In addition to the events that Trust Democracy has organised, we’ve been active on a number of other issues this year.
Aotearoa New Zealand has been a member of the international Open Government Partnership since 2013. Member countries develop National Action Plans (or NAPs), which contain commitments to take action on particular topics. Commitments should improve the availability of government-held information, enable and improve public participation, and facilitate accountability.
The OGP’s rules require National Action Plans to be co-created with the public and civil society. Trust Democracy has been participating in the work to co-create the 4th NAP, over the last couple of years. We’ve been concerned throughout this process that it has been poorly designed and under-resourced.
In March 2021, we and other organisations wrote to the Minister responsible (Public Service Minister Chris Hipkins) to express our concerns about the lack of progress and resourcing. This led the government to extend the timeframe for developing the NAP by a year, but no funding assurances were provided.
We made our submission on what commitments the 4th National Action Plan should contain in July 2021.
In December 2021, we worked with our civil society colleagues to provide a briefing to the Minister, for him to consider over the summer break. Our contribution included a link to the Democracy ‘after’ COVID workshop we hosted, as well as highlighting key points from the OECD’s Good Practice Principles for Deliberative Processes in Public Decision Making. When we eventually heard back from the Minister (in July 2022), he told us that
Trust Democracy’s contribution was interesting. I think the next OGP plan should have a specific focus on misinformation, distrust in govt, and disillusionment with the political/govt system
I’m supportive of more direct citizen engagement, and Korero Matauranga could be an example of how that can lead to greater consensus and real co-designChris Hipkins, Minister for the Public Service
In October 2022 civil society groups had an (online) meeting with the Minister. We wrote to the Minister again in advance of the meeting, about the issues we wanted to discuss with our co-creation partner. We also sent a follow-up letter after the meeting, about the importance of NAP commitments being designed and delivered in ways that honour obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and on the detail of some of the proposed commitments.
Trust Democracy remains deeply concerned that the commitments to go in the 4th National Action Plan have not been jointly drafted by civil society organisations and the relevant government agencies. Departments have not met their obligations to meet with us and share in this work. This looks like it will again result in commitments only being drafted by government officials, which does not embody the OGP’s key principles and requirements, which are about deepening and strengthening democracy.
Reform of charity law
The law that governs what charities can and cannot do, and how they are regulated, has a major effect on how these organisations can contribute to our democracy, through advocacy, community-based support, and education activities.
At the 2017 general election, the Labour Party’s manifesto pledged that, if elected to government, it would ensure a ‘first principles’ review of charity law would be undertaken. This did not take place.
A ‘first principles’ review of the law is also the key recommendation of Sue Barker’s major research project, as the 2019 New Zealand Law Foundation’s International Research Fellow. Following on from the webinar we held with Sue in June 2022, Trust Democracy wrote to the Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector in July 2022. We expressed our concern that the government’s work on charity law reform has fallen far short of the promised ‘first principles’ review and urged the Minister to seek advice from outside the Department of Internal Affairs. We did not receive a reply from the Minister.
In September 2022, we wrote to all MPs about the issue, enclosing a copy of our letter to the Minister. We asked MPs to take action by holding a select committee inquiry into the state of our charities regime. The government has now introduced a bill to enact limited reforms to the Charities Act 2005. It falls far short of Labour’s 2017 manifesto pledge, does not widen the definition of charitable purposes, nor reinstate an independent charities regulator. We believe this is deeply unsatisfactory.
Merger of Television New Zealand and Radio New Zealand
The government’s Aotearoa New Zealand Public Media Bill is currently being considered by Parliament’s Economic Development, Science and Innovation Committee. In September 2022, Trust Democracy joined with a number of other organisations, lawyers, academics and consultants in helping to develop the submission made on the bill by Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures at the University of Auckland. Trust Democracy’s chair, Simon Wright, took part in a workshop organised by Koi Tū to consider the issues and develop the submission earlier this year.
Parliament’s Standing Orders
The Standing Orders of the House of Representatives are the main rules that guide how Parliament’s work is carried out. So they play an important role in how one of our main institutions strengthens our democracy – or doesn’t. The Standing Orders are reviewed once in each parliament, so the review is an important opportunity to try and make Parliament work better.
One of the key issues that affects the work of Trust Democracy are the rules on how select committees operate, and this is what our September 2022 submission focused on.
Trust Democracy’s members were invited to help the committee develop this submission, and the contributions of those who took part were valuable. We recommended that select committees learn from their sister Parliaments in Westminster, Edinburgh and Dublin on moving beyond consultation to embrace new methods that enable public involvement and collaboration in committee inquiries.
When scrutinising bills, committees receive submissions (like the one on media reform mentioned above), but these are not analysed by officials working for MPs. Instead, our select committees rely on the analysis undertaken by the government department that has developed the legislation. We think this conflict of interest is not acceptable, and that MPs should bolster Parliament’s independence from the government by employing experts to analyse and report on submissions on bills.
We also recommended funding to support public participation in committee processes, improved access to records of hearings and committee proceedings, and a number of other improvements. We’re due to appear before the Standing Orders Committee in early December 2022 to elaborate on our written submission.
Quick access to this work
The Publications page of the website is where we list these submissions, briefings and letters, so take a look there for other work the Trust Democracy committee has done as part of our work to strengthen public discourse, education and research on democracy in Aotearoa New Zealand.
We’ll be providing more opportunities for members to help with our work over the coming months, so if you’re not already a member and are interested in contributing, please join Trust Democracy today.
Header photo by Boba Jaglicic on Unsplash