I cannot believe that I am thinking about voting to keep our current flag. It is a flag that I have loathed for probably 30 years. Its similarity to the Australian flag reminds me of when New Zealand was ruled by New South Wales, and its imagery is redolent with smug colonial arrogance. It reinforces a constitutional fiction – that somehow the sovereignty of New Zealand resides in the Queen, and that she is a font of justice and honour.
But it is possible that the alternatives are worse.
Yesterday the Flag Consideration Panel released its shortlist of four possible options. The first round of voting will decide which of these is the favorite. The winner will then go up against the current flag in the second round of voting. Once you realise that the shortlist was approved by the Cabinet, it all starts to make sense. John Key’s personal favorite is represented twice, in slightly different colour combinations, to make sure that it has double the chance of being chosen. Actually, that design is the only one to have any colour at all. The other two are in monochrome, just in case you didn’t understand which was the right answer.
The prospect of ending up with a flag that looks like it was cut out of a weetbix box seems to have burned off a fair chunk of the dwindling support for a flag change. I have to admit to being highly confused about the Government’s motives in this whole debacle. For people who claim to want to change the flag, they seem to have pretty much destroyed most of the majority support that once existed for doing that. A lot of that would have been on the left and green spectrums I suppose, but I’m sure they must have also irritated a fair chunk of conservative National voters in the process, by even suggesting a change. Amusingly, the process has been so badly designed that they now look likely to lose the vote. Is it too conspiritorial to think they did it to destroy any prospect of a flag change for the next few decades?
I guess so.
Not of course as conspiritorial as the bizarre theory being spread around Facebook, claiming that removing the union jack from our flag will destroy the DUE AUTHORITY of the Crown (I know, I know, its a made-up term) and nullify the Treaty of Waitangi. Apparently this is all necessary so we can sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. Why New Zealand would be the only country that needs a flag change to sign a trade deal is beyond me, never mind how the authority of the British Crown or the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi could rely on a flag adopted in 1902.
So what then is the Prime Minister’s motivation? I suspect that its a bit of an ego thing. New Zealand has been orienting away from Europe and towards Asia ever since Britain joined the Eureopean Community and basically told us to get lost, economically speaking. Sooner or later we are going to become an republic and change the flag, not necessarily in that order. It must be a bit of a buzz to be the guy to do it, and I am sure Key holds no great affection for Britain, the Royals or tradition, except where it provides an opportunity for a good selfie.
Actually the best argument against changing the flag that I have read is because it SHOULD be in that order. Removing the symbol of British sovereignty, the argument goes, before we have actually brought our sovereignty home is just shallow tokenism. We should change the flag when we do something constitutionally significant enough to warrant it. I have some sympathy with that idea.
But more than that, I am deeply irritated by not having the chance to vote for anything even close to something I’d want to see fly as New Zealand’s flag. I can happily accept losing a vote to the preferences of my fellow citizens. I do not accept being denied a decent choice by a panel of Government cronies. I am reluctantly thinking that I will vote for the koru in the first round and then vote to keep the current flag in the second round, in the hope that we get another crack at it in a few decades. That’s when I am hoping that we finally start getting serious about ditching the Saxe-Coburg and Gotha family.
Ultimately the whole affair, like the flag choices we have been allowed to choose between, lacks imagination. It should all have been done with on-line voting. Every registered voter could have been provided a log-in to an STV voting website, and allowed to rank as many of the flags on the long-list of 40 (plus the current flag) as they wanted. Voting through public access terminals in libraries and through smart phones at wi-fi hotspots could be made available for those without internet access at home. This would have been highly democratic and also considerably cheaper. It would have given us a flag with majority support. It would have been quick and easy. Finally it would have been a great opportunity to pilot some digital democracy, and start to bring our voting systems into the 21st century.
But then going by past events, I guess that enhancing democracy is not something that interests this Government.
This is the full recording, which disappeared off youtube a while ago. Thanks Ken Spagnolo for helping me track it down
This one day workshop explores the nature of citizenship and the rights and responsibilities of being a citizen. It begins by developing a broad understanding of the constitution and then progressively narrows in on the details of Parliament, the select committee process and, finally, voting. It aims to empower participants with a comprehensive understanding of both the formal processes of governance as well as practical tools for influencing change.
The workshop is interactive and uses brainstorming, small group discussion, video and roleplay to draw out the knowledge of participants and build on it. It is suitable for teenagers to adults.
