Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Panda, the Bananas, and We the People

The Panda has returned to take another swipe at Labour's House of Bamboo, this time on the risks of ad-hoc banana republicanism. A nibble at the Privy Council thing here, a munch on the bending of conventions there, a caustic piss over MMP in the corner. All of a sudden, the MSM and the Republican Movement are taking this meander as support for becoming a republic. Strange, that.

As Mike Moore points out in this bFM interview, he believes his thoughts have been misconstrued. All he meant to point out was the importance of process on any constitutional change. The implied thrust of his opinion piece was a dig at the Clark administration, not a rallying call to ditch the Queen tomorrow. In the media scrum however, any news is good news, especially on a topic as esoteric as republicanism.

The Ozzies are forming a cross-party consensus on becoming a republic, sez Mike. Inevitably, this will spur the limited imaginations of the New Zealand populace into raising the issue here. The Panda fears that a hatchet job of republicanism will leave the country worse off than the current way of things. A process should be put in place to deal with the matter when the public get around to it, lest some populist twit buggers up the thing completely.

One can have some sympathy for this concern. Witness the outpouring of emotion from Sir Ed's passing, with suggestions of public holidays, mountains and flavours of ice cream being named in his honour. Thing is, all it takes is a simple majority in Parliament or a nod from some quango, and wha-hey, it is. No disrespect intended to Sir Ed. I met the man only once, serving him at the James Cook Hotel a while back. Sir Ed is too big for words (which is more than one could say about the tetchy Dame Kiri). But if one needed an example of the epitome of what a New Zealander could be, then you could do worse than point to Sir Ed.

DPF's post on the lack of royalty attending His Most Beloved member of the commonwealth, Knight of the Garter Sir Ed's funeral has stirred the pot somewhat. I whole-heartedly agree with DPF on this, and it's not just because we are fellow members of the Republican Movement. Listen to talkback, get some feedback.

It seems most Kiwis had a similar idea of what Sir Ed's funeral would look like in their heads, well before the inevitable came to be. He deserved the best, full honours of a state funeral, the works. This is the man on the $5 note for god sakes. It's a fair expectation for the titular head of state on the other side of the scrip should follow the script. If you want to go with convention, a head of state always goes to a state funeral.

But conventions count for naught these days. All power, no responsibility; the role of the eunuch brought to modern times. Which describes exactly the role of Governor-General these days. In the Court of the Crimson Queen, everything is red, right down to the Government House staffers.

Convention has not prevented the Foreign Minister sitting outside cabinet, in essence reporting to Helen Clark only and not the government caucus. It has not prevented the Green party getting ministerial funding without even being part of government. Convention has not stopped the election rules being rigged.

In spite of efforts to constrain the powers of government with MMP, it is obvious that unbridled power is still in effect. The Supreme Court push was the right thing done the wrong way. Lucky for us, Dame Sian has shown sufficient judicial activism to demonstrate a greater check on government than the Privy Council. The jury's still out on whether the Supreme Court will pick up the Bill of Rights ball and do something interesting.

For some, it might be the Anti-Ear Flicking Law that brought things to a head. Others might have seen a line in the sand crossed by the manner and form of how the Electoral Finance Act was enacted (They had so much potential and Labour squandered it. A bit like the economy, really). For me, it was a combination of the New Jew Smoking Laws and the Tuhoi Terrorist surveillance.

I succinctly remember watching that Monday night's news showing the dawn raid on the Abel Smith St house and feeling nervous. They were arresting people willy-nilly. I am involved in a number of causes that might be of interest to the powers that be; Republican Movement, NORML, incendiary blogging, to name a few. Although I'm armed with nothing more than 26 letters and about a dozen punctuation marks, it doesn't mean the powers that be understand that. There was a knock at my door. On TV, cops were busting windows. "That'll be the cops," I thought. I was genuinely spooked when I went to the door. Collecting for Plunket, thank Dagg. No! Go away!

It shouldn't get to this, but it has. Reading the level of state surveillance Tame Iti's Flightless Circus was put under, I have been nagged by the thought of writing to Helen Clark. In her capacity as Minister responsible for the SIS, GCSB and other matters pertaining to civil surveillance, I wanted to ask for some reassurance that my life and habits weren't being monitored like Tame Iti's was. But would the reply be worth a damn?

Throw your mind back to Mike Moore's original Guerrilla Noun Attack in the Herald, when Moore compared Clark with the Muldoon who read SIS dossiers on his opponents. Save Happy Valley was infiltrated by SOE informants. The Tuhoe terrorists had an informant in their midst. I wouldn't be surprised if even NORML has a government spy in the membership somewhere. Maybe I've been reading Gravity's Rainbow too long, but I call it justifiable paranoia. What's stopping the state surveillance octopus sticking its tentacles where they don't belong?

The proposed Organised Crime Agency is something else we never agreed to sign on to, let alone the Neo-ANZUS biometric database from the Land of the Free and Home of the Paranoid. In no time at all, New Zealand will darken under the same security blanket foisted on the UK and US citizenship. If the loss of privacy and personal details is a small price to pay to protect the UK from Islamic Daleks, that's their choice. But since Islamic Daleks do not fucking exist, I strongly resent the unjustifiable intrusions into what is none of the New Zealand government's (or some foreign government's) business.

This is all getting too intense. Time for Spike Milligan as a Pakistani Dalek:

Ah, that's better.

Moore is correct in saying that a constitution is a limit on government, not a treatise of wish-fulfillment. It is not wish-fulfilment to want to keep the right to silence, the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Yet it hasn't prevented the Criminal Proceeds Bill from wending its way through select committee, promising to not only penalise people on balance of probabilities, but make the police a fully-autonomous profit-making revenue stream. It hasn't stopped a retiring QC from describing the right to silence as outdated and should be abolished:

"I did not subscribe to the divine right of silence. Those rules were promulgated years ago in Great Britain when the public were uneducated, most of them illiterate."

These days, of course, we have no uneducated, illiterate people. Everyone is a legal expert.

So, a written constitution is the rights and responsibilities of the structure of government. The closest New Zealand has to such a thing is the Treaty of Waitangi and the Constitution Act 1986. The former was drawn up in a matter of days, a half-arsed ambiguously worded document. The latter outlines the very bare essentials of government. Elections every three years, etc. The Bill of Rights Act 1990 has so far been demonstrated as nothing more than a doormat for the government of the day to wipe its feet on.

I am a Republican because I believe that this country can do better than that. I believe that the citizens of this place shouldn't have to continually battle the state to maintain basic freedoms, freedoms that only require a simple majority in parliament to remove.

I believe in the ultimate supremacy of the people, not the allegedly greater glory of the Prime Minister. I believe in a clear enunciation of how executive government works, seeing as how MMP has smudged the margins of the Westminster system beyond recognition. Coalition-keeping has shifted the power from the caucus to the cabbalists. I believe that the role of Prime Minister needs greater checks and balances beyond the scope of the party caucus.

I believe that the state should only interfere in our personal lives if they have a list of bloody good reasons, not just paranoia, hunches, and latest research findings in the Women's Weekly. If someone ends up before the courts, justice should be swift, fair and open.

And I believe in a head of state that goes to the funeral of New Zealand's favourite son.