Representative Democracy and Climate Change

After bravely sticking to his guns in the Climate Voter debate last night, Hon Tim Groser mentioned that, as a centre-right government, they have to carry forward and take into account the views of sectors of the population who are instinctively against progressive climate policies (such as a price on carbon) and some of whom even consider anthropogenic climate change as a conspiracy.

For me, this highlighted the importance of having clarity around the way in which our democracy is ‘representative’. Are officials to elected to ‘represent’ us by acting as our direct proxy in government and passing legislation only in accordance with our wishes? Or are they elected to ‘represent’ us in trust that they will make decisions to benefit the country, accepting that not every single decision would be one we might make ourselves?

I think that in NZ it’s quite clearly the latter, with some referenda along the way to infuse things with a degree of direct democracy.

Groser’s comment, however, seemed to defy this. It sounded like he was justifying his party’s feet dragging on sensible climate policy because a select (albeit important) group who vote for his party would disagree with it.

If there was ever an issue that required governments to transcend such opposition, it would be climate change. Making the hard decisions that are in the long term good of our country and planet is the noble task with which our leaders are entrusted. Their litmus test is doing so in the face of (expected) pressures from those who have short-term profit interests at stake.

Groser claims to appreciate the seriousness of the challenge presented by climate change. If so, it’s high time he remember the nature of his role as a ‘representative’ and not bet the future of all New Zealanders on an enigmatic low-emission future sheep.