While many within New Zealand and around the world admire our Prime Minister, many kiwis that took a step back to take a look at the larger picture are becoming increasingly worried with what they are seeing.
For starters, the government has suspended the oversight that usually occurs with new Bills called the RIA (Regulatory Impact Analysis), where the costs and impacts are somewhat independently analysed by Treasury. Worryingly, the government has decided that in the interests of responding quickly, RIA is no longer necessary for any bill deemed to be in response to COVID-19. It seems awfully un-democratic to suspend any form of oversight, and it is reasonable to argue that this period of increased authority over every aspect of our lives should be accompanied by increased scrutiny of the government.
On top of suspension of RIAs, the government has come under fire for potentially not having the legal basis required for pushing us all into lockdown. Now, it’s important to understand that “not having the legal basis” and “saying that the lockdown was wrong” are two very different points, and for this we’re only going to be looking at the former since the latter is a lengthy subject on its own. The incredibly important aspect of this “legal basis” issue is that supposedly in New Zealand the “Rule of Law” is paramount – that is that the law applies equally to all of us, from the Prime Minister down to her lowliest “subjects”, and that no one person gets to apply the law as they see fit. Yes, there are issues around wealthy individuals effectively getting off since the punishment is small compared to their income or from being able to hire expensive lawyers, but the rules in which we function are well-defined and are applied very much more fairly than they have been throughout most of human history. The point here is that reduced scrutiny most certainly creates a window for abuse with more freedom for lawmakers to create laws to benefit their ideologies or interests.
The next step in ruling by edict is the suspension or reduction in the Select Committee stage of creating new laws. We’ve seen it a few times in this government’s term where the process has been shortened to the point of ineffectiveness in a rather obvious play to push laws through fast, without time for anyone to really object.
So where is all this headed? right into “COVID-19 Public Health Response Bill” where we have the trifecta of rushed legislation, no regulatory impact analysis, and entirely skipping the Select Committee process. Quite frankly, this is unbelievable. The bill was introduced on 12 May 2020 and received Royal Assent (became law) on 13 May 2020.
That’s right. A brand new piece of legislation was introduced to parliament at 2pm Tuesday and by 6pm Wednesday it was done and dusted.
But wait, there’s more.
The bill introduces a new class of civilian enforcement officer that can be appointed with the power to enter virtually any place except your home (has to be a police constable to come into your home without a warrant) and force you to comply with edicts for “public safety” punishable by prison time or fines.
Let that sink in… Civilian enforcers with the power to forcibly enter premises on suspicion alone, without a warrant, and police able to do the same to your home.
This concept is eerily similar to the “Colectivos”, pro-government civilian gangs that appeared in Venezuela and ended up terrorizing the population, confiscating property, killing, and all manner of thuggery with governmental support. Of course, they didn’t start out that way – they were simply civilian groups supporting the government in it’s objectives, but undisciplined exercise of power over others tends to go a certain way in the end.
It is most definitely a case of the current government needing to be reigned in and reminded that they have jobs to serve the people of New Zealand rather than rule over them – the unfortunate twist of an exploitable pandemic and a decent chunk of kiwis believing that the PM can do no wrong may have sent us the wrong way down a dark alleyway.