Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Limiting democracy is not the answer

An unrepresentative Parliament. Political parties taking millions of dollars in secret cash. Crony appointments and revolving door jobs. There's a lot wrong with our political system at the moment, and an international environment where some countries seem to be consciously trying to disrupt democracy or buy influence makes it worse. But a report from a "pop-up think-tank" at the University of Canterbury has proposed some solutions. many of them are obvious: a lower voting age, greater transparency around electoral donations, tighter regulation of lobbyists, and civics in schools. But there's one idea which stands out as bad:

Chapple said one solution was to “consciously limit” democratic rights to citizens, setting up civic education programmes that would run in parallel with the pathway from residency to citizenship.

“New migrants should be strongly encouraged to become citizens, rather than remaining indefinitely as simply sojourning residents.”

This is presented a a "solution" to "foreign influence". But its no solution at all. Instead, it would ensure that some members of our society are denied democratic representation and participation, their interests ignored because (by legal fiat) they just don't count. And that is simply wrong.

Permanent residents have a strong stake in our society. They live here, work here, pay taxes here. They catch the same trains, their kids go to the same schools, and when they get sick they go to the same hospitals as citizens. Our decision to give them the vote is one of the good points of our democracy: we recognise that everyone matters (its also a pragmatic compromise about the complexities of our own pathway to nationhood, our status as a nation of immigrants, and the refusal of some other countries to recognise dual citizenship). Throwing them overboard would be a very definite backwards step. And doing it essentially because of xenophobia, a fear that they might be working for foreign powers with their votes? That just stinks. That's not the sort of nation we are or should ever want to be.