Tracey Martin on referendums

In an interesting interview during the election campaign Tracey Martin gave an indication as to how she thought referenda should be used.

It gives a good insight into Martin’s and presumably NZ First’s preferences on the use of referendums.

Martin has been a member of the New Zealand First Party since 1993. She was on the party Board of Directors from 2008 until becoming an MP and the party’s deputy leader in 2011. She dropped to party #3 when Ron Mark challenged her and took over as deputy. She is expected to become a Cabinet Minister in the incoming government.

NZ First have promote referenda as a way of allowing the public to decide – from their Social Development policy:

Protect our social fabric and traditional family values from temporarily empowered politicians, by requiring so-called ‘conscience issues’ be put to comprehensive public debate and referenda.

The have proposed a number of referenda. Winston Peters promised a referendum on the Maori seats in the recent election campaign, although it looks like that has been lost in negotiations with Labour.

Family recently publicly reminded NZ First Promised Anti-Smacking Law Referendum:

(In 2014, NZ First said “NZ First policy is to repeal the anti-smacking law passed by the last parliament despite overwhelming public opposition. Accordingly, we will not enter any coalition or confidence and supply agreement with a party that wishes to ignore the public’s clearly stated view in a referendum on that issue.”)

That was for a previous election.

In a speech in March in Northland, leader Winston Peters said;

“We are going to repeal the anti-smacking law which doesn’t work and has in fact seen greater violence towards children.”

He then further clarified his position in an interview on Newstalk ZB saying that this matter should go to a referendum with New Zealand people who are “far more reliable and trustworthy on these matters, rather than a bunch of temporarily empowered parliamentarians.”

This position was backed up by senior MP Tracey Martin.

It would be surprising if Labour or Greens supported this. We may find out today if it’s another casualty of negotiations or not.

During the election campaign Martin explained how she saw referenda being used in an interview at the University of Otago, starting at about 20:15

Question: “One thing we’ve noticed is that New Zealand First seems to call for a lot of referendums on different issues, and you think that it should be the people deciding rather than a group of Parliamentarians. Why is that?”

Martin replied :

First of all there’s some things, they’re quite big social shifts, you know there’s some stuff that makes quite a big difference to society.

Lets take euthanasia as one that’s a biggie at the moment, and also legalising recreational marijuana. Split that off from medicinal marijuana, New Zealand First has already said we support medicinal marijuana through a prescription regime.

As an aside it’s not marijuana, it’s cannabis. It’s unusual to here it referred to as marijuana in New Zealand. The bill currently in Parliament is Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis and Other Matters) Amendment.

But if you take those two issues, they’re issues that we think New Zealanders have the right to discuss, and my vote shouldn’t be worth any more than your vote…and so you need to have the same information I have, and then the country needs to vote.

“Do you see that I have a vote, and I vote in a Parliament, surely that is my reflection of those people making decisions on my behalf?”

So we have a representative democracy, and I would say that if every single bill that went through that House was a conscience vote then you might be right.

Euthanasia was not a topic that was campaigned on at the last election, so how would you have been able to vote on the political party, if you had strong beliefs on that particular topic, how would you have been able to vote for a particular party on that issue, which is a big issue for a nation.

It’s not the tweaking of a, it’s not Uber. It’s a large piece of legislation that is going to make quite a substantial change to country.

NZ First proposals to radically change our economic system is far more substantial – should any policies changing our economic system go to a referendum?

“If parties were campaigning on it this election and setting out their values on the issue which I think a lot of parties have been, it is coming into the discussion a bit more and I chose to volte on that issue, would it then be a rule for Parliament to make that decision rather than putting it back to the people again who have just voted?”

Well I think again it would be fine if it was a representative democracy.

That’s what we have.

…that’s just what New Zealand First believe, there are particular issues that should be laid in front of the New Zealand people, and the New Zealand people as a whole should be able to have a discussion about them out in the open in a transparent way, and then a vote on it.

“Is this a call for more direct democracy in New Zealand?”

Well basically yes, that’s what, I think that’s principle number 15 of New Zealand First, is about direct democracy.

If we haven’t campaigned on it, if we haven’t had a position on it, on a big item, then it’s something we think we need to go back to the constituency which is the public.

