Making Citizens Initiated Referenda binding is a bottom line policy for the Conservative Party. Colin Craig has stated:
Binding Referenda is a bottom line for our party.
If another party wishes to have our support they will need to agree to an amendment of the existing CIR legislation.
Although other parties might not like the idea much, if it is a choice between government or not I expect them to be receptive to the idea.
Unless politicians have to agree to binding CIR to be government (i.e. forced on them) it won’t happen in my view.
Craig believes implementing the policy – specifically to make Citizens Initiated Referenda binding – will only require ‘a couple of amendment to the existing law’.
There’s no need to write new legislation, it’s already there, we just need to make a couple of amendments.
I had the chance to put a question on referenda to Craig as a part of a 3 News ‘Ask Me Anything’ online.
Question: A change to binding referenda is a major constitutional change. What are the details on how this would be implemented, and would the adoption of it be subject to a referendum?
We of course have already written into our law referendum, both those that are Government initiated and those that are citizen’s initiated, and we want to see a change to the Citizen’s Initiated Referenda.
The policy’s already there. Essentially it’s an amendment to change it to what National originally proposed. When they originally introduced that law it was going to be binding on Government.
Very optimistically, and foolishly as it turns out, at the time they decided “Ah we don’t need to make it binding because after all politicians won’t ignore a clear majority”.
Well, five out of five have been ignored. Clearly the politicians are not getting the message that the people do have a right from time to time to tell them what to do. Once every four years, we’re hardly overusing it after all.
So really all we’re looking to do is to amend it, to take it back to the original wording submitted and was an election promise of the National Party.
Now, whether or not that then needs to go to a referendum or not is an interesting question.
I think New Zealanders would support it, and because it is a change I guess to our electoral system, but not one that hasn’t discussed or promised or voted on in an election before it may be that we end up there.
Other things about it, number one we think there needs to be a two thirds majority of those who vote to make it binding.
In other words a fifty fifty, hey let’s face it that’s what you elect politicians for, but where it’s a clear wish of the public we think politicians need to be constrained.
Other than that there’s already legislation in place about spending limits and time frames and everything else.
There’s no need to write new legislation, it’s already there, we just need to make a couple of amendments.
The last thing I’d do, is I’d make sure all questions are proposed simply. If you want to ask three questions about law and order for example lets have three different questions, not all run into one.
New Zealand has had non-binding Citizens Initiated Referenda since the passing of the Citizens Initiated Referenda Act 1993.
Citizens Initiated Referenda
Under the Citizens Initiated Referenda Act 1993, non-binding referendums can be held on any subject. There are seven steps in the process. These steps are:
- The Clerk advertises the proposed question. The Act allows 28 days for submissions and three months in total for the determination of the final wording of the question.
- The Clerk, after consulting with the promoter and any other person, determines the final wording of the question.
- The organiser gathers the signatures of at least ten percent of registered electors and delivers the petition to the Clerk within 12 months of the publication of the determination. The petition lapses if it is not delivered within this time.
- The petition is checked for compliance. If all is correct the Speaker presents the petition to the House of Representatives. If there are insufficient signatures, the Clerk certifies that the petition has lapsed. The promoter may re-submit the petition with additional signatures within two months of certification that it has lapsed.
- The Governor-General sets a date for the referendum within one month from the date of presentation. The referendum must be held within a year of the date of presentation unless 75% of all members of the House vote to defer it.
- The referendum is held and the result is declared. The result is indicative only and is not binding on the Government.
Conservative Party website: ON OUR WATCH REFERENDUMS WILL BE BINDING:
At the heart of the democratic system is the principle of the citizens initiated referendum. It’s when a single issue is thought to be so important, all voters are asked to make their opinion heard.
Getting it and keeping it – it’s why wars get started.
In New Zealand since MMP started five such referendums have been held. Each and every time the wishes of the people were crystal clear. Each and every time the results were ignored by successive Labour and National Governments.
They’ve ignored what you think on anti-smacking; on tougher penalties for criminals, and asset sales.
When an overwhelming majority of us voted to have less politicians, guess what happened? That’s right. They ignored that too. Call us old fashioned, but this sort of arrogance needs to stop.
What really worries us is this: what else are they looking to ignore?
To think they won’t is madness.
There are also a number of references to referendums in ‘Ask Colin’ on the Conservative Party website. Note that these are past comments and may not be part of the policy bottom line or may not be part of official policy.
