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David Miller: Labour Arrogance over Privy Council

David Miller Online

Labour’s Arrogance over Privy Council

The decision by Margaret Wilson and the Government to push the Supreme Court Bill through Parliament without a public referendum is both arrogant and unwise. Labour has the numbers to pass the bill with the support from the Greens. The issue here is that this bill is one that not only alters New Zealand’s political and democratic structure but will also be an Act of Parliament that has ramifications for the future. Although it is moving the country down a republican path, those who advocate this route should be cautious in their support.

The New Zealand of the 21st Century should have its own Supreme Court. The vast majority of Commonwealth states have abolished their ties to the Privy Council and there is no reason to suggest New Zealand is incapable of doing the same and establishing a body with the same degree of judicial fairness, transparency and competence. There have been calls from bodies such as the Business Roundtable that the abolition of the link that will damage the credibility of New Zealand’s legal system and that any home grown Supreme Court has the potential to be influenced by political bias and troubled by inconsistency in its rulings.

The potential for political interference in a Supreme Court is a concern. Politicians in this country are not held in the highest regard and a new body would have to work very hard to shrug off any impressions that its founding was politically motivated along with its appointees. The obvious example of this happening is the United States where the Supreme Justices divided along partisan lines to elect George W. Bush to the Presidency. Could that happen here? There is the possibility. New Zealand does not have the same electoral system as the US however there would still be the possibility that an election result or an piece of legislation could be promoted or denied through a Supreme Court filled with men and women who owe their appointments to a particular government or political party.

The real concern for those advocating a Supreme Court and the cutting of ties with the British Monarchy is the manner with which the Government is operating.

This is an issue that effects all New Zealanders irrespective of their ethnic backgrounds, social and economic standing or political persuasion. The fact that United Future withdrew its support for the bill should have given the Government a reason to pause for thought but instead Labour is insisting on rushing the legislation through Parliament. The fact that a fundamental element of New Zealand’s democratic process can be altered so easily and quickly by a small majority of politicians is disturbing and sets a worrying precedent for the future. The Government and the bill’s sponsor Margaret Wilson are arrogantly assuming that they can act without public consultation on the matter and somehow know what is best for the country and this could sink the Supreme Court into political controversy and tarnish before it is even established.

This column has previously advocated cutting ties with the Monarchy and does not change this stance on this issue. But this issue must be put forward to a public referendum that not gives the Government a mandate to act for those it is supposed to represent. This would also give republican minded people a reassurance that issues which they feel strongly on are not being hi-jacked by politicians and gives their cause stronger support when further ties with the Monarchy are cut in the future. This works both ways in that it allows those favouring the Monarchist system an understanding as to where they stand.

Given Labour’s falling support at the polls there will be no public consultation on this matter. Labour is already becoming mired in controversy and a public reversal should that happen is the last thing the Government needs as it seeks a third term. However its handling of this issue rather than the issue itself does not paint a favourable picture of the Government and at this stage it can only be thankful that National cannot get its act together to prevent it being aversely effected when the voters go to the polls.


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