No, Nick, you didn’t need to get your knickers in a twist over reference to the war

Nick Smith – hard-working colleague though he be – can behave like a total prat without much provocation.

He did so yesterday, it seems, when he accused the Human Rights Commissioner of making deeply offensive comments.

These deeply offensive comments – they seem to have offended Nick, anyway – came from the Human Rights Commissioner when he was talking about democracy in Canterbury (or lack of it) and the war against Nazi Germany.

Nick took offence (as you will learn here) during submissions to a parliamentary committee considering the legislation that will allow government-appointed commissioners to continue running the Canterbury regional council.

The Human Rights Commissioner was bloody unhappy with this arrangement.

He told the MPs the extension to the current arrangement for the regional council was unnecessary and undemocratic.

Human Rights Commissioner David Rutherford said the arrangement is anti-democratic and flies in the face of what New Zealand soldiers have fought and died for in the past.

National MP for Nelson Nick Smith took umbrage at this.

The account of this bit of brouhaha on the Radio NZ website doesn’t explain why he took umbrage, exactly, although Alf knows from experience that dear old Nick can take umbrage faster than most Nats.

As he understands it, Nick got the daft idea Rutherford was accusing we Nats of being Nazis.

That would indeed have been offensive.

But it’s not quite what Rutherford said.

Moreover, while Alf must not say so publicly, he has something of a touch of sympathy for the commission’s argument (which you can find here).

The legislation in question is the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Bill.

The commission says there is no good reason to extend the present legislation and – furthermore – he reckons the ability of Canterbury residents to participate in decision making will continue to be undermined.

The commission is also reminding the Government about its duty to the New Zealanders who paid a high price in global conflicts to defend their democratic rights.

It recalls that, in 2010, the original ECan Act was introduced and passed under urgency in one day.

Environment Canterbury’s democratically elected councillors were given the old heave-ho and replaced with government-appointed commissioners.

These commissioners were due to complete their terms in 2013.

Another thing, Canterbury residents were no longer allowed to access the Environment Court to appeal water conservation orders and regional planning decisions.

A summation of the submission (here) recalls that Nick Smith – who was a Minister at the time – was given ‘special powers’ to suspend the operation of specific provisions of the Resource Management Act.

The cabinet paper accompanying the original Act stated that these measures should only be temporary as they constrained the right to public participation. It was also quite explicit that the intent was to return to a democratically elected Council as soon as the Commissioners’ task was completed.

But this new Bill will extend the Act’s governance arrangements and special water management decision making powers until 2016.

In the first cabinet paper on the amendment Bill, Minister of the Environment, David Carter, and Amy Adams, the Minister of Local Government, stated that any option except a return to a fully elected Council would limit the democratic rights of residents of Canterbury compared to the rest of the country. They and the ECAN Commissioners suggested a ‘hybrid’ governance model incorporating partly elected and partly appointed Commissioners, which would eventually lead to a fully locally elected governance body, but this has not been adopted.

And so the Commission has got very huffy and says it believes the Bill is undemocratic and runs contrary to New Zealand’s human rights obligations under a number of international treaties.

If Nick hadn’t taken umbrage, of course no-one might have taken much notice of what Rutherford and his agency had to say.


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