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October 01st 2013 print

Hal G.P. Colebatch

The Case for Direct Democracy

The 100 Days: Claiming Back New Zealand
by Amy Brooke

Howling at the Moon
, 2013, 374 pages, $33.50

 

This book, by a well-known New Zealand writer and public activist, is a collection of essays on the present discontents affecting New Zealand and much of the society and culture of the developed world. Amy Brooke over several years brought some of Australia’s and New Zealand’s best political thinkers together for the “Summersounds” symposia.

The title essay tackles a political problem that is coming to pose a real threat to democratic society: the emergence of, and monopolising of power by, a professional political class who have effectively made politics a closed shop, drastically reduced the influence of the electorate on policy-making, enforced a gap between elite and popular opinion, and indeed made matters of political choice minimal. Further, while members of the political class, virtually above the law, luxuriate in their monstrous superannuation and other perks, other, purely destructive agendas are under way in educational and other institutions.

With a few exceptions like John Howard (and, dare we hope, Tony Abbott?) the typical right-of-centre political leaders today, the John McCains and David Camerons, and in New Zealand the John Keys, appear to be CINOs (conservatives in name only) driven by focus groups and political correctness. All this has been said many times before, but Amy Brooke actually sets out a program to do something about it—a program which, she suggests, could apply to every Western polity.

Her prescription for “claiming back democracy” has three principal requirements:

First, any new legislation should be subjected to 100 days of public scrutiny for the country to determine its implications. Unsatisfactory legislation could, as in Switzerland, be subject to a referendum if a certain proportion of the population demanded it. The electorate would, in effect, act as a house of review. This is very similar to provisions in Switzerland, where, as Amy Brooke points out, they actually work. When it is taken seriously by someone of the calibre of Professor David Flint, who contributes to the introduction, it cannot easily be dismissed.

Second, the publicly-funded media should be obliged to present both sides of an issue fairly. How this is to be achieved seems a difficult matter when we see the ABC, the BBC and American public broadcasting treating any obligation of fairness with utter contempt.

Third, there must be provision for government to act in times of emergency.  

There is a need to reinvigorate the idea of individuals taking part in the decision-making process. Recent New Zealand legislation, supported by the conservative party, forbade parents to smack their children. No less than 85 per cent of the population were opposed to this government intrusion into private family matters, but their wishes were ignored by the political class—an illustration of the decay of democracy. Amy Brooke says: 

Politicians have never been held in less respect. The country is living well beyond its means, with estimates of our weekly borrowing ranging from 250 to 400 million dollars. So much for Labour’s fiscal competence, managing to turn a 2007 billion dollar surplus into a considerable deficit by the time John Key’s much-beloved Helen Clark was voted out of office. Moreover, her government’s long-established excessive welfare payments not only contributed to our debt blowout, but [also to] that damaging mindset of expectations among sectors of New Zealand society that others should pay their way. The burden of taxation, largely avoided by the very wealthy, has disproportionately fallen so severely on a hard-working middle-class that families can no longer manage with one partner as provider. Mothers with infant and young children are being forced to put them into day-care systems increasingly shown to be damaging to the interests of the very young. 

Much of the book details assaults on the spirit of freedom which have taken place in New Zealand in recent years, not least, under the far-leftist Prime Minister Helen Clark, the scrapping of the combat element of the New Zealand Air Force, and the increasing distortion of cultural norms under the pressure of political correctness.

Political correctness Amy Brooke sees as a soft form of terrorism, “the policing and ever-increasing encroachment on individual’s rights to free speech and to hold (and to act in accordance with) one’s own beliefs about what is right and wrong”.

Amy Brooke has set out to describe how, without some efficient controlling mechanism, the destructive work of the Left has gone on, in New Zealand and in the Western world in general. Children, for obvious reasons, have been particular targets, with the traditional family as the number one enemy. There has been an explosive growth of city violence, which foreign news media do not seem to have noticed. As is the case elsewhere, radicalised teachers’ unions have been a major force in pushing society violently to the left and breaking down traditional structures.

Amy Brooke concludes with some specific strategies to put the 100-days program into action. These include thoroughly scrutinising the voting record of MPs, letting individual MPs know that votes will be given or withheld depending on their trustworthiness, and finding out what individual MPs really believe in.

For anybody frustrated with the present state of politics and society, this book is worth reading.