Wednesday, December 15, 2021

That accountability thing that Susie Ferguson doesn't seem to get

Now here’s a surprise (or on second thoughts, perhaps not): one of the two presenters on Radio New Zealand’s flagship news and current show appears not to understand why a functioning democracy depends on accountability mechanisms.

Interviewing Manawatu District mayor Helen Worboys, one of 23 mayors who have formed an action group to resist the Three Waters project, Morning Report co-host Susie Ferguson wanted to know what was the point of their opposition.

Worboys’ answer (and here I’m paraphrasing): The councils the mayors represent want to retain control of the water infrastructure that their communities have built and paid for. They believe they can come up with smarter and more acceptable ways of reforming water management and want the government to hit the “pause” button until they can put forward alternative proposals. Having paid for the assets, their communities want a say in how they’re run, but under Nanaia Mahuta’s master plan there will be no line of accountability back to them. (If I could interject here, that’s surely the key objection to the Three Waters project. It’s not so much about whether there’s a need to impose uniform standards and bring inadequate infrastructure up to standard; what’s at issue is the process by which this would be achieved, which involves transferring control to opaque, unelected and remote “entities” with no lines of accountability to, or even direct connection with, the communities whose water assets they’ll be appropriating.)

Ferguson didn’t quite seem to get any of this. As long as water assets remained in public ownership, she asked, what did it matter who controlled them? To which Worboys explained that the issue of ownership was actually quite a big deal. “The government says we will still own them, but they won’t sit on councils’ balance sheets.” (You might call it a Clayton’s type of ownership, then.)

Worboys again made the point that communities would have no voice and there would be no accountability. To which Ferguson, by now sounding slightly impatient and querulous, demanded to know: “Why does that matter?” Good grief.

After Worboys had patiently explained – again – that it indeed mattered to communities which had invested in good infrastructure that met the required standards, as in Manawatu (which Ferguson had wrongly suggested was one of the poor-performing councils that Mahuta is using as an excuse for her radical master plan), Ferguson – now sounding positively obtuse – insisted: “But you still haven’t explained why the ownership matters.”

At this point you could have forgiven Worboys for getting impatient herself, but she tried again. “Because we want a local voice in what happens to our infrastructure ...” Ferguson then imperiously talked over the top of her, again demanding to know: “Why?” Worboys' answer (and I’m again taking the liberty of paraphrasing her) was that every council’s situation is different and they want the right to make their own decisions, specific to their own needs and circumstances – a right that will be denied to them once they’re absorbed into an amorphous entity with 21 other councils, as would happen in Manawatu’s case.

It’s the accountability thing that Ferguson seemed either unwilling or unable to grasp, and it’s worrying – to put it mildly – that someone in her position professes not to see the massive accountability deficit that arises when control over billions of dollars’ worth of assets is transferred from councils, which are directly answerable to local voters, to remote bureaucracies appointed by a political and tribal elite accountable to … well, who, exactly? We don’t really know. (Coincidentally, Three Waters is based on a model from Scotland, which is where Ferguson came from. Former Far North mayor Wayne Brown explained here why the government would have learned more from Madagascar.)

Ferguson gave the impression she saw no harm in a bullying government using its power to push through radical changes, unmandated by voters. Her line of questioning could be summarised thus: "What's the problem? Why are you getting in the way?" But accountability lies at the heart of a functioning democracy. Take it away and we might as well also dispense with Parliament, councils and all the other institutions that are supposed to be ultimately answerable to the public. Come to that, there’d be no place for programmes like Morning Report either, because they depend for their existence on acceptance of the notion that in a democracy, people in power must be held accountable.

But then, democracy is notoriously untidy and inconvenient. How much cleaner and more efficient it would be if we delegated all power to an unelected central authority that knows what’s best for us. There’s even a ready-made name for it: the Politburo.


R Singers said...

Surely it's not that S. Ferguson doesn't understand accountability it's that she doesn't understand the basic principles of democracy. Perhaps someone should rephrase the question back to her as "why is important that women have the right to vote?".

Doug Longmire said...

I listened with saddened outrage to this so called "interview".
Ferguson was clearly and deliberately avoiding any acknowledgement that ownership mattered at all.
She seems to be another Andrea Vance type of imported U.K. "journalist" (I use this word loosely) with a total dedication to the Left, to democracy destruction, and to the abolition of property ownership.