Develop an understanding of New Zealand’s formal systems of governance
Develop an understanding of how political processes work in practise
Understand the arguments for and against an adversarial system
Develop the confidence to participate in the democratic process
Develop lobbying skills, including the ability to make effective parliamentary submissions
Develop an understanding of how MMP works and the difference between your two votes
Introductions and Ice-breaker
Talking about the constitution
Sources of political power.
Does New Zealand have a constitution?
What about the Treaty of Waitangi?
Should New Zealand become a republic?
Government, Parliament, Judiciary and the separation of powers.
What does Parliament do?
How laws get made.
How to influence the legislative process.
Focus on Select Committees
What they are.
What they do.
How to make a great submission.
Roleplay a Select Committee process
How MMP works
How voting works
Coalitions and coalition agreements
So election day came and went with very little changing, for all the hubbub. National is a bit stronger, and no doubt emboldened by success. Labour is a bit weaker, and will now be focussed on blame and bloodletting. The Greens are probably feeling in pretty good shape, but are likely puzzled at the apparent drop-off in support on election day – again. It’s hard to say whether it is some unknown systematic polling bias or whether people get cold feet once they get an orange marker in their hand.
More significant are the changes among small parties. The loss of Hone Harawira from Parliament is a major blow and only time will tell whether there is any life left in Mana. If it really intends to be a movement rather than a political party, as its supporters claim, then this might be a blessing in disguise. It is almost impossible for a genuine political movement to coalesce out of a political party, rather than the other way round.
The Maori Party has survived and if it can find a way to heal the deep rift caused by the expulsion of Hone Harawira and make room for mavericks within the party, it may be capable of rebuilding itself. I always thought the best strategy was to keep people like Hone inside the tent, free to say the things the leadership couldn’t say.
ACT was mortally wounded 3 years ago after making John Banks their leader – and that was before the scandals. The party is still alive albeit on an iron lung. It’s hard to imagine David Seymour, or Jamie Whyte as out-of-Parliament leader, making enough impact to lift party support much. The only question is how long National finds it convenient to keep the life support plugged in.
Nothing much changes for New Zealand First, although having Ron Mark back will help it look less like a one-man show. The extra votes that Winston now wields will mean little.
Overall, then, people voted for more of the same and they are going to get it. For progressives, this is a lost opportunity. It means another three years before anyone even begins making the kinds of infrastructural changes needed to become a 21st century nation. It means that at a national level a number of indicators are going to keep getting worse – from poverty levels and inequality gaps to worsening environmental quality and loss of ecological integrity. It means another three years of embarrassment on the international stage, as we continue to drag the chain on climate change and spy on our friends on behalf of the Club of Five. All masked by growth rates that sound adequate but are largely meaningless when it comes to the real state of the economy.
Disappointing but hardly traumatic.
So I was a little taken aback at the outpouring of grief on my Facebook page. Many of my friends and acquaintances seem shell-shocked by the election result. Their responses range from disbelief to anger. It is like looking at a classic Kubler-Ross model of responses to grief. I thought I’d show a diagram so that people can understand the process they are going through and see that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Meanwhile, in the interests of retaining a little dignity in defeat, here is my list of three top tips:
Stop telling people they were stupid for voting National (or despicable for exercising their legal right to not vote)
Stop assuming national voters are all selfish and greedy – they may well have voted for National because they simply didn’t believe a Labour Green Government had, or could deliver, the solutions.
Stop saying that you think the election was rigged. The left lost. (This for the more volatile activists)
On the other hand, in the interests of not looking stupid, my advice to all the right wing media commentators is to stop saying that David Cunliffe should have criticised his team, his campaign strategy and himself in his election night speech. There is plenty of time for Labour to look at what it is doing so spectacularly wrong, but election night speeches conceding defeat are for thanking the team for trying, not attacking them for failing to win.
Having said that, there are a few glaring faults that Labour needs to rectify if it wants a shot at leading a Government in three years time.
Labour needs to stop fighting itself and its allies. I won’t go on about the internal self-sabotage because it is so obvious as to be painful, but Labour really needs to learn to play with the other kids. Writing off working with Internet-Mana was stupid. It says that either Labour will probably be unable to form a Government or that, as Hone intimated, they are lying. John Key was not sullied by either the puppy love of Colin Craig or the more bizarre shenanigans of John Banks. He even got away with picking the lock for both Banks and David Seymour to break into the House, without it reflecting badly on him. He just looked pragmatic. Why then did Labout panic over Internet Mana?
The billboard change-outs that said “only a vote for Labour will change the Government” was equally stupid. It was patently untrue for a start. If people thought it was true then the implication was that there was NO WAY that Labour could be the Government since it was polling in the thirties. It was just another sign that Labour had forgotten how to put coalitions together.
