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Advancing Democracy and Representation - Wilson

29 October 2000 Speech Notes

Lincoln Efford Memorial Address
Advancing Democracy and Representation

"[Our] capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but [our] inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary"

Niebuhr, Reinhold

1892-1971, American religious and social thinker

Democracy means government by discussion, but it is only effective if you can stop people talking

Clement Atlee 1883-1967


It is a great pleasure to be here with you tonight and to have the opportunity to talk about issues which are at the heart of the challenges we as a government face every day.

Some people, on their death, are honoured by having inanimate things – rock or cement - or natural things – rivers or bays or parks - named for them.

Lincoln Efford has been honoured by having a living process of debate and discussion named for him.

It is a wonderful tribute to a remarkable New Zealander and tonight he has given me an opportunity to add something further to our democracy.

For that I am grateful to Lincoln Efford and to all who remember and honour him.

I was struck on reading the theme "advancing democracy and representation" of the importance of the distinction between "democracy" on the one hand and "representation" on the other.

"Democracy" as a word entered our English language in the 16th century and in its modern sense, probably entered the consciousness of our ancestors at about that time. Democracy of this western type was established, but only slowly, in New Zealand after European settlement.

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It can only be said to have reached something anything like true democracy with the achievement of women's suffrage in 1893 and perhaps we should not regard it as fully established until the elimination of discrimination against Chinese was achieved in the 1950s. (Restrictions on naturalisation effectively prevented many Chinese from eligibility to vote).

Democracy answers the question: "who will rule". But it does not answer the question "how will our rulers behave" and "will they listen to the people".

Those questions are answered, to an extent, by the many forms of "representation" referred to in the topic you have chosen for me.

"Representation, as a word used in this sense, entered our English language in the seventeenth century as our ancestors found new ways to advance their interests.

We know that individuals were able to be represented by others many centuries before this, of course, but the idea of the political representation of class, ethnic, or interest groups is relatively new.

The Labour Party grew out of great democratic activist bodies called called "Labour Representation Committees" which brought together political and industrial representatives of workers and their families. We continue to provide for representation on a group basis – for example union, women, Maori, gay and lesbian – within the Party,

As President of the Labour Party, I came to realise how little understanding or appreciation there was of the role of the political party within our democracy.

The political party provides the structure within which our system of representative democracy is organised.

Like all organisations however, political parties need to reinvent themselves if they are to remain relevant and provide that essential link between the member and the electorate. Providing representation for minorities, and ensuring democratic organisation are a key to success.

My ancestors came to New Zealand in the 1860s to escape the poverty, hardships and inequality of a class system. We are still working to make real their dream of a new society founded on the principles of equality, independence, social, economic and cultural justice.

In society as a whole much of a modern democracy such as ours now consists of the interaction between the structures of democracy and the structures of representation as various groups seek to influence those who hold political power.

The experience of women is of direct relevance to the issue of advancing democracy and representation in New Zealand. Since colonisation women have worked tirelessly to ensure that women could speak for themselves.

The strength and commitment of those early pioneering women, together with their fine sense of political opportunism, made New Zealand the first country to give women the right to vote.

It was not until 1919 however that we could stand for Parliament, and not until Elizabeth McCombs was elected to Parliament as a Labour Member in 1933, those women's voices were heard in the Chamber.

Although women's voices have continued to be heard since that time, women Members of Parliament were few until the advent of MMP.

The struggle for equality is far from over. The evidence for this is found in the incidence of violence against women, the continuing disparity in rates of pay and opportunity for women, and in the barriers that persist in women's access to justice.

The improved representation of women in parliament makes it far more likely that progress will be made more rapidly in the future.

This is what I keep in mind as I work in my five portfolios and the roles I have as a list MP who works actively at an electorate level and as a Cabinet Minister.

Minister of Labour

As Minister of Labour I recently introduced and saw through parliament the new Employment Relations Law.

The new law was at one level a clear expression of democracy. We, and our Alliance partners, campaigned for an end to the Employment Contracts Act. There was no doubt that if either Labour or the Allliance or both were in a position after the election to restore workers rights that we would do so.

