22 April 2010

Constitutional Matters

The last couple of days have seen two significant events: the voting down of the private member's Bill on referenda about changing our Head of State, and the ratification of the UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights.

On the former issue, I gather that Keith Locke and Phil Twyford spoke in the House about giving NZers a choice about this issue, especially as our Sovereign is neither elected by us, nor appointed by our representatives, and is not a NZer herself. I thought it was odd that ACT, the party that supposedly stands for 'freedom of choice' for all NZers, refused to consider giving us a choice in this important matter.

Anyway, the vote against the Bill indicates that MPs are mostly afraid of the political consequences of this debate. MPs may agree privately, but political parties with a majority in the House just do not want to get embroiled in this, as there is nothing to be gained from it politically, and the public probably are in no mood for change anyway, at present.

If (in the unlikely event) such a referendum were to go ahead and we voted for change, the probability is that NZers would vote for a Head of State to be elected at large (who would trust politicians to appoint him/her?) and that would then politicize the role. We would no longer have a constitutional Monarch, represented by a Governor General, who is kept apart from political debates and negotiations, and thus has a more impartial constitutional role. There's a danger in that. So, although I did endorse Keith's Bill to go forward for debate, I'm not sure if the matter would have led to anything but mischief, once it got into the hands of the chattering classes and the bloggers.

Then there's the UN Declaration. NZ had to sign up sooner or later, but it is interesting to see how the PM was trying to play it down (merely 'aspirational', and 'non-binding') while others have been saying, for instance, that it's the greatest thing since the Treaty itself and will lead to iwi self-government, etc. The truth, I guess, is somewhere in the middle. Sir Edward Durie's comments are the best I've read so far:

'Sir Edward said he did not overlook the fact that the declaration had only moral force. The same was said of the Treaty of Waitangi.

'But he added: "Important statements of principle established through international negotiation and acclamation filter into law in time, through both governments and the courts, which look constantly for universal statement of principle in developing policy or deciding cases."

'Sir Edward said that were nothing else done during the Maori Party's lifetime, "this one thing would be enough to secure for it a treasured place in Maori history."'

(These passages above were copied from the Herald.)

The Declaration's wording is really very wide-ranging, and it does give great support to Maori aspirations - and to real-world negotiations or litigation - around pretty much everything. It will, without doubt, have a bearing on matters to do with the foreshore and seabed, the issue of mana whenua representatives in local government (especially Auckland), whanau ora services etc.

Ironically, all this plays into National's pro-privatization agenda, as they can use it to off-load costs and responsibilities onto iwi organizations for all sorts of troubles, such as family violence, adoptions, offender rehab. etc. Whanau Ora is just the beginning!

In fact, they could go further, by using Article 4: "Indigenous peoples, in exercising their right to self-determination, have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs, as well as ways and means for financing their autonomous functions." That is, the Nats could say to iwi organizations that they can levy their own members to raise their own finances in order to run their own by-Maori-for-Maori social services, and the rest of the country's tax-payers can be relieved of the costs. Isn't that what the Maori Party was asking for?

13 April 2010

No More Nukes! (or not so many, anyway)

Well it's not often that NZ has a role to play in international affairs, so I have to make the most of it... And I guess that many baby-boomer lefties and greenies will be choking on their chardonnay to see a National Party PM basking in the glory of our anti-nuclear law at Obama's summit, hand-shakes and all. After all, Key's immediate predecessor was busted for telling US officials that the anti-nuke legislation would be 'gone by lunchtime' if he ever became PM. But then, as recently as the 2008 Election, National had to promise not to repeal the anti-nuclear law - but only under sufferance, in order to avoid electoral-campaign embarrassments. It was one of the famous 'dead rats' that they forced themselves to swallow in order to get into power. Now that they're there, Obama and Biden are pouring praise on them for the leadership role that NZ has adopted, and suddenly NZ and the US are the best of buddies again. Irony of ironies!

But, this now seals in New Zealand's anti-nuclear policy for good. The centre-right has now thoroughly and warmly embraced it, under the avuncular eye of the American president. What this means is that those who fought so hard against allowing (potentially) nuclear-armed vessels into our ports in the 1970s and early 80s are fully vindicated. That battle has now been completely won, and the enemy has capitulated totally! The protestors who were accused of being anti-American, commie, pinko pacifists (I was one of them) can take some pleasure in seeing the National Party give in totally on this issue - now that our policy is considered to give NZ a place at the 'top table'.

Mind you, despite what you'd think from the local media, there really is little mention of Mr Key on the official website for the Nuclear Security Summit. And Mr Key did not capitalize on the leadership opportunity that Obama gave him, choosing not to highlight our no-nukes policy in his speech, and appearing to be more concerned with free-trade deals instead.

But we also need to be realistic. Obama is talking about reducing weapons stockpiles, and ending testing and proliferation, and his main rallying point is around the prevention of nuclear terrorism. And Iran and North Korea are hardly going to come to his party! There's still a long way to go, if we think of disarmament as the goal. One nuclear weapon is still a nuclear weapon too many. But, if we think back to the Reagan days of nuclear 'sabre-rattling', this is a whole lot better.

06 April 2010

The Global Financial Crisis

A good article has appeared in the New York Review on this topic and its implications for regulation of the finance sector. It covers some of the points I was trying to make in 144-721 contact course, linking the global east-west savings imbalance, the 'lax' or 'moderate' (depending on your point of view) policies of the Federal Reserve, and a light-handed regulatory regime as contributors to the reckless investment behaviour that led to the GFC of 2008. Alcaly is a good authority and he uses plain English, so I am happy for students to cite this one in essays. He stresses the importance of public policy reactions in pulling the economy out of free-fall, and also to mitigate future crises. He is justly cautious in admitting, at the end, that 'there can be no assurances that it won't happen again'. The piece in the same journal by Robert Solow may also be useful.