Why I’m voting Civilian

I don’t like to talk politics, and I don’t like to “pick” parties.  I don’t like the arguments that cause more heat than light, and I genuinely think that the vast majority of the people in parliament are good people – so the attacks on these people that occur just upset me.

Last Friday when I wrote this I was on the fence between National or Labour – and after I’d picked one I was going to decide whether I’d vote for the party, or a support party (the Greens or the Maori party were my picks).  I had found this election hard to make a pick on, but I’d generally preferred the policy costings and transparency compared to other times, so I was feeling good.

What was missing from the post I wrote last Friday was a section I deleted at the end (a point 11).  This point said that any information about the undermining of New Zealand institutions, such as through TPPA agreement details being made public, dwarves the issues I have discussed in terms of voting importance for me.  In this section I had written that I only left this to the end, as I had sufficient trust in New Zealand political institutions that I don’t expect this to turn into an important issue.

Now we have the recent discussion of Project Speargun, adding to the long process of New Zealand integrating itself into a global data connection network – a process that has been going strong as part of a war on terror that has included both Labour and National governments.  With obfuscation always part of the discussion around these types of issues, it has also become more likely we’ll see the same sort of lack of clarity around the TPPA in NZ – irrespective of the party that is in power.

It is with this sort of disenfranchisement that I initially recommended having a protest vote party – such as the Civilian Party – exist for.  As a result, for consistency sake I will likely vote for them on Saturday (the first time I haven’t voted early in my life as I wait for information).  Let me discuss.

You’re being naive, we are in a world with lots of pointless online data, it can’t help but be collected

In some ways this is true.  We have a sort of tacit agreement when we decide to use modern ICT (information communication technology), an agreement that states we are sharing our information with those providing the services to run the technology.

If “New Zealand” was to renege on this in the firmest sense it involves giving up the internet, GPS, and communication devices – devices we value a lot.  In this way, surely allowing people to collect a bunch of aimless metadata about us is a fair price?

But this argument is stupider than initially meets the eye.  We have these things called “checks and balances” that exist within political institutions.  With a firm rule of law, we can set (often fuzzy) boundaries on the use of data – in this way, yes things get “collected” but they cannot be used.

The decision to use the data to track people comes from a mix of obfuscation by government about what they are doing and the use of fear stemming from the “War on Terror”.

Now this isn’t me saying that the government is explicitly tracking all individuals and then making policy choices to deal with things they view as undesirable – this isn’t Minority Report.  I am the sort of guy who works with data, understands the limitations of what we can do, and understands the strong standards often applied by government in using data – these are all positives in this context.

But the current model involves too much obfuscation, obfuscation that exists as we’ve decided we can use data to catch “baddies”.  It is a model that limits the transparency of government, allows a large armed institution undue influence over those it serves, and provides the opportunity for unscrupulous behaviour.

We need clear checks and balances.  And the GCSB and whoever is in power at the time will say we do.  But these checks and balances NEED to involve transparency and a clearly independent public service to function – an independent public service that is both focused on wellbeing (not independent departments focused on specific outputs like “catching baddies”) and that has to defend itself in public.

New Zealand does have a great set of institutions.  But our ability to evaluate that, and hold our government up to appropriate standards, relies on transparency.  We aren’t getting that.

You are wasting your vote you stupid muppet

F**k you.

Let me explain.  You are saying this because your “team” isn’t in power.  Or maybe your team is in power but you would like my vote to help it stay that way.

To you, bad IS the other team and good IS your team – to me this tribal rhetoric is not just wrong, but morally insulting.

My point is that I find the structure and focus of all New Zealand political parties sufficiently not to my liking that I can’t justify voting for them.  This is largely because of a belief that all parties will continue to obfuscate (as it is in their interest), have an incentive to gradually politicise New Zealand’s excellent public sector, and will bend on the TPPA.  Some parties are more likely to say that they won’t than others – but I genuinely don’t have trust.

I want to make something very clear here.  I think that the vast vast majority of people in parliament, and standing for parliament, are good people with good intentions.  I think the National party is made up of good people, Labour is made up of good people, the Greens are made up of good people etc – I have only had a bad experience with one politician, and he is no longer in parliament, so there is no ill blood at these folk.

But this is not the point, not in the slightest.