There is no doubt that there was media bias in the campaign. The last poll reported in the Herald showed a drop in support for National, but was reported as showing a jump in support, based on some shoddy and invalid statistical manipulation. That sort of media bias needs to be jumped on pretty smartly. Nevertheless the big problem wasn’t the media. It was the campaign.
David Cunliffe did really well when he had the chance. He certainly looked like John Key’s equal in the leaders debates, but that was never going to be enough in the context of a weak campaign that was full of blunders. Apologising for being a man was probably the most ridiculous thing to come out of the mouth of a political leader for some time. Drawing lines in the sand over things like cannabis law reform, which is supported by a majority of the population and his potential allies, was unwise and unnecessary. He could easily have fudged the issue to give himself some room.
Finally, the impact of ‘Dirty Politics’ and Kim Dotcom. I have huge respect for Nicky Hagar and his work but in hindsight, releasing the book during the campaign was too cute. It looked like a stunt. It would have been better for Nicky to have released the book earlier in the season to allow the issues to be investigated and the shine to be taken off Key without leaving himself open to the accusation of trying to hijack the election. Given the careful persona Key has cultivated for so long, people probably needed a bit of time to assimilate the new information. Bringing it out during the campaign seems to have just locked in people’s opinions, for or against Key.
The decision of both Hone Harawira and Laila Harre to link themselves to the Kim Dotcom train was always going to be a high risk gamble. Whatever else you think of Kim Dotcom, it became apparent early on that he is a loose unit with no political sense. The best thing at that stage would have been to kept him well out of the stage lights. I suspect that would have been hard to do. I have no doubt that he is a strong willed guy with a ego to match the size of his bank balance. Nevertheless if Internet Mana wanted to be taken seriously as something other than his toy, he needed to stay in the background. Allowing him to hijack both the launch (by publicly hinting he hacked Slater) and the Moment of Truth (with the email about his personal fight with Key) was unwise.
So, lets look at the silver lining. Lots of people are now motivated to ensure Key doesn’t get a fourth term. This is a good time to harness some of that energy, not for political party work but for building a genuine constituency for change. The thing that will ultimately define the shape of New Zealand is not politicians but the expectations of its citizens. When there is a broad movement for a socially, ecologically and financially regenerative transformation, then the political parties needed to support that will be elected into Government. But be warned – we are a long way from being able to deliver a compelling vision of the future.
In 1990 I put an election billboard on my fence that featured a sinister looking silhouette in a business suit saying “vote for No-One, because No-One cares”. People’s responses ranged from amusement to furious anger, with one person even climbing the fence to vandalise it at night.
It was a bit of fun, but with a serious intent. I wanted to express my dissatisfaction at a system that trades a vote every three years for meaningful participation. I wanted to show my disgust at the co-option of governments by corporate lobby interests. I wanted to demonstrate my belief that the parliamentary system is unable to comprehend, much less find a solution to, the real issues facing our world.
All those statements still hold true for me today. Looking back, though, what strikes me is my dismay when New Zealand elected a National Government. I could see on election night that things were going to get much worse for ordinary New Zealanders. Indeed, that Government soon introduced a range of regressive policies that remain in place to this day, including the end of free tertiary education, vicious welfare cuts, attacks on workers’ rights and asset sales that even the previous Labour Government had balked at.
A year or two later I found myself at a huge march in Auckland to oppose the policies of a Government that I had encouraged people not to vote against. That contradiction, and others I experienced at a variety of street demonstrations and occupations during those years, led me to question much of my political ideology and dogma. As a result of this on-going self reflection my ideas about strategy and tactics have become more responsive, while my principles have become clearer.
My views on engagement in parliamentary politics changed with the introduction of MMP. In 1999 I was elected as an MP for the Green Party and just under nine years later I resigned from Parliament. In my final speech I spoke about many of those same themes that had concerned me in 1990. Perhaps more than most, I am well aware of the limitations of parliamentary politics.
There are two main reasons that progressive thinkers give for not voting. The first is that it makes no real difference. The second is that voting legitimises an illegitimate system.
It’s true that you can’t vote for revolution. That doesn’t mean that revolutionaries shouldn’t vote. It just means they should vote for more practical reasons. Voting is a tool, and like all tools there are some things it is good for and some things it is not.
