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New Zealand First's Three Strikes Against Diversity

Dunne Speaks: New Zealand First's Three Strikes Against Diversity

Over the last few weeks there have been three subtle but deliberate moves from New Zealand First which, while on the face of it are apparently unrelated, nonetheless, when taken together amount to a significant attempt to limit diversity and debate in New Zealand. In their own way, each is consistent with that Party's long held, unstated ambition of returning New Zealand to the type of insular, homogeneous, conformist society it was in the days when Rob's Mob held sway.

The so-called "waka jumping" legislation came first. Ostensibly, this legislation is about upholding the electoral will of the people by preventing MPs who leave their parties during the Parliamentary term from remaining in the House, and so preserving the electoral status quo. In reality, the initiative has two real objectives: first, straightjacketing New Zealand First MPs from rebelling and splitting from the party, as an earlier bunch did when the 1996-98 coalition with National blew asunder; and, second, preventing National from establishing a new support partner by mandating one or more of its current MPs to split off to establish such a party.

But it also has a more sinister aspect. It makes the party leader all powerful in terms of a party's MPs. As the New Zealand First leader is now the dominant leader of the government, it effectively makes all government MPs responsible to him, not their own parties and most certainly not the electorate which elected them. The chilling consequence of this is that it effectively stamps out all prospect of serious internal dissent, or even debate, and the expression of alternative political views. MPs will therefore be reduced to the status of mere ciphers, pallidly toeing the party line, and eschewing any independence or diversity.

Yet our Parliament is not called the House of Ciphers, nor the House of Delegates. It is properly and deliberately titled the House of Representatives, where MPs are expected to debate fearlessly and without prejudice the issues of the day. (Indeed, one of the first steps every new Speaker takes is to symbolically lay claim to the rights and privileges of Members to do so.) The "waka jumping" legislation is a clear constraint on the ability of MPs to do their job and represent their constituents effectively, as well as on the conscience of MPs to leave their party if they feel it has moved in a direction they can no longer support, and to leave it to the electorate to judge them at the next election.

Then, at their party conference at the weekend, New Zealand First members supported a proposed Bill to require new migrants to sign up to a set of pre-determined New Zealand values, and presumably be required to leave the country or forfeit their residence status if they will not do so, or breach them subsequently. This has eerie overtones of dark, earlier times when countries have attempted to impose national values on a population and exclude those who failed to comply, and is a direct affront to modern, diverse, tolerant New Zealand. In fact, the only requirement we should impose on new residents is the one we impose on ourselves - to abide at all times by the rule of law. In a democratic society, there is no place for the state attempting to define or legislate the values of that society, save for the universal right to freedom of belief and expression.

Now, this week, New Zealand First is speculating about changing the electoral system by "reviewing" (in reality, tightening) some of the threshold requirements in particular. That immediately raises the point that changes to electoral law should come at the behest of the public, not be driven by any particular political party. So people should be extremely wary of the real motives of politicians abruptly and arbitrarily promoting changes to the way MPs are elected. Moreover, any changes should err on the side of extending the opportunities for the representation of diverse political views, rather than limiting them.

Taken together, limiting the ability of MPs to speak out and challenge their party leaders if they feel they are wrong; tightening up the electoral system to make the representation of minority views more difficult; and, then defining the values new residents are expected to uphold are a comprehensive assault on the underpinnings of the tolerant, diverse, liberal society we take for granted. They should be rejected, completely, loudly and immediately.


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