Democracy, MMP, STV and TOPPING themselves

There has been quite a bit of talk about our system of democracy recently. There are new calls for reducing our MMP threshold, which has proven to be to high and a democratic impediment to small parties in New Zealand, especially those attempting to get into Parliament for the first time.

Peter Dunne has suggested a switch to STV, while Gareth Morgan wants his own way rather than democracy in The Opportunities Party.

Dunne at Newsroom: Let’s get rid of MMP altogether

When politicians start to talk about making changes to the electoral system, it is time to be wary. They do not do such things unless there is something in it for them.

So when Justice Minister Andrew Little starts musing about a referendum to “tidy up” one or two “quirks” of the MMP system, rest assured that he is not doing so out of genuine concern for its credibility and wellbeing, but rather for the protection of the electoral wellbeing of the Labour Party.

Over the last thirty years since the Royal Commission recommended the move to MMP, both the National and Labour Parties have done their best to subvert it.

The major parties have done hat they can to preserve their size, status and perks, at the cost of better democracy,

An astute politician might infer therefore from that that the best way to guard against that public scorn in the future is to broaden the scope of Parliamentary representation, not restrict it.

A truly bold politician might go even one step further and promote the replacement of MMP altogether, and so do away once and for all with the alleged need for tinkering amendments, by moving to STV, the single transferable vote, whereby every MP is directly elected by a constituency and is accountable to that constituency. That would do away with the party list system whereby so many unknown candidates find themselves MPs, even if the electorate had failed to elect them  directly, or had even voted them out on election day. (How fair is the current system when for example, nearly one third of our current Ministers were rejected in individual electorate contests in 2017?)

Now shifting to a system where every Member of Parliament was directly elected would be a reform worth doing. It would certainly shake up the system; provide fairer and better representation; and make every MP directly accountable to a particular electorate, rather than the party bosses. For those reasons alone, there will be no politician bold enough to take it up, when the option of “tweaking” the system to preserve partisan advantage is so much easier.

But there is no chance of a major change to our electoral system in the foreseeable future. and Gareth Morgan has rubbished it.

 

And as TOP conducts a ballot to elect new party leadership Gareth Morgan has been throwing his weight around, trying to influence the ballot with his money. And mouthing off on Twitter some more:

“Appealing only to the privileged, university offspring of urban elites was never going to be enough for TOP. We need to draw as many active members from the tradies and the ZB listener segment. We haven’t, suggesting NZ is too fat, content and comfortable for our policies”

I doubt that Morgan is going to attract many tradies and ZB listeners. Or decent candidates – who would want to be lambasted by him if they didn’t do what he wants.

Bryce Edwards (Newsroom): The death of minor parties under MMP

TOP appears very unlikely to be a real contender in 2020, as the party is currently struggling to reinvent itself as TOP 2.0 and embroiled in a faction fight over its future.

Former deputy leader Geoff Simmons has been operating as the interim leader until now. But it’s not clear he will be elected, especially as Gareth Morgan is campaigning strongly for rival candidate Amy Stevens, an Auckland lawyer currently working for ASB.

Morgan has written a couple of Facebook posts in which he calls for a vote for Stevens, and explains why Simmons is the wrong person for the job. Morgan says Stevens is what TOP needs in order to connect with the centre right of the political spectrum: “what Amy Stevens offers is a business background not one as a public servant” and “she can relate to all those small business owners who are as familiar with the trials and tribulations of running a business”.

And as a bonus, Morgan – who gave $3 million to the party towards the last election – promises more money for TOP if Stevens is elected: “My money will be on Amy to lead the refresh that is TOP 2.0, as I think she’s sufficiently credible to attract the significant funders. I’ll certainly chip in if she’s leading.”

Clearly Morgan believes that TOP has become too liberal or leftwing: “TOP faces a big risk right now that it gets usurped by people who would otherwise vote Left or Centre Left. Our policy programme is for all New Zealanders, we are over-represented by members from the Left, Centre Left”.

Morgan gave TOP and chance in the last election, then ruined that with his antics online. With his dictatorial approach and his rubbishing of current leadership and supporters it looks like he is topping TOP.

Also from Edwards:

Could the next general election result in a two-party Parliament made up of just Labour and National? It seems highly unlikely – especially under proportional representation – and yet the 1News Colmar Brunton poll released on Sunday points to a scenario where we could be close to that.

The possibility that minor parties could be left out of Parliament altogether in 2020 is generally dismissed, often with the assumption that “the minor parties always do better during the election campaign”. This simply isn’t the case. For example, at the last election, support for both the Greens and NZ First plummeted during the campaign.

