Better Democracy NZ is a non-partisan, non-profit organisation.

Our mission is to foster the improvement of New Zealand's democratic system and encourage the use of direct democracy through the

Veto, Citizens' Initiated and Recall referendum.

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Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Green Party conversations


Follwing are discussions with Green Party co-leaders Russel Norman and Jeanette Fitzsimons about Binding Referendums after I emailed

them a press release by Wanganui Mayor Michael Laws link text asking "Why just Wanganui?" and "Would you support Binding Referendums if the parliamentary term was longer (say 5yrs)and the agreement of 75% of MPs could veto a referendum?

10 comments:

Russel Norman said...

I'm very sympathetic to the idea of BCIR with the right conditions
around it. We have had many discussions about it inside the Green Party but it is not currently Green policy. These discussions are ongoing.

Steve Baron said...

I'm pleased to hear and somewhat surprised given past comments I have received from Jeanette (and Rod when he was alive).

I agree totally that the conditions around it must be right but the will for a better democracy must always come first and the details can be sorted later. What conditions would you want to see? Is this something
that is going to progress with the party?

Russel Norman said...

I think the progress it makes in the party will depend on someone
championing it in the policy process and the kind of response it gets from the membership.

Jeanette Fitzsimons said...

Yes, it is always good to allow people to choose between properly set out options.

Steve Baron said...

So does that mean the Greens will now be pushing for Binding Referendums at a National level as well?

Jeanette Fitzsimons said...

I knew you were going to reply with that question. It depends entirely on who writes the question, and anyway many issues are not susceptible to referenda as they don't just have two possible answers. Which is why
you can't let just anyone design a binding referendum question. If you
want a good example, try the 1993(?) referendum on victims' rights and longer prison sentences. There was no way you could vote for the first and against the second, so the referendum was a nonsense. I deliberately spoiled my vote by crossing out half the question and voting for the other half. The current proposal for a referendum on child discipline is similar - it forces you to accept that smacking is part of good
parenting if you vote on it at all, which a majority of Nzers now don't accept.

So no, we won't be pushing for binding referenda.

Steve Baron said...

How perceptive of you lol a politician, activist and clairvoyant!

I agree with you almost entirely. It does indeed depend on who writes the question to be placed on a Binding Referendum. The example of the Norm Withers referendum on victims rights was atrociously worded. It was very
ambiguous. But in fairness to the referendum I do still believe that people understood the intent of the referendum and voted accordingly to support it.

But these are no reasons for being against the principal of Binding
Referendums. It merely shows up the need for the rules around any Binding Referendum to be strictly controlled. This is why Better Democracy NZ has fashioned an 11 Point Referendum Objectives list which can be viewed on our
website
link text

Point 3 clearly states:

"A Referendum Panel should be instituted comprising of three retired High Court Judges with one of the members to be replaced every three years. The Leaders of the three political parties obtaining the highest party vote at the previous general election will each elect one of the Referendum Panel members. The purpose of the Referendum Panel is to approve the wording of any referendum question to make sure it is well focused, not misleading, ambiguous, biased or confusing in any way. This is to be done in consultation with the referendum Initiator but the Referendum Panel will have the final say if all parties can not agree. The Referendum Panel will
also approve the wording of the Referendum Pamphlet and Referendum Website which will state the for and against arguments of the referendum issue in a
constructive and informative manner."

As you also say, many issues are not susceptible to referenda as they don't have two possible answers. But if that is the case then they simply won't get to referenda in the first place. Although some issues may possibly be promoted in several different questions as happens in California for example. But remember, someone still has to get their question past the Referendum Panel and then still have to collect 100,000 signatures (at present approx 300,000 under current law). No easy task to achieve. So I see
this argument as no more than a smokescreen.

As for the smacking referendum you raise, if a majority of New Zealanders (as you suggest) don't accept that smacking is part of good parenting, then the referendum simply won't pass. That is what democracy is all about.
Sometimes you and I might be in the minority and we will simply have to accept that.

So therefore it seems rather strange to me that your final comment would be, "So no, we won't be pushing for binding referenda". I have to ask if you have ever really considered your stance because the arguments you give are
paper thin in rejecting Binding Referendums. I also know based on the many Green Party supporters I have spoken to, that many support Binding Referendums in principal. I have to wonder if you are out of touch with your membership and the public at large. In fact I would say that if you are so adamant New Zealanders wouldn't want Binding Referendums then let us have a
Binding Referendum to see if we want Binding Referendums!

Dominic Baron said...

Steve, your idea of a "Binding Referendum to see if we want Binding Referendums" would certainly be a start.

But the provisions you suggest for a "Referendum Panel" do not appeal to me. I look at the Swiss Federal Constitution for guidance. In Article 139 (2) specifically:

If the initiative violates the principle of unity of form, the principle of unity of subject matter, or mandatory rules of international law, the Federal Parliament declares it invalid, in whole or in part.

But first we need to grant ourselves our first democratic constitution.

Steve Baron said...

I'm notreally sure what you are getting at here Dominic? At present under NZ CIR law it is up to the Clerk of the House's Office to vet any referendum proposal. To date I believe they have done a poor job at this. While although we are open to suggestions, the proposed Referendum Panel seemed a better option. Of course if that were to violate any Constitution we might have at some future stage, then of course it would have to be rectified.

Dominic Baron said...

What I'm getting at here, Steve, is that I have a visceral aversion to the ursurpation of the sovereignty of the people by a tiny group of people who have not the slightest intention of obeying the instructions of the people.

Even your well-balanced Referendum Panel concept is a step too far for that tiny group of people to stomach as it requires them to finally obey the instructions of the people.