Since my arrival as the New Zealand Fulbright Scholar at CANZPS I have been struck by the similarities of the issues that occupy our political minds in both the US and New Zealand. Although the specific issues may be different, the same conflicts arise again and again.
On the one hand there is the wish to “get things done”, a view advanced by the Executive branch in its many forms. On the other is the belief that such an aim, noble as it may be, must be undertaken in line with the basic principles of our constitutions, based as they are on Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law.
Advocating the latter position can be a difficult task. It is not exiting or “sexy” to advocate participation or due process, particularly when the other side is basing its arguments on a need for action, national security or development. The problem is that the two are intimately connected.
The principles of due process exist for a reason. Habeas Corpus was not created as a piece of red tape to thwart the efficient prosecution of criminals. It was developed to ensure that individuals are only incarcerated for just cause. Equally, our requirements that discretionary power be defined, structured and checked are there to ensure that decisions, when they are taken, are good ones. They do not exist to slow decision making down.
From Guantanamo Bay to the Canterbury Earthquake, the underlying principles are the same. Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law are easy when the weather is fine. We can all claim to abide by these universal principles when the pressures placed upon them are few. What matters is whether we uphold these principles during the time of the test. Both countries currently face such tests, although for very different reasons. The way they respond will define them for generations to come.
Dr. John Hopkins is a New Zealand Fulbright Scholar and was teaching a course for the Center for Australian, New Zealand and Pacific Studies during the spring 2012 semester.