One of our top policy priorities at The Opportunities Party (TOP) is constitutional reform. And one of the features of the constitution that we advocate is that the Public Service must be answerable to the public first, and their relevant minister second. Those lines of accountability have been more than blurred over recent decades – their ranking has been reversed.
Another rationale for our Democracy Reset policy is that parliament in New Zealand has surrendered its sovereignty to Cabinet. It may be sovereign in name but it’s the Executive Branch that makes the decisions and the members in the house are mere voting fodder that perform an obsolete ritual of voting on legislation, that always goes the way of the ruling administration anyway. It is a farce.
The adage that power corrupts, and absolute power does it absolutely, was obscenely on display this week when Associate Minister Ngaro took the stage and blathered on about how he’d withdraw funding for various public initiatives, if the sponsors of those initiatives dared to speak out against the National Party in the pre-election period. Quick to smother the spot fire was senior Minister Steven Joyce, and the squirt of his extinguisher was followed up by a more formal censure by Prime Minister Bill English – as of course it needed to be.
The incident, however, is revealing of a culture of braggadocio that our system of government now inculcates in career politicians. They join an establishment party, they float to the top by being compliant and supportive of their seniors, and the corporate model of command and control is well and truly imposed. Those who can’t stomach it either stagnate on the back benches, focussed primarily on the baubles of their office, or leave.
Those who ‘get it’ percolate and finally find oxygen for self-expression once ministerial status – i.e., sovereign power – is bestowed. Or, in the case of Alfred Ngaro Associate Minister of Housing, the lack of oxygen and pressure from being so long in the depths waiting for ascendancy narks them, and they finally emerge blabbing in public without the discipline that full consciousness would provide. The truth comes out, when it shouldn’t.
This is the consequence of a political system that has morphed into corporate one, a system on the one hand that alienates voters (shareholders) and empowers senior management to the point that nobody else matters when it comes to policy – not the public service and certainly not the parliament. We are paying the price for a lack of a constitution and the absence of a constitutional authority (Upper House) that can at least publicly censure the unconstitutional behaviour of Ministers of the Crown.
The unfortunate blabbing by Ngaro simply revealed a truth that such a system produces. When these career politicians get to the top of their tree they feel (and to an extent are) all powerful. Ngaro simply said he and his colleagues were going to squash all opposition by instructing their corporate office – the public service – to cut off all their funding. One can understand, given his upbringing through our corporatized government system, why he would fee so intoxicated.
The anecdotes so often heard around Wellington suggest that the reality of government is far closer to the comments by Ngaro than those of Messrs Joyce and English. Officials report being told by Ministers to stop working on certain reports, or change their recommendations. NGOs already live in a culture of fear that if they speak out against government policy they will lose their funding. This is on top of the persistent effort by right wing bloggers and big business to silence researchers that criticise Government policy. None of this is formal and in writing, so the only concrete evidence we see of this comes out in heavily redacted and delayed Official Information Act requests, or comments such as those by Ngaro.
The fault is with our system – we need a Democracy Reset as The Opportunities Party advocates.