Cleaning Up Dirty Politics


Investigative journalist and advisor to the Pacific Centre for Participatory Democracy Nicky Hager has been the centre of a lot of attention over the last six weeks. The revelations in his explosive new book Dirty Politics based on hacked emails from a far right blogger have dominated media coverage and campaigning on the entire 2014 General Election in New Zealand, leading to the resignation of the Minister of Justice and the launch of a number of investigations into possible corruption at the highest levels of government.

The odd thing so far is that while there has been the mandatory finger-pointing at the National Party by their opposition parties, calls for and commitments to inquiries of various scope and quality – there have been few suggestions on how our democracy can be improved in light of these scandals. While New Zealand has consistently boasted some of lowest levels of corruption (or perception of corruption) on a range of global indices, there seems an almost dogged determination by politicians, the media and academics to stick to what we know and hope the next lot of elected representatives are a bit better.

The refusal to focus attention on and commit public resources toward the next forms of democracy emerging around the world may just be ignorance, or may be a case of the turkey not voting for Christmas.

There has been no public discussion of the merits and limitations of the recent Localism Act (2011) in the UK legislation that creates more opportunity for community governance (esp parts 5 & 6), nothing on Participatory BudgetingDeliberative DemocracyDeliberative Polling or Citizen Panels. New processes for Freshwater Management planning and the Social Sector Trials are heading in the right direction but seem quite disconnected from serious policy discussions about devolving power from central and even local government to the citizenry. E-democracy and web-based tools/processes (with all their digital divide limitations) have been in vogue for ten years at the State Services Commission and other departments but progress has been incredibly slow for such a small, technologically literate country.

A series of Community Governance workshops organised by LGNZ, Victoria University’s Institute for Governance and Policy Studies and local authorities to be held around New Zealand over the next couple of weeks will hopefully ask and answer a couple of important questions in the closing session:
1. Do we see place-based community governance as something that would enhance our community?
2. Who is the best organisation (or group of individuals/organisations) to progress this in the future?
In some places these workshops are free and open to the public, in others they will be limited to the political class who can afford the fees that match the weekly income for many of the households that need to have greater influence on public policy.

PCPD joins UN HRC intervention

UN Human Rights Council

A combined intervention to the UN Human Rights Council, delivered by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) last night on behalf of 12 non-governmental, union and iwi organisations* including the Pacific Centre for Participatory Democracy, questions the sincerity of the government’s response to human rights recommendations.

The intervention was made during the adoption of the outcome report on the second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of New Zealand’s human rights performance by UN Human Rights Council member and observer states, and is available here.

At the time of the UPR review in January 2014, UN member states made 155 recommendations to improve human rights in Aotearoa New Zealand. The government’s response was released in May, and while at first glance it seemed impressive with 121 recommendations accepted and 34 rejected, unfortunately on closer examination it is not so positive.

Firstly, in relation to the accepted recommendations, the combined intervention raised concerns about the sincerity of the government’s response.  Its responses frequently do not address the point of the respective recommendation, for example, those regarding the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and on consultation with Maori; or are misleading, for example, in relation to access to education, access to buildings for persons with disabilities, the level of official development assistance, and the national human rights action plan; or both.

In other instances, the government incorrectly stated that legislation is consistent with its human rights obligations when it is not; for example, claiming that its counter-terrorism legislation “complies with the legal safeguards enshrined in the ICCPR”, whereas the UN Human Rights Committee (which monitors state party compliance with the ICCPR) has clearly stated provisions of the legislation are incompatible with the human rights protected in Article 14.

Secondly, most of the rejected recommendations relate to international human rights instruments and to the constitutional and legislative framework, indicating a lack of commitment by the government to meaningful protection and promotion of human rights both now and in the future.

In the intervention, the NGOs, union and iwi organisations stated that they are deeply concerned at the lack of full protection for human rights under New Zealand’s current constitutional arrangements. While this has dangers for all of us, it is particularly harmful for hapu and iwi because successive governments have not hesitated to deny their rights when doing do is perceived to be to the political advantage of the government of the day.

The combined intervention reiterated the UPR recommendations about the constitutional and legislative framework, as well as those from the UN human rights treaty monitoring bodies and Special Procedures, and urged the government to begin a process of constitutional change that will give full effect to the Treaty of Waitangi, and to its obligations under the international human rights instruments.

* Peace Movement Aotearoa, the Aotearoa Indigenous Rights Trust, Auckland Catholic Diocese Bicultural Working Party, Christian World Service, Human Rights Foundation, Network Waitangi Otautahi, Ngati Huarere ki Whangapoua Trust, Pax Christi Aotearoa New Zealand, Pacific Centre for Participatory Democracy, Te Runanga o Nga Kaimahi Maori o Aotearoa (NZ Council of Trade Unions Runanga), Te Runanga o te Whanau, and WILPF Aotearoa call on the government to fully implement all the accepted UPR recommendations, to reconsider those it has rejected, and to develop a transparent action plan to do this.

Further information on New Zealand’s UPR, including NGO submissions and analysis, is available here.