External Relations Manager
News that Forest and Bird, one of New Zealand’s largest and most respected conservation organisations has quit the Land and Water Forum comes as no surprise. (DomPost, 8 March)
The forum is described as “a Government-led body which brings together dozens of environmental, industry and recreational groups to improve freshwater management.” Forest and Bird (F&B) was one of its earliest members.
F&B President Mark Hanger said “The forum provided the Government with consensus recommendations that had buy-in from all the relevant stakeholders, incorporating the best scientific advice, yet they’ve come up with something very different. In putting the forum’s recommendations to one side, the Government has undermined the good faith and trust that we put in the forum to help address the freshwater crisis facing New Zealanders”
Environment Minister Nick Smith, rather than address the two real issues – his undermining of Government’s own posterchild for participatory decision-making, and the reality of the freshwater crisis – blamed F&B chief exec Kevin Hague (and former Greens MP) for making the organisation “a lot more political”.
What the Minister has chosen to ignore is the likelihood F&B deliberately appointed a new CE who would be “more political”, because of growing frustration with Government.
We are dealing with a 3rd-term Government that is following the pattern of previous 3rd-term Governments – a growing arrogance in their role as decision-makers, leading to increasing isolation from real communities.
A recent conversation about Open Government Partnership started me thinking, and Nick Smith’s comments make it clear – we are dealing with a Government solely wedded to a representative style of democracy, at the expense of participative decisionmaking. What’s more, I’m not sure a government led by any other current party would be any different.
It seems deeply embedded in our culture that we vote every 3 years to elect people to make decisions on our behalf, and then many of us just hope they’ll just get on and do it – we will only get involved if they do something that really upsets us, like “meddle with our Super”.
But for me, people get involved voluntarily in community organisations because they want to help, for something to be different – we are motivated by a set of values, and we want to play our part in making the world a better place – maybe locally and maybe nationally, but we want to participate!
I think we as NZers need to evolve our democracy, to make it more participative, and I believe that in the community and voluntary sector we have skills and experience that can contribute to much better decision-making by government and its agencies. Every Government agency I work with seems to run on an assumption that participative decision-making is too hard, or expensive, and is somehow unconstitutional.
But it ain’t so – there are plenty of case examples, including in the UK from where we draw our constitutional and legal framework. Government agencies, and elected MPs, are mistaken in believing it’s too hard or expensive. We have the capability in this sector to contribute to decision-making in many, major, ways.
As for the September election, what can community groups do?
I’d suggest, invite candidates of every party to come and meet you, tell them what you do, tell them how it makes a difference in the community, and tell them how you can help government work better for your people and your community.
Don’t invite them all at once – they will waste time attacking each other instead of focusing on your issues. And don’t spend the time moaning – they will lose interest. Share ideas on how to move forward with your community’s issues. Great ideas come from people and communities – not from Government!
And then, in your newsletters, website, facebook, wherever, encourage your members or participants to go and vote. Don’t tell them who to vote for (you could lose your charity status) but you are allowed to report on how the different candidates responded to your ideas.
Go for it – Please. Our democracy needs you!
Dave Henderson is the External Relations Manager at Hui E! Community Aotearoa, but this blog does not represent Hui E!. The views expressed are Dave’s own.
This blog has been contributed by a member of ComVoices
ComVoices actively promotes the value that community sector organisations and their people, both paid and unpaid, add to New Zealand’s economic and social wellbeing through information, and political advocacy and dialogue.
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