Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Shaken - But Not Stirred: Canterbury Is Denied Democracy For The Third Time.

Water and Grass: The economic value of productive pastures is deemed by the National Government to be more important than popular political control over the water that keeps them green. In Canterbury this has led to a third delay in the return of full democracy to the region.
 
THE GREAT CANTABRIAN RIGHTS ROBBERY continues. With six of the thirteen Regional councillors set to be appointed, until at least 2019, by the Environment Minister, Dr Nick Smith, Canterbury’s long-promised return to democracy has, once again, been delayed.
 
And still the streets are empty.
 
That the people of Christchurch have been a little preoccupied since 2010 is acknowledged. But the same high-handedness that prompted the elimination of Cantabrians’ regional democracy has also been a frustrating feature of their city’s rebuild.
 
And still the streets are silent.
 
Large sums of money continue to be extracted from the people of Canterbury by “Commissioners” for whom no one has voted. Practically without a murmur, the oldest principle of democratic governance – that taxes may only be levied by representatives chosen by the people themselves – has been cast aside.
 
“No taxation without representation!”: the principle for which seventeenth century Englishmen were ready to execute their King, and in the name of which eighteenth century Americans proclaimed a revolution; has stirred New Zealanders hardly at all.
 
Where are our John Hampdens? Our John Pyms? Why have we yet to produce an Antipodean version of John Adams? John Hancock? Thomas Jefferson? All of these champions of representative government – the farmers, merchants and lawyers who challenged King Charles I and King George III – were men of substance. They dared to win, even though to lose meant death. But New Zealand’s men of substance; our farmers, merchants and lawyers; what have they dared?
 
Precious little has been risked by those whose screams would, undoubtedly, be among the loudest were Cantabrians rights being abrogated by a left-wing government. Indeed, one could argue that the destruction of regional democracy in Canterbury was undertaken at the behest of farmers, merchants and lawyers. For isn’t it these latter groups that have the gained the most from the elimination of their fellow citizens’ democratic rights? While ordinary Cantabrians retained the capacity to thwart their grand plans for Canterbury’s precious water, how could the region’s farmers, merchants and lawyers possibly have attracted the level of investment required to bring them to fruition?
 
Dr Smith dismisses all such claims as cynical. Rather than a case of careful political engineering, erected in the interests of the farmers, merchants and lawyers who vote National, the destruction of Canterbury’s regional democracy is presented by the Minister as some sort of glorified water conservation measure. Any return to normal democratic governance, argues Dr Smith, would inflict irreparable damage on a process which he clearly believes to be beyond the capabilities of elected citizens.
 
“The fear would be that you’ve got this population divide pretty even between rural and urban, and rather than those commissioners being able to look for the middle way through, that you end up where we were – a highly polarised council not making any progress on these very important issues.”
 
Dr Smith refuses to accept that, by silencing the voice of urban conservationists, he has, in effect, facilitated the water exploitation schemes of rural Cantabrians. His justification hinges on what he considers to be the superiority of technocratic over democratic decision-making.
 
But this justification works equally well for any and all attempts to limit the scope of democratic decision-making. The notion that society would be morally and materially improved if all the important decisions were left to a self-replenishing caste of “philosopher kings” is as old as Plato’s Republic. That every attempt to put Plato’s ideas into practice has very quickly resulted in the decisions of the wise becoming practically indistinguishable from the interests of the wealthy, has always been one of the strongest arguments in favour of democracy.
 
Nor is it reasonable to suppose that Dr Smith’s technocratic problem-solving will remain quarantined in Canterbury. In October 2016 it is likely that the balance of power on the Hawkes Bay Regional Council will shift decisively against the proposed Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme. But, after what happened in Canterbury, the region’s voters are surely justified in wondering whether their democratic judgement will simply be over-ruled by Dr Smith, and a group of Commissioners installed to make certain that “progress on these very important issues” continues.
 
