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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.


Sunday, 23 August 2009

Smacking: New Zealand has spoken

Obey the referendum: return Section 59 to what it was before the Bradford folly!

To all of you in your 'parliament':

The People of New Zealand have spoken. Now is the time for all of you to show us that you have the grace and humility to accept that you were wrong. To quote the phrase: “What part of the word 'No' do you not understand?”

Every opinion poll showed 80% of us opposed the change. Yet you stupidly went ahead and ignored us. Opinion polls typically sample 1000 to 1500 people, with a margin of error of 3% to 4% . Over 1.6 million New Zealanders voted in the referendum. That is a figure that is 1000 times more representative than mere opinion polls.

You, Ms Bradford, have the insolence to dismiss the 54% participation as unrepresentative. Let's see, you and your 119 comrade mps are 120 x 100 / 1,622,000 = 0.007% of that 54%. Who is kidding whom in terms of representativity? You then try to claim that the 46% of the electorate who did not take part chose not to do so because, in your opinion, they were “confused” by a “flawed” question. Pull the other one! The question was clear cut, and the whole debate was simply about whether your proposed new 'law' should stand or be rejected. But of course, comrade Key did his bit to deliberately discourage participation by saying in advance that he comrade Key would simply dis-regard the result because under the rules set up by your 'parliament' referendums are non-binding.

Well, I've got news for you: your new 'law' is now null and void. It is non-law, it is anti-law, it is merely an expression of your contempt for the people of New Zealand. The advice from the people to the police could not be clearer: do not attempt to enforce what the people have clearly and firmly rejected. The People are the law.

A referendum is true, real democracy in action. By dismissing it and disobeying the command of the people you are courting disaster, because, in effect, you will be rebelling against us.


Dominic Baron



Jeremy List said...

The referendum question had no relevance to the bill in dispute. So even if it had been a binding referendum, only the "yes" vote would have mandated a change of legislation.

Dominic Baron said...

Jeremy, I don't undersand from what angle you are coming. Wasn't the instruction from the people starkly blunt enough for anyone to understand?

When the new régime took power they hastened to undo the previous régime's changes to the NZ honours system. They did this from their own whim. No referendum. I don't know (or care) whether this reversal was in their 'manifesto' or not. It was just done. Voilà!

And now compare these results:

Smacking Referendum Aug 2009
56.09% took part
87.40% voted NO

MMP Referendum Sept 1992
55% took part
85% voted for change

To coin a phrase: "What part of the word "No" do the régime not understand?"

Do they even understand the meaning of the word "democracy"?

Jeremy List said...

Where I'm coming from is this:
The current legislation explicitly allows smacking to be used to prevent or stop disruptive or dangerous behaviour. The final sentence does say smacking can't be used as correction, but what kind of "good parental correction" uses smacking to stop something which is neither disruptive nor dangerous?
I agree the final sentence should be removed from the bill, but since it's already nullified by the previous sentence I don't see the need for urgency. As it is, John Key has said he'll changing the law as a result of this vote. I wait with interest to see what changes he actually makes.

Dominic Baron said...

Jeremy, I don’t know whether you are a parent or not. I have been, and am, and find the notion of being able to distinguish between a “correction” and “stopping dangerous and /or unacceptable behaviour” as mere sophistry. Imagining a scene where a parent is trying to decide whether the smack they are about to administer to a child constitutes “correction” or “stopping dangerous behaviour” makes one despair at the absurdity of attempting such a precious and legalistic distinction.

The point though, is that you believe that somehow *you can* make this distinction and consider it correct that smacking a child to ‘correct’ its behaviour is a criminal act and that any parent who performs such a ‘crime’ must be prosecuted with the full force of the law. The vast majority (yes indeed: the *vast* majority!) of your fellow NZ citizens disagree. How can you, the very small minority, justify imposing your belief upon the vast majority of your fellow citizens? That, Jeremy, is the crux of the matter. It is the meaning of democracy.

Let’s try this thought experiment, inverting all the parameters of the current situation:

Let us suppose that for many decades we have had a law which prohibits all parents from using any physical means of disciplining their children. During the term of a previous administration a minority political party has one of its own proposals selected for debate that aims to modify the existing legislation to enable parents to use reasonable physical means for disciplining their children.

