Weekend Herald

It’s your country — but is this the way you want it?

The Government is making too many changes that we weren’t told about before the last election, writes Bruce Cotterill

- ● Bruce Cotterill is a company director and adviser to business leaders. He is the author of the book, The Best Leaders Don’t Shout. www. brucecotte­rill.com

It feels like the New Zealand we once had, just a few short years ago, is now under siege. Not from war makers. But from lawmakers.

I’ve never been a fan of MMP. I don’t like the unique feature of MMP government­s where the “tail wags the dog”. In other words, where the minor party in the relationsh­ip is disproport­ionately influentia­l in what does and doesn’t get done.

I also don’t like the fact that MMP government­s get away with making promises they don’t keep. In failing to live up to their own pre-election expectatio­ns, they simply blame their minor coalition partner or the coalition agreement as the reason for their failure to deliver.

So, I have tended to prefer the situation where a majority government is able to get on with the job, without excuses or distractio­n.

Before last year’s election, our government was a classic MMP Government. And the NZ First/Green tail wagged the dog to such an extent that New Zealanders voted in a majority government for the first time in our post-MMP history.

The outcome has been such that I have changed my tune. I am now longing for an MMP government. A government where there are checks and balances. One where there are “handbrakes” on extreme ideas. A government where proper consultati­on and reflection is enabled.

We have now had a majority government for 10 months. It seems like a lot of things are changing in a very short time. Anyone who doubts this Government’s ability to get things done should look more closely. There’s a lot being done. But they’re not building houses or roads or hospitals or the other things we would expect. They’re building a new social fabric.

Like many Kiwis, I’ve lived in the UK and Australia, as well as my home here in New Zealand. So I’ve always lived in a democracy and I’ve tended to take that for granted. I’ve visited dictatorsh­ips and communist countries, but I never felt completely comfortabl­e in those environmen­ts.

The beauty of a democracy is that you get to vote for public officers. The make-up of government­s and councils is a function of what the majority of the people want. Before voting, the people are invited to hear what the various players might want to do upon their election. This makes voters informed.

But things have changed. We didn’t hear about these plans before the last election and we now know that some informatio­n was withheld from the voting public. As a result, we voted blind and we now find ourselves in the middle of what may one day be termed a social experiment. At the core of that experiment is a curb on our freedoms, the extent of which — despite it happening right in front of us — will one day take us by surprise.

As a result, our society is changing at a rapid rate. Many of the changes represent major social shifts in this country, and they’re being made under the cloak of “blaming Covid”. Some are justified. Many are not.

We now live in a world of lockdowns, mask-wearing and social distancing. You can argue that these imposition­s on our freedoms were necessary at the height of the Covid scare. However, as an island nation, a long way away, with low population density, our continued anxiety is probably unnecessar­y. In the past 12 months, the few cases we have had have failed to be as contagious as feared. One would imagine that some of those freedoms could return.

Other associated constraint­s seem even less necessary. The reluctance to lift the bans on overseas students will permanentl­y impact our universiti­es and what was once a core part of their income stream. The brand position we once had in this sector will be almost impossible to recover.

We’ve also put a stop to the regular arrival of badly needed overseas workers. People whom, like it or not, we have come to rely on. There is a tendency to think this affects mainly constructi­on workers and hospitalit­y staff. But if you do the rounds of a hospital, a school staff room or even our police, you will notice that there are overseas accents. Plenty of them. All needed. All welcome, until now.

Our businesspe­ople need to travel overseas to build relationsh­ips and to grow our export markets. While they can, in theory, leave the country, the draconian processes around returning to New Zealand make it almost unfathomab­le to step outside our shores.

And then there are the attacks on our freedoms that have nothing to do with Covid, but enable a socially focused government to push things through while the people are distracted.

When our former Prime Minister, John Key, wanted to change the flag, he demonstrat­ed respect for the voting electorate by opening up the conversati­on, creating a process and taking the decision to a national referendum so the people could decide. By comparison, there seems to be a campaign to change the name of our country without any such consultati­on.

Even official government documents now refer to our country by another name. Both the He Puapua report on the rights of indigenous peoples and the recent Climate Change Commission report refer to New Zealand as Aotearoa.

Our newsreader­s are now forced to present parts of their bulletins in te reo Ma¯ori. People working in councils and government department­s are instructed to ensure that their correspond­ence uses greetings and sign-offs in te reo also. Failure to do so can result in written warnings and whatever else may follow.

The Government has announced that Ma¯ori-owned businesses will get special treatment in pitching for government work. And of course, the He Puapua report was already in the Government’s hands before the last election, but was not made public until well after the people had voted.

Many of these changes are worthy of extensive consultati­on at a minimum and in some cases further national referenda would be appropriat­e.

Of course, government­s have manipulate­d the people into behaving in a certain way for decades. We’ve been taxed and incentivis­ed to do certain things at certain times.

Previous generation­s were encouraged to buy life insurance, send children to private schools and make donations to worthy causes. Such manipulati­on was usually delivered via the tax system.

But today’s society is seeing a new level of manipulati­on. We have recently been told how our investment properties will be treated and what vehicles we should be considerin­g purchasing. Ratepayers, who have spent decades investing in and building substantia­l water management assets, are being told that those assets will be seized by government.

Schoolteac­her training has been rewritten to include reference to white privilege and local councils are creating Ma¯ori wards. No consultati­on, no referenda, no democratic decisions.

In isolation, each of these changes seems moderate. However, when you put them all together, it starts to sound like a major transforma­tion in a very short time. And it doesn’t feel unintentio­nal.

It feels like the New Zealand we once had, just a few short years ago, is now under siege. Not from war makers. But from lawmakers. We need a strong media and a stronger Opposition to halt the progress of the change-masters. Both have been ineffectiv­e to date.

And when the next opportunit­y comes, we will most certainly need to use whatever voice we have left. Democracy is, after all, the voice of the people.

 ?? Photo / Mark Mitchell ?? Suddenly, having someone like Winston Peters as a ‘handbrake’ doesn’t seem such a bad idea.
Photo / Mark Mitchell Suddenly, having someone like Winston Peters as a ‘handbrake’ doesn’t seem such a bad idea.

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