There was a big discussion on Whale Oil yesterday on government and on the Conservative Party, including on one of Colin Craig’s key policies – binding referenda.
Whale was anti referenda, anti Craig, anti Conservative Party, anti MMP. He is into old school politics, wanting one party rule (the party he prefers of course). He was also anti me:
There is no old school or even new school, just politics. It is blouses like you Pete who think there is another way, and it is people like me who run over the top of you.
But I agree with one thing he said.
The answer isn’t to change the system, it is to use the system more effectively.
I got involved in politics to look for better ways to do democracy. I had favoured more direct democracy including more use of referenda. But I now think referenda have limited benefits and a number of problems.
I think our use of binding referenda about right, having them occasionally on constitutional issues like MMP.
But our system of Citizen’s Initiated Referenda is a farce – designed by politicians to be ineffective and they can ignore them anyway. There are significant problems with referenda.
The petition/referendum system takes far too long. The current asset sales petition has taken over a year, and the referendum hasn’t been scheduled yet. That will take a few more months. In the meantime the Mixed Ownership Model legislation has passed through Parliament and the first share float has just taken place.
Referenda are far too simplistic for complex legislation, one or several Yes/No questions are often inadequate.
And it isn’t a good idea to have referenda – majority determination of legislation – for things that affect minority rights. It would be possible for the majority to disadvantage minorities.
Systems of representative democracy have become the dominant way of doing democracy for a reason – it is the most effective and practical way of doing democracy.
We elect representatives (MPs) and parties to do the decision making.
Our legislative process revolves around MP votes in Parliament, but it includes an opportunity for public input via submissions during the select committee stage. This is an important aspect but has limited use. The number of submitters is not a democratic measure, opposition to bills is often organised by parties or special interest groups who can inflate the number of submitters on one side of the argument.
But the public wants to have more say in what our Parliament decides. I think we should have more say.
If Committee submissions are too limited and referenda are too lengthy and limited how do we achieve this?
The Craig/Conservative bottom line of binding referenda is very unlikely to be accepted by either National or Labour, nor by Parliament – MPs tend to vote against reducing their power. And if it was put to Parliament it would take years to be agreed to and implemented.
And who would decide what went to referenda? Anyone wanting to oppose legislation they didn’t like would try to have it go to a referendum.
I think there is a much better way, a much quicker way – quicker to implement and quicker to operate.
I have a good idea on what I think could work, what would be more effective at giving us, the public, a better say in our politics and our legislation.
It would work with the current system. And it would be designed and used by the people, not by politicians (who generally try to increase their own power and reduce the power of the people they represent).
But I’d like to find out what other people think.
How can we, the people, use our current democratic system better? What do you think?