Tuesday, December 22, 2009

National Party’s vile cronyism

Since winning the last election, the National Party has been busy replacing government appointees who may lean toward the Labour Party with their own supporters. Although this sort of cronyism is petty and stupid, it’s nothing new: Both parties have done it and Labour will almost certainly do it the next time they’re in Government.

That doesn’t give any party the right to appoint grossly unqualified people, however, as the National Party has just done.

On the last Friday before a holiday week, Justice Minister Simon Power quietly announced the appointment of, among others, former National MP Brian Neeson to the Human Rights Review Tribunal, which decides complaints of discrimination brought under the Human Rights Act. Yesterday the No Right Turn blog documented Neeson’s extensive record of bigotry dating back to 1991. The blogger concludes by observing, “The man is a bigot who supports discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, marital status, and family status. Appointing him to the Human Rights Review Tribunal is like appointing Taito Philip Field to an anti-corruption taskforce.”

And so it is. Among other things, Neeson opposed the Human Rights Act—and tried to prevent gay people from being included. He also opposed the inclusion of same-sex and de facto couples in 2001’s Relationships (Property) Act, which was especially important before the Civil Unions Act came along. How can someone who so fervently opposed recognition of the human and civil rights of GLBT New Zealanders be a fit choice for the body that will determine if such people are discriminated against?

Both Neeson and Power are avoiding the media. Power has refused to explain what they were thinking. Neeson’s silence suggests he hasn’t seen the error of his ways and repented his earlier political sins.

All of which makes this nothing more than cronyism of the most vile and contemptible kind, not just because Neeson is so desperately unqualified for the position he’s been appointed to, but also because he will be in a position to make life worse for some of the very people that the Human Rights Review Tribunal is supposed to protect.

Simon Power wants to all but eliminate the right to a jury trial: National estimates its new draft bill [PDF here] will reduce jury trials by some 40%. He pushed through a law change allowing juries to convict with one dissenting juror. Now, he’s appointed a bigot to human rights body. Why, exactly, is he Justice Minister?

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