Cleaning Up Dirty Politics

house-of-cards-francis-underwood

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.