Better Democracy NZ is a non-partisan, non-profit organisation.

Our mission is to foster the improvement of New Zealand's democratic system and encourage the use of direct democracy through the

Veto, Citizens' Initiated and Recall referendum.


Monday, 4 May 2009

Consultation appeases shortcomings of representative democracy

Interesting NZH Editorial. So what is the answer to these shortcomings?

Politicians on the campaign trail set great store by their willingness to listen to and heed the views of the public. In power, they continue to tip their hats to consultation. It is a useful means of appeasing concerns about shortcomings in the "democracy" quotient of representative democracy. Governments are happy to believe that legislation, whatever its content, has the requisite cachet if they can say public opinion has been sought. Unsurprisingly, this has promoted a divergence between the theory and practice of consultation.

That has been well illustrated by the process adopted by a parliamentary select committee considering changes to the resource management law. The loss of council authority to protect trees of a certain type or size is at the heart of unease about the new legislation. More than 80 tree lovers have written to the committee seeking council retention of that power. But only about 45 minutes was allocated to hear their concerns when the committee visited Auckland.

Others missed out because the select committee failed to advise them when or where the hearing was to be held. An attempt will be made to accommodate them next week, via teleconferencing, but their opportunity to speak will be extremely limited. Doubtless, many people will wonder why they bothered. Indeed, the brief time allotted to dissenting views speaks volumes of the committee's attitude. In effect, the Government's wish to amend the Resource Management Act as quickly as possible has made the consultation process virtually worthless.

When contentious legislation attracts many submissions, practical steps have to be taken so committee proceedings do not get bogged down. But the hearing of the tree lovers' views ensures not so much that there will be no plodding but that matters will proceed at the speed of light. It is consultation in name only.

No comments: