Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Parliament suspends itself! Sadly, only for 15% of the country. And itself.[Update 5]

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.

_Quote 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:

_QuoteDear Gerry Brownlee, you seem confused. We asked for the suspension of your flabby corpse, not the suspension of habeas corpus.

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”:

_QuoteThe recommendation of the relevant Minister may not be challenged, reviewed, quashed, or called into question in any court.

Just so you know.  That’s what “freedom” looks like to a politician. [Hat tip Graeme Edgeler]

UPDATE 3: Eric Crampton:

_QuoteMy 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:

_QuoteStuff 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:

_QuoteIt 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.


  1. Good piece Peter.

    This 'loosening' appears to hold such hope, but when you realise their underlying assumptions, no hope.

    There's a huge irony when compared to another news story this morning, which has only really made the back pages of the MSM. I wonder how deep toward the Gulag the economies of NZ, US, Uk, Europe, et al, are going to have to go until they confront reality, as Cuba is finally having too, and as all planned economies and planned societies have to.

    Quoting that article:

    The big economic changes Cuba's communist leaders have been promising for years appear finally to be happening in earnest - and they will be hard.

    Cuba said it is laying off nearly half a million workers, an eye-popping figure in any country, but especially in a nation where the government so totally dominates the economy.

    The shift would mean that one-tenth of the island's 5.1 million-strong work force will be looking for jobs in the private sector by April 2011, a drastic change that could mean a radically altered economic outlook, especially for Cubans in their 20s and 30s who have known nothing but a paternalistic communist system ushered in by Fidel Castro in his 1959 revolution. ...

    But they were not entirely surprising. Raul Castro has warned for years that the state could no longer afford to subsidize every part of Cuban life, nor pay workers who contribute little. In April, he floated the idea that up to 1 million workers were superfluous and must go.

    The layoffs announced Monday will start immediately and continue for months, according to a statement from the nearly 3 million-member Cuban Workers Confederation, which is affiliated with the Communist Party and is the only labor union allowed by the government.

    "Our state cannot and should not continue supporting businesses, production entities and services with inflated payrolls, and losses that hurt our economy are ultimately counter-productive, creating bad habits and distorting worker conduct," the union said.

    ... Currently the state employs 95 percent of the official work force.

    Of course, as with our NZ parliament yesterday, the Statists in Cuba still don't 'quite' get it:

    To soften the blow, the statement - which appeared in state newspapers and was read on television and radio - said the government would increase private-sector job opportunities, including allowing more Cubans to become self-employed.

  2. What do you mean "only 15%" - its scope isn't limited to the quake-affected regions, but applies to the whole country.

  3. This how Nazi Germany started
    Difficult times (and this is difficult for Canterbury) require extraordinary measures and the application of extraordinary measures requires oversight by exemplarary people, otherwise asolute power corrupts absolutely. This will be a time for National's small cadre of powerbrokers to either rise above politics and act in the best interests of NZ or (and hopefully not) to let the power now given them go to their heads and have NZers remember this when next we get a vote and consign National and its cronies (ACT in particular) to the approbrium of history - this is high stakes politics for National. I hope the PM has his wits about him as Brownlee's record so far does him no credit, and he has shown tendancies towards "Neroism"

  4. If politicians are not going to play politics when a natural disaster like this strikes, then surely they can also play a game of sodomizing each other in the house. It is more pleasurable for MPs to sodomize each other rather than yelling across the floor to the opponents (like school children).

  5. Pablo, suspension of laws that allow Greenies to block building projects is now akin to Nazi Germany?

    You're crazy.

  6. perhaps this can be used to push through all the EC projects that have needlessly been held in limbo, and could even be used to justify granting consents for large projects like new generators or irrigation projects, as they are all helpful things that will get Canty back up and running. But I kinda doubt it. So the Westy Chardonnay socialists will still hold sway in the land of Smiles and waves.

  7. @Berend: maybe, when you add in potential for suspension of damned near every other law in the country.

    Very low odds of nasty outcomes, but still makes me queasy.

  8. @Eric: I've seen the claims. But is that true? I really want to see the case that was made for it. I find it hard to believe every party would vote to suspend every law in this country for some months.

    So withholding judgement until I'm convinced this is actually the case.

  9. Off topic but interesting Peter, I put a very simple link up to this blog in the comment field on the similar story at NBR; nothing controversial in it, I simply said your post contained a good analysis of the issue.

    About two hours after the comment went up, NBR seems to have quite deliberately deleted the comment. They've never knocked out other links I've put up.

    I guess that means they think of your site as worthy competition to them: does that mean you have a bigger readership than NBR? :)

  10. Berend, go see the website, but here is susections 3 and 4 of Section 6 of the Act:

    "(3) The recommendation of the relevant Minister may not be challenged,
    reviewed, quashed, or called into question in any court.
    (4) An Order in Council made under subsection (1) may grant an
    exemption from, or modify, or extend any provision of any
    enactment, including (but not limited to)—"

    and then lists 22 Acts, but note these are but examples, not a definitive list.

    Of coutse the politicians are going to vote for this - it supercedes the next election and gives them absolute power and absolute protection - remember, this is brought to you by the same Party and Cabinet that brought you cheaper power prices through a competetive market and improved housing (not at all leaky!!) through their tinkering with the Building Act- all good stuff!!


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