Thursday, 9 December 2010

Wide-ranging constitutional concern

I should be excited about this government's announcement of a "wide-ranging constitutional review."

It should be a great opportunity.

We need governments like we need a guard dog: to protect our rights from those who might do us over.

And we need a written constitution for the same reason we need a leash on our guard dogs: to chain the bastards up. To make sure they do that job of protecting us, instead of getting off the leash and doing us over.

The record of the American constitution shows that a properly-written constitution can do that job--and we can learn from the flaws of the American constitution to write for ourselves a colour-blind constitution that does it even better (which is precisely what this one is designed to do).

Except we won't be writing that sort of constitution, will we.

Not at a constitutional convention promoted, organised and hosted by this government.

The fear, after seeing two years of this big-government-loving government in action--of Steven Joyce's nannying; of Simon Power-Lust annulling one-by-one our long-held legal protections; of John Key with his hand out to the Maori Party, and his hands in his ears over protests about smacking; of them all reintroducing the very Electoral Finance Outrage they campaigned so hard against—is that instead of promoting a constitution to tie them up, what will emerge instead will be one designed to tie us up.

That's certainly my fear.

Am I wrong?

Constitutional law is superior to every other law. This superiority is both a good thing and a bad thing. What’s good is that once a watertight constitution properly protecting individual rights is in place, it acts to chain up the guard dog and to keep it on its leash for good. What’s bad is that once in place, a poor or anti-freedom constitution is very difficult to get rid of.

As history demonstrates -- and the constitutional conference of 2000 and the 2005 Select Committee review of NZ’s constitutional arrangements foreshadow – a bad constitution poorly written can give the erstwhile guard dog control of the back yard and the house, and rather than protecting us it then has no impediment to doing us over.

Liberty, as Thomas Jefferson suggested, requires eternal vigilance.

So too will this government’s "wide-ranging constitutional review."



  1. "(which is precisely what this one is designed to do)."

    Why stop at New Zealand? Search and Replace 'New Zealand' for any country name and it seems to me you have a pretty good template for a new legal foundation to be fought for in every country.

    - DavidJ

  2. Expect that special priveledges will be given to Maori, women and welfare beneficiaries in such a document. Bottom line: The productive will be legally forced into paying for the unproductive in NZ.

    The cultural climate in the west capable of producing a document like the US constitution is long gone. It started to die out about 150 years ago.

  3. Far better to stick with the status quo than have some constitution that enshrines the sacrificialism and destruction of individual rights to meet the needs of the existing political elites.

  4. Sean Fitzpatrick9 Dec 2010, 23:01:00

    Ditto what Scott says especially regarding the idea of becoming a republic. Under current conditions the sort of person the extant political ruling class would want to put in the role of head of state fills me with horror.

  5. Americans believe that there is a need to be protected from their government and that their officials represent them, not take care of them. They have a well crafted constitution that speaks to those values and a check and balances system that prevents any one branch of government over-reaching its authority. Americans actively stand behind this document and are not afraid to voice dissent when something is unconstitutional.

    I think NZer’s view the role of public servant differently. They believe that the government exists to take care of and protect them. (Check out perks comment by PeterQuixote.) Never mind that taking care of always translates into taking advantage of.

    Is this attitude still that pervasive?

    I agree with the sentiments that any attempt at a NZ Constitution will quickly devolve into a special interests forum. Rights belong to individuals not groups.


  6. KS Kiwi, exactly where have you been for the past 90 years? Because things have changed in America..

  7. David - I've been living here in the States for over 20 years. I've been watching and participating in the everyday lives of Americans and their healthy/heated political debates.

    I can honestly tell you that this country is not like NZ. People here are very aware of The Constitution – its content and its intent. They are schooled in it from an early age. They still call BS when they see it - openly - not afraid to exercise the rights it affords them - daily.

    Economic prosperity here (potential and realized) is still magnitudes above anything I could have achieved in NZ. People here don’t view business as the enemy and the government as some police protectorate. Communities could not be more supportive in promoting small business of all kinds understanding the simple reality that (local/State) economics shapes their lives not the guys in Washington.

    As for the left-leaning, bleeding heart squeaky wheels – they will always get undeserved attention from media and government – but not from the average person. Pity is not a currency here – everyone struggles on their own merits. By and large, this is still a maker nation, not a taker nation like NZ.



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