what on earth is going on?

October 1st, 2010

I remember being asked quite some time ago why I no longer rant about New Zealand politics on this blog. My answer was something along the lines of NZ politics being so depressingly pathetic that I couldn’t face it anymore. Add to that the fact I haven’t been eligible to vote since 1999, having been outside NZ for longer than 3 years at every subsequent election, which takes away some of the incentive. And in 1999 I didn’t vote, because my voting papers arrived in Changsha mere days before the deadline, leaving me essentially no time to decide which was the least bad party of a rather bad bunch before sprinting to the nearest post office in the hope I might get my papers to the nearest consulate (Hong Kong, and assuming consulates could handle such things, otherwise the embassy in Beijing) in time. I suppose, having been in NZ last February, I’ll come in under the 3 year limit next election, but I was only there for 2 weeks, whereas one has to have lived in an electorate for one month to enroll, so I still can’t see how I’ll be allowed to vote. Basically, my participation in NZ politics is limited to vain ranting on this blog, and that’s not much of an incentive to involve myself.

But since that trip to NZ in February, I’ve been paying more attention to the NZ media and goings-on back on my home islands. The rate NZ politics is going, I might have to stop for the sake of my cardiovascular health. Things are building up to a point where I may not be able to resist resuming my ranting about NZ politics. And a gigantic rant follows, so I’ll put it behind a break.

I was disappointed but not surprised by the result of the last election. I’ve been consistently disappointed but not surprised by the National-led government’s conduct since then. It has been said often enough throughout history that the Nats have the arrogance of the born-to-rule (to be fair, I find Labour behaves with the arrogance of the successful revolutionary when they’re in government). But this time round National seems to be completely lacking in any kind of strategic vision, motivated purely by staying popular, and the half-baked thots it passes off as policy seem to get rammed through parliament as quickly as possible without any of the necessary forethought and nutting out of things let alone proper, robust debate. But that’s pretty much what I expected to happen, so I just sat here feeling disappointed but not surprised. Disappointed that for once my pessimism was proven right.

And then the David Garrett scandal broke, and that’s when my blood pressure started rising. No links, sorry, it’s just too pettily sordid for that. Google is your friend if you need the details. Just a quick summary from memory (corrections naturally welcomed): Early 80s, Garrett, a law student, uses a dead baby’s identity to obtain a false passport. Years later he’s caught. He gets a discharge without conviction and name suppression because apparently the consequences of a conviction and punishment would have a disproportionate impact on his career and reputation (and it is at this point in the story that my mind really starts to boggle and the blood starts to boil – HE’S A LAWYER! How could the consequences of being punished for such a crime not be disproportionate?!). In the process, he does not let the judge know he was convicted and fined $10 for assault in Tonga. He becomes a list MP for ACT, bringing the Sensible Sentencing Trust’s hardline law and order schtick into Parliament. His criminal past (much, but exactly how much is not known, of which his party leader knew about before he was given such a high position on the ACT list) is exposed, and after much wringing of hands in which he tries to write off the false passport episode as a “youthful prank”, he quits ACT and then parliament. And today, I read he’s applying for a barrister’s licence again!

I really find it hard to make any intelligent comment on this case. When the scandal first broke, I noticed a lot of otherwise intelligent, fair-minded, articulate people were struggling to say much more than that Garrett is a dick. All I can say is that I’m utterly gobsmacked at the gall of this man. I can not see anything in the above story that would suggest that any cell in that man’s body is in anyway suited to a career in either the law or politics (and let’s please put all prejudice against lawyers and politicians aside for the duration).

But it’s not just Garrett. And I think this is the first time I’ve ever found myself agreeing with Granny Herald. It’s a strange sensation, but I’m sure I’ll cope. Indeed, an awful lot has been rushed through parliament under urgency since the rise of Key. But the two examples in that editorial really scare me.

First of all is the rugby world cup. It should be A Good Thing for New Zealand (unless the All Blacks lose, which is not a scenario I wish to contemplate, given my compatriots’ bizarrely over the top placing of all their national pride on the success or otherwise of a rugby team). It should bring in lots of tourists, it should raise New Zealand’s profile internationally, and it should turn into a Good Time For All. That is what these international sporting competitions are supposed to be about, right? But why do I get the feeling that the government is desperate to ensure that it turns into The Great New Zealand Piss Up. How is it even necessary to ram some fast-track booze approval process through parliament to ensure that the rugby world cup turns into A Good Time For The Breweries and a collossal hangover for everybody else? Aren’t Kiwis good enough at spontaneously doing just that every weekend? Aren’t NZ’s police, paramedics and hospitals kept busy enough each weekend cleaning up drunken twats and the horrors they cause? Let alone the courts, prisons, and welfare agencies (both governmental and NGOs)…

All I can say is if they’re serious about that Party Central on the Auckland waterfront, they better have plenty of boats loaded with police divers and lifesavers on 24 hour patrol ready to catch drunken buffoons falling off wharves.

