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Democracy fails when a government is not honest about what it believes are the issues, why they want change and what they propose to do.
Honesty in the issues is a vital first step.
Instead, the Government leapfrogs this and moves straight into expensive and incoherent advertising spending.
Without a clear idea of what the Government wants to say, the ads vary from childish through unbelievable to what a load of rubbish.
It would be believable if the truth behind the ads was that the Government promised to spend millions and millions on advertising to support media during Covid and there was some budget left that still hasn’t been spent.
Think ads which suggest we actually believe in zero bad stuff, for example zero road deaths. At best this is a waste of money which could have been spent on actually reducing road deaths, which presumably was the issue. At worst it could encourage people to wonder whether the Government actually believes that zero road deaths is achievable.
Think Three Waters and the "undies undies undies togs" type TV ad. We were left guessing what the actual purpose of the ad was.
The best we could make of it was that we should accept that some of the water in New Zealand is bad to drink or swim in and the Government will take control of the water and make it sparkly clean.
The truth however is that many of the waters of New Zealand are fine. There are some that are below standard, and the Government has made rules for local government to require the levels to be lifted so that all reach the required standards. For the areas where there are issues of the local populations not being able to afford the changes required, the Government can provide money to improve the water, with or without oversight or control of how the money is spent.
We are left wondering what the problem is the Government sees which makes them think the answer is an opaque multi-level bureaucracy replacing local control of water.
This leaves New Zealand playing a game of 20 questions with government as to what the problem is and why they are proposing the solution. In fact it is not as rewarding as the game, because when you play 20 questions the one who answers has to honestly answer yes or no, and there is no such requirement for government ministers.
The South Island (minus a little piece around Nelson) is to become one entity.
The ratepayers who paid for assets relating to water provision are to lose control of such assets so that the Government can borrow against these and provide the sparkly clean water.
When we ask the next question around how and why this will lead to better water, the responses suggest that the top level involvement of our tangata whenua is a pivotal part of the proposal. How this relates to the sparkliness remains unclear.
This lack of honesty is particularly dangerous to democracy.
We need to talk about the role of Maori in our government structures. We need to be mindful of our obligations under the Treaty. And it would be great to clarify what people feel comfortable with before the local government reforms.
Our way forward with all New Zealand paddling in roughly the same direction in our unique fleet of waka will be pivotal to our wellbeing and achievements as a nation in the future.
We need to talk about where we want to land on the continuum of "nothing about us without us" at one end, to those with Maori whakapapa having equal numbers of members of Parliament on the other.
The Government was prepared to work on what it described as a high-trust model for Covid funding. Yet somehow it is extremely coy about trusting us with information about fundamental changes to the governance and control of our entire country.
The Government not coming clean about its agenda is a danger to democracy.
These conversations are important to have.
There is no right outcome, only an outcome which comes through proper democratic processes.
We need to abandon attempts at persuasion through propaganda thinly disguised as factual information.
We need the best information we can find about the choices we might be having made on our behalf.
We need to be encouraged to talk through options.
The Government, through the Finance Minister, has offered the view that co-governance is an evolutionary step forward in the democratic process.
We need to talk about how the Government imagines this to be true.
Up until now we were working on the idea that for democracy to function, the people must be able to vote for a majority who can govern until the people want to try something else.
The Government is silent about how democracy can work with co-governance with no inbuilt majority process.
If we don’t understand the basis of the issue we can’t contribute thoughtfully to talk of solutions and we risk confusion and stupid outcomes.
We can do better. We can and should defend democracy. We are still a smart and reasonably educated people.
We should be trusted with the facts and the ability to work through possible outcomes.
New Zealand is too small to be stupid.
-- Hilary Calvert is an ORC councillor, a former Act MP and former Dunedin city councillor.