A week of poor process continues for the government as it side-steps consultation with its decision to approve mining on the Denniston Plateau
Sorry about the absence, but I've been making television and trying to absorb the pros and cons of drug decriminalisation (and I might blog on that soon). But in the meantime Andrew, Claire and our very special guest Anne Salmond (New Zealander of the Year, no less) have been doing some impressive heavy lifting.
The government's legislative agenda has been appallingly flippant in the past week or so and I'm delighted Pundit bloggers have taken such a stand. Many of us have been concerned about this government's approach to process this year. I blogged in February, March and April about the Prime Minister's focus on outcomes over process and I've long opined that the everyman casualness that he built his political career on will one day be his undoing.
That's not what we're seeing this week; it will take some poor process in a realm that directly effects middle New Zealand to really wound him. But this week's urgencies and unwillingness to listen to the people is part of a damaging narrative. New Zealanders don't like being taken for granted.
To the examples laid out in this week's other posts, you can add today's Denniston Plateau mining decision. Conservation Minister Nick Smith headed to a West Coast car park today to announce government approval for "an open-cast mine on 106 hectares of the 2026 hectares that comprise the Denniston Plateau".
Regardless what you think of the plans to mine the area -- the ancient rocks and slow-growing flora versus the $1 billion in six years and hundreds of jobs promised -- the process again seems to be an example of politics trumping democracy as other institutions -- y'know, the voice of the people and the courts -- are disrespected.
First, National has announced the expansion of mining a day before changes to the Crown Minerals Act requiring public consultation for significant mining proposals on conservation land. It has gone out of its way to minimise public consultation.
Second, National has given political approval to the mine while it is subject to legal action in the Environment, High and Supreme Courts. Now I'm no lawyer, but journalists tread warily around court cases lest we be seen to be influencing a jury or judge and somehow polluting deliberations.
Now, the Environment Court at least has indicated it's inclined to let the mine go ahead, but surely the government should not be presuming the outcome of the cases with this kind of announcement. It seems presumptuous and disrespectful.
Sadly, it also seems all too typical.
Last week's Budget was utterly to type. It was called grey and conservative and the like, but it should really have simply been called 'Bill's Budget', because it was utterly in keeping with what we've come to expect from Finance Minister Bill English. It was focused on the here and now, with little vision or inter-generational planning. It was focused on maintaining, not building. It was clever management but managed nothing particularly clever. It acknowledged the key problems facing New Zealand and tinkered with them, without offering any substantial solutions.
Such conservative financial management has some virtue in troubled times. But National's political management has been far less cautious.
From early concerns about its use of urgency, through the SkyCity deal and various brain fades, and on to the Ian Fletcher phone call and handling of the GCSB, the disregard for good process have been there in flashes.
But what we've seen this week raises the concern that this disregard has become the new normal for National; that no-one in Cabinet seems willing to question how it's doing its business.
When being questioned about an issue he doesn't want to touch, John Key likes to say he's too busy running the country to bother with it. But the question now is over just how well he's doing that job and whether he's giving it due respect.