We did so. But the democratic process was affected by the processes of representation. Unions and employer groups wanted their say. Some, through representation, sought to overturn the democratic decision of the people. Others sought practical ways to overcome practical problems they saw ahead with what we proposed. The second group got a good hearing, and saw many changes made. The first went away disappointed, and are only now moving past denial, anger and grief into acceptance.

The law itself advances the possibility of representation by providing for collective organisation and representation of workers, both with a firm and within groups of firms.

This is what the new law's clear provision for unions is about – advancing the right of individuals to seek representation as a group on the basis of common interest.

There are those to whom this right, or at least the idea of actually exercising it, is a bad thing. They oppose representation in the workplace.

But our new law is a very mild law compared to the laws in some other advanced democracies in which worker representation and participation form past of employment law. In New Zealand, during World War Two, councils representing the state, the employers and the employees were established in many industries. They worked famously well as New Zealanders pulled together for the common good.

We have yet to see what forms of representation in the workplace will develop under the new laws. The state will not be prescribing them. They will develop through free choice of those involved.

In the area of occupational safety and health, for which I am responsible as Minister of Labour, there is a great interest in advancing worker participation, involvement and even control, in partnership with managers and state agencies such as OSH. Lives can be saved or lost according to the quality of the representation available on the job. We are reviewing our OSH laws and the need for workers to be able to be represented by trained and effective safety delegates will, I am sure, be a part of the outcome of that review.

Genuine involvement through collective bargaining and participation in Health and Safety initiatives can grow into effective workplace partnerships.

It is possible to extend the idea of partnership through enhanced representation to join decision-making.

To do this would imply that employers and managers, unions and employees wanted to go beyond the range os issues in which it is currently accepted that unions and employees have a legitimate interest. It is often assumed that issues of investment, profitability, diversification, location and so on are a matter of managerial prerogative. And if managers want them to be, they are.

Workplace democracy through effective representation has always been an aim of the Labour Movement; it will be up to employers, workers, managers and unions what advantage is taken of the new laws to create good faith relationships that make it possible.


As Attorney General I have the responsibility under the Bill of Rights Act to check all legislation coming before the house to see if any rights of citizens under the Bill of Rights are affected by the law. Since being appointed as Attorney General I have made four reports indicating that in my opinion proposed legislation would breach the rights of citizens. None were government Bills.

This does not mean that the proposed laws cannot proceed but the usual expectation is that changes will be made to bring the legislation in line with the Bill of Rights Act.

Although I am a part of the government, in carrying out this task I have statutory independence and must act according to my judgement of the law.

This is, then, a form of representation, in that my role is to represent the interests of the people, and ensure that those who have power to make laws are made aware of any danger to the rights of those who put them in power.

The government has also ensured more effective representation by finding ways to include those who might otherwise be excluded in the decisions that affect them. Those who live with a disability are a good example.

It is difficult to describe the feeling of powerlessness and exclusion one can feel when denied access through some impairment or disability. As one who has struggled to live a 'normal' life in what I often consider an 'abnormal' world, it is a relief it is to be part of a government that is prepared to assign Ministerial responsibility to the question of inclusion of disability in decision making.

Minister in Charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations

As Minister in Charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations I work within the context both of democracy and of the crucial need for the representation, within a democracy of minorities, especially indigenous minorities.

The Treaty of Waitangi does not establish a democracy. Democracy was established, imperfectly, through decisions of the New Zealand government to which the British Crown devolved its authority. The Treaty establishes a relationship between Maori and the government, wherever the authority of that government derives from.

In part, however, the government may be said to derive its authority from the Treaty itself, since article one establishes the right of the Crown to govern. There is argument, of course, over how far that right extends, and the meaning of words (such as 'kawana-tanga' and 'ranga-tira-tanga') used in Maori for English words (such as 'government' and 'chieftanship'). But the right of the government to govern has been, and still is, exercised in an unqualified way.

