Friday, January 14, 2005

And on the other hand...

While Tim Barnett is right in labelling Brash's call for more referenda "desperate", his general objection to referenda is a little over the top:

He said Dr Brash was floating a "very different kind of democracy" where decisions could end up being made by a version of "mob rule".

That very much depends on what sorts of safeguards there are and the balance of power between Parliament and popular votes. The chief worry with referenda is that they could erode the rights of unpopular minorities. A secondary concern is that they could result in contradictory entrenched budgetary demands (as has happened in California). A third is that without spending controls they could simply become a tool for monied interests able to afford expensive publicity campaigns. But on the other hand the Swiss have managed to do them properly with no significant problems for over a hundred years.

I think there's definitely a role for citizen's initiated referenda, either as a direct legislative mechanism or as a "people's veto" on unpopular legislation. The question is how we implement it, not whether we should do it - and it's in that complete and utter lack of detail that Brash's "proposal" really falls down.


You may be painting a too rosy picture of Swiss referendums and their "proper management". It took some cantons until 1972 to give women the vote - needless to say only males were allowed to vote in those referendums. Also some cantons have plebiscites on which foreigners, who may have been living there for decades, can be awarded a Swiss passport/nationality. Seems to me like a secret (albeit legal) way to express your racism at the ballot box every couple of months.
The obvious safeguard is to exclude topics affecting minority rights/lifestyles and moral issues from a referendum question and only deal with constitutional (such as international treaties and matters of national importance) issues.

Posted by Hans Versluys : 1/14/2005 10:52:00 AM

I'm with Hans - I think referenda should be strictly for overriding constitutional matters *and* combined with a 60% supermajority, so that any change represents national consensus.

For all else, I think that we elect a government every three years and give them the chance to implement their *complete* programme. They then stand and fall on a combination of their record and their plans for the next three years.

BTW, Swiss "mindless populism" has led to a situation where, in order to have access to EU markets, Switzerland now has to be bound by an increasing number of EU rules without any right of consultation in making those rules.

Posted by Rich : 1/14/2005 11:31:00 AM

Until New Zealand adopts a written constitution and includes an explicit and broad commitment to equality rights, as well as the Treaty of Waitangi, and clauses related to international human rights treaty obligations, I will remain strongly opposed to indiscriminate adoption of Binding Citizens Initiated Referenda.

In the United States, they have been used far too many times against LGBT rights. For example, state same-sex marriage bans have now been instituted as a results of several election-time BCIRs from last October's US elections.


Posted by Anonymous : 1/14/2005 11:39:00 AM

I agree; human rights are the biggest concern with referenda. If we had justicable human rights protections then it would not be a problem, but without them we need other safeguards. And it doesn't help that the current advocates of referenda are advocating them specifically to overturn progress on the human rights front... it almost gives democracy a bad name.

It is basically about checks and balances. I support referenda when these are in place. I do not support either the Voter's Voice or NZFirst proposals because they have no checks and balances whatsoever.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 1/14/2005 06:46:00 PM

Added to which, Don Brash doesn't seem to be aware of the worrying background factors that I noted above. I'm sure that he loves Ji Lan- and yet, I note that one of the desired referenda subjects is immigration policy. Is this a fit subject for plebiscite? No, it is not- it is rife with potential for far right mischief making.


Posted by Anonymous : 1/15/2005 10:06:00 AM