Wellington Scoop

Building an understanding of how we’re governed – one book at a time

Andrew Little queues to have his new acquisitions signed at Unity Books. Doing the honours at left are Sir Geoffrey Palmer and fellow lawyer Andrew Butler.

Report from Palaver Media
Justice Minister Andrew Little was at Unity Books in Willis Street tonight to help launch a pair of books that respectively shine a light on how New Zealand came to be governed the way it is and what a written constitution might look like at some point in the unknown future.

Little described the books, In Search of Consensus by Elizabeth McLeay – the story New Zealand’s Electoral Act 1956 and its constitutional legacy – and Towards Democratic Renewal by Geoffrey Palmer and Andrew Butler, as “beautifully complementary”.

He added to the evening’s occasion with some supportive statements such as: “I am in favour of a written constitution … in the 21st Century we ought to have that (as) we ought to have a Head of State residing in New Zealand”. Apropos of that position he also shared the free and frank view that Parliament cannot be relied upon to be a standalone bulwark in the protection of citizens’ rights.

Sir Geoffrey’s turn at the microphone saw him raising the concurrent theme of just how under siege and attack democracy is given worldwide tremors indicating that “autocracy is becoming popular again” – even in the USA.

Given the commitment that he and Andrew Butler have given to their Constitution for Aotearoa NZ project [http://constitutionaotearoa.org.nz/about/] it was not surprising that Sir Geoffrey’s catchcry is that “a constitution needs to be owned by the people”, tinged with a note of motivating regret that the people have “no understanding of how this country is governed”.

He further added a caution that the best guardian against corruption is openness and expressed concern that increasing weaknesses occurring in the world of media were reaching “constitutional proportions”.

Sir Geoffrey’s fellow traveler Mr Butler added to the cautionary notes on conserving the state of NZ democracy, making the comment that “we must not be complacent … we are not inoculated against risks”.

Butler spoke optimistically of the benefits to be gained in the future when – not if – a written constitution is put in place capable of harnessing citizen participation, enabling ongoing dialogue and reinforcing serious engagement between societal actors across civil society, media, the political class and business. Anything less would be sheer neglect and “letting down” generations to come.

As for action on this front happening any time soon, Andrew Little had earlier said he was busy directing attention to a raft of reforms in areas of criminal law, abortion law and family law first. “It might take another 1000 days in office, and maybe another 1000 beyond that”.