But far more seriously: Yeah, let’s use an earthquake to suspend democracy and put an extraordinary amount of totally unaccountable power into the hands of government ministers! And anybody who happens to get hurt in the exercise of all this power can go suck eggs, cos we won’t let the courts rule anything on any of this! And should a whole bunch of hastily rebuilt or repaired buildings collapse next time a fully-laden sheep truck milk tanker (silly me, how could I forget that NZ’s future lies in the destruction of its water resources?) passes, killing a bunch of people, too bad! Because, y’know, business as usual is just too much trouble.

Did somehow nobody in the National Party notice that New Zealand sits atop the boundary between the Pacific and Indo-Australian plates? That this plate boundary involves two subduction zones? If NZ’s abundance of pent up seismic, volcanic and geothermal energy could be coverted into electricity and we could find a way to export it (super-powerful lasers shone down fibreoptic cable? Or is my imagination running away with me?) then NZ could get amazingly rich and save itself the hassle of having the occasional city severely damaged. Really, I sympathise with the good citizens of Canterbury, as the situation they currently find themselves in is one I’ve been mentally preparing for my entire life, but a country in a position like New Zealand’s can’t use a major earthquake as an excuse to suspend business as usual and put the democratic process on the backburner. Business as usual must be designed to incorporate the certainty that at any given moment any of its villages, towns or cities could be instantly destroyed, and for that business as usual to allow for the continuation of democracy through the processes of rescue, recovery and reconstruction.

The fact that National would use excuses as pathetic as the rugby world cup and as serious as the Canterbury quake to roll back democracy and give themselves absurd powers is offensive enough. BUT WHERE ARE LABOUR, THE GREENS, AND THE MAORI PARTY?!?!?!? Not AWOL, but along for the anti-democratic ride, with apparently nothing more than a few limp-wristed misgivings expressed. The government is bad enough, but do we really need to put up with such a pathetic opposition? [alright, the Maori Party isn’t exactly opposition, but I can’t see how any of these things I’m complaining about benefits their constituency. They were elected to fight for the interests of a particular community, and I can’t see how they’re doing that] Shouldn’t Labour and the Greens be bellowing from the rooftops their ardent opposition to the government’s excuse for policy and threat to New Zealand’s democracy? Shouldn’t they be backing the teachers’ unions and the CTU with maximum fire-power? Shouldn’t the streets of Wellington be swamped with red and green banners and echoing with firebrand howlings for an end to National’s nonsense?

And now I read of a ridiculous, obnoxious attempt to deny prisoners the right to vote, with sound reasons why this is a stupid, stupid idea. It’s absurd enough that expat Kiwis are denied the right to vote after 3 years overseas (and only 1 year away for permanent residents), given NZ’s MMP voting system. I can understand denying us a local electorate vote, but we still have a valid interest in the politics of our nation, and so should still be allowed a party vote (sure, I’ll revise that statement if NZ changes to a different voting system, but so long as we have MMP, we should be allowed a party vote). But denying people the right to vote because they’re in jail? Well, that Werewolf article goes into enough detail as to why prisoners should be allowed to vote and the likely absurdities of denying all prisoners the vote should such a stupid law be passed. Although I can see valid arguments for denying expats the right to vote, I find it insulting that such a fundamental right of a citizen of a democratic state as the right to vote could be taken away by some petty little shit’s desire for revenge. Revenge is a desire education (both parental and formal) should teach us to temper and eventually replace with a respect for fair-minded justice. Revenge is what sees 5-year-olds get into fights over toys in sandpits. Penal systems should be about justice, which is an entirely different thing. Revenge is the abhorrent practice of a barbaric society. Justice looks at the reasons for the crime, applies an appropriate and measured punishment and does what it can to rehabilitate the offender. This means justice also looks honestly at the root causes of crime and does what it can to prevent new crimes from happening and to heal the hurts that caused that criminal behaviour in the first place (like I said, rehabilitate). Justice will never be perfect, but it will always be better than petty, narrow-minded, childish revenge. Ideally, voting rights should only ever be denied when it can be proved in a court of law that the one being denied the right to vote suffers from a medical condition that demonstrably prevents that person from making a valid decision about how to cast their vote – a mental illness so serious the patient quite literally has no concept of reality or very advanced Alzheimer’s, for example – and even then that should be done only under the most extreme circumstances.

But for the sake of being fair, I will give credit where it is due. This article, as short on detail as it may be, does seem to show the government doing real things to help the people of Canterbury rebuild. And that’s exactly what they’re supposed to be doing.

And investigation into a possible voting scam and allegations of attempted bribery in the run up to the advent of the Auckland Super City? Really, what on earth is going on back home?

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