As the transparency of institutions is eroded, as groups within government feel that they don’t have to place as much urgency on defending their actions to the public, as the government as “social manager” view becomes more pervasive, then good people with good intentions can more easily justify actions that I perceive of as bad.

If I was in that situation, even with all my ranting here, I have no doubt I would be subject to the same incentives and perception around what is right – within government you are forced to make trade-offs, and the gradually trading off of civil liberties is insidious in this sense.

In this case, why would I vote for a party when:

Now I’m not lazy about voting, so I want a mechanism that I can indicate I am strongly disenfranchised without allowing people the view that I just didn’t vote because I’m lazy.  This was exactly what I said about the Civilian in June.

No party represents my economic and social preferences, and I am more than willing to accept trade-offs here as other people genuinely disagree with me.  That is cool.  But I couldn’t vote for a party that will continue pushing us down a road that erodes our civil liberties – and right now that looks like every single party to me (irrespective of how much they “say” they wouldn’t – growing up as a child strongly involved in the Alliance party has helped give me this view).

And before some smart ass says “vote ACT” – you did see their response to all of this:

So not only do I disagree with them regarding their policy costings, and their view on beneficiaries, but they genuinely couldn’t care less about the erosion of privacy rights as long as their team is doing it – and before feeling smug about whatever team you are a part of, in power your team is going to do just the danged same thing.

You sound jaded

I am.  Perhaps events will happen which will provide me with sufficient faith that transparency will be restored in the coming days.  If that is the case, I’ll move towards a political party.  But if I had to vote right now, it would be for the Civilian Party.

10 replies
  1. bliss
    bliss says:

    Hmmm…. In the context of this article, how the Greens going to reduce your freedoms and liberties?

    • Matt Nolan
      Matt Nolan says:

      This is Matt, I am just on my phone and not signed in 🙂

      As I said, my view of many of the minor parties is tarnished by the Alliance. I have little faith that, in joining with Labor, they will enact more than cosmetic change – I see their rhetoric as empty. This is reinforced by the “economic management” language that is so heavily used – as this type of language itself helps to justify the form of institutional degradation I’m concerned about.

      However, if they do enact significant transparent change post-election it would have a very positive effect on my view of the party. Very positive.

      • bliss
        bliss says:

        Fair enough. I disagree.

        I disagree about “..economic management…” language too. To paraphrase someone famous the only thing worse than economic management is no economic management.


        • Matt Nolan
          Matt Nolan says:

          Disagreement is perfectly fair enough, I’m just glad we can put down our respective points of view 🙂

          My main issue with economic management isn’t that I don’t want government involved in helping with coordination – it is that the language of economic management can be used to obfuscate issues and hide things. The goal we likely have as a society is around “wellbeing”, and political parties are arguing about policies based on different beliefs regarding what wellbeing is and the trade-offs involved – management speak with an “output” focus on measured variables betrays how complicated this truly is, and can be used to justify harmful actions (especially in the case of something like mass surveillance).

  2. James
    James says:

    We are lucky we have just one level of parliament here in NZ. Australia and USA have upper chambers (Senates) and there some real horse trading takes place. It can get to the point where elected governments can barely govern and sometimes can’t.

  3. Blair
    Blair says:

    It seems to me MMP seems to leave individual parties and politicians with limited powers of policy development and implementation, hence the resulting coalition governments tend to hew pretty closely to the advice in terms of the elite public sector officials, which I am guessing is about 200 people. Therefore, in terms of eventually getting something like http://www.tvhe.co.nz/2011/09/08/an-economists-platform/ implemented in the long term, the best strategy is to get people thinking and debating bold ideas among that elite group. Given that most talented bureaucrats almost certainly read NZ economics blogs, I conclude that econobloggers are the most powerful force in New Zealand!

    Just with a bit of a lag!

    • Matt Nolan
      Matt Nolan says:

      I’m not that sure elite public servants read TVHE, and if they did I don’t think they’d think terribly much of it. But I like where your head is at. I should try to improve the quality of my posting then 😉

  4. yogazeal
    yogazeal says:

    I have to quibble about your attitude – you say that all those running for office “are good people.” In fact, the NZ politicos I have met are uniformly power-hungry egotists – but they hide this extremely well, and appear very sharp and likable, as are so many psychopaths. Hence we see State-house bred John Key pulling up the bridge and selling State-houses.

Comments are closed.