An average democracy…

Just after he’d won the  last  election, John Campbell interviewed Prime Minister John Key who  was  humbled by the result.  He told Campbell that arrogance  would not be a characteristic of his government or of his ministers…   And at this stage some years down the track, we’re entitled to a little giggle.   He might just as well have said that shame would not characterize them either. And he would be right.

maternity-leave-map

(On the map:

red = no paid leave;

orange = < 14 weeks;

yellow = 14-25 weeks;

pale blue = 26-51 weeks;

dark blue 52 + weeks.

No shame in the  well publicised snubs to public opinion over asset sales. None in  land sales to foreign buyers.   Not a skerrick  really over our  emergence as   an outstanding tax haven – and a third world  nation with    305,000 children in poverty and the  countless thousands homeless.

And finally no shame in  preventing an investment in families by using the Financial Veto to  torpedo the  Labour MP Sue Moroney’s Paid Parental Leave bill.

No arrogance? Pull the other one.  But this mean-spirited and unpopular  move  was more than just a  political manoeuvre  – it  struck at the heart of  our democracy. Parliament was ready to pass this bill  by 61 votes to  60.   But our   blokey Minister of  Finance Bill English said  no and  later was  grilled by  RNZ’s Guyon Espiner on his reasons.     Espiner pressed  him on the key  (pardon the pun)  issue and it wasn’t the bill which had sought to raise PPL from 17 to 26 weeks.

Espiner: ” Do you believe in democracy?”

English: ” Ah, yes, it’s pretty fundamental.

Espiner: Yes, democracy means the majority wins?”

English:  “Generally does”

Espiner:  “Yet we had a majority – 61 to 60 wanted  an extension of  paid parental leave, a majority of New Zealanders voted for parties which wanted  paid parental leave.”

English: “A majority of Parliament  has also supported a system called the  Financial Veto…”

And at that point you  want to throw your hands up  in despair. Yes the parties did that but the Veto is part of  Standing Orders, the sawdust of Parliamentary process.   The vetoed  Bill  was about improving the  lives of countless mothers and their children in the years to come.

Repugnant as it was, there was worse  and it came in  English’s endorsement of  the average.  We are  ‘about  average’ in the provision of  PPL, and that was just fine with the Minister.    Is that  really a mark of leadership?   Being satisfied with   being in the herd;  being average – another word for mediocre –  when once our imaginative flair led the world in so  many areas?

Well yes.    We can say the government leads by averaging  – and  in the process has made ours an average  democracy.

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Paul Smith

Paul is a veteran journalist, non-fiction author and writing mentor. He has also served on boards ranging from TVNZ to UNESCO.