On Saturday December 1st there was a large protest in Christchurch for democracy, over 2000 people gathered. They held banners that read “Local Democracy for Canterbury Now“, “Insurance Fraud – Government Complicit“, “Defend Democracy Keep the Predators Away“, “From the Grassroots Up Not The Beehive Down“, “Stop Eroding Democracy We Did Not Vote For Dictatorship“, “It’s Our Vote to Give Not Yours To Take“, “Pay GV for the CBD“, “Rogernomics, Ruthanasia, Now Keyhole Surgery – Cutting Back Our Democracy“, “NZ Democracy Not 4 Sale“, “Restore Christchurch Democracy“.
Amazingly, or probably not surprisingly there was only a quick sound bite and a couple of frames on the news that evening. The Christchurch Press reported the following http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/8024230/Marchers-seek-democracy-for-Christchurch. Much of what passes for journalism these days also allows the government and big business to promote their agendas without investigation of underlying facts and motivations- the media too has become complicit in the war on our society. The truth is no longer its main goal but rather meeting deadlines and achieving profitability are the agenda. We are on the verge of not only losing our government of the people for the people but also standing idly by while the New Zealand dream becomes a national nightmare for us all.
There is a real sense by many Christchurch citizens that there is an erosion of democratic rights taking place right under our noses and that it is no longer Government for the people or by the people. Every week reveals more examples of the erosion of individual rights and liberties and broad attempts by political and business to define how and what Christchurch should now look like, demanding that they alone will determine our futures and dismissive of anyone who has the temerity to raise his/her head and speak directly and critically against those in power. One of the ways in which the present National Government is achieving this is through what Naomi Klein coined ‘Disaster Capitalism’. (See “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism”).
I have read her book and it seems to me that she is right on the money. She outlines countless examples of governments that swoop in on vulnerable populations post war or post natural disaster and begin to implement changes that a population in times of calm would simply never accept. The main premise of her book is that the political and financial elites with their free market policies, based on Milton Friedman’s and The Chicago School ideologies, have opportunistically used wars and natural disasters to push through their own agendas to implement economic and political reforms advantageous only to themselves. She cites examples of how these policies have been applied in countries such as America, Poland, Cuba, Thailand, Russia, and South Africa, only to name a few.
As we look at the Christchurch situation I suggest that her findings are mirrored here too. We see the:
- suspension of democratic functions of local government- which is to follow the will of the people in respect of decision making regarding the rebuild of the city
- the increased and all consuming powers of CERA and the ‘leave it to the market’ mentality at the expense of a suffering population still in the throes of post disaster mayhem and the sale and transfer of New Zealand assets to foreign owners
- the exclusion of our voices and an absolute lack of participation in the decision making processes of the affected community
- land grab by foreign interests: property owners in the Central Business district are experiencing large overseas property developers vying for their land- land that in many cases has been in the ownership of particular families for generations. It is predicted that the Central Business District is likely to force ‘uncooperative’ land owners to acquiesce to the plans of the large property developers. Many of the land owners were not even aware of that their land had been earmarked for future development by these major developers. Unsurprisingly they are angry about the grab that is currently underway in the Central Business District as well as the land already grabbed in the red zone from marginalized red-zoners via Government offers of land at 2007 values
- Charter schools: the extraordinary announcement from nowhere that there would be a merger and reorganization of schools in the city with little or no public consultation with an emphasis on the privatization of schools. Did you read this in the National Party manifesto?
- the rampant and steady removal of heritage: a third of all heritage buildings have been demolished and the council says it is powerless to stop it.
What results, what remains is a winner and loser mentality which leads to certain groups of people living in luxury while large sections of the population are left with declining incomes, increasing unemployment and being increasingly disenfranchised. This is not the sort of New Zealand I want to live in.
These demonstrations are so important because it is the only way that the population can fight back against the forces that would diminish our rights or destroy them altogether. They are a worthy cause. It would not be too strong to say that the political and business ‘elites’ are waging war on Cantabrians- currently big business and big government is unchecked in their attacks on the common good and not only in Christchurch. The rest of the nation needs to wake-up, before these people apply their corporate agenda to the whole of the country. I want to live in a city and a country where everyone contributes and where every vote counts.
This was the letter written for the occassion of the protest, Christchurch 1 December, 2012:
OPEN LETTER TO THE PRIME MINISTER OF NEW ZEALAND
Dear Prime Minister Rt Hon. John Key
Please receive this letter from the Committee organising the Rally for Democracy taking place on 1st December 2012 in Christchurch. This committee represents the following groups: Save our Schools, IConIC, Historic Places Canterbury, WeCan, Christchurch Civic Trust, Save Hagley Park, TC3 Residents, Water Interests, Wizard of NZ Ltd.
