Fish & Game Magazine Editorial: Democracy Is A Beautiful Thing When Used Well...
Democracy is a beautiful thing, providing everyone the opportunity to regularly hold decision makers to account. Perhaps that’s why the concept has long been a target for cynics.
In 1947, Winston Churchill told Britain’s Parliament “democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried”. And Chicago’s tough, corrupt political climate of the early 20th Century spawned advice to political aspirants to “vote early and vote often” if they wanted to ensure success.
Unfortunately, the ballot box choices facing anglers, hunters and others who care about the environment aren’t as amusing. Water quality is declining, concerns over development are rising and recreational access to the outdoors is being increasingly restricted.
The solutions to these problems lie with regional and district councils which are responsible for making the rules and enforcing them. Unfortunately, many of these councils are either in denial, dominated by environmentally unsympathetic councillors or paralysed by the fear of a backlash from vested interests.
This year, democracy is giving you the opportunity to change things for the better by voting in the local government elections in October.
Local government elections arguably have a greater impact on the average New Zealander’s everyday life than national general elections, but sadly the majority of eligible voters don’t bother to take part. In the last local government elections in 2013, only 42 percent of those entitled to vote actually did so. This is a woeful result for a country that has a proud record for pioneering, transparent, modern democratic systems and institutions.
Many of these apathetic voters who didn’t participate will be Fish & Game licence holders who fish, hunt and enjoy New Zealand’s great outdoors but aren’t prepared to stand up for what they believe.
By not voting, they are squandering an opportunity to set policy that will protect a way of life they love and treasure for future generations. The stark truth is that if anglers and hunters aren’t prepared to fight for what they cherish, it may well be taken as a sign by those opposed to Fish & Game’s values that they can do what they want because licence holders don’t care.
There will always be excuses for not voting. None of them are valid.
A recent letter to the editor of Fish & Game magazine put it well; “We are fortunate to live in a democracy and it makes no sense, when invited to participate in establishing the values of our community that so many don’t bother. It is not “politics” to participate – it is good citizenship. If anglers don’t represent themselves – no one will.”
In the lead up to this year’s elections, heed this advice and make sure your voice is heard. Scrutinise council candidates to decide if their values align with yours, or if they are even thinking about the issues which matter to you. Look at the track record of existing councillors seeking re-election to see if they have fulfilled the promises they made during the 2013 campaign.
Get active, agitate and educate voters and candidates by attending public election meetings. Write letters to your local newspapers and provide opinion pieces for their editorial pages. If you belong to an angling or hunting club, encourage other members to join you by also writing letters to the editor.
Your vote is precious and council candidates must be able to justify why you should give it to them rather than taking your support for granted.
Why stop at just voting? Fish & Game licence holders could stand up and be counted by running for election and becoming a councillor. That way anglers and hunters can have a seat at the decision making table to help ensure the environment is protected and their communities are properly governed.
There is another quote on democracy that is neither funny nor witty, just frightenly true.
George Bernard Shaw observed “Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.”
In this year’s local government elections, make sure the environment, anglers, hunters and our children get what they deserve – regional and district councils which care about clean water, are listening to their communities and protecting our birthright rather than selling it off or allowing it to be degraded.
New Zealand deserves better and to get it, we all need to vote. Not early, not often, just in plenty of time to ensure our voices are heard.