What’s more, ever since MMP was introduced, every minor party that has gone into government has subsequently received a worse party vote at the following election.

So there is a real risk to both Greens and NZ First. TOP look like self-destructing. The Maori Party, Mana Party and United Future look unlikely to return.

If David Seymour manages to retain the Epsom electorate it could be down to National, Labour and ACT after the 2020 election (but voters may decide they want to prevent this two party dominant scenario).

Meanwhile, the Labour-led Government is pondering bringing in some small fixes for MMP. But the proposal to reduce the 5 percent threshold to 4 percent is mere tinkering in the face of what clearly needs more radical thinking. Abolishing the threshold entirely, makes more sense.

The MMP threshold is proving to be a major barrier to the healthy flourishing of new minor parties. Of course, it’s not the only problem for the small parties. We therefore need a more serious think about the state of minor parties and how to allow them to prosper. If not, New Zealand’s multi-party parliamentary system might soon become a thing of the past, leaving the public with a choice, once again, of just two monolithic traditional parties.

There has been a lot of good discussion on this here at Reddit: Minor parties were supposed to be a big part of politics under MMP, yet they are in serious decline.

 

Right To Vote For All petition

The petition:


Right to Vote for All

Dear Hon. Andrew Little,

We are calling on the Government to enshrine voting rights for all people who are incarcerated.

In 2010 National MP Paul Quinn introduced a Member’s Bill to Parliament that saw the complete removal of voting rights for prisoners, regardless of how long the sentence. Since then, the Supreme Court has upheld the High Court’s ruling that limiting the right to vote for prisoners is a breach of the Bill of Rights, section 12(a).

Voting must belong to all of us for the health of our democracy, and removing basic rights should never be used as a means to punish people We are proud of Aotearoa New Zealand’s history – where people have successfully campaigned for the right to vote for all Māori and women. That legacy should not be thrown away lightly.

That’s why we are calling on the Government to amend the Electoral Act of 1993 and ensure that all New Zealanders are able to determine who represents them, and who makes the laws that govern them.

Why is this important?

We believe that in a fair and democratic society all members should have the right to vote, and people living in prisons are part of our society. They are valued members of communities and families. To take away their right to vote is an unfair disenfranchisement

We all expect that people in prison have the opportunity to heal and learn so they can contribute to a thriving society when they return to their communities. By not allowing people to vote while in prison, we are removing their ability to invest in and contribute to society and our democratic process. It’s cruel and counter-productive.

When Parliament changed the law in 2010 they used voting rights as a form of punishment, and this breaches the Bill of Rights. As New Zealanders we seek fairness and community. If we reinstate voting rights for people serving time in prison, it means that come next election time, thousands more people would be able to participate in our democracy, and put their ballot in the box as an investment in their – and our – futures.

We believe a thriving society requires the voices of all it’s people in order to make decisions that elevate everyone. By including everyone’s voices we can have a truly representative democracy.

Nonsense over written questions

National have been criticised for the number of written questions they have been submitting to Ministers. But National claim that Ministers are refusing to answer questions and avoiding answering questions, forcing National MPs to write multiple versions of very similar questions.

I think it’s sad to see such petty use and abuse of democratic processes. I think the responsibility is largely on Ministers to live up to their transparency hype.

RNZ: National’s written questions blitz at a new level – professor

A barrage of written questions from the National Party is heaping pressure on ministerial offices, prompting one to restructure and a government agency to hire a new staff member.

In the year since forming the government, ministers have received 42,221 written parliamentary questions from National MPs. That’s around 800 a week, or 115 a day, weekends included.

Several ministers have been caught tripping up over the process – which the National Party calls incompetence.

But Auckland University Emeritus Professor Barry Gustafson said the exercise appeared to be more of a fishing expedition than anything to do with policy.

That’s an odd comment from a professor. There’s more to effective Opposition than querying policy. Aren’t written questions basically there to enable fishing expeditions?

“They cast a hundred or thousand hooks into the sea and hope that they’ll pull up one fish.”

The opposition was searching for inconsistencies in ministers’ answers or something they could develop to embarrass the government.

“It’s getting well away, when you do that, from the original intention of written questions – which was to hold the government accountable on major policy matters and actions.”

“…and actions” is an important addition there.

The actions of two Ministers have already resulted in them stepping down or being sacked.

A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said his office had requested additional staffing to deal with the high volume of written questions and official information requests.

“This was unavailable so the office restructured to employ a staff member to coordinate responses,” he said in a statement.

There have been important questions to ask about the deferral of an extradition.