We believe there is a significant lack of democracy operating in Canterbury, resulting from the Government’s ‘top down’ approach in handling many of the issues of great concern for us in post-earthquake Christchurch.
Since early 2010 a wave of discontent has been building over this loss of democracy. This erosion of our rights as New Zealanders has increased dramatically during the earthquake recovery. Your National-led Government, through the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA), is making decisions about our recovery without any input and consultation with the citizens of Christchurch and its elected members in a highly dictatorial and disempowering manner.
It is clear from the CER Act that CERA has been instructed to consult with affected communities in enabling recovery to take place. We do not see this taking place. The Community Forum put in place to allow such consultation has become a farce with Mr Brownlee or Roger Sutton having attended only a handful of times.
Only last week our own Human Rights Commissioner, David Rutherford, stated the need for Cantabrians to be a major player in a collaborative recovery:
International guidelines, such as the IASC Guidelines offer guidance to ensure compliance with international human rights law and for governments and humanitarian organisations to take a ‘bottom-up’ and ‘joined-up’ approach in responding to disasters. Such guidelines are not an obstructive hoop-jumping exercise in political correctness, but rather they offer a people-centred, collaborative basis for a truly integrated recovery response that is nimble, aligned and efficient. At their heart is the participation of the people affected by natural disasters in their own recovery; as we say in New Zealand, it is “he tangata, he tangata, he tangata” who are most important.
When our democratically elected Environment Canterbury (Ecan) was sacked and Commissioners appointed early in 2010 we were promised an election in 2013 but we now suffer the indignity of no elections for at least three more years. This is totally unacceptable in a country that values its people and their right to a voice and involvement in decisions on their future.
Since May 2011, CERA has used Section 38s to demolish heritage buildings throughout Christchurch; we are still losing the heritage and character of our city at an alarming rate. A graphic example of this is the recent quick resumption of the demolition of Cranmer Courts and the refusal to agree to the City Council’s request for Cera to call a halt for 30 days. A number of important, viable heritage buildings are slated for demolition as part of the blueprint implementation. To our great shame, Christchurch is surely the post-disaster heritage demolition capital of the world!
The recent schools proposals continue to confirm the top down approach from your Government toward Christchurch. Schools are going to be savaged with these proposals. It began with pretend consultation, falsely based claims and wildly inappropriate solutions to problems. The Minister and Ministry of Education appear to be totally out of touch with what is happening in this city, with no consideration for communities and the real people they will affect in announcing these destructive proposals. Only recently has Hekia Parata spent an hour at each school. Shortly after this it was announced the Government is to spend $1 billion to close and merge schools, but schools have yet to respond to the Ministry with their own proposals. People do not trust the Ministry to act in their best interests, the schools’ best interests and most importantly, the pupil’s best interest. Disrupting already upset traumatised children with these announcements shows a total lack of reasonable care for our young people.
In 2011 a huge number of Cantabrians contributed 106,000 ideas to the Christchurch City Council’s ‘Share an Idea’ campaign for the redevelopment of the inner city. This vast effort by council and citizens was paid mere lip service to by your government and was arrogantly replaced by the CCDU’s own Blueprint plan. Democratic rights of property owners in the CBD are to be obliterated on a “like it or lump it” basis. It appears you expect Christchurch ratepayers to fund your government’s think big ideas for our inner city. We will be forced into debt for generations if our rates are to pay for enormous projects like the covered stadium, which is to be inappropriately sited and which has limited support from people here in Canterbury.
There has also been a singular lack of consultation in the land designation decisions; there were no consultations on land zonings until many had already left Christchurch. There were no consultations on how to handle the major issues of the east. The battles many have had and continue to have with CERA and EQC have been disempowering and exhausting.
Mr Key, we ask you as Prime Minister to seriously consider the Government’s position here in Canterbury. We ask you to work with us in developing fair and reasonable solutions as we move forward. We need your Earthquake Minister, Gerry Brownlee, to begin real dialogue with our elected members in Council and begin genuine consultation with the citizens of this city.
- We ask you to reinstate democratic ECan elections in 2013.
- We ask you to direct CERA to halt the demolition of buildings that are part of our heritage and not allow the blueprint plan to dictate inner city development.
- We ask you to direct Hekia Parata to cancel the school proposals until genuine consultation has taken place which is in the best interest of schools and their communities.
- We ask you to consider those who are struggling to move from their land and look at removing the red zone properties April 30th deadline so families are able to find acceptable ways forward and be able to live in their homes until their new homes have been built.
All of our concerns and possible ways forward we put to you in good faith and we ask you to honour us and Canterbury by finding creative and engaging solutions to address the issues in this letter.
Save our Schools IConIC Historic Places Canterbury WeCan TC3 Residents Save Hagley Park Christchurch Civic Trust Water Interests Wizard of NZ Ltd
~Future Proofing for a sustainable, participatory, democratic society.
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