Introduction in Te Reo (translation needed)
It’s great to be here with you all tonight and I think it’s a great thing that we are meeting in the Mt Albert War Memorial Hall because it is one of those places that was built in memory of those who went off to fight for democratic freedom.
When I think of the price that they paid, I remember my Dad and his two brothers who in 1939 went off to enlist in the Navy and the Air force.
Dad couldn’t fight. When he went to join the Air force his medical showed scarring on the lungs and was sent off to Christchurch to a sanatorium. My Uncle Bert joined the Navy, became a Commander of —- (inaudible) —- in the Pacific. My Uncle George, he was my Godfather, joined the Air Force, flew Mosquitos, became a Flight Lieutenant and was awarded the VSC.
They were upright, honourable men, with a strong sense of duty and service. They and their friends took it for granted that they should risk their lives for future generations.
So when trying to understand what drove them I’ve looked at reports of local newspapers at the time at the outbreak of WW2, and the Evening Post for example drew a very sharp contrast between repression under fascism in Europe and freedom of the press in New Zealand.
They said “democracy trusts the people, dictatorship does not” and the next day the Post quoted a speech by the Australian Prime Minister and he said “the essence of democracy is to dignify the individual human being and give him (or her) , whether rich or poor, the right to his place in a community, and the right to happy, prosperous and contented life” and afterwards when the New Zealander Legislative Council signed up for, “the fight” they called it – between democracy and dictatorship. They declared “we must be prepared to prove on the battlefield loyalty to the principles for which we stand.”
These were the values – human dignity, freedom of thought and expression, and a happy, comfortable life for ordinary people. But my father‘s generation was prepared to die for it. And they didn’t do it in vain.
Along the highways and byways of New Zealand there’ll be people just like them – upright, honourable, gifted and generous – and I’m not surprised either that these days so many young New Zealanders attend ANZAC Day services in numbers every year. So many fantastic young people in this country whose values I really respect and admire. Like me, they want a country they can believe in.
So out of this, what has happened in the corridors of power in New Zealand? Somehow the values there often seem very different. Over the past 30 years perhaps some strange and curious doctrines, powerful, superficially persuasive though, have been wafting out of the Beehive. They include for example the myth of the free market.
At the time, the time when democracy was invented during the Enlightenment, Adam Smith and other Enlightenment figures argued for a market free of the rule of the ‘merchants’ as they called them, or ‘corporates’ as we would say today. In the name of the free market however, in this country since the 1980s, I think we’ve been served up the opposite – the canius wolf dressed it up as free market lamb.
And there’s that myth too of the isolated cost benefit calculating individual. That’s another illusion. Whilst no one is like that, if they did we’d regard them as a sociopath.
So there has been this all out assault on the idea of community, the commons, and the ‘public good’ and this is what I think is the true tragedy of the commons so to speak, a concerted attempt really to destroy the idea of society itself.
To demolish the notion that social relationships amongst us all really matter and to undermine values like justice, truth, generosity and honour that guide us in conducting our collective affairs.
And this assault is not just cynical and amoral, but its non adaptive because our species is above all, Homo sapiens, we’re a social animal. Through language we work together on common tasks and pass these skills on to others. As human beings we rely on each other for our security and our prosperity. Participatory democracy, what we are talking about here tonight, builds on those strengths.
When people from all backgrounds, we’ve got in the hall tonight, take part in decision making, we can spark off each other, create new ideas and enterprises, and social relationships flourish along with the economy. Autocratic, extractive, highly unequal regimes on the other hand don’t pass the test of longevity. Such nations falter, both economically and socially, and eventually fail.
So I’m saying that this is why the idea of society that values like truth and honour and justice and generosity really matter.
Our forebears understood this, and if we want a free, prosperous and exciting society to live in we have to be prepared to stand up for it if it is threatened.
Surprisingly it seems that time is now.
Over the past few months a series of laws, over the past months a series of laws, have been passed that threaten the rights of New Zealanders – this is a matter of such gravity that last month the Law Society felt compelled to report to the United Nations that in New Zealand, and I quote, “a number of recent legislative matters are fundamentally in conflict with the rule of law” [audience claps]. Extraordinary though that might seem this statement is no more the truth.
