can you go? These are people whose family members are disabled and need care, and who seek to give it to them; and want the same support from the State as paid carers from outside the family. Denying them the legal rights to which they’re entitled is ‘a shabby piece of legislation’, as the New Zealand Herald says; and shoving it through under urgency is a disgrace.

Add to this the way in which the Government has stated in advance that it will ignore any outcome of a referendum on asset sales; its dismissal of the referendum in which more than a million New Zealanders supported a review of MMP; and the Sky City deal that tries to bind future New Zealand governments for the next 35 years, and it’s obvious that democratic processes in this country are in trouble.

As Claire Browning points out on Pundit, there seems to be no internal restraint within the Government against such abuses of democratic principle. On the contrary, there was the unedifying spectacle in the House recently of the Attorney-General, no less, mounting a highly personal attack on those who had criticised another legislative debacle.

This was the clause in the Crown Minerals Act (also rammed through without due process) that threatens New Zealanders who protest at sea against deep sea mining with imprisonment or very heavy fines. It has been criticised by barrister Catriona McLennan in the Dominion Post as a major blow to human rights.

Taking umbrage at a petition that pointed out that this legislation is in breach of international law as well as the Bill of Rights, Chris Finlayson mocked its supporters, including Geoffrey Palmer, a former Prime Minister and an internationally respected authority on maritime law. The speech was embarrassing, for its lack of legal principle as well as its ad hominem politics.

In addition, there have been the attacks on Dr Mike Joy for drawing attention to the deplorable state of many New Zealand waterways, and the cancellation of funding to the Environmental Defence Society, presumably because of their criticism of amendments to the Resource Management Act.

Increasingly, the Government is behaving like a playground bully, taking those who don’t toe the line and pinching their lunch money or beating them up behind the bike shed (under Parliamentary privilege).

In denying legal rights to those who are looking after relatives with a disability, the Government is scraping the bottom of the ethical barrel. Putting the boot into those people is an offence against ordinary decency, let alone democratic freedom and the New Zealand constitution.

If there are no restraints inside this coalition government against such abuses of power, then others need to stand up and speak out, as Claire Browning and Andrew Geddis have done. Where are the other constitutional lawyers, by the way?

Perhaps Pundit will publish an annotated list of legislative and regulatory attacks on democratic freedom in New Zealand, and keep this updated. Call it ‘Eternal Vigilance,’ maybe?

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