Who governs New Zealand?
Do we have a government Of The People, By The People, For The People
We have a form of democracy in NZ but as successive governments have simply ignored referendum results I do not believe we can say it is a “healthy” or “fully functional” democracy. The Conservative Party intends to change this so that referendum are binding where a substantial majority of votes cast are in favour of a proposal. This begins a shift back toward “for the people by the people”.
Amy Brooke has been vocal in suggesting the Conservative Party plagiarized her 100-Days campaign for binding referenda, without acknowledgement.
Can you please comment.
Firstly the “100 Day referendum” is different from “Binding Citizens Initiated referendum”. In our Policy we support binding Citizens Initiated referendum (2/3rds binding) but not 100 days.
Binding Citizens Initiated Referendum would enable citizens to consider the 100 days option but it would be up to the people.
Secondly, setting aside the misunderstanding of our policy, could I also point out that “100 days” is a Swiss initiative, and they should be accorded credit for it.
I certainly encourage all campaigners for greater democracy in New Zealand. Whether or not we have the same solution, it’s still about more power to the people.
Would you have a referendum on the death penalty and make it binding.
We intend to make Citizens Initiated Referendum binding. If enough people want the death penalty, then that is their right to hold a referendum, and we would therefore be bound by the result, whatever that may be.
What is your opinion on List mps becoming senior cabinet ministers?
This question raises the concern I think many of us have about accountability.
A list MP can get to parliament without representing a specific electorate and then become influential, perhaps making decisions that their electorate (if they had one) would never support. The real problem we have is that electorate MP’s are already doing exactly that anyway.
My view is that MPs, regardless of whether list or electorate, should not be able to by-pass the will of the people. This is the reason that we promote binding referendum as an essential part of our democracy, to stop the hijack of our great country by self-serving (or special interest serving) politicians.
Would the Conservative Party honour the results of previous referenda, in which the vast majority of NZer’s rejected Govt. legislation, such as the homosexual law reform, civil union bill, same sex marriage legislation, the anti-smacking bill, and the decision to keep the number of MP’s at about 120? Would our party be bold enough to reverse such iniquitous legislation imposed against the majority voice?
Yes we would honour referendum results. Of the list you mention both the anti-smacking bill and reduction of the number of MP’s had referenda. In both cases an overwhelming number of votes supporting the proposal and were simply ignored.
This sounds like the Conservatives would “honour the results of previous referenda“. If so this is highly questionable, the people of today may think differently to the people of five or fifteen years ago. And the wording of some of the referendums has been to inadequate and vague to base any legislation changes on.
Your party is advocating binding citizen referenda. This is significant structural change to our democracy, and a policy that may have unforeseeable consequences. Do you think this is a genuinely conservative policy? Wouldn’t a more conservative approach be not to tinker with the system? I feel like the more conservative approach would be to elect conservative leaders, rather than turn decision-making over to the public.
Conservative political thought holds dear the need for accountability and restraint of power. In most constitutional democracies this is in part achieved by an upper house and further includes in many cases binding initiatives (Referenda). Sadly New Zealand has neither.
Binding Citizens initiated Referenda provides an easy and cost effective safeguard that is currently missing to restrain the power of NZ politicians.
Given that referenda are already legislated for, we need only amend existing law to achieve this. It is not a significant structure change, but simply an improvement to law that we already have.
It is important to note that the threshold (to both get a referenda 5% and pass it [67%]), limits the frequency and likely success of referendum. Decision making is not taken away from government except where they do not have at least 33% support for a policy, and I am very happy ( as any conservative should be) to see government restrained in such cases.
Should Parliament return to 100 MPs, what would be the ideal proportionate amount of List MPs and Electorate MPs for the Conservatives?
I don’t think the conservative party has an ideal split of seats but in my view: Yes the parliament should consist of 99 MP’s as directed by the referendum that achieved 82% support from the public. To make this work best we should scrap the Maori seats and list seat MP’s should be assigned to help in each region. Electorate seats probably need to be about 60% of the total so adjustment for the proportional vote doesn’t create an overhang.
A referendum to reduce the number of MPs to 99 was held along with the 1999 General Election with 81.47% voting for the proposal.
My question on CIR and your thoughts on would you push to adopt the Swiss System in this respect seems to have got binned? Disappointed.Matt Napier.