15. The People’s Policies

All policies not contained in the party manifesto, where no national emergency clearly exists, will first be referred to the electorate for a mandate.

This is an oddly NZ First-centric principle. Why should it only apply to things NZ First has no policy or campaign position on? Why shouldn’t things of public importance that are NZ First policies not go to referenda?

My also hope is that it might actually make feel connected too.

Here’s a very interesting and important point.

So if I put a bill in front, and I don’t think a referendum should just be a question. I think that’s a really easy way to manipulate direct democracy is to have a single question that is worded in a way that well how could you say no to it, or how could you say less to it.

I believe that you have the same intelligence that anybody sitting in that House has, and so you should see the piece of legislation, you should get the regulatory impact statement, you should get the full Parliamentary blurb that we get, and then after twelve months you should vote on it.

I think that in principle this is a good idea. I have suggested this sort of process for legalising or decriminalising cannabis – a bill should be passed through the normal parliamentary processes, and then go to the public for ratification or rejection via a referendum.

There are some potential down sides, especially if one referendum is held to put a number of issues to the public. There could be a lot of material to distribute and to digest.

Instead of handing out the full legislation plus regulatory statement and any other blurb perhaps a fair summary should be written and distributed. Those who have the time or inclination could obtain all the material online or request it all to be posted out.

I don’t think giving everyone a big pile of legislation will encourage participation, it is more likely to deter engagement.

But generally I think that this is a promising approach to contentious issues of public importance, write the legislation and if it passes through Parliament put it too the people for ratification or rejection.

This would encourage our Parliamentarians to write and pass legislation that made sense to the public and addressed public concerns.

I think this would work well for both euthanasia and for recreational cannabis use.

I don’t think it would be a good way to decide on the Maori seats. That would enable a large majority to make a decision that really just affects a relatively small minority.

I also don’t think it would suit the smacking issue.

The use of referendums could be a significant issue in itself this term.

Last term the flag referendums were a democratic disaster, with political game playing and deliberate disruption making a mess of the process. Somehow that has to be avoided in the future.

I’m encouraged by what Martin said in this interview, albeit with a concern about their principle of only applying referendums to things NZ First hasn’t written policy on or campaigned on. They aren’t the only party in Parliament or soon to be in Government.

Something Peters campaigned on was ‘a change in the way this country is run both economically and socially’.

That suggests major change to me. Should any major change to the way we run the country economically or socially be ratified by the public via referenda?

Peters has been quite vague about what changes he wants. Once he clarifies and suggests specific changes should we the people get to decide on whether it should happen or not?

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  1. -D

     /  October 24, 2017

    An excellent timely constructive suggestion on conscience referendums.
    Let’s hope for some uptake.

  2. Gezza

     /  October 24, 2017

    It’s time to overhaul the legislation that enables government to ignore an overwhelming majority decision in a referendum. To those who argue a poorly or cunningly & confusingly worded referendum question could result in a majority making a confusing decision, it would certainly put the onus on the government to be freaking straight up & clear in their question.

    Cost is a concern though.

    • High Flying Duck

       /  October 24, 2017

      Wordings are problematic in Citizens initiated referendums as they tend to be polemic.
      The wording is also formulated before finding the necessary signatures to force one to be held.
      There is also the problem of a single issue subject to referendum impacting on a number of other policy areas, which is why they should only be used in very limited circumstances and only for social issues that would traditionally be considered “conscience votes”
      Referendums on tax or economic policy would be disastrous.
      Government referendums still suffer from the “leading question” problem as the Government will generally know their preferred outcome and want to nudge in the right direction.

      Things like smacking and cannabis reform i can see as suitable referendum topics. But generally they are an abdication of parliamentary responsibility. MP’s should be gauging the wishes of their constituents and voting accordingly.

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  October 24, 2017

      Don’t see why cost should be a concern. The Swiss invariably have some referenda questions on their ballot papers with their elections. They just get processed along with the voting results. Theirs are binding too.

      • Gezza

         /  October 24, 2017

        My difficulty with that, Sir Alan, is that I most interested in a system that allows a referendum to be conducted immediately upon my hearing of any idea a government has that I don’t like.

