Thursday, October 29, 2015

DIY democracy on the TPP

The big criticism of the Trans Pacific Partnership isn't so much that its a shit deal, but the way in which it was made: in secret, without reference to the people it was supposedly being negotiated for. Even our democratic representatives haven't been allowed to see the text, and they certainly won't be allowed to vote on it. As for us dirty peasants, we've been deliberately kept in the dark, mushroomed by an inter-government conspiracy of silence, explictily to keep the conversation between "adults" and prevent us "breathless children" from objecting to it.

This is a fundamentally undemocratic and illegitimate way to do foreign policy. Throughout the process civil society groups have been calling for more information and a public referendum on the negotiations. And faced with government refusal to let us have our say on foreign policy, one group has decided to simply go ahead and do it themselves:

Citizen group Real Choice announced today they will hold a nationwide referendum on the TPPA. Real Choice, under the name Show us Ya Text, previously attempted a citizen’s search and seizure of TPPA documents at MFAT offices in Wellington and an occupation of John Key’s electorate office in Helensville.


“We will set up a secure online voting platform and will have volunteers to set up polling stations around the country to collect votes during polling week.This is too important to be left up to a small group of MPs to decide, and they should put it to a binding referendum vote.”

“If the government really believes in democracy, it would put this agreement to the test and allow its constituents to have a say on this incredibly important issue. We’re giving Kiwis the chance to show the government we want a say on the TPPA. We want real choice, because that would be real choice”, said Sullivan.

Its an interesting idea, and while I'm not sure that the technology is quite there yet, one with potential. If the government won't hold a referendum on something because it is afraid of the public expressing its opinion, then we can just hold our own! Of course, it has no legal effect - but neither do referendums under the Citizens Initiated Referenda Act 1993. But it can still send a message.

Of course, "sending a message" isn't enough - we need to get the government to listen. And the real problem here is that successive governments have refused to act on referenda as a point of principle. And that arrogant attitude of politicians is what really needs to change. And until it does, the public will continue to treat MPs with contempt.