This type of attitude is popular amongst many of the woke elite, but only when it's somebody else, and not them that are giving up their voting rights, their freedom and their property.

Ian P said...

I worry about the performance and arrogance of the media. Surely they consider that the landscape could be quite different after the next election? They act as though the possibility of a change of government is highly unlikely. Do they know something we don't?

Terry M said...

I would suggest the Ferguson update her CV and go find a job that does not rely on a reasonable attention span. I'm sure the labour cult would be interested.

Anna Mouse said...

Someone should ask her if she bought a new car and paid it off over years, maintained it to a level but it still depreciated. Then someone could come along and drive it away and use it and then sell it or make it into a taxi where they charged people but Susie never saw the car again and never saw any of the money but on paper she still paid the fines and 'technically' owned it, would she be happy? Clearly she is a cog in the PJIF project.

Gerrit said...

Next time a mayor is asked that "what does it matter who controls the infrastructure" question the answer should simply be;

It matters to the ratepyers as much as y6our house does to you. Are you OK with the state taking over your house?happy for the state to control who lives there? How about your car? Happy for the state to control who dirives you car?

And are you happy for local IWI to have a 50% say on who lives in your house and drives your car?

Hiko said...

There is a serious lack of accountability right across New Zealand
At a local school near me kids turn up hungry and are then taken out of class and fed by volunteers When the school was asked if there was any followup into the childs circumstances I was told that the school is not allowed to initiate such enquiries
This accountability lack is everywhere

Eamon Sloan said...
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Doug Longmire said...

Anna and Gerrit have it summed up. Took the words right off my keyboard !!!

Andy Espersen said...

I believe I can see both where Susie Ferguson comes from - and where Karl and opposing councils come from. Ferguson insists that government responsibility and council responsibility are much of a sameness. And wouldn’t she be right, had we been dealing only with a pure, trustworthy, democratically elected Government?

But fact is that in this case responsibility and accountability will forever lie with 50% Government + 50% of what Karl calls “opaque, un-elected and remote ‘entities’ with no lines of accountability to, or even direct connection with, the communities whose water assets they’ll be appropriating”.

Am I right?

Trev1 said...

Radio New Zealand's core business is to advance the Labour government's agenda. Anyone who gets in the way will be hectored, deliberately misrepresented and flattened. I don't know why anyone listens to it any more.

Orinoco Jones said...

I understand that, post PIJF, entities like RNZ need to toe the government line on policies like three waters. That's not good but it at least makes sense. I do not understand the actions of individuals like Susie Ferguson. She can't be as obtuse as she was pretending to be in the interview. She must understand the issues the councils have, but continues to undermine them. Ditto for all the Stuff and NZME reporters. Is it just a total lack of integrity? They'd rather make fools of themselves than risk being sacked? Or have they been put through so many cultural safety and critical theory struggle sessions that they doubt their own opinions? Maybe they think common sense is just another instrument to further the white patriarchy. It's like the emperor's new clothes.

David George said...

Sadly Ms Ferguson is far from unusual. This is symptomatic of the distain for the people from our cultural, media and managerial elite, the unwillingness to see the value in participatory, representative democracy. Why was oversight given to, and demanded by, the people that use and pay for the services (DHBs and water supply for example) in the first place. I suspect she has no idea.

Chesterton's fence:

"In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it". G K Chesterton.

Martin Hanson said...

As Upton Sinclair sagely remarked: "It's difficult to get a man to understand something if his salary depends on his not understanding it"

hughvane said...

The likes of Toady Terguton are the new national disgrace, or, to coin a phrase made popular following the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010/11 - the New Normal. In other words, acolytes of the ruling government of the Socialist, perhaps even Communist, Left, accountable only to those who are known sympathisers.

Eamon Sloan said...
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Hilary Taylor said...

As I have said before I don't listen to RNZ anymore, generally speaking...certainly not to Ferguson. Nobody can tell me that I should swallow this iwi power grab in drag...the rest of it can be debated by those with expertise, not agendas. Mahuta's proposals are the conduit for this and we see all those Maori caucus stirrers & their enablers stacked up behind her, pushing with all their might. If it's good enough for Garry Moore, ex-Mayor and Labourite of ChCh to categorically dismiss 3 Waters, and even the current one Dalziel then it's good enough for me.