Would this be enough to see the people’s pitchforks lifted up and their flaming torches lit? One hopes so, but all the evidence so far suggests otherwise. New Zealanders definition of democracy appears to embrace a sort of plebiscitary oligarchy, under which a group of politicians are given the right to govern exactly as they please – subject only to a triennial vote of confidence.
 
But this definition of democracy condemns us all to live under an elected dictatorship where politicians are free to impose decisions of ever-increasing mendacity: ceasing only when a decision of such outrageous awfulness pushes the population beyond its collective pain threshold; and the people remember that they have rights.
 
This essay was originally published by The Press of Tuesday, 24 March 2015.

10 comments:

Sanctuary said...

The logical - and correct - response of patriots when confronted with tyranny and a loss of the peaceful means of change via the ballot is to start blowing up the pumping stations and dams. And who could blame such patriots, when they've been systematically stripped of legitimate means of resistance?

it is pity the minister and his advisors, for all their technocratic arrogance, are not aware of the political consequences of Newton's third law.

pat said...

This is the latest in a series of letters/articles I have seen written on this topic and once again find myself irritated at the complete lack of understanding of the circumstances in Christchurch currently.
Abundantly aware that those not directly involved seem to believe that the recovery/rebuild of Christchurch is all but complete, or at the very least well in hand the reality of the situation is somewhat grimmer.
After four and a half years of essentially a survival struggle in which many have not even reached the starting blocks the issue of who is running a never very popular organisation is not high on the priority list of the residents of Christchurch, and those in the outer regions of Canterbury as noted are the beneficiaries by and large of the current set up.
The briefest of researches into post disaster sociology will reveal the need for leadership and direction from without and in this Christchurch has been very poorly served, not just by the current government but by particularly the opposition, media and the rest of NZ who after the initial outpouring have settled in to a model of indifference or worse, hostility.
Keep in mind that one of the unspoken but instinctively understood realisations of these events is that a significant proportion of this city and its population are being abandoned from the future so as to salvage something from the ruins.
With that in mind ask yourself...what would I be doing?

Barry said...

Perhaps MMP has made some NZers accept the idea of being taxed by lots of non-elected appointed politicians.

Nick said...

Sanctuary is correct, direct action may be the only way. MoWD technocrats wanted to extract vast amounts of water from the Rakaia in the late 70s / early 80s in the name of border dyke irrigation to run more sheep on supplementary minimum prices. The tax paying citizen was to be fleeced twice. Ironically Rogernomics put paid to that (plus a Conservation Order on the Rakaia).

Thirty years on and water is again the issue, this time for corporate farmers and their cows. At no stage are the off farm economics discussed: these externalities are paid by you guessed it you and I. If the farmers had to pay the true cost of their practices this whole issue of would not have occurred.

As it is what Smith has done is to reinforce that old NZ social and economic divide: the primacy of the "farmer" and his right to exploit the commons to the max. In this case the technocrats are merely updated Masseys Cossacks in suits, with a new twist. They are corporate warriors, mercenaries for the dollar. We may have developed so large a class of these parasites that we can no longer rebel.

Anthony Rimell said...

I have a huge and innate desire to disagree with “Pat”, except that s/he is right. We are still so worn down by the impact of the rebuild that many have lost interest in how we are governed. If it seems we are governed by the wealthy for the wealthy and yet still there is no revolution, it is because many still equate surviving each day as being a successful outcome.

Norm, oh Norm: where for art thou Norm?

Brendon Harre said...

Do kiwis want to farm cows or people in Canterbury that is the question?

Until their is some leadership on this issue. I can't see Cantabrians marching for any side soon.

