Why Aotearoa New Zealand Needs A Constitution

Last week Forest and Bird won a case against the Minister of Conservation in the Supreme Court. The Society was concerned that the Director General of Conservation had contravened the Conservation Act by allowing a protected conservation land swap to enable the Ruataniwha dam to proceed, and that this would set a dangerous precedent for protected land. The Minister’s response to the Supreme Court decision is Conservation Act reform. 

This week Official Information Act papers released to Forest and Bird have revealed the Government wants to create “special economic zones” (SEZ) exempt from environmental regulation, to fast track economic development in certain regions. Curiously, SEZ appear to lack support from industry due to fears for loss of social licence to operate.

In 2013, the Government pushed through the Housing Accord and Special Housing Areas Act (HASHAA) under urgency, with a purpose to enhance housing affordability by facilitating an increase in land and housing supply in certain regions or districts identified as having housing supply and affordability issues. The HASHAA also bypassed environmental regulation. Given that housing affordability is one of the biggest issues New Zealander’s face, four years on where is the evidence for affordability improvement and thus, for the passing of special legislation? Affordability aside, given the infrastructure and environmental issues arising from unscrutinised development, one wonders who this legislation actually benefits?

Cantabrians are well aware of the consequences of fast tracked legislation, and as it has turned out, the stripping of democracy in the region has been nothing more than an opportunity to steam roll natural resources and push through environmentally damaging ‘Think Big’ styled projects. On the creation of the ECan Act, Law academic Professor Philip Joseph writes “such legislation denies the equal protection of the law and is constitutionally repugnant”. That means that law applies only to Cantabrians and its makers did not follow proper process. Professor Joseph explains the ECan Act did not get select committee consideration, there were no public submissions and no public consultation.

Consider the ECan Act alongside the HASHA Act, the Minister’s response to the recent Supreme Court decision and the behind the scenes proposal for SEZ, there is a pattern emerging here. Clearly the Government and its Business Growth Agenda (The Plan) has zero consideration for New Zealand’s natural environment or democracy. Excessive Cabinet power? Welcome to Moscow folks. Fittingly Chris Trotter states “if the needs of democracy and the needs of ‘The Plan’ conflicted, then it would not be democracy that prevailed.”

New Zealand’s democracy is under siege. The time for change is nigh. The Opportunities Party (TOP) Democracy Reset Policy hits right to the core of the Government’s venality. A key feature of our policy is a constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand. A constitution is a central reference to Aotearoa New Zealand values which all citizens can identify with, take pride in, and which can defend the principles by which we want to live. TOP proposes to enshrine human rights, as in the Bill of Rights, including the right to an environment that is not harmful to health or wellbeing. A uniquely Aotearoa New Zealand constitution will enshrine obligations to the Treaty of Waitangi and the rights to nature for ecosystems to exist and flourish.

Such environmental protection is not only essential for human wellbeing, it is a planetary duty for Aotearoa New Zealand. The New Zealand islands contain a raft of unique species found nowhere else on earth, so giving constitutional rights to native species and their habitats to exist and flourish is monumentous. The constitution will require transparency of government, where the public service exists to serve the public, therefore providing an essential check and balance that disables the kinds of abuses of power seen in recent years regarding democracy and use, and development and protection of New Zealand’s environment.

As New Zealand society becomes more multicultural, a clear and simple constitution which articulates Aotearoa New Zealand’s societal values will assist existing and future citizens alike. The constitution will support decision makers ultimately responsible for safe guarding Aotearoa New Zealand’s future. Get the overarching decision making principles right, and revel in a much fairer, happier, safer and efficient society. There is much more to our Democracy Reset Policy here. Tell us what you think.