There was a fascinating spectacle in Parliament yesterday. Fascinating in several respects.
First of all, in talking to the Christchurch Reconstruction Bill, we were witness to an extraordinary unity of purpose among the MPs of all parties. We heard, for example, the man who seems to fancy himself a permanent thorn in government's side, Clayton Cosgrove, declare uninhibited support for the Bill--and tell the House its passage was so important that he was "not going to play politics with it."
Which is rather revealing of how he sees politics normally, really. And rather begs the question of just how seriously his opposition to virtually everything else done by this government should be regarded.
But it really was an extraordinary afternoon. We even heard tributes from usually brawling adversaries to one another. If one continued to listen to Labour's Cosgrove, for example, we could hear him actually paying tribute to National's Gerry Brownlee, and even to Gerry Brownlee's relatives.
How rare an event this is can be seen as a measure of how rare the passage is of such a bill.
The Bill really is extraordinary. In order to allow Cantabrians to rebuild their province without hindrance, it suspends virtually every law that Parliament has ever written apart from the Bill of Rights Act and the Electoral Act--from the Building Act to the Resource Management Act to the Commerce Act to all the other niggardly prohibitions on economic activity that hamper, restrict and strangle economic life.
Mr Brownlee, the MP who is in charge of the reconstruction, said under routine procedures it would take months or even years before work could start.
"Business as usual won't work," he said.
"We need to be able to adapt, we need to be able to remove bureaucracy that would slow it up."
This is astonishing and unprecedented. Unprecedented in history, unprecedented in scale, and unprecedented in the unanimity with which this bill was passed. Unprecedented too in its recognition that bureaucracy, bickering and the regulatory constraints of bureaucratic business as usual don't work. In its apparent recognition, finally, that the regulatory state thwarts the individual's freedom to act on his own best judgment for his benefit.
If only the rest of the country could enjoy the same exemption from the exigencies of the grey ones as Canterbury, you might think. Finally, after a week of hell, they can finally feel themselves blessed.
Or so you might think. Except a swift perusal of the Bill reveals that the people being freed up are not the entrepreneurs, businessmen and developers who move a city forward, but the very grey ones themselves who get in their way. It’s these people who are being given unprecedented power to tell everyone else what they should be doing, unrelieved of any legal constraint.
Which is really very revealing of just how these Parliamentarians from every party view the nature of human life and economic progress, and who drives it.
UPDATE 1: Normal transmission has been resumed on Twitter. Comment from a commie:
Which in just 140 characters explains what was just passed better than a thousand encomia from Clayton Cosgrove.
UPDATE 2: Taken from the Bill, this is what politicians mean when they say they’re “removing bureaucracy that will slow things up”:
Just so you know. That’s what “freedom” looks like to a politician. [Hat tip Graeme Edgeler]
UPDATE 3: Eric Crampton:
My best guess is that the government actually really doesn't know what bits of legislation would get in the way of rebuilding so it's given itself the power to void all of it. Which kinda points out that it might just have been a bit too complicated for us regular folks to get building consents prior to the Quake.
UPDATE 4: Dim Post:
Stuff reports: “Emergency legislation rushed through Parliament has given the Government extraordinary powers to rebuild Christchurch.”
This isn’t quite accurate. The legislation gives the government extraordinary powers to do – almost – anything it wants to anywhere in New Zealand.
UPDATE 5: Andrew Geddis:
It isn’t the potential for gross draconian tyranny that may be the real problem. Rather, it is the possibility that the powers might be applied to fix “problems” that really aren’t the fault of the earthquake at all…
Again, I’m not saying Gerry Brownlee (or any other Minister) consciously intends misusing these powers. But once you give a man a hammer, suddenly everything starts to look like a nail. And so it is with Ministers and the power to remake law swiftly and decisively.