Peter Dunn (Remember Him?) Emotes
Friday, August 16, 2019 at 1:27PM
Bill Barclay

Peter Dunn makes some interesting observations in today's Newsroom that strike at the heart of modern day debate in our House of Representatives. It is not pretty, and certainly not reassuring to know that this how decisions are now made - particularly on the vexed conscience votes.

His calling out of Simon Bridges for his rather too casual interpretation of 'facts,' and Adern for her "unctuous emoting of just about everything" is too close to the truth for the comfort of anyone familiar with the normal process of breaking down argument into easily quantiable 'facts.'

Our system of Government depends on it - the alternative is hairy, and scary, and will eventually lesd to chaos - "never mind the cost, feel the cloth."

I repeat some of Peter's thesis here because I think it is worthy of close examination as we go into another election cycle.                                                                                                                                

"What seems to be far more important is that those making the claim “believe” what they are saying broadly accords with the facts. Or as Simon Bridges said unusually succinctly recently, “One person’s misinformation is another person’s fact.”

What is most disturbing about the Bridges’ comment (made about his fellow MP Chris Penk’s outlandish claims about late-stage abortions) is its unapologetic nature. Bridges appeared not to be so much criticising his colleague’s unfounded comments, as justifying them. The difference between misinformation and the facts, he seemed to be saying, was in the eye of the beholder and not really all that important.

Conscience debates always used to be regarded as the apogee of Parliamentary debates where MPs shed their restrictive party cloaks and spoke about the issue at hand as they genuinely saw it.

Broadly, the end-of-life and abortion debates so far have not lived up to that standard. The previous dispassionate discussion of the relevant facts, the weighing up of the various arguments, and the reflection of constituency sentiment, all leading to a  balanced outcome, one way or the other, that was largely in line with the evidence, seems to have given way to the often emotional expression of individual personal experiences. And those personal experiences have become translated to be assumed as the experiences of the community as a whole that Parliament should act upon.

In so many ways, we are seeing the replacement of evidence-based approaches to policy by new approaches based on the mere look and feel of policy. Whereas pragmatism was once criticised as too much “if it works, it must be right” today’s norm seems to be “if it feels right, then it is right”.

For example, early in its tenure the current Government replaced its predecessor’s ten Better Public Service targets, meaning it had no way of measuring whether key public services were meeting their goals, and if not, what changes might be required. Ministers were assumed to know instinctively what was working and what was not, and how to correct things.

Similarly, the response to the current row about the funding of life-prolonging cancer drugs owes less to what is the best and most sustainable way forward of dealing with funding the ever-increasing pipeline of inherently expensive innovative new medicines becoming available, than it does to dealing with the extremely understandable concerns of an affected group of patients right now.

Our MPs are elected to implement policies that will materially benefit as many of their people as they can. They are not elected to implement their opinions, or worse still their prejudices. Too many are failing to see that distinction.

All of which leads back to the critical importance of evidence as the backbone of policy. Yet Simon Bridges’ apparently acceptable juxtaposition of misinformation and fact and the Prime Minister’s unctuous over-emoting on just about everything are a worrying recognition that the death of evidence-based policy is nigh, and that future political discourse will be about how things look, rather than what they really are."                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     


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