Thursday, December 17, 2009

The question

The Clerk of the House has determined the final form of the question in Larry Baldock's proposed referendum on referenda:

Should Parliament be required to pass legislation that implements the majority result of a citizens initiated referendum where that result supports a law change?
Its a long way from his original "Should Citizens Initiated Referenda seeking to repeal or amend a law be binding", but it covers the same ground. At the same time, it also permits the same unclarities that led to the question being asked in the first place. For example, the Fifth Labour government would argue that it did indeed pass legislation to implement the result of the 1999 "law and order" referendum. Sure, it didn't institute hard labour, but it increased sentences, imposed minimum sentences, gave greater regard to the needs of victims and restored weregild (sorry, "restitution" and compensation). Or, to pick the more obvious example, the present government would argue that the result in the recent child-beating referendum did not in fact support a law change, due to the nonsensical question (a "smack as part of good parental correction" apparently not being a criminal offence in New Zealand).

If Baldock's referendum passes and is enacted into law (though note that it will not itself be binding), then referendum promoters are going to have to be a lot clearer in their questions than they have been in the past if they want them to be acted upon - something they seem to have a constitutional inability to do.

Of course, we're a long way from that. Baldock needs to collect over 300,000 valid signatures in the next year in order to force a vote. And while he will be hoping to ride populist anger over the "failure" of the government to act on the previous referendum, the fact that the law is working, not to mention the repeated demonstrations of bad faith on the part of him and his pro-child-beating allies, may defuse that somewhat.

He won't be getting my signature. While I support the general idea of binding referenda, I want to see them as part of a robust process which ensures a clear question and that there are checks and balances to protect human rights and prevent things like the Swiss atrocity. And that is simply not what Baldock is proposing.

Andrew Geddis has more at Pundit here.