Saturday, September 29, 2012

National and Due Diligence.


Due diligence is a term usually used in reference to legal obligations or a robust investigation before a business deal, but I think it should also apply to the process of governance.

With this National led Government we are being continually confronted with a huge lack of diligence in ensuring decisions are supported by good advice, research, consultation or evidence. One has the feeling that papers cross the desks of our current Ministers, with major decisions needed, and yet they are signing things off based on nothing more than pure ideology and gut feelings. Seat of the pants governance may work some of the time but when such decisions relate to millions of people's lives, the health of our economy and the state of our environment it is inappropriate and dangerous.

When Julie Anne Genter asked Gerry Brownlee to reveal the evidence he used to support the Roads of National Significance, all she got was bluff and bluster. After several questions failed to get a straight answer the Speaker felt compelled to explain to perplexed Julie Anne that the Minister's decisions were probably based on "his belief" that they were a good idea. To think that $12 billion of spending is based on Gerry Brownlee's unsubstantiated views is not a thought that encourages a good night's sleep.

When Anne Tolley was the Minister of Education she drove through the implementation of National Standards despite the mass concerns from the profession. No one could question the appropriateness of the Standards just the manner of implementation and yet when Trevor Mallard asked the Minister to explain a Year 8 standard for writing, in "plain English", she was unable to do so. She explained it was the classroom teacher's job to understand them and her job was resourcing them. It was clearly obvious that Anne Tolley had no professional understanding of her own standards and yet she refused to listen to any criticisms. She even told a group of concerned Dunedin teachers (who asked questions she couldn't answer) that they just had to accept that, as Minister, she makes the decisions.

Hekia Parata has followed Anne Tolley's reluctance to consult with the profession or communities on important education decisions and admitted that she had only referred to her own struggling Ministry regarding the mergers and closures of Christchurch schools. To inflict already stressed communities with such a flawed process is pure incompetence (or unbelievable callousness). Parata's earlier handling of the class size debacle revealed that although she has admirable oral skills her understanding of the education system she is responsible for often falls short.

Murray McCully's RWC difficulties with Party Central, or his handling of the Mfat cuts again showed a complete disconnect with decisions and those who will be affected. Most Ministers also seem to share the belief that in times of austerity figures can be plucked from the air to constitute cuts to state sectors and public services, with no regard to the actual consequences. There is no appreciation of what constitutes a minimum level of staffing or service provision and the potential costs that will hit the government at a later date (already the health and welfare costs of poverty have been estimated at between $6-8 billion a year). Paula Bennett even had the audacity to claim that she had no established poverty line to help determine real needs because people "move in and out of poverty on a daily basis". If you don't quantify poverty then there can be no obligation to support those who fall below an established bottom line.

When Government appointed advisors and commissioners voice serious concerns about government policy, they should be seriously listened to. and I was particularly appalled at the treatment received by the Commisioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, when she questioned proposed changes to the ETS. National Ministers are continually making decisions based on very limited consultation or advice and the rest of us have to wear them.

Of course we now have the Kim Dotcom situation and the five page Neazor report into the GCSB's total failure to ensure their spying was legal. The sole person responsible for the oversight of our two secret intelligence organisations is the Prime Minister and yet he appeared to be completely out of the loop regarding their operations. The expectations of the level of information and oversight from these organisations must be determined by the Prime Minister of the day and, while I cannot know what John Key has demanded from them or what he has actually been told, there is ample proof that he has a "the less I know the less I can be held responsible" philosophy. This does not constitute due diligence to his role and when it reflects badly on our nation's ability to protect its citizens and residents and our international reputation, we all suffer.





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