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Expert Warns NZ Law-Making Process In Danger

media release
Embargoed until Monday 28 July 2008

International Expert Warns New Zealand’s Law-Making Process Is In Grave Danger

“New Zealand has stripped safeguard after safeguard away from its legislative process—leaving it with virtually none of the safeguards that most working democracies take for granted,” argues visiting constitutional law expert Professor Jeremy Waldron.

On Monday 28 July, at 6 pm, at Maxim Institute’s Annual John Graham Lecture, Professor Waldron will address an audience in Auckland on the topic of “Parliamentary Recklessness: Why we need to legislate more carefully.”

“We defend the stripping away of each safeguard by pointing to some other system that doesn’t have it. But we only ever consider them one by one, without considering how many of these safeguards we have stripped away and how anomalous it is in the world to have a legislature with such untrammelled powers,” says Professor Waldron.

“No quorum, no second chamber, no requirement to attend in order to vote, no judicial review, no real independence from the executive and constant recourse to urgency. It may be possible to justify each of these features considered in itself, but we must consider their cumulative effect on the quality of public debate.”

“I worry that in New Zealand, we have moved to the idea of dispensable debate, where debate is seen simply as an embarrassing ritual that needs to be gone through as quickly and with as little cost to the public as possible. Parliament is not a place of genuine engagement anymore,” Professor Waldron argues.

“New Zealand’s Parliament has become a place where preordained positions are stated, with hopefully as little fuss and as little public expense as possible. Parliament—the one forum dedicated to public debate—is becoming the one place where public debate has become perfunctory—a simple matter of political posturing.”

“I am afraid that a society which has allowed its tradition of parliamentary debate to atrophy is also in danger of allowing its traditions of more informal public debate to atrophy. As Parliament becomes a place where people simply state preordained opinions, maybe civil society at large is in danger of becoming a place where people simply state preordained opinions. Parliament becomes a place where no one listens and society too becomes a place where people deafen themselves to the opinions of others.”


Maxim Institute is an independent research and public policy think tank, registered as a charitable trust. See www.maxim.org.nz.

Professor Jeremy Waldron
New Zealand born, Professor Jeremy Waldron now lectures at the School of Law at New York University. He holds degrees in philosophy and law from the University of Otago and a doctorate in jurisprudence from Oxford University. He is the author of more than a hundred published articles and essays in legal and political philosophy, both contemporary and historical. His work on theories of rights, constitutionalism, democracy, property, torture, the rule of law, and homelessness are well known, as is his work in historical political theory.

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