New Zealand faces real threat to ‘real’ democracy

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Christopher Luxon

Having lived and worked overseas for 16 years observing the good and bad of various political systems, I believe that New Zealand should feel incredibly proud of our democracy that has been built up and shaped over many generations.

The results speak for themselves with New Zealand being consistently rated as one of the best countries for civil liberties and human rights, freedom of expression and religion, tolerance for immigrants, the rule of law, ease to do business, transparency and low corruption, and top places to live.

New Zealand’s international reputation is strong and it is clear that we are not just a good country, but a country that is good for the world.

Guardianship of the People

We are blessed to be New Zealanders and I believe at the heart of our democracy is the core value and responsibility of kaitiaki – the guardianship of people (their economic & social wellbeing) and place (the care of our environment).

This is something we all believe in and must continue to work together on as a broad coalition of citizens, communities, businesses and government.

It is ultimately how we will continue perfecting our democracy and the creation of a better economy, society and environment.

New Zealand has demonstrated kaitiaki throughout our history as we have attempted to solve our economic, social and environmental challenges.

Good examples have been being the first country to give women the vote, the creation of a welfare safety net, wishing to be nuclear free, being committed to progressively advancing reconciliation with Maori, the loss of biodiversity, and finding new trading partners.

Courage to face challenges

While never perfect, importantly we have had the courage to identify, name and wrestle with our challenges and opportunities, and in doing so find solutions that take New Zealand forward and make life better for the generations that follow.

We are, however, entering a period of fundamental change. The impact is uncertain, but we know that the way we live and work in the world of tomorrow will be very different to what it is today.

So, as citizens, we must work even harder in the future to protect and strengthen our democratic ideals in a changing environment.

In my view, there are two threats to our democracy in New Zealand.

Constructive dissatisfaction

The first threat that could diminish our democracy is complacency as citizens simply take it for granted. Democracy requires constructive dissatisfaction, the notion that we have never arrived at perfection and all of us have more work to do.

It demands from citizens that if something needs to be fixed or improved we should step up, engage and get involved.

Thus, we cannot blame the leaders we elect without examining our own role in electing them. There are rights and responsibilities to citizenship.

Regardless of our politics, our diversity or our individual interests, democracy in New Zealand requires all of us to understand that we are in it together and we win as a team.

Healthy debate essential

We must always have a healthy debate and a battle of ideas about how best to achieve our common goal of kaitiaki, but we can’t be complacent about the goal itself – the guardianship of people and place – to create more opportunity for people and make their lives better.

The second threat to New Zealand’s democracy would be the stultifying partisanship and polarisation we see in other democracies around the world with the resulting consequences of distrust and a weakening of democratic traditions and institutions.

It is too easy for all of us to retreat into our own networks and echo chambers with people sharing the same political outlook and beliefs that never challenge our assumptions.

Each of us can counter this by consciously choosing to try and understand the other perspective or viewpoint without taking or giving personal offense.

Maintaining civility

In doing so, New Zealand can maintain the civility we uniquely have in our politics.

Ultimately, I believe that we will get the country and democracy we all deserve.

As citizens, I think it falls to each of us to continually try to improve this great nation of ours, and I am especially encouraged by the next generation coming through who are more inclusive, highly intelligent and very creative.

So, I think committing our collective efforts behind continually renewing and building an even more perfect democracy in New Zealand is mission critical for our future.

It will enable us to work together on the unprecedented challenges and opportunities we face and in doing so we will do well happening to our future rather than having it happen to us.

Christopher Luxon has held top positions in multinationals, the last of which was a Chief Executive at Air New Zealand. His entry into politics was rewarded with a win in the contest for the National Party seat in Botany, East Auckland.

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