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It was a privilege for Trust Democracy to be one of the co-hosts and organisers of an esteemed panel, and a large in-person and online audience, to talk about our democracy: its state, the threats, and ways forward. The discussion covered a range of issues and themes.
What is the global state of democracy?
Globally, we are witnessing and confronting unprecedented threats to democracy … Freedom House reports 15 consecutive years of decline in democracy and civil liberties. An astonishing two-thirds of the world’s population today live in countries that are non-democratic or where democracy is backsliding. We are witnessing a menacing rise of authoritarian leaders undermining democracy … As we join forces against these external threats we must also tackle internal threats to democracy which stem from plummeting citizens’ trust in governmentSanjay Pradhan (CEO, Open Government Partnership)
What is the Open Government Partnership?
The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is a major global alliance of 75 countries, over 100 local governments and thousands of civil society organisations that want to protect and enhance democracy. The New Zealand government joined in 2013 and has just published its Fourth National Action Plan. National Action Plans should empower:
citizens to shape and oversee their governments every day, not just once in a few years when we cast our vote … this [is] democracy beyond the ballot boxSanjay Pradham
What is ‘open government’?
Open government has three components. It’s public participation in the development of policies and services. It’s public accountability. And both of those pillars are resting on a foundation of access to government information. Information that is held by public authorities in our name, and who act on our behalf. So open government is fundamentally about the transfer of political power from executive government to the public and civil society so that they can participate in the governance of their own country and in the services they receive, and hold governments to account.Andrew Ecclestone, NZ Council for Civil Liberties and Trust Democracy
What are the main threats in New Zealand?
The main threats here are … of complacency. That we don’t keep up with the times. The need for regulation of lobbying. The need for more scrutiny around – and openness around – the political donation issues. The issues of beneficial ownership. Just a whole lot of things … are nibbling away at us, and we need to arrest them before they get truly chronic – which they can if you just let things slide. So, “she won’t be right”. That’s my message.Rt Hon Helen Clark, OGP Ambassador
In addition to not adequately addressing long standing issues such as weak beneficial ownership and housing/property laws that, according to Suzanne Snively, cost New Zealand 5-10% of GDP, one panellist noted a structural problem with electoral representative democracy itself:
Issues have been exacerbated by governments of all colours kicking really difficult decisions down the road … because we have a democratic system that favours currying opinion in the centreAndrew Ecclestone
While agreeing that openness and transparency are important, Helmut Modlik posited that continuing to accept ineffective government was the ‘root cause’ of declining trust in democracy.
What’s going on is that we have ineffective government everywhere … and the people who are most dispossessed, who are most marginalised, are sick and tired of not having the outcomes that everybody else apparently is getting.Helmut Modlik, CEO, Te Rūnanga o Toa Rangatira
How do we strengthen NZ’s democracy?
One point that … is obviously quite important, and that’s where the charity law needs to go. And I think perhaps we need to draw on experiences of other … like-minded countries … as to how it’s designed, because it is somewhat stifling at the moment.Helen Clark
The OGP has, in its rules, the ability to add a new commitment to an action plan after it’s adopted … The Prime Minister should say, “We will put our policy development on lobbying law into our open government action plan and develop it with deliberative public participation.”Andrew Ecclestone
We couldn’t actually get the vaccine out to everyone – it wasn’t until trusted voices, faces, and places in the community were drawn into the ecosystem of civil society that we got anything approximating to effective ubiquity, right? So to me, the principle for change, going forward, is to think through, find opportunities to implement that principle of subsidiarity. And by definition, … that will end up filtering back through the whole ecosystem and change it.Helmut Modlik
If you want to strengthen democracy, you’ve got to go around, and go away tonight and be effective, energetic, and – importantly – engaging, so that more people than just those of us here tonight can make a difference.Suzanne Snively
The video recordings
The video recordings are organised as a playlist which will scroll though the presentations by Sanjay Pradhan, the Rt Hon Helen Clark and Helmut Modlik, and then the video of the presentations by Andrew Ecclestone and Suzanne Snively, and the question and answer session. Finally in the playlist is a video of the complete event from start to finish. If you want more control over the videos you watch, you can select ‘Watch on YouTube’ at the bottom left of the video window above.
Note about charities law
The issue of reviewing New Zealand charities law was raised during the event. This was the subject of the Trust Democracy event called Charities are worth it!, which featured Sue Baker and was held on 22 June 2022. A video recording and the presentation slides are available here.
Trust Democracy organised this event in collaboration with the Victoria University of Wellington School of Government, the NZ Council for Civil Liberties, Transparency International New Zealand, and the Open Government Partnership.