Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Only when it suits them

Last week, I pointed out that the Marriage (Gender Clarification) Amendment Bill raised a question of consistency for those MPs who had opposed the Civil Union Bill on the basis that such issues should be put to the people in a referendum rather than decided by Parliament. While my target then was Don Brash, the real target here is the New Zealand First Party. NZ First has a direct democracy policy, succinctly summarised by Edwin Perry in the select committee report on the bill as follows:

New Zealand First believes that issues such as civil unions and other similar social and moral issues should be dealt with through a referendum. This is New Zealand First policy.

During the debate, NZ First issued at least three press releases calling for the issue to be put to a referenda. And they pushed for this policy in the House, as seen in the extracts below from Hansard:

Peter Brown, first reading of the Relationships (Statutory References) Bill, 24th June, 2004:

I do not deny that there is some merit in the Relationships (Statutory References) Bill, particularly if the Civil Union Bill goes through. But it is a contentious bill. It represents a very sensitive area of society, and it is my view that such legislation should have the support of, and a mandate from, the public at large, rather than just be passed into legislation at the behest of a majority of 120 MPs.


I was encouraged by my colleague Brian Donnelly’s speech on the Civil Union Bill. He supported it going to the select committee, but he said that if it comes back to the House he will move an amendment to make it subject to a binding public referendum. If he does not do that, I will do so, for both this bill and the Civil Union Bill. I know that New Zealand First’s commitment to citizens initiated referenda is strong; it is a strong commitment that we have made. I am hopeful that when the Civil Union Bill comes back to the House, and when this bill, if it passes its first reading, comes back to the House, other members will say that they want the public at large to have a say on this legislation. I hope they will want the public to determine whether we are to enact legislation that will change society’s values in a very significant way.

Ron Mark, committee stage, Civil Union Bill, December 8th, 2004:

We say that it is really simple: that issues like this should be put up at the same time as a general election. There should be a series of questions like: “Do you want to have same-sex marriages?”; “Do you want to have civil unions?”. They are very simple questions—yes or no—and the public is quite capable of answering them for us.

Doug Woolerton, committee stage, Civil Union Bill, December 8th, 2004:

New Zealand First believes that these sorts of issues should be put to a referendum—indeed, a binding referendum—and we have gone so far as to adopt that as policy.

Peter Brown, committee stage, Civil Union Bill, December 8th, 2004:

It is neither fair nor reasonable and nor does it show tolerance to say that 120 of us know better than the 2.5 million of the voting public out there. That is not fair, that is not tolerant, and that does not show understanding. This is the sort of legislation that should go to the public for a binding referendum.

Brian Donnelly, committee stage, Civil Union Bill, December 8th, 2004:

It is my contention that this bill to create civil unions changes the nature of our society. Therefore it should go to a national referendum. The people should have the opportunity to have their consciences recorded on this issue.

Ron Mark, committee stage, Civil Union Bill, December 8th, 2004:

Parliament does not know better. This should be a referendum issue.

Barbara Stewart, committee stage, Civil Union Bill, December 8th, 2004:

We are saying that democracy is far too important to be left solely to politicians. We say that it is far better to rely on the common sense of ordinary people to make decisions on some of the issues that are facing New Zealand. Why? Because politicians cannot be relied on to do the right thing and to act in accordance with the wishes of the majority. When people elect a Government to safeguard their society, culture, liberty, and future, the elected representatives have an obligation to listen to them. Democracy is totally lost when that elected Government and its officials fail to hear the voice of the people. That is what the Government is doing in this particular instance. The major benefit of binding citizens initiated referenda would be to end a political system whereby the inner circle of various Governments—as my colleague pointed out earlier, there have been many Governments that have initiated referenda—comes up with an agenda, and the Government’s MPs are forced basically to fall into line.

(There's more, but I've limited the examples to those MPs still in Parliament).

From the above, you might be thinking that NZ First had a clear policy: "social and moral issues" such as those surrounding marriage should be put to the people, and bills on these subjects which do not provide for a referendum will be voted down. You'd be wrong. Queries to NZ First MPs on whether they would vote consistently with their policy and oppose the marriage bill were universally answered with a single word response: "no". No explanation of why the policy did not apply and why representative democracy was suitable in one case but not another, just "no". Rather than being consistent, NZ First support referenda only when it suits them - and where a bill advances their socially conservative agenda, their principles of "direct democracy" are simply ignored.


You still expect consistency from Winston?

Posted by Anonymous : 12/06/2005 05:35:00 PM

Not really. But some of his fellow travellers might have a sense of shame left.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 12/06/2005 05:46:00 PM

I/S can you explain why ANYONE would want a bill such as the Marriage Gender Clarification Bill put to a referendum when it doesnt change the law?

Posted by Swimming : 12/06/2005 06:51:00 PM

The bill does change the law, by adding exceptions to the bill of rights.

In other political inconsistency news, Mr Wayne Social-Engineering-Is-Bad Mapp is apparently supporting the bill, stating only that "codification is a legitimate purpose of statue law" and abstaining from comment on the non-codifying, social engineering section of the bill. Not much of a surprise, but it does highlight that he only opposes social engineering and political correctness when they conflict with his own opinions.

Posted by Anonymous : 12/07/2005 09:56:00 AM

Yes- and also note that ex-NZF List MP Craig MacNair voted against
the second Death With Dignity Bill,
which had a CIR clause attached to it.

Furthermore, the MCGB adds exceptions that have been enshrined within anti-discrimination law here for nearly twenty-eight years, since the original Human Rights Comm Act

Craig Y.

Posted by Anonymous : 12/07/2005 12:08:00 PM

And to be fair, some of the NZF caucus also voted against the
Collins anti-abortion amendments to the Care of Children Act,


Posted by Anonymous : 12/07/2005 12:17:00 PM

Dave: As the first anon commenter points out, this does change the law - and quite significantly IMHO. More importantly, if you take NZFirst's position seriously (which I will pretend to do for the sake of argument), it usurps the right of the people to decide the issue. This bill would rule out same-sex marriage - that is its explicit intent - a question that Ron Mark explicitly states should be put to the people before any decision is made.

If NZ First thinks there they are not being inconsistent, then they should front up and explain why not. But they're not even making the attempt.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 12/07/2005 12:33:00 PM

Sorry... clarification..I should have said it doesnt change the law on marriage, it merely clarifies tjat marriage is between a man and a woman. And on that matter of marriage bening between a man and a woman, the bill did not breach the BOR, as some seem to believe.

Posted by Swimming : 12/07/2005 10:20:00 PM