Maori were for many years in the position of a minority attempting to advocate minority positions in a democracy. On occasion they would be able, through effective representation, to gain support. Or sometimes the support of Maori in parliament would be needed for something which could be traded off for government support for Maori issues.

In 1975 and 1986 however, Labour governments first established and then extended the right of the Waitangi Tribunal to hear claims dating back to 1840.

The tribunal's decisions are in general not binding – just as my powers to report to parliament on Bill of Rights issues do not produce binding decisions. But the Tribunal services the function of magnifying the impact of Maori representation, and makes it more likely that minority representations will be heard.

This government has maintained and developed a treaty negotiations framework to allow for justified claims to be settled. We cannot provide full compensation for what has been lost, but we do offer to negotiate just redress. In this, the democratically-elected government, acting on behalf off all its citizens, Maori or not, negotiates with mostly small groups of Maori. Maori themselves, through a process known as mandating, must establish their own systems of representation. And claims can usually only be settled after a democratic endorsement through a system of individual voting.

So through the Treaty negotiations process the government supports and enhances the rights of claimants to have their views heard throughout he Tribunal process, negotiates directly with representative groups on the basis of democratically – supported policies and supports Maori groups themselves in extending their own systems of representation and democracy.

This government has been active in looking for new ways to support Maori groups as they establish robust systems of representation and to bring the process of historical claims to an end.

In New Zealand, however, we will always have to address the issue of the rights of the indigenous minority and whether systems of specific representation are appropriate and effective. The end to the process of historical claims is not yet in sight, but comes closer every day. We must look ahead to the on-going relationships between all cultures who are at home here. The issue is exactly the title of this address – the issue of advancing democracy, so that the people are free, and representation, so that the rights of minorities and other groups are not overlooked.

I see the guiding principle of this Government to be that of principled pragmatism. We listen to and accommodate differing viewpoints with the purpose of finding practical solutions to real problems. It means facing the hard question of redressing the inequalities between Maori and Pakeha/Europeans through the settlement of past grievances and the development of ways to support cultural autonomy.

It also means an overdue recognition that New Zealand is a multi-cultural society. This means addressing the real concerns of recent immigrants and not ignoring them in the hope they will adjust or leave.

Recognising the rights of cultural minorities means that they must have access to robust representation within the system. Proportional representation, which I will discuss later, has already had the effect of advancing the representation of groups such as Chinese New Zealanders and Pacific Island New Zealanders.

Associate Minister of Justice

In addition to my other work I am the Associate Minister of Justice, giving me responsibility for public law issues and much law reform.

One of my actions has gone to the very heart of New Zealand's democracy – the establishment, required under law, of an MMP Review Committee.

The Committee has been hearing submissions around the country on MMP will provide the basis for decisions to be made about our future electoral system. The decision to adopt MMP was made directly by the people. There is debate over whether the people are right. But I have to say that the fact that the people are able to make some decisions themselves, as a democratic decision, is a great symbol of the fact that in some ways we are self-governing – ultimately, we rule ourselves.

I have also been responsible for the establishment of the 2002 Electoral Taskforce to identify new initiatives to better administer the next general election. At the time of the last election there was anger at the length of time it took for the decision of the people to be known. The demand from the public, to say nothing of nervous politicians, is for smooth, well-organised and rapidly counted ballots. This is what the taskforce will be helping us do. I share the concern about some of the events of last year.

But I do want to record that in New Zealand you will be able to vote if you are entitled to do so. You will be able to do so secretly and without fear of persecution. Your vote will be counted.

In seeking better performance we should not ignore our achievements.

Democracy and Representation have their limits. Individual rights are also important. I discussed earlier the role of the Attorney General in protecting rights as the law is passed. This role, and other protections of human rights such as the Human Right Commission and the Race Relations Office need to be supported and developed to provide robust defence of all our rights as individuals. To this end I commissioned a major review of Human Rights protections in New Zealand and the government has given an opportunity for public submissions on the structure of our Human rights protections.

In addition, this government has been very active in promoting the rights of that 20% of the population which usually miss out on both democracy AND representation – children. Some limited special representation is provided for children through the office of the Commissioner for Children. And this government's Ministers are all active in attempting to advance the rights and interests of children.

