Opinion: Shane Jones - Be wary of hasty judges and patsy politicians

It is said that time and reflection deepen insight and produce understanding. Sadly, such folksy learnings seem absent from the current doings of our Supreme Court.

Its decision that 16-year-old tamariki should be voting in parliamentary elections reveals a paucity of reflection and understanding.

Recently an amendment to our Bill of Rights statute was made and the Supreme Court can now make declarations as to whether a law is incompatible with this Act. This is a retrograde move that gnaws at the robe of parliamentary sovereignty.

Such declarations are not mandatory or binding on legislators. But jurists weighing in on tikanga and voting age while other competent institutions also toil away on these matters shows irrational thinking, or worse. Just as 16-year-olds are often given a Road Code book, a constitutional equivalent should be sent to our judges, stay in your lane.

We do not need or want the Americanisation of our judicial system. Perhaps potential judges should be tested in a parliamentary committee so we can weed out those likely to stray beyond their writ.

The Prime Minister obviously relishes the prospect of 16-year-olds voting. New standard bearers presumably given her 2020 support base has become a wasteland.

In contrast to her inertia regarding crime and teenage ram raiding, she told us legislation to change the voting age will be swiftly tabled in parliament - further evidence of labouring under a delusion.

Witless lawmaking seems to be escalating. Three Waters is a key example. The arm-twisting of Nanaia Mahuta to make tribal, Mana o te Wai statements binding on the new water corporations is akin to creating a taniwha veto.

The recipe for these foggy edicts will depend on the political diet of the local hapu. Some will be reasonable, others polemical, and a few will be helpful for infrastructure delivery purposes. None will give precedence to the public interest but, rather, will be advanced in the interest of tribal ownership of water.

Perversely these mana statements may prove to be the most potent accountability mechanisms facing the new water corporations as such an outcome will be tested in court. Multiple tribal declarations will create disputes, a la the current legal infighting between Hauraki iwi and Ngati Whatua in Auckland.

The Three Waters legislation places onerous Treaty/Tiriti obligations on future directors and managers. This will also lead to litigation as iwi claimants seek court declarations as to whether the Māori language version of the Treaty, the Tiriti, has more force.

Labour MP Duncan Webb has taken this governance offensive beyond political targets into the Companies Act. His Member’s Bill was drawn in 2021 from the parliamentary ballot. It states that when determining the best interests of a company a director may recognise the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. Apparently, this is designed to modernise governance. It boosts directors’ obligations beyond shareholders to other stakeholders. It is obvious such a provision will feed litigation against private companies by Māori claimants. Given partnership is a key Treaty principle, the mind boggles.

The folly of our Supreme Court has been eclipsed by the political dottiness of the Green Party. During the Three Waters legislative process their MP Eugenie Sage moved an amendment requiring 60 per cent of a future parliament to support any move to privatise the new water corporations. Also Labour’s Chief Whip, Duncan Webb erred by getting his party to vote for it.

This is chaotic evidence, as if we needed it, that some lawyers as well as judges should stay away from politics.

Sadly, the National MPs do not appear to have appreciated the gravity of this harebrained stunt.

Under our constitution, policy debates such as on privatisation cannot be repressed by entrenched legislation. Future parliaments cannot be restrained by a current regime. This mess can only be fixed by Labour revisiting the Three Waters legislative process. Stand by for opposition howls of delight.

Perhaps this malfeasance should not surprise us, given both of these parties are hellbent on panel-beating democracy. There is an air of governmental desperation. The leader has lost her shine. Not unlike Hamlet, she knows the political mortal coil beckons.

These blunders reinforce the sense that our political and judicial top shelf is out of touch. Households and employers fear they cannot bear the burden of rising costs. Unlike the elites, the constitution they worry about is of an economic character.

Ardern may not be a Marxist but her Government seems to appraise Treaty matters with the doctrine of permanent revolution. Maori/Crown relations are changed through a continuous internal struggle to establish iwi hegemony.

Next year, they will learn that more Kiwis vote than iwi. From the suburban malls to the farm gate, voters will flock to the polling booths for our foundational values of self-reliance, service, law-abiding respect and indivisible nationhood.