We hold the Swiss system in high regard and the Swiss ambassador is not a guest speaker at this years conference by accident.
At this time our policy is to bring in binding Citizens Initiated referendum. With this in place we will have 2 of the 3 referendum options available to the Swiss. The last of the 3 is the 100 days option which I like the idea and I will happily promote consideration of in the future.
As regards us taking a baby step (i.e. Binding referendum with 67% threshold) I believe we need to present policy that is achievable. Frankly I do not think that we could achieve support from other parties for referendum on a 50.1% basis. The higher threshold removes problems around the question wording and differentiates us from the one or two examples of bad referendum results. Yes there are only one or two however they are often used as a broad excuse to oppose binding referendum. The Californian spending initiative is the most commonly used example.
1. Why was a two thirds majority vote (67%) seen as a pass mark rather than a bare majority (50% 1)?
(If I don’t have the details right I apologise.)
2. Will the Conservative Party as least consider the blocking referendum method available to Swiss voters? (New legislation is put on hold for 90 -100 days and a referendum can be held to pass or block it if a certain number of voters sign up for such a referendum within the time limit.)
Surely prevention is better than cure!
At this time our policy is to bring in binding Citizens Initiated referendum.
With this in place we will have 2 of the 3 referendum options available to the Swiss. The last of the 3 is the 100 days option which I like the idea of, and I will happily promote consideration of in the future.
As regards to us taking a baby step (i.e. Binding referendum with 67% threshold) I believe we need to present policy that is achievable. Frankly I do not think that we could achieve support from other parties for referendum on a 50.1% basis. The higher threshold removes problems around the question wording and differentiates us from the one or two examples of bad referendum results. Yes there are only one or two however they are often used as a broad excuse to oppose binding referendum. The Californian spending initiative is the most commonly used example.
The policy is about steps that make sense towards a much more democratic nation.
If you are elected to Parliament, and a member’s bill is put forward to ban abortion, how would you vote? If a referendum showed a majority of people were in favour of gay marriage, and a bill was put to Parliament to ban gay marriage, would you support the bill? How would you have voted on Homosexual Law Reform?
Controversial topics here.
On the last two I would have supported a referendum. It’s my view that once you pass the decision making over to the voters then politicians have no right to overrule that decision.
However if the people were denied the right to vote I would still have consulted my electorate and voted in accordance with their wishes. After all I am a paid representative for them so that is surely the right thing to do.
If a bill proposed a ban on abortion I would be surprised. There is an attempt to introduce such a law in Poland at the moment but even in a country that is 97% catholic it is struggling to get through. Practically I can’t see how it can work.
I think we can make some real changes for the better (of both woman and child) in this area and so I would probably talk with the private member and see if we couldn’t work on something a bit more practical like “free and informed consent” such as they have in Western Europe for example.
There is an article I wrote for Kiwiblog posted on this site that answers these type of questions more fully. Look here: http://www.kiwiblog.co.nz/2013/03/guest_post_colin_craig_on_whether_he_would_vote_for_abortion_on_demand.html
How do you plan to have Parliament support your idea of a binding referendum, particularly on marriage equality if an overwhelming number of those in Parliament would oppose overturning the Marriage Amendment Act with a referendum. Peter’s called for a referendum and he received next to no support in Parliament.
Binding Referenda is a bottom line for our party. As you know the Conservative Party is polling exceptionally well for a party outside Parliament, and if we get the necessary support, we will be needed to help form a government at next years election. If another party wishes to have our support they will need to agree to an amendment of the existing CIR legislation.
Part of this amendment is that a referendum with a result 67% or more in favour is binding on government.
Although other parties might not like the idea much, if it is a choice between government or not I expect them to be receptive to the idea. After all they only need 1/3 support of voters and they can continue to govern as they see fit, so we are not asking for something that is too hard really.
Unless politicians have to agree to binding CIR to be government (i.e. forced on them) it won’t happen in my view.
In response to a general question/statement of support:
The Conservative Party has been growing consistently since we launched just before the last election and expect to do well next year. It will depend on the voters, but with their support we will make referendums binding in future. This will enable the people to overrule the government when it gets it wrong, a sorely needed step as politicians have proven they cannot be trusted. (Law and Order, Number of MPs, Anti smacking � and the list goes on)
Hey Colin so the marriage equality bill has just passed, im guttered like many of New Zealanders. Whats the conservative partys reaction to this and what actions are you going to take, for lack of a better word.
