thechristchurchfiasco

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Why a Bipartisan Approach to Disaster Recovery is not working for Christchurch

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Some would have us believe that political collaboration is a necessary foundation for dealing with a natural disaster but personally, I have grave doubts and concerns about the validity of a bipartisan approach.SAM_1662

Labour leader, Mr Shearer pledged that Labour would “… do everything in our power to bring the issues to the attention of Parliament. But I do believe we need to look at a way we can have a bipartisan approach on this. We do need a government/opposition united approach.” And “as a result of that, I think we do need to be sitting down with the Government and looking at a bipartisan approach to the rebuild in Christchurch and its recovery.” (See http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10779345).

What is a Bipartisan approach? Wikipedia defines it asa political situation, usually in the context of a two party system, in which opposing political parties find common ground through compromise, in theory.”  So in the context of the Christchurch earthquakes this would mean that Labour would essentially leave National to its decision making process in relation to matters appertaining to the recent earthquakes and the Christchurch ‘recovery’.

On the face of it, it is not hard to understand the appeal of bipartisanship. It sounds very mature and enlightened with a suggestion of the harmonious pursuit of quick and beneficial solutions to a set of difficult circumstances.  It seems an obvious choice in the case of external  threat, such as war, yet there is little evidence that solutions to big internal problems are to be found through bipartisanship, and there are plenty of examples throughout history that would suggest that they are not.  When it comes to ‘crisis’ events, this is particularly so.

Democracy actually depends on partisanship – strong, critical advocacy that opens public debate- forcing the parties to explain their ideas which in turn clarifies choices for voters. Partisan causes are often bold ideas and though these ideas can be divisive, they can offer citizens a genuinely new path forward.

By contrast, bipartisanship has the ability to ‘cloak corruption, obscure chasms between politicians and the people they serve’, agree to invest single individuals with absurd powers (as in NZ), or simply indicate that the leadership of both parties has become a closed club, (usually with an agenda). In principle and in practice, a serious partisan political structure is fundamental to a healthy democracy and partisan ideas are crucial for liberty. Bipartisanship, by contrast, has enabled some of the most shameful episodes in history such as American slavery, the Iraq war, and others. I note with interest that in the USA there is also a bipartisan approach to ‘climate change’.

Yet is it not the case that a good political leader is not the individual who rises above partisan concerns, but the person who is able to clearly articulate and defend the interests of one party? Able to put forward another view point, propose other solutions – widen the choice spectrum for the affected population? People living in a democracy should get the government they choose based on clear choices. Clear choices produce better results. The recent decisions by the Labour party to ‘demote’ Lianne Dalziel and Ruth Dyson raise questions of ‘punishment for not towing the bipartisan line’. After all they pretty much represent the only two vocal political voices in an otherwise completely National landscape in respect of Canterbury issues. As one Cantabrian put it,

A bad move by the leader of the Labour Party. Not necessarily in moving Lianne, as cabinet reshuffles will always create winners and losers, but in not acknowledging the importance of having a representative fight the corner for those who have been shafted in Christchurch. Nobody from the National’s is really doing that, and that alone may cause a few in this part of Canterbury to look to vote elsewhere…. Interesting times ahead, but I just feel it is another nail in the coffin for residents in Christchurch. It seems no leader is acknowledging they need to have a voice. Call me a cynic but I have said this before and will say it again – if this had happened in Wellington or Auckland …. I believe more would have been done to safeguard the interest of residents – and sooner. Let’s be honest. When was the last time, other than at an annual rememberance service where he could make the most of the media opportunity, did Mr. Key come down and show genuine interest in what is happening? Any takers?”, Davina Powell. (See http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/8348590/Dalziel-dropped-from-Labours-top-20).

I understand that disaster mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery are the end products of complex political and administrative interactions, and the results cannot be easily controlled or anticipated. But there have to be alternative solutions and those solutions should be presented by the other political voices. Bring on the end of this bipartisan approach and let’s see some real democracy in action and perhaps some assistance and answers for those in need – unless the agenda is actually the same for both political parties, of course……….. Even that bears some scrutiny in New Zealand.

If we do not like bipartisan approaches and can see the danger in their subtle application, we are going to need to say so!!    Populations get the government they deserve.  If you don’t speak up, then don’t complain when you don’t like the outcome, folks.  And it’s not a very good one so far.   Will Mr Shearer call an end to this bipartisan approach and get on with government, or will he accept that he also must bear responsibility for what National has failed to deliver…….?  He can’t have it both ways.

~Future Proofing for a sustainable, participatory, democratic society.

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Author: Sarah-Alice Miles

I believe in the enormous power of the human spirit and the power within each of us to effect major change. "The only triumph over evil is for good men [and women] to do nothing". Trained as a lawyer, psychotherapist and mediator. My goal is to make my voice heard for the causes in which I believe so as to improve and contribute to a more sustainable and equitable society. https://thechristchurchfiasco.wordpress.com/

5 thoughts on “Why a Bipartisan Approach to Disaster Recovery is not working for Christchurch

  1. Pingback: Letter to Andrew Little and the Labour Party | thechristchurchfiasco

  2. Pingback: The Political Landscape- Nationally and Locally | thechristchurchfiasco

  3. would David Shearer adopt a bipartisan approach if he had spent the last 2 years living in a house who’s foundations had failed watching his insurer (owned by the Govt) and its project manager going round in circles. No he would be standing up at question time and asking why their rebuild/repair figures are so low.

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  4. The only situations where it makes sense to have a bipartisan approach are where the issue relates to the national interest (eg. foreign affairs), or where a decision is long-term in nature (eg. I think ANZTPA was bipartisan?).

    I get the feeling that National has conned Labour into agreeing to a ‘bipartisan’ approach simply to mute it (although, let’s be honest, it’s already pretty mute of its own accord, but I guess this provides extra cover).

    I can see many good reasons for Labour to drop the supposed bipartisan approach:
    * National’s ongoing failures in Christchurch are reason enough to break whatever deal has been made. It’s in the national interest that we, as a country, start looking after the people who live there, instead of allowing bureaucracy gone wild to make their lives even harder. People are stressed – this has already led to social problems, and these are only going to get worse as time goes on.
    * Has National actually involved Labour in the key strategic decisions around Christchurch? If not, the deal should be off.
    * Electorate MPs have been put there, by the people, to represent them. Their primary loyalty should be to the people who elected them first, and to their party second. Political party leaders have generally understood this in the past. This is a further sign that Shearer just doesn’t understand his role.

    I’d love to see a ‘Christchurch Party’ – ideally with a mixture of experienced existing MPs who have had at least some voice, like Dalziel, alongside new blood who aren’t afraid to have their voice heard (Sam Johnson? Sarah Miles?) I live in another city, but they’d definitely get my party vote.

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  5. Absolutely, Sarah. Very perceptive and honest. My biggest fear is that just like the US., BOTH parties are on the same agenda and New Zealanders had better be aware of it. Have you noticed how little the other parties have had to say about the fiasco? Not even Winston………

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