        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  October 24, 2017

          A system based on that criteria would certainly be prohibitively costly, Sir Gerald. In contrast the Swiss system probably works by threat rather than execution. A proposal likely to be overturned by referendum is probably not going to be pursued by government.

  3. Geoffrey

     /  October 24, 2017

    In commenting indirectly on the NZ First deceit over its promise to hold a referendum on the future of the Maori seats, Pete said, “I don’t think it would be a good way to decide on the Maori seats. That would enable a large majority to make a decision that really just affects a relatively small minority.” I suggest that this attitude is fundamentally wrong: the deliberations of Parliament affect everybody.

    Very few of us are totally immune to the subjective pressures of our societal affiliations – be they religious, political or racial. Members of Parliament are no less affected. It so happens that the number of Members of Maori descent who have been elected on the General Roll slightly exceeds the proportion found in the total population. Thus the “special” interests of Maori have already acquired the adequate safeguard afforded by the community pressures felt by all MPs.

    The continued retention of the “temporary” Maori seats that are, by their very nature specifically racial in orientation and effect, grossly distorts the dynamic balance of Parliament and potentially leads to distorted legislation that unduly favour Maori aspirations at the expense of the population as a whole. The outrageous and spectacularly disruptive legislation that flowed from the office of Findlayson in recent years is evidence of that.

    Only the seriously deluded can maintain that the natural wealth of New Zealand can properly be vested in the hands of a dozen or so unofficial modern chieftains who profess to represent some 12% of the population. Only the seriously deluded, or the irreparably compromised, can insist that it is not every New Zealander’s right to participate in questioning that concept.

    • Gezza

       /  October 24, 2017

      Only the seriously deluded can maintain that the natural wealth of New Zealand can properly be vested in the hands of a dozen or so unofficial modern chieftains who profess to represent some 12% of the population.

      Only the mildly deranged or phenomenally ill-informed would think that it is, or would be.

      Only the seriously deluded, or the irreparably compromised, can insist that it is not every New Zealander’s right to participate in questioning that concept.

      Only a Pakeha redneck would probably think that they don’t. But it doesn’t seem to be a cincern for most people. PG did a post on this not that long ago.

      • Geoffrey

         /  October 24, 2017

        Wonderfully unimaginative response Gezza! You could however have added “racist” to complete the proforma counter trotted out to stifle any informed debate.
        Having said that; I do not believe that I have seen what PG posted previously. if it was in similar vein, that only Maori have a right to any say in the disestablishment of the Maori seats, my comment stands.

        • Gezza

           /  October 24, 2017

          Oh well if you’re going to be like that when all you’ve done is regurgitate the usual p, tired old monocultural Pakeha redneck argument of Don Brash & his I’ll just have to flounce off & leave PG to elsborate on his view if he wants to bother. Maori should decide when & whether the Maori Seats should go. That is what is going to happen because there are sensible people still in government, as there have been for decades. Even if one of them cynically uses the Maori Seats to pull in votes from Maori-bashers ever hopeful. But they’re only a minority of NZF’s voters whether overt or covert about, hopefully.

          • Geoffrey

             /  October 24, 2017

            One last try Gezza… you missed out “racist” again so your argument does not carry the full weight and pseudo-authority of the mantra. As well, neither is a bald statement that, “Maori should decide when & whether the Maori Seats should go”, any more persuasive than it was the first time.

            • Gezza

               /  October 24, 2017

              I missed out “racist” because I don’t think you are one. If you’re saying you think you are & there’s a good reason for it, thst might be a separate discussion. Look – I’ll tell you what. I am fully coversant with your argument, I’m a Pakeha. Pretend you are a Maori who wants to retain the Maori seats. Go off & do a good sizeable bit of reading about being a Maori & what the best arguments for that position are. Come back & present them from their perspective, & I’ll argue your case. Your objective is to win their argument because you now understand their circumstances & position better.

  4. ‘As an aside it’s not marijuana, it’s cannabis. It’s unusual to here it referred to as marijuana in New Zealand. The bill currently in Parliament is Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis and Other Matters) Amendment.’

    Well said PG.. I often find that the nay-sayers, call it ‘marijuana’ in the medicinal context, to muddy the waters. ‘Marijuana’ is a slang name & generally agreed, should only be used in terms of recreational use.. if at all 😦

    which leads me to wonder, if NZF are really supportive of the issue ?