Housing Minister Phil Twyford said the KiwiBuild unit in the new Ministry of Housing and Urban Development had to hire someone with the primary job of answering opposition questions.

Mr Twyford said he was committed to answering questions properly as they were an important part of the parliamentary process.

But he said “there’s no doubt that the volume and the trivial nature of some of the questions is a deliberate tactic by the opposition to tie up government staff resources.”

I think there’s quite a bit of doubt about Twyford’s claim.

National housing spokesperson Judith Collins stood by every one of her questions.

Opposition MPs had to ask very specific questions when a minister refused to answer broader questions properly, Ms Collins said.

“You end up having to send maybe five or six questions, when one decent answer was all you actually wanted.”

I’ve seen examples of this.

I thought the Greens were supposed to be into transparent Government.

Other ministers’ offices had pulled people off their usual posts in various ministries, which Prof Gustafson said was a waste of taxpayer money.

“You’re going to clog the system up with a lot of quite trivial and unnecessary [questions].

So who should decide which questions are too trivial? It certainly shouldn’t be left to the Ministers.

Prof Gustafson said both sides were guilty.

In 2010 the Labour MP Trevor Mallard, now Parliament’s Speaker, wrote and sent 20,570 questions to National ministers.

While Mr Mallard would not comment on whether he thought that was appropriate, he said he had noticed that “ministers who proactively release material are subject to fewer questions”.

In other words, Ministers who are transparent don’t get hassled with so many questions. Ministers who try to play avoidance games get more questions. There’s a simple answer there.

National MP Chris Bishop (@cjsbishop):

Here are some things written questions are used for:

  1. To find out who Ministers are meeting. Because that matters.
  2. To find out what papers they’re getting. Because that matters (I usually then OIA ones I’m interested in).
  3. To see what they’re taking to Cabinet
  4. To get stats. Eg how many new police have been hired by new government. Because they made promises around that.
  5. To track how the govt is going on fulfilling its commitments in the coalition document. Eg thanks to written questions we know that Stats Minister James Shaw as done absolutely nothing about starting a review of the official measures of unemployment, even though it’s in the coalition document.
  6. To dive further into detail behind Ministerial answers in the House, where supps are severely limited.
  7. To get the government to provide evidence for statements they make. What Ministers say matters. And the proof for statements (or lack of it) matters.

In short, written questions are bloody important. We’ve asked a lot, cos we’re working hard. Written questions brought down Claire Curran and have provided material for innumerable press releases and oral questions.

Good government matters. Good opposition makes governments perform better. Written questions are a vital tool of Parliamentary accountability.

I thought the Greens had committed to something like that, but James Shaw or his staff don’t appear to be practicing what they have preached.

All parties play games and play the system in ways they think will help them achieve what they want.

National were bad in how they played Official Information requests. But this Government is looking like they could be worse, despite ‘promising’ to be better.

What I think the main problem here is – we have a Government that claimed they would improve transparency, that they would be the most transparent government ever, but their actions suggest the opposite.

A handful of US tech companies have radicalised the world

There is no doubt that the Internet has dramatically changed how media and politics operate. Over the last few years a few US companies have dominated radically changed how democracy is done, including allowing nefarious interference in election campaigns.

And at the same time there have been a number of political swings to more controversial and extreme leaders and parties.

Broderick (via twitter):

In the last 4 years, I’ve been to 22 countries, 6 continents, and been on the ground for close to a dozen referendums and elections. Three things are now very clear to:

1) A handful of American companies, Facebook and Google more than any other, have altered the fundamental nature of almost every major democracy on Earth. In most of these elections, far-right populism has made huge strides.

2) The misinformation, abuse, and radicalization created by these companies seems to affect poorer people and countries more heavily.

These companies replace local community networks, local media, local political networks and create easily exploitable, unmoderated news ones.

3) It is going to get worse and more connected. It is getting more mobile. It is having more physical real-world effects. Apps like WhatsApp and Instagram are even harder to track than Facebook.

It’s been a decade since I first felt like something was changing about the way we interact with the internet. In 2010, as a young news intern for a now-defunct website called the Awl, one of the first pieces I ever pitched was an explainer about why 4chan trolls were trying to take the also now-defunct website Gawker off the internet via a distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack. It was a world I knew. I was a 19-year-old who spent most of my time doing what we now recognize as “shitposting.” It was the beginning of an era where our old ideas about information, privacy, politics, and culture were beginning to warp.

