Friday, August 13, 2004

Thoughts on People Power

What do you get when you turn a couple of loonies from Investigate magazine loose on the topic of direct democracy and binding citizens'-initiated referenda? An overpriced, vanity-published piece of shit like People Power. The book is a compilation of material, almost all of which is available on the internet for free, and most of which proves the point that the biggest problem with the idea of BCIR is the people who support it.

There's material in here from Winston Peters, stuff from the anti-EU UK Referendum Party (who seem to spend most of their time watching out for the Black Eurocopters that will take their precious pound away), and from people who seem to think that the idea of "checks and balances" is for wimps. Much of it is simply frothing about how the government has done unpopular things (varying from removing the GE moratorium to decriminalising prostitution to not sticking prisoners in windowless cells and feeding them only bread and water) and how binding referenda would put a stop to all that. Then there's the piece by Roger Kerr - a man who has consistently viewed the public as stupid proles who must be excluded from policymaking as a "special interest", and who opposed MMP on the basis that the requirement for wider democratic consultation would prevent the government from adopting necessary but unpopular policies. Now that the majority is on the other foot, he's seemingly changed his opinion. I'm sure the near-success of the Campaign for Better Government has nothing to do with it...

The core of the book is the Voters' Voice BCIR proposal. Unfortunately, this suffers from the same problems as New Zealand First's - it has loopholes you can drive a Mumak through, and little thought has been given as to how it would be integrated into the rest of New Zealand's constitutional and legal structure. Checks and balances are of course right out. It's a shallow treatment which does the idea of BCIR a great disservice.

However, it's not all bad. There's several informative articles in there (notably those from the Economist and Simon Upton), and both Christine Fletcher and David Lange have obviously grappled with the deeper issues (though it would be nice if Eisen would shut up and let his interviewee talk, rather than insisting on interviewing himself). But these pieces are a definite minority, and don't justify the cover price. Save yourself $15 and read it on the net instead.