Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Fixing referenda

Now that the smacking referendum is upon us and the absurdity of its question has become apparent, talk has turned to fixing the referendum system to ensure that this pointless and misleading exercise never happens again. Fortunately, the Greens have risen to the challenge, with Sue Bradford putting up a member's bill to forbid ambiguous, complex, leading and misleading questions.

The bill itself is pretty simple, making four amendments to the Citizens Initiated Referenda Act 1993. The key one is to insert a new section requiring the Clerk of the House to examine any referendum proposal to determine whether it is ambiguous, complex, leading or misleading, and to bounce it back if it is. As questions must be approved by the Clerk before a referendum campaign can begin, this will mean we don't see signature-gathering campaigns with stupid questions, and the Clerk will not be able to gazette them. It's not requiring referenda to pass specific laws (though I note that there is nothing in the present system which prevents such questions), but it is a step in the right direction. And by removing the wiggle room and making the public's expectations clearer, it will also make politicians more accountable for meeting them. They will have no more excuses for ignoring a referendum.