Thursday, 16 May 2013

the budget & democracy

so, the budget.  there's a lot to say, but i really like selwyn manning's summary at the daily blog.  and keith ng's work is, as usual, exceptionally good.  it's not a budget that is going to solve any underlying problems in the economy.  it's not a budget that will reduce income inequality, produce more jobs, or relieve poverty.  while it was really good to see funding go towards home insulation & rheumatic fever, these are only dealing with symptoms & not causes.

if you want to really solve those things, make sure people get decent wages, so that they can afford decent housing & they no longer suffer from the diseases related to poverty.  i attended a human rights workshop today, and as part of the workshop, we talked about issues that needed to be resolved in nz society & the rights that were most important to us.

the most important rights to this group were:
 - the right to life & to physical safety
 - freedom from discrimination
 - the right to democratic participation

the next most important was the right to work.  for me, this is a crucial one, because the issues around housing, education, health & social cohesion tend to be resolved when people have a job that pays enough for them to live comfortably.  crime is reduced, many health issues (including mental health) are reduced.

and for me, democratic participation is one of the most crucial ways that citizens of a country can ensure that their right to work is protected.  not only the right to have a job that pays decent wages, but also to working reasonable hours with sufficient breaks, and decent health & safety practices.  the right to democratic participation allows communities the power to determine how their communities develop.

there has been a significant attack on democratic rights over the 5 years.  the most obvious is the use of urgency by parliament or the shortening of submission periods for bills that manage to get to select committee stage.  this means that legislation is constantly being rushed through parliament, without sufficient consultation, so that the effects aren't well understood, and so that people don't have much of a chance to protest or to lobby for changes.

but more than that, there have been significant attacks on the powers of local government, with a restriction on what local bodies can or can't do.  the amalgamations of local government, starting with auckland and intended to roll across the country, means that local communities are losing power.  then there is the fact that environment canterbury hasn't been allowed to have elections since this government came into power, and the rebuild of christchurch has also been suffering because of the removal of democratic processes.

today's budget had yet another attack on democracy.  there is a budget provision which will allow central government to over-ride local government should the latter not free up enough land for housing.  so local communities will no longer be allowed to decide if they want to reduce urban sprawl and manage their housing needs in a way that doesn't require long commutes, expensive roading, and all the other additional costs of maintaining a larger space.

i find this appalling and incredibly depressing that the government can take away our powers of self-determination, the right to be consulted and to make decisions about our local environment.  we deserve much better than this.

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