Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Deception or Democracy

It's the highest court in the land. And yet the withering light of day brought to bear by businessman Owen Glenn in front of the privileges committee yesterday has revealed a pit of slimy things desperately slithering for the protective obscurantism of the very privileges parliament rests on.

Without a doubt New Zealand First leader Winston Peter's credibility has gone. The "no" sign he displayed in February when asked whether he had solicited donations from Mr Glenn has been flatly contradicted by the man who paid them, with records as proof. Now in the gun is Labour president Michael Williams who's mendicant approaches to Mr Glenn extended so far as asking him for a job; and Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark who has been more than parsimonious with the truth regarding what she knew about Mr Williams and Mr Peter's fundraising activities.

To my mind this is no longer a question of whether the Labour-led government is teetering on the brink of being validly termed 'corrupt'. We now have a whole package of deception which goes right to the very core of the parliamentary process and calls into question the very integrity of our Parliament as an institution.The question is no longer a political one about this Government but a constitutional one about all Governments and that is this: do we really trust these buggers to constitute the highest court in the land?

I admit that my disgust with the behaviour and duplicity of MPs has had a long gestation. It began when MPs elected under MMP took advantage of their constitutional supremacy to change the basis on which they were appointed to parliament after they were sworn in. Voted in on the list of one party they renounced this and changed their allegiance for another. To my mind this is manifestly undemocratic. If you make representations to the public that you will serve one set of policies before election to not do so after it is fundamentally deceptive marketing. Businesses can't engage in such behaviour, why should MPs be able to get away with it?

The problem is who are ya gonna sue? And which court would hear the case? The simple problem is MPs have been personally admitted to the 'highest court in the land' and the highest court in the land (made up of MPs) sees nothing wrong with deceiving the public.

Well its about time that it bloody well did!

To my mind this is where our shiny new supreme court should wake up and do something for their outrageous salaries. My plan is this: We establish basic constitutional principles of electoral representation (and not just for Parliament mind) which define the essence of our democracy; We then elevate the supreme court above Parliament in respect of these laws alone; We allow the public the right to bring actions against political parties and MPs under these laws. This would make an election manifesto a promise to the elctorate that could be the subject of legal action not an exercise in spin. Politicians utterances would be actionable if they played fast and lose with the truth. And if the Supreme Court decides a by-election is required a by-election takes place; and if a politician engages in deception then the Supreme Court should have the right to censure or remove that politician from office.

For some reason New Zealand has always prided itself on its lack of corruption. But in my view that hasn't been because there isn't corruption. Its because like the monkeys who see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil, we simply didn't allow anyone to look for it, talk about it or do anything about it.

Our laws relating to defamation are absurdly strict and the penalties for hurting someone's reputation are out of all proportion to the penalties for maiming or blinding them. Our police ( not as straight themselves as they pretend) have not shown much interest in fraud, and our Parliament is trying to close down the Serious Fraud Office! The public are gagged and blinded from the get go. No wonder they are relatively easy to deceive.

The danger is that a new broom in the Beehive will simply be as slick as Labour was when they were first elected. Will it take nine years before the rust starts to show through their chrome and we go through the same apalling spectacle all over again. Or will Mr Key's talk about electoral reform actually attempt to do the unthinkable and introduce honesty into our system of parliamentary democracy.

We will all just have to wait and see.

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