Maggie Barry's Cat Plan and Constitutional Government


Pandering to an SPCA audience, Conservation Minister Maggie Barry floated the possibility the government may restrict the number of cats per New Zealand household. 

No doubt this pleased the crowd who love cats but worry about the effects of too many of them. 

John Key piped up to pooh-pooh the idea, probably regretting he ever took the advice of whomever it was that told him gardening show hosts make great politicians.

Key’s comments no doubt pleased cat ladies and cat gents who own many cats and would see Barry’s proposed feline limits as an egregious threat to their way of life. 

Meanwhile, Gareth Morgan, whose role in NZ public life is a complete mystery to me,  advocates the idea of restricting cats per household to zero. 

Perhaps if there was an opinion poll, 70 percent of New Zealanders would support Barry’s idea. Equally possibly, 80 percent may oppose it. I have no idea, nor do I have an opinion on the subject. I am cat-ambivalent. 

What concerns me is this: why on earth does a NZ government have the power to tell its citizen how many cats they can own?

These debates happen all the time in NZ. Let’s ban this, or restrict that – often in response to some moral panic brought on by the confluence of more than one newspaper article on a given subject.

Our unwritten constitution often seem to offer carte blanche to governments to regulate, ban, restrict or make compulsory anything they like, apparently on a whim.

Kiwis love to bash the U.S.; mock its gun culture, for example, and the extremes of its politics. All valid.  But, living there for several years, I came to respect the limited nature of constitutional government – and the fact that, at state and federal level, there are courts whose job it is to determine where governments have committed overreach. Cat fanciers in America would have a regulation such as that proposed by Barry struck down in minutes. In fact, no government would even propose it, knowing that it couldn’t pass constitutional muster. 

I’m far less interested in restricting the number of cats than I am in exploring the limits on governments telling us what to do and how to live our lives.