The outcome of this election will make a lot of difference. Not in fundamental ways perhaps, but it will have direct impact on people’s wellbeing. Whether National or Labour leads the next Government – and just as importantly, how much influence the Greens have, or the Conservatives, ACT, the Maori Party, Internet Mana and NZ First – will determine how much the lowest paid workers will get to take home each week. It will determine whether our coastline is opened up for oil drilling and maybe whether we end up having a catastrophic oil spill. It might decide whether the Maui’s Dolphin becomes extinct. It will decide whether housing will be more, or less, affordable. It will make a clear statement about whether as a nation we are concerned about child poverty or whether we really just don’t care as long as we get a tax cut.
My aims in voting this year are modest. I don’t expect radical change from politicians because they couldn’t deliver it even if they wanted to, at least not without massive changes in public opinion first. I don’t expect the big problems to be solved or to see congregations of the wise inhabiting the Beehive. I vote to make some government policies a little better and to stop some others getting worse. I vote so that at least some of my most important issues are amplified. I vote so that there is someone in there to call out the bullshit when they see it. I vote because the National Party’s lies and deceit just went too far this time. I vote because trying to make the world a better place is easier when we have allies in Government. Given the minimal effort involved, it seems like an own goal not to.
Finally, if you are worried that ticking a voting form will somehow legitimise the system, don’t be. Your vote will have absolutely no impact on that. All it will do is make it more or less likely that John Key and the National Party is re-elected.
One of the reasons I first got interested in the Greens, before MMP and long before I ever joined the party, was the cannabis policy. It may not be the most important issue in the world but I see it as a kind of litmus test of a party’s integrity. The issue is so politically sensitive that most party’s will, at best, keep silent on the question of law reform, despite knowing that prohibition does infinitely more harm and costs the economy vastly more than cannabis use itself does.
Until now the Greens have been the only party in Parliament, or with any show of getting into Parliament, with a rational drug policy. Until now. Today the Internet Party announced a cannabis policy that is the most progressive and evidence based of any political party likely to be in the next Parliament.
What does it say?
Firstly, the Internet Party would allow cannabis to be prescribed as a medicine – not through legislation but by an administrative amendment. This would take the decision about medical marijuana out of the hands of politicians and give it to doctors, where it belongs. Since there is no legal supply of natural cannabis, they would allow medical users to grow a set amount for themselves or nominate someone to do it for them if they are unable to.
Secondly, they would immediately change the law to allow adults to cultivate and possess cannabis for personal use. While they do not specify how many plants that would be (simply saying that decision should be based on research), they do promise to remove the ‘reverse onus’ provision of the Misuse of Drugs Act. Currently, and contrary to basic principles of justice, if a person is caught with over an ounce of cannabis they have to prove that they are not selling it.
Thirdly the Internet Party would develop a system to regulate and tax the market. This is the best, and most courageous, part of the policy. The reality is that decriminalising cannabis is a good first step, but it can never deal with all of the problems of prohibition. Even if people can grow their own cannabis, most will still want to buy it, just as they prefer to buy beer even though there is no law against brewing it. A market for cannabis will always exist and unless it is properly regulated the problems of sales to underage buyers, organised crime and loss of tax revenue will remain the same. Regulating the cannabis market is not currently supported by the majority of New Zealanders the way that decriminalisation is, but it is the right thing to do.
Finally the Internet Party would use some of the huge financial savings made from taking cannabis users out of the criminal justice system, to resource increased drug education, health promotion and addiction treatment. I worked with Laila Harre when she was Minister of Youth Affairs on a Green initiative to increase funding for drug education. Some Ministers liked to throw money at programmes with charismatic front-people, even when they were ineffective. Laila, in contrast, was focussed on what kinds of approaches actually made a difference to young people’s health outcomes. This was usually programmes that treated young people as intelligent and able to make good decisions for themselves if they had balanced information.
I think this policy is a brave move. No doubt it will lead to some interesting conversations with Mana. It will be controversial. But it is also astute. The Greens still support law reform, and will be important in getting any legislative change through Parliament, but understandably it is a low priority for them. There is now no one in Parliament proactively speaking up for law reform. Thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of votes are looking for somewhere more promising than the ALCP. If Laila Harre is serious about this, she would be the perfect person to take cannabis law reform through Parliament. She is courageous, intelligent and informed – without being vulnerable to the kinds of attacks made on me when I was championing cannabis law reform in Parliament as an “out” cannabis smoker. As the only party seriously pushing for the youth vote, this is sure to be a winner for Internet Mana.
The policy can be found at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1FFXG3tWggczbmzJ1MK7WL0qxJyrmgGMHhtcDZCN6INE/edit