In his report, the Law Society lists ACTs that allow the Executive to use legislation and regulation to override Parliament – it denies citizens the right to legal representation which cancelled their rights to appeal to the Courts to uphold their rights under the law.
They also drew attention to the use of ‘Supplementary Order Papers’ (SOP) and ‘Urgency’ to avoid proper Parliamentary scrutiny of the laws that had passed [audience claps]. In many ways this is frightening.
They expressed their concern that – a number of Bills formerly declared by the Attorney General to be in breach of the Bill of Rights – had recently been enacted.
When a body as authorative and dispassionate as the Law Society feels forced to report to the United Nations that the Government of New Zealand is acting in conflict with the rule of law I think all of us need to be very concerned [audience claps].
I think all of these defects come to a head in the GCSB Bill.
This agency which is set up to deal with external intelligence threats is surrounded by scandal. The process that leads to appointment of its current director has come into severe question. It’s been accused of carrying out illegal surveillance of New Zealand citizens. Instead of putting matters right, this Bill allows the GCSB to legally spy on New Zealanders – almost without limit – a kind of electronic McCarthyism – [and] the only effective controls really are in the hands of politicians.
This is in breach of the Bill of Rights – it’s been reported to the United Nations and despite this it’s been dealt with under ‘Urgency – and when the Human Rights Commission raised concerns about its provisions the Prime Minister threatened their funding.
I think all of the authorities that looked at this legislation carefully have argued that the GCSB Bill ought to be shelved until a robust and independent inquiry into New Zealand’s intelligence agencies to be carried out [audience claps].
We all need a chance to participate in a robust and searching debate about the powers that they might – duly? (12.13) be granted. And as New Zealanders, you see in submissions, editorials, opinion pieces across the country, this Bill has been almost universally condemned. If we had a healthy democracy in New Zealand the Bill would of been shelved by now [audience claps].
It will be I think, an absolute indictment on this Parliament if it is passed.
So I think as Kiwis we need to remind politicians from each political party – this is not a partisan political matter. From National, from Labour, the Maori Party, New Zealand First, Mana, ACT and United Future that democracy is not a partisan political matter: as MPs they are accountable above all to their constituents – not to their whips and their leaders.
It’s their job to stand up for the rights of New Zealanders when those are threatened and its times like this they need to show some backbone and prove that they are worthy of the trust that we place in them.
As for the Prime Minister and the Executive, I think we need to remind them we send them to Parliament to represent us not to rule us [audience claps].
As John Key then the leader of the Opposition declared in a rousing speech against the Electoral Finance Bill in 2007, and I quote, “this is a dangerous Bill, it’s dangerous for all of us as individuals, it’s dangerous for our democracy and it is dangerous for New Zealand, we should rightly be proud of our democracy,” he said, “it is the very real New Zealand achievement and we should celebrate it. A lot of the countries never made it. Plenty have tried democracy and let it slip through their fingers. A quiet, obedient and docile population” and I’m still quoting here, “a culture of viscidity and apathy, a meek acceptance of what politicians say and do, these things are not consistent with a democracy” [audience claps] and I’m still quoting, “a healthy democracy requires the active participation of citizens in public life and public debate (well here it is) [audience claps] and without this participation democracy starts to wither and becomes the preserve of a small, select, political elite.” [un]quote – all I can say is ‘Amen’.
If unlike our forbearers’ before us, and we’re not going to get shot at and killed, if we don’t stand up to defend the democratic rights and freedoms that they fought for, for our children and grandchildren, we should be ashamed [audience claps].
In finishing I just want to say that we’ve seen from leaders like Mandela, and in our own history, people like Te Whiti and Tohu who when the guns trained on Parihaka sent out children dancing and women with the poi – and in many ways the victories, the moral victories, won in this way are the most enduring/
So in closing I’d like to wish us all so well as citizens of our country, hope for us all a bright future and I’ll end with a whakatauki “kia hora te marino, kia whakapapa pounamu te moana, kia tere te karohirohi” – “may the calm be widespread, may the sea glisten like the greenstone, and may the shimmer of summer ever dance across your pathway”.
Download pdf transcript: GCSB 2013 07 25 Mt Albert War Memorial Hall – Dame Anne Salmond