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Saturday, February 26, 2005

Treaty provisions 

NRT writes: "Contrary to Dr Brash's insinuations, public servants are not expected to know about the Treaty as part of some giant conspiracy of political correctness - they are expected to know about it because they are expected to have at least a passing familiarity with the constitutional framework within which they operate, and the Treaty is a fundamental part of this framework."

I think NRT is half-wrong and half-right on this. Public servants should have a working knowledge of New Zealand's "constitutional" arrangements, such as they are, and more particularly an understanding of what they mean for their jobs. If you are a bean-counter, the Treaty is of questionable if any relevance to your everyday bean-counting, as is the separation of powers, the Bill of Rights Act, the Constitution Act, the Elections Act, the Magna Charta, and the rest of the constitutional edifice.

Why not include something to the effect of "the successful candidate will have knowledge of New Zealand's constitutional arrangements, including the Treaty, and their applicability to the post" in public sector job advertisements?

This would seem reasonable, and would require public employees to understand not just one pillar of our quasi-constitution, but also other documents and conventions that shape the relationships between citizens and the state, and between different arms of government? Referring solely to the Treaty, particularly for jobs where its applicability is uncertain at best, doesn't seem especially helpful. Referring to undefined "principles" or - worse - to the Treaty's "spirit" is, essentially, useless as a guide for practical action.

In the interim, let's let the bean-counters get on with their bean-counting, the maths teachers get on with implementing the maths curriculum, and so on.

It's also interesting to wonder whether countries similar to ourselves, but with clearer constitutional arrangements which "matter" in the sense that they can be used to challenge governmental actions, (e.g., Canada) include "thou shalt know thy constitution" provisions in public sector job postings. I don't think so.

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