I watched the circus of Judith Collins’ resignation as a Minister today. It was an overwhelming input of tweets, posts, commentary and live television that must leave us more disturbed than consoled at the state of our Parliament and democracy. I have so many questions: if she resigned for planning to besmirch the head of the Serious Fraud Office, why not for actually besmirching the name of Simon Pleasant? Is it normal practice for the New Zealand Herald to leak stories that are too abhorrent to Whaleoil? Why is John Key looking more and more isolated for example at this week’s leaders’ debate and at the Collins’ press conference? Why has Jason Ede still got a job when the person who commented on Whaleoil blogs from within MSD does not? Questions, questions, so many questions.
I am deeply disturbed as I watch our democracy and its systems being undermined. Lucy Lawless put it very succinctly:
In discounting the content of Nicky Hager’s book without consideration, New Zealanders are turning a blind eye to the Whale Oil crew’s gleeful perversion of the democratic process. It is we, not them, who are deliberately allowing it to fall apart… If we do not require integrity in our representatives, we are basically ceding control of our policymakers.
Ours is a democracy that was established in 1852, with the professed intention of good governance to represent the needs and desires of the people of this fair land. No-one at that point thought that the people of this fair land included women or Māori, but that came to change over the next fifty years. Moreover, with the rise of corporations and their lobbyists, a new and more powerful voice has guided the decisions of our Parliament. As against the needs of people, we have seen the triumph of the needs of big business. Now obviously a lot of people have raised the spectre of large political donations, and David Farrar published an interesting list of the donations to date in Kiwiblog:
But I think this misses the point. Lobbying is far more pervasive. All Ministers and MPs from across the spectrum are regularly meeting with lobbyists, regularly attending events organised by lobbyists, and regularly feted by lobbyists. More importantly, it is not an even playing field. For example, in 2003-04 I knew of smoking industry lobbyists who got into Bowen House to sit and talk to MPs and Ministers day in and day out, whilst smoking cessation lobbyists (seen as activists) made a point of being at the doors of Bowen House to talk to MPs and Ministers because they couldn’t get an appointment. There is no register of lobbyists, no register of meetings with lobbyists. Donations keep our attention off the real game.
The real game, the power of corporates to influence our Parliament, is only apparent when you consider the fundamental failure of our house of representatives to deal with the four big issues that will end our civilisation: climate change; access to water; inequality and poverty; perpetual war. Our Parliament has done nothing to mitigate the most important issues of our lives. The key words of economy, balancing interests, profit, and growth are a mantra fed by influential corporations given free rein since the 1980s. Those words are our collective suicide note.
None less than New Zealand of the Year, Dame and Professor Anne Salmond has called for a Royal Commission to clean up our political system. I would politely disagree. The system is not dirty; it is broken. We need to dismantle our political system for something new. However, first and foremost the fundamental dysfunction at the heart of our current democratic system needs to be demonstrated before there can be a search for solutions. Unsurprisingly, as with any issue that requires change, we are all doing our best to ignore the signs. I support something a bit innovative, a bit satirical and a bit pointed to nudge us along. We need to be able to vote No Confidence in our political system and our political parties.
Other than Russia (which barely counts as a democracy), no other jurisdiction has ever agreed to Disapproval Voting. However, very funny and very clever people in other countries are finding ways to register No Confidence. In 2009, NOTA (None Of The Above) was registered as a party by the UK Electoral Commission. The professed aim of the party is to have candidates stand in every seat in the UK, and if they were to win the seat, not to take up the seat in Parliament, to leave them as blank seats in the House.
We need an opportunity to register our disapproval in our Parliament. Whilst I am sympathetic to those who argue that we should vote for change, I am also aware that what is on offer to us to vote for is not change; it’s merely a change in the occupant of the seat. So once this circus has left town, perhaps it is time for us to gird our loins and register our own None Of The Above party.