Firstly my reaction is anger that once again the politicians have got it wrong. If New Zealanders had voted last night the answer would have been “no”. We have constantly seen the will of the people ignored (Law and Order, Number of MPs, Anti-smacking and so on). Many New Zealanders have a sense of anger and disappointment combined, especially those who expected the National party to focus on the economy, not social change.
In terms of our plan of action this has not changed. It is and has always been our commitment to make referenda binding, so that we the people can stop the government making decisions against our wishes. The day when New Zealanders will finally have the chance to vote is election day next year. Provided we get enough support, we will put this issue to the voters as a binding referendum.
My husband and I have been happily married for nearly 13 years, and have been blessed with two children. Our family and our marriage covenant is very sacred and very precious to us. This proposed law goes against what we hold precious and what we believe. Why are we not permitted to have our say seeing as this issue is about something that affects us so deeply? How can we get a referendum?
Dear KDH and the many many others who have contacted me about a referendum on the protection of marriage and where to from here if the bill passes.
1. Firstly I share your frustration at not being heard on this matter. The advocates for the redefinition of marriage have constantly claimed that the redefinition does no harm but this is simply not true. We are seeing a forced cultural change. This change is doing at least 3 things:
a Legally affirming that homosexual “marriages” are the same as a heterosexual marriages.
b Legally (by the change to adoption practice) recognising that a same sex couple are an equally good parenting choice as a Mum and Dad.
c. Removing gender distinction (“bride” and “bridegroom” removed from marriage forms, “Husband” and “wife” removed from various legislation including the Adoption Act). We call this “Gender Neutralisation.”
2. In my view recognising and celebrating the difference between men and women is both intelligent and culturally preferable. The gender balance of a man and a woman working together in marriage and in parenting is a unique and ideal foundation on which to build society. Same sex relationships may be entered into by a small few but we should not pretend they are the same thing.
3. The Conservative Party has called for a Government Initiated Referendum (GIR) on this issue, but this has been rejected by a majority of MPs. This was a somewhat cynical rejection as most of the same MPs are supporting a referendum on state asset sales – surely a double standard.
4. The only way forward now (assuming the bill passes into law) would be a Citizens Initiated Referendum (CIR). Unfortunately CIR are not binding in this country and both National and Labour Prime Ministers have made it clear they will reject CIR outcomes. (example: Helen Clarke on Law and Order and John Key on Smacking). Until we achieve our goal of referendum being binding we have no way to force a change.
5. Once the Conservative Party is in parliament it is our objective to make CIR binding. If we achieve this then we have an opportunity to challenge the redefinition of marriage by referendum. I would certainly support/promote such a referendum.
Should Waitangi Day be abolished and replaced with a new national day [New Zealand Day]?
I am not sure changing the name of the day helps fix that. It’s one of those things that can ideally be proposed and put to the people of the country as a referendum if there is a enough support.
Some sort of statements on the Maori Grievance Industry and the proposed new Constitution would be particularly welcome given the alarm these two issues are causing to many of us.
We have already taken a position on Maori seats. We agree with the Royal commission on MMP and therefore there should not be separate Maori seats. They predicted that separate seats would lead to racial division. However as any change to the electoral system requires voters mandate the correct way to change this is to hold a referendum. I doubt if this was left to politicians it would ever happen.
We have already taken a position on a new Constitution. There should be no work on, or adoption of a new constitution, without a mandate from the people of the country. There is no such mandate so tax payers money should be nowhere near this issue. Those lobbying for a new constitution should do all the work at their own cost and then propose it with a Citizens Initiated Referendum (if they could get enough support).
The Royal Commission on the Electoral System reported on electoral reform on 1986. This was instrumental in the change to MMP in 1993 but it recommended against citizens initiated referendums.
- The Commission unanimously recommended the adoption of mixed member proportional, with a threshold of 4% and that a referendum be held before or at the 1987 election.
- They also recommended that the Māori seats be abolished, with Māori parties instead receiving representation if they did not pass the threshold.
- That the number of MPs raise to 120 (although they considered 140 would be ideal, they realised that it would receive too much public backlash).
- The term of Parliament be raised to four years.
- The Commission recommended that citizens initiated referendums not be implemented. However, they were in 1993.