Empowerment of people

In a democracy if only a minority of people want ’empowerment’ should they have it?

Most people vote in New Zealand, but probably most people care little or not at all about politics and government most of the time. Is that fine in a representative democracy? Or should something be done to try and change it?

From The Opportunities Party policy on democracy:

3. Empowerment of People

While at a national level power has become more and more concentrated in the Cabinet, to the extent that parliament is pretty much neutered – there’s a strong case to suggest that the empowerment of citizens is also required if we are to rediscover our belief in democracy. There are three aspects to this process that we propose;

(a) Further devolution

The idea of community-led initiatives, that central and local governments facilitate and support, is one that is not just central to the Maori concept of rangatiratanga, but also finds support in the non-Maori world. The idea is that communities sort out what’s best for their interests and so long as their plans fit within an overall national framework, then regional or community variation is fine. Electricity trusts, school and health services (so long as national minimum standards are met) enable more participation by communities in self-determination. Such an approach would de-emphasise the influence from national politicians who often have no appreciation of community differences and certainly are not able to accommodate them in their decision-making.

The risk with devolution is definitely that it comes with higher costs (replication of resourcing). But what we have seen in New Zealand of late is an almost worst of all worlds – where responsibility is devolved but no resourcing is provided so small communities are incapable of exercising their mandates. The RMA, the freshwater guidelines, requirements for local bodies to comply with Treaty of Waitangi principles – are all examples of initiatives that some communities really struggle to fulfil competently.

So devolution is fine in theory but it must be adequately resourced otherwise it is little more than buck-passing by central government. And the result of that is that people are alienated from what nominally is a democratic, empowering process.

(b) Deliberative democracy

We also need to remodel the way we engage citizens in democracies. Modern technology means people are more suited to continuous interaction, and less suited to queuing up at a polling booth once every 3 years. There is also (thankfully) a blurring of traditional, tribal approaches to party alignment. The old two-party left-right ways are obsolete. This is a challenge to the current model, but opens the way for more thoughtful and deliberative democracy, if it is well designed.

If elected, TOP intends to make strong use of deliberative democracy such as collaborative software, participatory budgeting and citizen’s juries/assemblies. To walk the talk in the mean time, once our TOP 7 policies are released we will be trialling some of these deliberative democracy approaches amongst TOP members to determine our policy in areas where we don’t have a position. Our members have already given a strong signal that they would like the first cab off the ranks to be drug law reform.

Of course the problem with deliberative democracy, as we have seen with various referendums, is that the public is capable of choosing contradictory positions. In California for example people have voted for more spending on education as well as for tax cuts. You can’t run government that way, so more sophisticated methods are needed to ensure the public has a say but in a way that is informed. TOP is committed to learning from experiments overseas, such as in Taiwan, and developing models of deliberative democracy that work in the New Zealand context.

(c) Civics education

As well as getting a short, crisp Constitution in place, one that means something to everyone, introduction of civics education is a prerequisite for democracy reset. If New Zealanders aren’t acutely aware of their rights and, equally important, their duties – then we are vulnerable to the influence of elites that reflect the preferences of just one sector of society, not the whole. That education needs to begin in school, so that by the time they are entitled to vote, New Zealanders are acutely aware of their rights and will staunchly defend them.

Finally with all the above in place we see no reason why compulsory voting is not introduced, albeit with an option “None of the Above”.

Leave a comment


  1. PDB

     /  10th February 2017

    One can only be thankful that post-election Morgan will be nowhere near the levers of power.

  2. Joe Bloggs

     /  10th February 2017

    So Morgan proposes movement away from the repressiveness and rigidity of contemporary liberal democratic society towards empowered democracy.

    Much as I love the notion of a new model for the national ecomony that’s more decentralised, pluralistic, and participatory, I have reservations about Morgan being the right person to bring such a model to fruition. For a start Morgan’s self-belief is in the same mould as Trump’s – and that sounds all kinds of danger signals. And his plagiarism of the Red Peak flag design for his own ‘one-man’ party signals a willingness to tread all over everyone else’s intellectual property

    And much as I hate the thought that this is a pipe dream, I suspect that poltics in NZ is too institutionalised for any significant mopvement away from the present model

  3. Gezza

     /  10th February 2017

    I like his idea od Civics Education, though good luck with getting agreement on the course content. I also like that he is going to experiment with some of the participatory democracy ideas eg tech based solutions – may turn up some useful info on electronic voting & question design, though not sure he’ll be a good question designer himself.

    Any system of decentralised budgets & that is going to cost folk more in direct and/or indirect tax than they pay now is probably never going to get off the ground with the electorate, & I don’t see TOP as anything but a one-man fringe party @ the moment.

  4. duperez

     /  10th February 2017

    Of course Civics education should not begin at school. Learning about rights and duties happens at home after being born. That learning can happen by default or design.

    Academic lessons as an alien, foreign subject introduced onto barren ground are merely hopeful lip service.

    Democracy is like hills in the background – always been there, going nowhere, just part of the landscape. A triennial focus is hardly likely to rouse it from its dormancy neither having classroom lessons about it.

  5. Brown

     /  10th February 2017

    Anything from someone who thinks North Korea has much to commend it should be laughed at and then ignored.

    I can’t see that democracy can in any way be empowered at a personal level (unless you are a powerful lobbyist). You get one vote and while that may be nice its hardly going to get you what you want unless you want what the government wants to give you after pinching the means from someone else. Morgan is clearly a socialist control freak and believes in democracy only as he defines it or as far as he can control it.

  6. Interesting coincidence, the appearance of Morgan’s ‘devolution’ policies and Mayors’ Carter, Fong and Chadwick’s ‘revelation’ of possible welfare ‘Demarcation Zones’ both in the same week …


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