I have recently surveyed the electorate and one issue that is repeatedly raised is co-governance, and rightly so. Talk of co-governance goes to the heart of what our democracy should be and I would argue, those pushing for co-governance are undermining our democracy. Ministers in government speak of a ‘new New Zealand democracy’. This is a literal red flag to me – what ‘new’ aspects can our country bring to a tradition thousands of years in the making? The answer is nothing; what is being suggested is an erosion of at least two core aspects of what a democracy is.
The first is ‘one person, one vote’. Co-governance strikes at the heart of this essential principle, allowing one group of people a disproportionate say. This is not right, nor is it democratic. In fact, it is tribalism and I will write here clearly that tribalism and democracy are mutually exclusive. Tribalism breaks us down into groups and eventually, playing these groups off one another. We have seen this in New Zealand and across the world – be it from Ireland to Fiji, and pretty much everywhere in between over the course of history. The end of such division is not a peaceful democratic system, but one of derision, competition, and resentment.
The second aspect that co-governance undermines is accountability. If people are simply appointed to roles rather than elected, then the ability to hold them accountable is much harder – if not impossible. This is also particularly true of any tribalist approach; those at the top are often appointed by birth or tradition and not necessarily representative of the whole group. New Zealand can do without this approach if we wish to maintain a healthy democracy. We need to encourage as many voices to speak and to have an equal ability to do so, and be equally accountable. That is democracy.
Finally, and as I write, we are also seeing the government (with the support of the Green Party) seeking to entrench Three Waters legislation. This means stopping a simple majority from changing the law; instead requiring a 60% majority. This is dangerous step, and it will undercut a key convention of our democracy and constitution. We only entrench laws that have bi-partisan support and for high level matters related to the likes of elections – think the voting age.
We have never used entrenchment for political policies, let alone one so controversial. As I say, this is a very dangerous move and it is wrong. When considered around the co-governance debate, this act raises even more alarm bells on where our democracy is headed under the current leadership.
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