“Imagine a twenty-first century piece of software trying to run on a twentieth-century computer, and you have a fair picture of the New Zealand democratic system”.Max Rashbrooke
Max Rashbrooke’s contribution to the Transitional Democracy series is just one of a growing number of calls from across society for urgent reform to the democratic system of Aotearoa, NZ.
We are living in a time of transition, and precariousness. It is clear that whatever comes next, we will need to upgrade how we do democratic governance to navigate the path ahead together.
Above all, we are in need of a new shared understanding, or ‘grand narrative’ for democracy. To find out exactly what we mean by ‘Transition’ and ‘Democracy’, or why shuch a new narrative is required, please read my introductory piece.
So what might a new fit-for-purpose system worthy of the definition of ‘Democracy 2.0’ look like in Aotearoa?
Grounded in the Maori Worldview
Te Ao Māori and Mātauranga Māori ( the Māori worldview and knowledge) must underpin the foundation of any concept of Democracy 2.0 in Aotearoa. The Māori worldview includes principles such as ora, or wellbeing achieved through living in balance with fellow humans as kaitiaki (custodians) of the natural system within a given bioregion. Māori (and arguably tauiwi who adhere to this philosophy also) have an inherent right to live within a system governed by this traditional worldview. However, this fact has been all but ignored by the crown in its vigorous imposition of the colonial system of Western democracy which governs us all currently.
The Māori-led Matike Mai constitutional reform movement seeks to redress this history through a goal of constitutional transformation of Aotearoa by 2040 to reimagine the relationship between the Crown and Māori. The Government could serve us all well by rising to the opportunity to have the difficult, yet essential and rewarding conversations needed to progress this topic.
This tradition of Māori deliberative democracy includes a well established and highly evolved tradition of participatory and deliberative decision-making and collaborative governance of the commons. The fact that Matike Mai was a radical example of citizen-led, mass-scale collaborative democratic activity over a five year period involving over 10,000 adults and children, is clear evidence the Māori tradition of deliberative democracy is alive and well.
This Māori worldview-based system and deliberative democracy tradition offer powerful lessons and models for replacing the democratic systems imported from the West. These imported systems have clearly failed miserably at providing better outcomes for citizens and nature so learning from this wealth of indigenous knowledge and tradition is long overdue in Aotearoa. The Ecuadorian constitution, for example, now incorporates the indigenous concept of Sumak Kawsay (buen vivir or good living) which is similar to ora, and also recognises concepts including the inherent rights to self-governance of indigenous communities and the rights of nature.
Engagement and consultation are all too often bandied around as buzzwords, but we have all too often been let down by their outcomes. As Rashbrooke says, “our ‘involvement’ often consists of little more than filling out boxes in consultations about decisions that have already been made.” Māori have experienced the emptiness of such words and promises of delegation of real power or decision-making far more acutely than the rest of us.
Truly Participatory Democracy means “a deliberative dialog and decision-making process which hears all voices and diverse perspectives to enact meaningful change.”
There are many innovative ways of ensuring meaningful participation in ways that are easy and lightweight for already busy citizens. For example, liquid democracy allows citizens to vote themselves, or delegate their vote to a trusted person or NGO on an issue by issue basis. Other popular ideas right now are Citizen Juries or Citizens Assemblies which both place randomly selected Citizen representatives in parliament to deliberate on particular issues.
Based on Bioregional Democracy
Another core aspect of Māori, and all indigenous governance systems, is that they are bioregion focused. This approach means that political groupings, decision-making, and governance are based on decisions about how best to live in a balanced state of ora (wellbeing)within the complex system of nature in a particular biological region.
Bioregional democracy has been defined as follows:
“a set of electoral reforms and commodity reforms designed to force the political process in a democracy to better represent concerns about the economy, the body, and environmental concerns (e.g. water quality), toward developmental paths that are locally prioritized and tailored to different areas for their own specific interests of sustainability and durability.”
It is clear that our past approach of ignoring the delicate relationship between people and the unique biophysical features and limits of our local environments has not led to good environmental outcomes in Aotearoa. However, progress on this front is being made. The recently released Biodiversity strategy and Whaitua (catchment) Committees for water governance in the Wellington Region both incorporate a bioregional framework. The restoration of self-governance of Te Urewera National park to the Iwi is a similarly pioneering development in this country.
The Principle of Subsidiarity holds that decisions should default to the most immediate (local) level meaning wherever feasible, so that local people and locally elected representatives have maximum autonomy over matters in their area. This decentralised approach aligns with the principle of bioregional democracy outlined above.
The concept of subsidiarity was codified in the recently rewritten Italian constitution, and has led to far more delegation of powers to regional authorities. It even enables (through the Bologna Declaration) public administrations to support citizens in the development of autonomous initiatives aimed at the collective interest such as community managed services and infrastructure.
This means Public Administrations must “find ways to share their powers and cooperate with single or associated citizens willing to exercise their constitutional right to carry out activities of general interest.” Incorporating this principle in New Zealand would ensure that our cities see Citizens as a “great source of energy, talents, resources, capabilities, skills and ideas that may be harnessed to improve the quality of life of a community or help contribute to its survival.”
Making full use of Modern technology
Digital Democracy is the use of digital communication technologies to enhance the democratic process. It aims to make democracy more accessible by increasing and enhancing citizen participation in public policy decision making, and increasing government transparency and accountability. Many parliaments, municipal governments and political parties are already pioneering digital democracy.
In the age of pandemics, internet-based voting in elections has been receiving a lot of scrutiny again. However, there are very real security and technological barriers to enabling online voting in elections for now. In the USA, 32 states already permit various kinds of online voting for some subset of voters, and in the 2016 general election, more than 100,000 ballots were cast online. Due to a lack of transparency, testing, and regulatory oversight, and the use of privately owned apps this is highly concerning to many experts.