  5. david in aus

     /  October 24, 2017

    I wonder how the new government can justify any referenda based their previous objections to the National flag plebiscite. All based on it being a waste of money.

    The cry of hypocrisy would be deafening. Why waste money when the economy is crumbling or how many homeless could that money have housed…..

    • Gezza

       /  October 24, 2017

      Just a question of technology now.

      • High Flying Duck

         /  October 24, 2017

        Technology is a huge problem for voting. It sounds wonderful, but it incredibly difficult to safely implement. This is a great explanation as to why:

        • High Flying Duck

           /  October 24, 2017

          “The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.” —Joseph Stalin

          • Gezza

             /  October 24, 2017

            Anything else about Joe that you particularly liked, apart from kicking the Nazi’s butts?

            • High Flying Duck

               /  October 24, 2017

              A role model and a huge influence on my parenting it must be said.
              And he’s a mine of great quotes for dinner party conversations. Him and Ghandi.

              Some more gems from the great man:

              Everybody has a right to be stupid, but some people abuse the privilege.

              To choose one’s victims, to prepare one’s plan minutely, to slake an implacable vengeance, and then to go to bed … There is nothing sweeter in the world.

              Death is the solution to all problems. No man – no problem.

              It is difficult for me to imagine what “personal liberty” is enjoyed by an unemployed hungry person. True freedom can only be where there is no exploitation and oppression of one person by another; where there is not unemployment, and where a person is not living in fear of losing his job, his home and his bread. Only in such a society personal and any other freedom can exist for real and not on paper.

              His quotes read like the Green party manifesto!

            • Gezza

               /  October 24, 2017

              Death is the solution to all problems. No man – no problem.

              Find me their equivalent of that one?

            • High Flying Duck

               /  October 25, 2017

              The greens have always thought people = pollution. Their (international) genesis was through Malthusianism which was about solving overpopulation.

          • Blazer

             /  October 24, 2017

            do you want this Govt to succeed HFD?

            • High Flying Duck

               /  October 25, 2017

              I would love this Government to succeed. Their feel good policies of fixing all our society’s ills with trains and pixie dust would be quite something to behold.
              I can’t see it happening and I think they will end up making things far worse – the road to hell is, after all, paved with good intentions.
              But I wish them well and if they can prove me wrong I will happily join in with Jacindamania in 36 months time.

            • I’m optimistic about most of what is proposed. There will no doubt be failures and unintended consequences, there always is with implementation of government policies, but there’s plenty of scope for positive progress if executed sensibly and well.

        • sorethumb

           /  October 24, 2017

          why can’t you vote and have a receipt then have a comparison?

          • High Flying Duck

             /  October 24, 2017

            You mean have a paper vote as a check against tampering, which would then need to be delivered to be checked against your electronic vote?

  6. sorethumb

     /  October 24, 2017

    what is worse referenda or advocacy polls by organisations with a stake in the game such as Asia NZ or the Scanlon Foundation?
    For Example
    Ward and Masgoret (2008) found strong endorsement of multiculturalism with 89percent of respondents agreeing that a society made up of people from different races, religions, and cultures is a good thing.
    but when you look into it
    Gendall et al (2007) found that satisfaction with the immigration system was low. Only 16percent agreed that the Government is doing a good job of managing applications for immigration to New Zealand, but 19percent thought that the Government is doing a good job of adjusting immigration policy to meet New Zealand’s needs. The majority (78percent) of respondents agreed that there should be more consultation with the public about New Zealand’s immigration policy.
    Both studies asked respondents about the level of immigration to New Zealand. In Gendall et al (2007), 42percent thought the number of immigrants coming to New Zealand should remain the same or increase. Around half of those in Ward and Masgoret (2008) thought the number of immigrants was about right. However, both studies showed that perceptions of some immigrant groups were more favourable than others. Immigrants from countries with Anglo-Celtic backgrounds (such as Great Britain) or where English was the predominant language (such as South Africa) were viewed more favourably than immigrants from non-English-speaking countries.
    On The hard Stuff with Nigel Latta he uses the finding to imply satisfaction with multiculturalism and immigration policy. The crucial issue is numbers.