I have promoted (with Steve Maharey) a discussion paper on Guardianship laws and practices and I initiated through a notice of motion in parliament a select committee review of adoption laws.

In each case we are promoting the view that children are not chattels or things which can be owned or possessed. The interests of the child must be paramount. If our efforts here and in other legislation to protect the child are successful, we will not deprive parents of their rights of representation as individuals, and we will certainly be listening to the organised groups of parents and care-givers with views on these matters.

But the effect of democracy, in the end, should be that these most under-represented citizens are given effective recognition and, through legal processes, representation.

The idea of democracy is based on the fundamental premise of a fair equal society in which the views of one group, even a majority, do not overwhelm the interests of others, even minorities. We are promoting a fairer approach to property division when relationships fail in the Property (Relationships) Bill). Many report back from select committee in November). This means recognising the equivalence between a married couple, a defacto couple and a same-sex defacto couple when it comes to property issues. In this case, it could be said, the government, especially through list MPs such as Tim Barnett is itself taking on something of a representational function on behalf of people who might otherwise be without powerful defenders.

Associate Minister of State Services

Finally, in this run through my portfolios, let's look at the issue of advancing democracy and representation in my portfolio of Associate Minister of State Services.

My predecessor in a previous government, Sir Geoffrey Palmer discovered a large number of what were then called quangos in the state sector. That is: quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisations. Things the state owned, but often wasn't quite sure about how to take care of, or even what, exactly, they should be doing. So he embarked on what he called "the great quango hunt", seeking and, in some cases, eliminating quangos.

Well, on taking over the job I found that the numbers seemed to be back at pre-Geoffrey levels, with more than a hundred of what are now called Crown-owned entities. These are bodies like the Casino Control Authority, the Civil Aviation Authority the Commerce Commission the Commissioner for Children and Crown Research Institutes. – just to mention the "C"s.

Rather than hunt them, this government has chosen to muster them and divide them into four different paddocks. Each of the four types of Crown Owned Entity will have a different sort of accountability to the government and a different form of governance.

In doing this we are making clear what rights the people have over these agencies set up to serve their interests. This enhances democratic control over them, as well as ensuring that public money is well spent.

And by spelling out their accountabilites we make clear how the role of these agencies can be changed, if the public want to make representations to do so.

Public representation is also ensured through he appointment of people to the Boards of these entities – this process, which is done by elected representatives should be above board and clearly visible to the people.

There will always be allegations of jobs for the boys and jobs for the girls – but the task of those of us who make appointments to public bodies is to ensure that the aim of proper representation, both of the policies of the democratically elected government, and of the people is achieved.

I told parliament as soon as I had a chance that I believed one of the primary tasks of this Government is the reconstruction of the public sector and the rehabilitation of the whole notion of politics and government.

For me politics has always been the art of reconciliation of differing points of view in such a way as to find a practical solution to a problem. Government is the authority the people assign the task of finding those solutions, and the public service is the instrument for implementing them.

The public deserve a clear and approachable public sector, able to demonstrate the way in which it is serving them.


I have given you some thoughts about how this government is advancing democracy and representation. I have done this by looking at my own activities and explaining the links.

It is striking how important both democracy and representation are in my portfolios and in the approach being taken by this government. I know that my colleagues' handling of their portfolios reflects the same values.

The government is in itself an example of the extension of democracy and representation. We are the first government to be elected after campaigning on a clear intention to go into coalition after the election. The public knew what they were getting. As a result of proportional representation – which incidentally could be delivered through a number of systems and not just MMP – a wider range of voters are represented in parliament and in government. The old "winner-takes-all" system has gone, and a new style of more responsive government is developing.

I hope my contribution tonight has done justice to your purpose in honouring the memory of Lincoln Efford, and I want to acknowledge the presence of Mrs Efford who is here with us tonight. A living legacy of debate, discussion and democracy is a wonderful thing and I appreciate the opportunity you have given me to take part in it.


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