As technology evolves, and with proper Government oversight there are likely to be new methods to avoid mass fraud and enable the expansion of such methods. For example a combination of RealMe-style Government-issued authentication protocols and blockchain-based systems may resolve some of the issues.
Grounded in Civilised Compassionate Communication
In order to have a functioning democracy, we must find ways to move towards a political culture of inclusive, civilised, and compassionate communication in our political culture.
It is essential that we move beyond political divisiveness, dirty politics, entrenched positions, and partisanship in politics. However, we also must move beyond call-out and cancel culture, and the censorship of views simply because we may not agree with them. Clearly there must be limits when it comes to actual hate speech and incitement to violence as defined by international law. However, these terms should not be wielded lightly as a convenient tool for censorship. The creeping culture of intolerance and censorship on both sides of the political divide is not healthy for a functioning democracy.
In 2019 the Independent report by Debbie Francis highlighted a seriously toxic culture of bullying in parliament and recommended that Parliament must build a culture of dignity and respect. In response, Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard drafted a new voluntary code of conduct in 2020 including seven clear commitments:
- Show that bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment, are unacceptable
- Speak up if we observe unacceptable behaviour
- Use our position of power or influence to help others, and avoid harm
- Act respectfully and professionally
- Behave fairly and genuinely, treating others the way we would like to be treated
- Encourage diverse perspectives, and the free and frank expressions of views
- Foster an environment where people feel safe and valued
This is a good step, but it does not go far enough, perhaps we need to go back to the drawing board and institute more comprehensive rules for nonviolent communication. A good start might be these tools from this excellent bookcalled Peace Begins At Home written by Kiwi and Quaker Mary Rose aimed at three-year-olds and their parents: It recommends the following strategies for peaceful communication:
- Use “I statements”
- Listen Deeply
- Name feelings
- Set a house agenda
How do we get there?
The systems, the technology, for such innovations to be adopted are all there. The only thing still lacking is clear political will from our representatives. Just as turkeys will not vote for Christmas, politicians on most points on the ideological spectrum appear to be loath to hand over any real power to citizens.
Rashbrooke points out that all Labour have promised in this space is to rewrite the Official Information Act. However they have given few details about how this would work or whether the public would be deeply involved. There has been little substantive progress made by Labour on increasing participatory government through the Open Government Partnership programme since they have been in government.
Rashbrooke also notes, however, that there is some more progressive policy coming from the minor parties. The Green Party is promising a Crown response to the Matike Mai report and calling for OIA reform. TOP’s democracy reset, meanwhile, proposes comprehensive reform of our democratic institutions. However, neither of these smaller parties is likely to wield significant power in the near future.
That means it is clear that if we want to upgrade our democracy in New Zealand, it is up to us all to drive this change both from within and outside of the established political system. To do this we might consider becoming active and engaging in the political process via parties, local politics, or advocacy groups and challenging them to improve their policies on open government and participatory government.
We can also join in collaborative efforts such as Predator Free NZ, or efforts to regenerate our local environment or community infrastructure. We may also want to launch, or take part in discussions about increasing democratic participation everywhere we can, in our local communities, our schools, our workplaces, and even our online environments.
In other words, we must work tirelessly to tend the garden of our new political culture by fostering the positive seeds of the global tapestry of alternatives thrown up by this transitional time to ensure they grow into a stable new truly democratic system.
The Transitional Democracy Series
ScoopCitizen is walking the walk on this participation front by running the Transitional Democracy series in the lead up to the 2020 election and beyond. To find out what we mean by Transitional Democracy, please read this introductory piece.
This series weaves together and explores powerful ideas from the global tapestry of alternatives that may shape our society in the next decade. It will feature expert analysis, comment and panel discussions exploring crucial questions around both the democratic transition and transitional thinking reshaping every aspect of our society.
Transitional Democracy highlights the key, ideas, thinkers, projects and champions building the new systems and democratic institutions, practices and infrastructure for our future world.
The Transitional Democracy series will establish five new long-term CitizenDesks covering five key Transitional spheres up to and beyond the 2020 election:
- Transitional Democracy
- Transitional Livelihoods
- Transitional Ecology
- Transitional Wellbeing
- Transitional Thinking
We welcome contributions in the form of submissions or suggestions on any of these topics from freelance journalists, academics, political parties, or NGOs, as well as from ordinary citizens.
Take Part in the Transition
The ScoopCitizen ‘engaged journalism’ service provides a safe and deliberative members-only ‘engaged journalism’ space.
ScoopCitizen provides a space for learning, discussion of ideas and collective action using ScoopCitizen tools via our partnership with GovTech startup NextElection and engaged journalism methodology.
This is an attempt to bring more participation and engagement with you, our readers into the process of creating quality journalism.
The series seeks to address the following questions:
- How might we as a society composed of both Māori and Tau Iwi (other peoples) agree to relate to each other and live together in Aotearoa, NZ?
- How might we make the process of the collective governance of our nation more open and participatory for all citizens?
- How might we create the resilient, adaptive, and stable society that we need to overcome the many global threats we face?
- How might the groups of people, living in our communities, cities, bioregions, and nation share and manage our resources in common and act as custodians for nature and future generations?
Sign up to ScoopCitizen now to stay tuned and participate as we develop the conversation on the Transitional Democracy series.
If you want to support us to expand this conversation and bring on even more great journalists to cover these CitizenDesks please setup a one-off or regular donation to ScoopCitizen via Press Patron. All funds raised will go to creating more quality content on this issue.
Comment here via ScoopCitizen