Friday, 7 June, is the day I am convening the Conference on Climate Change in the NZ Parliament. It is being held in the Legislative Council Chamber – the elegant upper chamber that has been mostly empty since the Upper House was abolished in 1951. It is the second conference of the kind – the first having focused on a sustainable economy, in November 2010.
The reason I convene these conferences rests on an underlying ‘philosophical’ view on the nature of democracy. In the lower chamber (with green carpet), MPs debate strongly in an adversarial manner. This is defended, and explained to horror-struck school-children in the Public Gallery, as ‘free and robust debate’ that is essential for the health of democracy.
That may or may not be the case. My own view is that the rules of debate (the Standing Orders) might be strengthened for greater civility to the benefit of democracy. Be that as it may, adversarial politics is the nature of the democratic pursuit in the NZ Parliament. I can live with that, although I believe the country is to some extent demeaned.
But I also believe that adversarial democracy needs to be complemented with consensual democracy. We need an avenue, even if an informal one, where MPs can come together, in a different atmosphere, to exchange views in which we seek common ground – what unites us rather than what divides us.
Consensual politics is surely most critically important when it comes to crisis situations. The Green view is that the world faces a global ecological crisis, the importance of which transcends partisan politics. All the more reason, then, to have this kind of conference in the Legislative Council Chamber, red carpet and all. Let’s see if we can find common ground, between the Greens, Labour and National, all of whom have been invited to participate in the political panel. Herewith the programme.
Regrettably, neither National’s Minister Tim Groser nor Associate Minister Simon Bridges was available. The seat will be there, in case either one is able to free himself and participate. Labour has accepted – climate change spokesperson, Moana Mackey, will be there.
Yet on Thursday, 6 June, I had the opportunity to question the Minister on climate change issues in the House.
That is the adversarial half of democracy. Here is the exchange.
The exchange was quite a substantive one, if short. That is what democracy is about – at least the adversarial half. It had been my hope that we could have an exchange that sought to find common ground, if any in fact exists. That is the consensual half. His absent chair will make this difficult.
So, in Part II of this blog, I shall develop a conversation, with the Minister, based on today’s question exchange, to see whether we can find any common ground.