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PM’s problem – no constitutional confidence

  • April 4th, 2013

The PM may or may not have a political problem over the GCSB appointment, made awkward because that body's constituting law did not authorise its Dotcom surveillance.

But there is no reason for him to bow to the media consensus that it would be improper for him to have shoulder tapped someone he knew and trusted to head that body, provided (as appears to be the case) that independent scrutiny confirmed the candidate's credentials. A PM confident in his knowledge of the constitution (or confident in his advisers on such matters) would simply dismiss the media parrotting of the left allegations of cronyism, and counter-attack, with a list of the awful fellow traveller appointments made by the previous government.

He would be doing us all a service too, if he counter-attacked the theory that politicians should not be choosing their key administrators and advisors. That theory is a not-so-subtle attempt in the eternal establishment campaign to nobble democracy. Academics, professionals, and others who worm their way to high salaries and influence by promoting complex procedure, are naturally hostile to the crude changes that democracy entails. We dump the powerful at elections because we want change. We want to upset the status quo.

The establishment are instinctively threatened by that. So lawyers and bureacrats and priests and journalists find ways to make it improper for democratically elected leaders to change very much beneath them.

It is futile and unfair to expect any leader to be effective without the power to select managers and advisers they can trust to act on their programme. It is trite knowledge from business that few can ever reform themselves from within, even in the face of complete collapse. Real change almost invariably requires the injection of new executive management, and implict trust between the leaders and those who must develop and implement detailed action plans.

So the theory that politicians should somehow eschew influence on the appointment of their primary agents to implement the policies for which they are elected, almost guarantees a high degree of frustration and failure for all but the most charismatic and determined elected leaders.

Of course it is justified by high-minded objectives. Cronyism can be a curse. It is useful in our system to give the bureacracy the power to slow and to temper democratic swings of policy. Independent vetting and opportunities to block demonstrably unsuitable appointments will maintain those protections.

But we badly need a PM with the mana and the knowledge and the confidence to put constitutionally dangerous elite ninnies firmly back in their boxes.


  • peterquixote
  • April 11th, 2013
  • 7:19 pm

Excellent as usual Stephen. The PM makes a Ministerial appointment. Gosh, how golly media It is constitutional because it is within the normal flow of Government. Do you want Russell Norman to help.
Knock knock on the door.
NZ Nat Government, without Winston Peters in 2014

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