The electorate is outraged by this proposal and the public submissions are 80% opposed to it becoming law. The main opposition party openly declares its solidarity with the people and decries the hypocrisy of that administration. However, for reasons that are still hidden, that opposition party comes to some accommodation with the then administration to support the proposal all the way into making it ‘law’. Public anger about this new ‘law’ is palpable. Opinion poll after opinion poll shows opposition to the new ‘law’ running at 80%, consistent with the public submissions. A petition to hold a Citizens’ Initiated Referendum gathers an overwhelming number of signatures from the people. Well over the 10% of the electorate required by the rules set up by ‘parliament’ are collected within the required period of time. The efforts of the people involved are enormous and a referendum is duly authorised by the people’s command.

There then intervenes a ‘general election’. There was plenty of time to include that referendum question within the ‘election’ process, but the ruling administration clearly fears the contaminating effect upon their support that the presence of this referendum question alongside the usual ‘election’ process might have. So they refuse to include it and instead relegate it to almost a year later, having convinced themselves that somehow the issue will just die away.

In the ‘general election’ the party which adopted the proposal and made it into ‘law’ is soundly defeated, substantially because it is perceived as having arrogantly imposed a new ‘law’ that the people emphatically opposed. The party that was in opposition now takes power. The expectation of the public is that they will heed the result of the forthcoming referendum. But they do not.

I was in the small minority that supported the new ‘law’. I appreciate the new regime’s determination to keep it because they did a deal with the party that headed the previous administration and want to be seen as firm and ‘trustworthy’. But I am also uncomfortable because I have a strong belief in democracy. Whilst I wished that my fellow citizens would espouse my view I recognize fully that they don’t and that there is likely to be an overwhelming “NO” vote in the referendum. That occurs. As a democrat I accept the will of the people and join the demand that it be respected by the new administration.

That is the end of the thought experiment, Jeremy. So where do you stand on democracy?

Jeremy List said...

"Jeremy, I don’t know whether you are a parent or not. I have been, and am, and find the notion of being able to distinguish between a “correction” and “stopping dangerous and /or unacceptable behaviour” as mere sophistry."

Exactly what I've been trying to say!
My other point is that there's a difference between importance and urgency. As important as this is, I'd rather the government takes their time with this one than comes out with another rushed version like what we have at the moment.

Dominic Baron said...

OK. We can leave that first bit as agreed.

However, you continue to be as evasive as any politician on the matter of democracy. The question is very easy: do you or do you not accept the basic idea of democracy: that the will of the majority in adding, changing, or deleting a law by which the members of that society are to be ruled, must prevail over the minority?

Now, if I understand you correctly, your difficulty with this referendum is that it does not, in its wording, constitute an actual instruction to the government of the day. Granted. That is the problem with insisting that referendums be non-binding: they can then be dismissed by the politicians as merely an expression of sentiment. That is precisely why referendums *must* be binding, because then everybody is quite clear that they are instructions for something to be done, and must be obeyed. A quick look at the referendums that the Swiss people vote on every year shows that the decision that is required of the voters involves specific laws to be added, changed, or deleted.

The legalistic view of the referendum result is then that there is no specific instruction to the government of the day to act upon. But such a view tries to deny legitimacy to the clear intention of the voters: that the legislation imposed by ‘parliament’ is rejected by them and must be reversed out forthwith.

That legalistic view truly flouts the basic idea of democracy, and is highly offensive. I see it as a very dangerous attack on democracy, and I consider it *urgent* that the government immediately takes measures to obey the clearly expressed will of the people.

Jeremy, you are right: “there's a difference between importance and urgency.” For the sake of democracy, the matter of restoring the status quo ante the Bradford bill is not just important, it is urgent.

Jeremy List said...

Yes: my problem with this referendum is exactly that it doesn't give a specific instruction to the government.
I agree it is urgent for the government to start taking the result of this referendum into consideration. They have a mandate to make sure that a smack as part of good parental correction is legal, but they don't have a mandate to pass any given piece of legislation solely on the grounds that it would legalise a smack as part of good parental correction.

Dominic Baron said...

But it is much more than a "mandate". Despite the fact that it does not contain any words that formally "instruct" the government, the referendum result *is* by its formidable clarity a requirement that the Bradford legislation be immediately reversed out. The question of whether physical punishment is or is not "good parenting" is actually irrelevant. What matters overwhelmingly is that the régime refuses point blank to obey the will of the people, namely, I repeat: to return Section 59 to what it was *before* the Bradford bill.
It is this blunt refusal to obey that demonstrates that this régime is in complete contempt of the people. It is in rebellion against the people.
I am reminded by this appalling behaviour of Bertolt Brecht's poem written in 1954 after the riots in East Germany against the Communist régime:

The Solution

After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?