Tuesday, August 17, 2004

More on BCIR

The Holden Republic has some comments of his own on People Power and binding referenda. He favours a system of negative or abrogative referenda, where citizens can overturn a law passed by Parliament on a straight up/down vote. I've blogged about this form of referedum here; it avoids the problems associated with positive referenda and would be particularly easy to graft onto our existing constitutional structure. If the primary goal is to restrain executive power, then this is the easiest way to do it.

Meanwhile, Span has had her own run-in with the advocates of BCIR, and wasn't impressed. One of her concerns is that "the loudest voice (whether it be loudest by virtue of numbers or money) can shout down others", but this is really a problem with any form of democratic government. The squeaky wheel will always get the grease, and so the answer is to do some squeaking of your own. If you don't, and your interests are ignored in consequence, then you have no-one to blame but yourself.

But her prime concern is the danger posed to minorities or disadvantaged groups by a majoritarian system without proper checks and balances. And I agree. No government should be able to (for example) outlaw homosexuality or deny some of its citizens the vote, whether by representative action or referendum. But the answer to that is to impose such limits. I've talked about some of the ways we can cruft this here; probably the easiest is to allow Parliament to overturn a referendum on a simple majority vote (Voters' Voice's proposed 75% is simply too high). This has the effect of making referenda "binding" only if the government wants them to be, but OTOH the informal limit of politicians having to go on the record to vote the people down should not be underestimated. Alternatively, if we eventually move to a written constitution with an enforcable Bill of Rights, then it ceases to be a problem; referenda which seek to deprive people of their rights could simply be struck down.