When Pita Sharples questioned whether 'one person, one vote' is the most important democratic principle he was challenging one of the sacred cows of modern western society: that procedural 'fairness' produces the fairest results. It's no surprise that he was met with indignation.
For indigenous people who are a minority in their own land it is a relevant question to ask. How can they have any real power in a system that embodies, and is dominated by, the settler majority? It is no coincidence that in places like colonial New Zealand votes were originally reserved for land owning men. This disenfranchised Maori, who tended to own lands in common, and women. It was only after Maori had become a minority in their own country that private ownership of land was removed as a voting prerequisite and the 'democratic mandate' became a trump card.
What we have in this country, representative majoritarianism, is only one form of democracy and not necessarily the best. Every three years we elect a bunch of people to represent the interests of the Queen (when taking my seat in Parliament I tried to swear allegiance “to the people of New Zealand and Te Tiriti o Waitangi” but I was not permitted to do so). Governments claim a mandate for anything that was in their election manifestos, regardless that their voters don't necessarily support or even know about all their policies. They often claim a mandate for things they never mentioned before the election and getting a majority of votes in the House is their only constraint. They are, in effect, an elected dictatorship.
Which is one of the reasons I support an enforceable constitution that embodies Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the New Zealand Bill of Rights. In addition, I think it is time we started to talk in this country about a Bill of Environmental Rights. It is now clear that the Government, beholden as it is to big business interests, is incapable of dealing with the ecological crisis that we face.
The publication of the most recent results from the Clean Streams Accord show that dairy farmers' compliance with their effluent discharge consents is declining. Serious noncompliance is growing. That is without even talking about the massive unregulated effects on our rivers of increased cow urine on fields.
Fonterra has threatened, once again, to come down hard on non-complying farmers but the action has yet to match the rhetoric. They are putting in $1 million into a pilot monitoring campaign in the Waikato. This is small cheese compared to their $16 billion in revenue last year, or the $542 million of pretax profit they made. The Government has made disapproving noises about the Accord results but the Government has yet to do anything substantial to address the killing of our waterways. No surprises there.
As in the past New Zealanders may have to turn to direct action if they wish to protect ecological integrity. The Government's suggestion that it may open up conservation land to mining has brought that sharply home. Most New Zealanders, it would seem, do not support the environmental vandalism this is sure to entail, despite all the soothing words about 'surgical mining'. If the Government is foolish enough to push ahead with its plans, it may find opposition takes an extra-legal as well as legal form. It may prove to be a costly excersie for any company that decides to get involved.
Which makes the recent acquittal of the Waihopai Three all the more cheering. Their defence of 'claim of right' may not succeed for someone prosecuted for disabling a digger to protect a native forest, but the case proved something more important than that, IMO. It showed that 12 ordinary New Zealanders, unlike some media commentators, could decide a case based on more than the appearance of the defendants' beards. And that given all the facts 12 ordinary New Zealanders could decide that damaging Defence Department property was less of a crime than what that property is doing to the people in Iraq and elsewhere. For that I salute Adrian Leason, Peter Murnane, Sam Land and the jury that acquitted them.
(from my TV3 website blog 22 March 2010)