Minimising Democracy

Trying to write an editorial on democracy in a non-partisan way is fraught with difficulties. But the slow quiet erosion of the principles of democracy should be a worry to us all. Governments of any colour have used their power to limit the democratic choices of the people they rule – the people who elected them. All over the world democracies have faltered in the face of armies, dictators and revolutionaries.

Here in New Zealand we used to feel immune from the overwhelming visions of anti -democratic forces which threaten the people’s voice, their views and their vision for the future.

But here in God’s own, there has been an erosion over recent years. The Canterbury Regional Council was abolished because the then government did not like the restraints they were about to put on water use, claiming it couldn’t get its act together! We understand that the government is not convinced about retaining regional councils and they believe appointed Council-controlled organisations would be better than an elected and representative body.

More recently government through its officers has had a proposal to change the democratic makeup of the District Health Boards, and this not long after abolishing the Southern one. The proposal was to have fewer members and more appointed by government. Instead of eleven members – seven of which are elected – there would be nine, of which six would be appointed and three would come from a ‘community advisory group’ spending just six months at a time in office. The people would lose their voice on District Health Boards.

Then even more recently government has expressed an opinion about the viability of elected energy trusts. Electra is one of these and its future would be in doubt if this proposal got any traction. That would mean the end of local control by local people and accountability back to the community. It may even put at risk the annual discount provided by Electra to every household. (disclosure – an Otaki Mail co-owner is a member of the Electra Trust)

Then there is the recent proposal from a major political party requesting government to put limits on advanced voting in our elections thereby denying people the option of enrolling and voting on the same day. The proposal also requests a shorter timeframe for advanced voting. This places more barriers between people and their ability to vote. They also want voters to present official identification and sign a statutory declaration at voting. How will that improve voter turnout which is already worryingly low? What will it mean for people with limited reading and writing skills? Put all that alongside the request for less freedom of speech in the final weeks of a campaign and there appears to be a worrying erosion of democratic principles eg unnecessary use of ‘urgency’ to ram through legislation and therefore limiting public debate. Anything that limits freedom of speech also limits democracy.

It was Winston Churchill who said ‘Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.’

All over the world people have fought and died for democracy. We should not let it slip away bit by bit. Democracy and the right to vote should never become an outdated concept.

It is not an inconvenience, and as the thousands who marched against the TPPA showed, it is really important.

Lloyd and Ann Chapman