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19 April 2009
“Governance” is a word which refers to the practice of government at the political level detached from the day-to-day tasks of administration and delivery of services. The perceived function of “governance” is to provide “vision”, “inspiration” and “direction”, qualities which have no measurable outcomes. The notion of “governance” is therefore much in vogue with business and political elites who get paid very large sums of money for doing very little for which they may be held accountable.
It is no surprise therefore that a Royal Commission was set up to investigate Auckland “governance”, rather than Auckland “government”. The word “governance” was deliberately chosen, and the word “government” avoided, because the Royal Commission’s findings were pre-determined in a way that could have foundered upon the material facts which would have emerged from any examination of the substantive and practical functions of local government, such as providing roads, sewers, water reticulation systems, parks, libraries and swimming pools.
In the bigger picture, Royal Commissions are a political device for dealing with proposals for which there is consensus within the regime as a whole (the major political parties and the mass media organisations) but which face significant opposition from the public at large. If the major political parties were at odds over a particular issue, then neither would accept the establishment of a royal commission to investigate the case. On the other hand, if the political establishment already had the support of the public as a whole, then a royal commission would be superfluous. Royal Commissions are only possible, and are only deemed necessary, in situations where the political establishment as a whole desires to overcome deep-seated public opposition to a certain policy.
Thus when the National Party and the Labour Party formed a consensus in favour of the introduction of genetically engineered organisms into New Zealand, in the face of a hostile public, a “Royal Commission” was set up to smooth the way. It is no accident that such commissions go by the name “royal” rather than “parliamentary” or “state”. There is a congruence of function between the institution of the monarchy and the royal commission. Both are essentially undemocratic, both are portrayed as transcending political differences, and both are used as a means of kicking into touch any political issue over which the regime is at odds with the people.
Royal Commissions, like the institution of the monarchy itself, are a way for the regime to evade or undermine the democratic principles to which the state is nominally subject. And the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance was an anti-democratic means to an anti-democratic end. The “three wise men” of the Commission have proposed a major centralisation of government in the Auckland region which will concentrate power in fewer hands, and greatly increase the political influence of the mass media, large corporations and centralised business organisations. It is a change which will have repercussions not only for the working classes of Auckland (who are already severely marginalised politically) but also for the multitude of local lawyers, accountants, doctors, small business people and other worthies of the regime who have traditionally enjoyed the status and responsibilities of local government office. In short, the regime is hell-bent on narrowing its own traditional political base, in order to elevate the likes of John Banks and John Key. The thing about Banks and Key is that both are very wealthy, neither are very bright, and both have made their wealth in ways that are, to say the least, morally dubious. John Key made his money through a form of financial speculation which has brought the world economy to ruin. John Banks made his fortune by dealing in alcohol and other drugs which have helped bring New Zealand to the brink of social ruin. These, however, are the type of people who will inevitably gain increased power from the royal commission’s planned “reform” of Auckland local government. They are politically pragmatic but personally unscrupulous. They are financially successful but lacking in personal wisdom, judgement, and intelligence.
The end result of the royal commission decision - which is really a
“coup from above” directed against Auckland local government - will be
the concentration of political power in the unsafe hands of people like
John Banks. At the same time a whole stratum of middle and upper-middle
class Aucklanders will be ejected from elected offices in local government,
and this will have longer term consequences for levels of involvement in
national as well as local politics. On the positive side, we
can expect that those who have been shut out of the regime’s political
process will, in time, develop new political organisations, separate from
the institutions of the regime, which can be used to address the social
aspirations of the middle and lower classes.