Constitution promoted on earthquakes and Brexit

Geoffrey Palmer is pushing his case for a written constitution again, this time using earthquakes and Brexit as justification.

Stuff: New Zealand is one of three countries without a written constitution: time for change

A constitution could enshrine property rights, which were poorly protected in the red zone following the Christchurch earthquakes, writes Geoffrey Palmer.

OPINION: In our recently published book, A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand, Andrew Butler and I propose a written constitution for New Zealand.

New Zealand is one of only three countries without a written constitution.

That might be sort of correct. Most countries have single document constitutions. There are conflicting claims about exceptions. One Wikipedia page lists:

  • Codified (in a single document) most of the world constitutions
  • Uncodified (fully written in few documents) San Marino, Israel, Saudi Arabia
  • Uncodified (Partially unwritten) Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom

To understand the principal rules of how public power is exercised in New Zealand you have to wade your way through a jumble of statutes – some from New Zealand, but quite a few very old ones from England; a plethora of obscure conventions, letters patent and manuals; and a raft of court decisions. How they all mesh together is obscure and unclear. 

We share this untidy approach to constitutional law with the UK. Anyone who thinks that that’s a situation worth preserving just needs to look at what’s happening over there at the moment.  Brexit has created a massive constitutional crisis. A significant factor is that the constitutional rules there are so unclear, no one knows who has the power to get the UK out of the EU.

In the UK it is more a crisis of confidence in government being dictated to by the European Union.

Ironically the European Union wrote a draft constitution that was signed by the 25 states that were members in 2004 and ratified by 18 of them, but French and Dutch voters rejected it in 2005.

This evolved into the Treaty of Lisbon that was ratified in 2009.

The Treaty of Lisbon (initially known as the Reform Treaty) is an international agreement which amends the two treaties which form the constitutional basis of the European Union (EU). The Treaty of Lisbon was signed by the EU member states on 13 December 2007, and entered into force on 1 December 2009.

– Wikipedia:

BBC: Q&A: The Lisbon Treaty

The Lisbon Treaty became law on 1 December 2009, eight years after European leaders launched a process to make the EU “more democratic, more transparent and more efficient”.

Like the proposed European constitution before it, the treaty is often described as an attempt to streamline EU institutions to make the enlarged bloc of 27 states function better. But its opponents see it as part of a federalist agenda that threatens national sovereignty.

I don’t think the EU was known for efficiency, and it’s lack of democracy for member states  and threats to sovereignty, perceived or real, were significant factors in the Brexit debate and vote.

Back to Palmer:

“How is any of this constitutional stuff relevant to my life?” is a question we are often asked. Cantabrians know the answer. It’s when the chips are down and there is a crisis in place, that the dangers of short-term politics can overpower longstanding rights and principles. Not because those rights and principles shouldn’t apply, but because the political imperative is to be seen to do something and do something radical and urgent. The rights of individuals can get lost.

In its recently released report “Staying in the Red Zones”, the Human Rights Commission calmly and coolly assessed the Government’s treatment of homeowners in the red zone. The report concluded: “The right to property is fragile in New Zealand. Property rights need to be better enshrined in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act”.

But I haven’t seem much sign of Cantabrians, nor the rest of New Zealanders, clamouring for a written constitution.

The latest earthquakes north of Christchurch (Culverden, Kaikoura, Seddon and Wellington) and the lengthy sorting out of the problems created by them are more likely to distract from rather than drive people to setting up a constitution.

The earthquakes have broken a lot of things. These need fixing.

New Zealand’s lack of a single written constitution (the Treaty of Waitangi is sometimes referred to as a constitution but it is far from comprehensive) seems for most people to be in the ‘if it ain’t broke why fix it?’ category.

And there are fears that trying to debate and formulate a constitution will create seismic fractures in our society.

Constitutional Advisory Panel: A Written Constitution

The Panel recommends the Government:

  • notes that although there is no broad support for a supreme constitution, there is considerable support for entrenching elements of the constitution
  • notes the consensus that our constitution should be more easily accessible and understood, and notes that one way of accomplishing this might be to assemble our constitutional protections into a single statute
  • notes people need more information before considering whether there should be change, in particular information about the various kinds of constitution, written and otherwise, and their respective advantages and disadvantages
  • supports the continued conversation by providing such information, and notes that it may be desirable to set up a process whereby an independent group is charged with compiling such information and advancing public understanding

Palmer’s project: A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand

Our proposal: a modern constitution that is easy to understand, reflects New Zealand’s identity and nationhood, protects rights and liberties, and prevents governments from abusing power.

The United States of America, with a famous constitution, is struggling with all of those things right now in the aftermath of a very divisive democratic election, during the transition to power of president-elect Donald Trump.

Japan, Canada and US pressuring NZ on TPP

There are various reports that Japan, Canada and the USA are pressring Tim Groser (New Zealand) to ditch demands for better dairy access to enable a Trans Pacific Partnership agreement to be reached.

Fran O’Sullivan in the Herald: Groser under pressure to cave on TPP:

Japan, Canada and US are united in pushing NZ to ditch its demands for better dairy export access to their protected markets.

Groser is coming under what he labels “intense pressure” to cave in on New Zealand’s demands for better access for dairy exports to three heavily protected markets – Japan, Canada – and to a lesser extent the United States – so negotiators from all 12 TPP nations can quickly nail a deal.

Right now it looks as if Japan, Canada and the US have ganged up on New Zealand with some advance blame-storming singling out Groser in particular as the potential fall guy if agreement is not reached within the separate conversations that have been taking place on the remaining sticking points: cars and dairy.

Another sticking point – biologics – has now been solved, according to informed sources.

The big country gang-up – which is implied through news reports out of Japan and Canada and (more obliquely) through trade journals with strong access to the US Trade Representative’s officials and major business and agricultural lobbies – must be strongly contested.

New Zealand shoukld walk away from the TP rather than cave in to dairy trade protection. If we don’t make significant gains in agricultural trade it’s not worth us reaching an agreement, andf certaily not conceding ground on other issues like intellectual rights and medicines.

New #1 flag

Rate The Flag has a new first choice flag. It’s one of the best I’ve seen, if not the best. Familiar and distinctive, and addresses most key issues for me.

I’d be happy to wave a flag like that.

New Zealand Flag (#9397)

Designed by: Aleksandar Dragojevic

This flag has three colors: black, white and red.

Diagonal white strip represent New Zealand. It is the same position/diagonal direction as New Zealand is shown on the map.

Black color is traditional color of New Zealand, Red represent all nations of New Zealand, cultural and historical heritage of the country, and White stands for peace, freedom and independence!

The silver fern as one of most common symbol of New Zealand is situated in the black field. Credit for the fern goes to Kyle Lockwood.