Friday, March 12, 2004


That's the only way to describe the Greens' proposals on an inquiry into the Treaty.

Rather than a top-down investigation, they are proposing a grassroots discussion, with interested parties gathering together to debate, argue, and hopefully reach some agreement on what they want. The government would assist by providing facilitators (if necessary) and background information on our history and current constitutional workings. The findings of each group would be compiled into an overall "Report to the Nation" on what we actually think.

It's participatory democracy in its best sense, a giant national conversation on how we want to run our country. It also focuses on the key problem, as pointed out by Michael King when he suggested a Royal Commission (and echoed by Chris Trotter in the Dominion-Post this morning, in pointing out the flaws in such a process) - a widespread feeling among pakeha of not being consulted. Regional "study circles" (as they're called in Sweden) would allow everyone (well, eveyrone who cared enough to participate) to truly "have their say".

Can it work? Well, it seems to in Sweden. Will the government do it? That, I think is the tricky bit. Like a referendum, this is something beyond the government's control - in fact, it's even worse from their point of view because of the open-ended nature of the inquiry. People left to make up their own minds might not reach the desired conclusions - and in fact, may go wandering off on a complete tangent. But that's democracy for you, and if we take seriously its premise the people know what's best for them (and even if they don't, are entitled to make the mistake), then this is the sort of process we need to follow.

Of course, if the Greens want to be truly mischevious, they could do it anyway regardless of what the government decides. Even if the government settles on a traditional Royal Commision structure, they could promote "study circles" with the aim of encouraging wider public participation and as many submissions as possible - which would be a worthwhile goal in itself.