There is a debate about regional governance and growth prospects here that gives some hints on what form the leadership should involve.
http://www.interest.co.nz/business/74638/are-economists-obsessed-aucklands-growth-and-growing-divergence-rest-nz-actually-stuc#comment-806392

I have copied the key comments but to follow the links go back to interest.co.nz

by Brendon | 21 Mar 15, 12:31pm

There is a mysterious law that accurately predicts the size of the world’s biggest cities. Zipf”s law in most countries and economic regions has held true for the last century. The biggest city is double the size of the 2nd biggest city. Triple the size of the 3rd biggest city and so on.

There is an interesting debate about why this might be true in the above link.

by kiwimm | 23 Mar 15, 10:33am

Interesting article and comments.

Based on Zipf’s Law, we should see (City, Expected, Actual)
– Auckland 1.42M 1.42M
– Christchurch 0.71M 0.37M
– Wellington 0.47M 0.35M
– Hamilton 0.36M 0.22M
– Tauranga 0.28M 0.13M
– Dunedin 0.20M 0.12M

Clearly Auckland is overly large for the country by this measure and to increase productivity, we need to grow the remaining cities

by Brendon | 23 Mar 15, 11:11am

Thanks Kiwimm I was wondering if anyone noticed my ‘interesting’ article.

I think if you took the ‘greater ‘ urban areas for Wellington and Christchurch. Greater Christchurch is still the larger urban area at just under 1/2 million and Greater Wellington is quite close to the 0.47M figure that should be expected for the 3rd biggest city.

My thought is that if regions like Canterbury, Waikato and the Bay of Plenty could retain more of their taxes and decision making power then they could allocate resources such as transport infrastructure and affordable land for housing and commercial development etc in such a way to promote their key cities -Christchurch, Hamilton and Tauranga to grow to the size expected from Zipf’s Law.

This sort of devolution of local governance is typical in other OECD countries and I think we could expect the same outcomes -cities to develop the same ranking size structure.

The lesson from Zipf’s Law for New Zealand is it explains why Auckland is the biggest city but it also cautions against over weighting development resources like new transport funding to Auckland and Wellington our 1st and 3rd biggest cities when there is growth potential in our 2nd , 4th and 5th…. sized cities too.

by kiwimm | 23 Mar 15, 11:31am

I too would like to see NZ with more competitive cities. Give the cities more autonomy and watch them grow. For example, if Christchurch had more freedom in its planning process, it could build enough houses and infrastructure to drop its land prices leading to cheaper housing costs (=more disposable income), lower rents for business (=incentives to relocate from Auckland) and lower commuting times.

This would be a good vent for Auckland which is struggling.

None of the political parties seem to understand this so unlikely to happen soon. National had the perfect opportunity with the earthquakes and failed to seize it.

by Brendon | 23 Mar 15, 11:45am

I agree completely Kiwimm, a massive missed opportunity.

Look at this data here showing the rorting of some regions transport funding, especially Canterbury’s which for the last decade has sent half its transport taxes elsewhere. Both National and before it Helen Clark’s Labour party are to be blamed for this legalised theft.

Canterbury was in a poor position to (re)develope when the earthquakes hit and National has done nothing to improve the process.

Lolita Brother said...

The next thing we do Chris is destroy the idiot Christchurch Council

Davo Stevens said...

I agree with Sanctuary in the most part.

Sometimes a revolution is necessary but it won't happen until many people have nothing left to lose.

I must pay for the water I use from my own well when I have to irrigate my garden. The cost can be crippling too. When I fitted the pump I was forced to put a water meter onto it to measure the water I was using. More than once I have been tempted to bypass the meter but haven't so far.

Canterbury is not suitable for dairying, it's too dry with insufficent rainfall to sustain dairying. So, to do so requires a huge amount of water.

pat said...

Kiwimm...I wonder what this research says about largest cities in proportion to total population....my suspicion is the Auckland/NZ ratio is even further out of kilter with the rest of the world and in particular those societies considered "successful" (relatively)

Guerilla Surgeon said...

This is the thing is quite possibly bullshit. When the tiger economies were merely cubs, their main cities were far in excess of this ratio. It's not necessarily a measure of anything much.