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wonder how you voted in the last binding referendum.
refer of course to the 2008 election in which we the people
decided the mix of representatives for the next 3 years. Of
course there is another binding referendum (election) later
this year but is one every 3 years enough? I think not. Indeed
I suggest that it is time that Citizens Initiated Referendum
(CIR) became binding.
will briefly outline a rationale for binding CIR and then I
will look at an example.
a reader of intelligence I am sure you will be well acquainted
with the great Churchillian quote that “Democracy is the
worst system devised by wit of man, except for all others”.
While we acknowledge that no government can be perfect we are
optimistic that we can limit the imperfection. I suggest a
good democracy does this in two ways.
it refers back to the people and seeks their mandate on a
regular basis. Such a poll of citizens is ideally a
well-informed vote being free from corrupt practice.
a good democracy has checks and balances. Most often the
checks and balances are provided by a combination of division
of powers, an upper house, various statutory entrenchments and
processes that aim to ensure legislation reflects the wishes
of the people.
wonder then how healthy our Democracy here in New Zealand is.
While our election polling is largely corruption free,
how well informed are the voters?
How good are our checks and balances? John Key’s
“hobbit law” cleared the house as legislation in just a
few days – is that good decision making? Various legislation
has been passed that clearly the large majority of people
oppose but as long as it passes the muster with key swing
voters it gets the tick.
the Marine and Coastal legislation became law. A piece of
legislation clearly opposed by the majority. Sadly if you made
a submission it was a waste of time. The die was cast, the
outcome predetermined. Do the “people rule” in New Zealand
or do politicians work out their own agenda regardless of the
will of the people.
is not well and we need a solution.
will not address in detail the virtues of an upper house which
is also a commonly suggested solution. Suffice to say that I
see no way this is going to happen in the near future nor am I
convinced that it is a cost effective solution for New
the other hand binding CIR (or “binding propositions”) are
one way to limit government that is cost effective and a path
that we have already started down. The framework (and
understanding amongst the voters) is already in place, a
simple revision of the Act is all that is required. Indeed in
1992 when the CIR legislation was introduced the National
government at the time promised to review the
“non-binding” status. Now would be a perfect time for
should add I consider a threshold is necessary in a binding
CIR (say 65% of votes cast) in order to establish a clear
majority. I am proposing binding CIR as a safeguard to a
representative democracy not a change of governmental system.
(i.e. the US model not the Swiss one)
single biggest hurdle is of course that politicians must be
prepared to impose a limit on themselves. In a country where a
bare majority gives almost dictatorial power we need a leader
to be willing to introduce a safeguard that will limit his or
her power. Polling earlier this year shows a clear majority of
New Zealanders support binding CIR. The question is will
politicians support it.
would like to conclude by using the Auckland Super City
amalgamation as an example of where a referendum could have
been successfully used. I was a candidate in the Auckland
Mayoral campaign (3rd place with a credible 9% of
vote), met literally thousands of Aucklanders, those involved
in local Government, I did extensive polling on Auckland
issues, and I have businesses that deal with council on a
to recap it was proposed that Auckland’s problem of councils
disagreeing over regional (mainly transport) solutions would
be solved by joining all the councils together into a single
“super city”. There
were aspirational statements made such as “Auckland becoming
the powerhouse of the New Zealand Economy” and having a
“united vision bringing the region together for greater
success”. Various media campaigns telling Aucklanders how
great an amalgamation would be took place.
few Aucklanders agreed. In
fact only 17% thought the amalgamation should proceed.
the amalgamation did proceed and we now are already seeing the
problems emerge. A bigger bureaucracy is apparently not a
solution (you don’t say). Costs are up, service is down. There are morale
problems. Research I commissioned and have just received back
in shows no measurable efficiency in anything. No one can even
tell us how much it cost. Rodney Hide’s original $200
million figure is long since out the door (just like his
“rates decrease”) with the computer project alone
scheduled to be that cost on completion. It is a monumental
sized disaster and I will not be surprised to see
de-amalgamation in the future as has started to happen
overseas (e.g. Calgary, Canada).
Aucklanders not make themselves heard? Yes they did at meeting
after meeting. Action groups sprung up around the city and
held marches and delivered pamphlets and did polling and
protested. The problem was they had no mechanism by which to
halt the process.
was the people that should have decided on the Super City.
They would have got it right as ordinary people normally do.
They needed binding CIR.
CIR are a safeguard for the people and one that we can’t see
1. 55% in favour of binding referenda vs. 20% against - Curia Research Mar
2. Research First Apr 2010.
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