I’ve followed that dark evolution of internet culture ever since. I’ve had the privilege — or deeply strange curse — to chase the growth of global political warfare around the world. In the last four years, I’ve been to 22 countries, six continents, and been on the ground for close to a dozen referendums and elections. I was in London for UK’s nervous breakdown over Brexit, in Barcelona for Catalonia’s failed attempts at a secession from Spain, in Sweden as neo-Nazis tried to march on the country’s largest book fair. And now, I’m in Brazil. But this era of being surprised at what the internet can and will do to us is ending. The damage is done. I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that I’ll probably spend the rest of my career covering the consequences.

There are certainly signs of major consequences internationally.

In New Zealand we have had political change, but after a nine year National government it wasn’t a big deal, especially as Labour (and NZ First) are not dramatically different to National in most significant policies. It was more of a tweak than upheaval here, probably.

But we can’t help but be affected by what happens in the rest of the increasingly radicalised world.

To be sure, populism, nationalism, and information warfare existed long before the internet. The arc of history doesn’t always bend toward what I think of as progress. Societies regress. The difference now is that all of this is being hosted almost entirely by a handful of corporations.

Why is an American company like Facebook placing ads in newspapers in countries like IndiaItalyMexico, and Brazil, explaining to local internet users how to look out for abuse and misinformation? Because our lives, societies, and governments have been tied to invisible feedback loops, online and off. And there’s no clear way to untangle ourselves.

The worst part of all of this is that, in retrospect, there’s no real big secret about how we got here.

The social media Fordlândias happening all over the world right now probably won’t last. The damage they cause probably will. The democracies they destabilize, the people they radicalize, and the violence they inspire will most likely have a long tail. Hopefully, though, it won’t take us a hundred years to try to actually rebuild functioning societies after the corporations have moved on.

Perhaps. It is very difficult to know where social media, democracy and the world will go to from here.

Dysfunctional democracies

There seems to be growing dysfunction in democracies with important associations with New Zealand.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom continues to struggle with it’s exit from the European Union after a controversial referendum in 2016 chose Brexit by a fairly close margin. It is claimed that the referendum was unduly affected by social media manipulation similar to what happened in the US election, also in 2016.

Prime Minister Theresa May made a disastrous decision to have a snap election and seems to have gone downhill from there. Her Conservative Party has been in a close contest with the opposing Labour Party in the polls for some time, largely because of the arguably equally unpopular leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Not only does UK politics look in dire straits, their future as a country, especially as a trading nation, looks precarious. They are struggling to sort out an exit of the European Union, and that is delaying attempts to negotiate with alternate trade partners.

The Telegraph: Theresa May is showing how thorny a ‘clean Brexit’ could be so voters reconsider her plan

The Telegraph: Who do you think should be the next leader of the Conservative Party?

Over the past few months notable Conservative politicians and outside voices have questioned Theresa May’s ability to lead the party through Brexit and beyond. This in turn has cast doubt over the stability and longevity of the Prime Minister’s position in the top job.

 

United States

Who is in the most disarray, the Republicans or the Democrats? Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton deserved to lose the 2016 presidential election, and it’s arguable that the worst person won.

Trump has had some short term wins with some policies, especially with huge tax cuts, but the effects of resulting huger debts may case major problems in the future, especially if the record length bull run in the markets hiccups, as it inevitably will at some stage. the odds are that that will be soonish.

Trump has had a shambolic approach to trade ‘negotiations’, and a high risk approach to international relations. He often seems to work (or tweet) at odds with his top officials, and has questionable inclinations towards appeasement with Russia (while his country increases sanctions for interference in their democracy).

National Security Adviser John Bolton: U.S. sanctions to stay until Russia changes its behavior

Trump’s claims of great success in his meeting with Kim Yong Un seem to have been premature: Trump says Pompeo won’t go to North Korea, criticizes denuclearization progress

And his potential legal problems grow. Graham: Trump Will “Very Likely” Fire Sessions After Midterms – sacking everyone who won’t support his attempts at interference is unlikely to save him in the long run.

Much of the world watches in wonder at what the most powerful democracy in the world has become.

While many stupid and troubling things are by Trump there’s hope that his big mouth and little fingers won’t work there way towards the big button – however there are risks that Trump might escalate attempts to divert from all his problems by choosing a military sideshow, a common ploy of tyrants who can make their people revere them.

But the Democrats look in disarray after the disastrous Clinton presidential campaign. Hillary may be considering another shot at the presidency, which would likely dismay many, and there is no clear alternative (although in US politics it’s a long time until the next presidential election (2020). Trump was just an unlikely contender in a crowd of wannabe candidates two years before he won.

Australia

Our relatively) close neighbours the Aussies have a new Prime Minister that most Kiwis are unlikely to have heard of (Scott Morrison, after two leadership votes in a week. The deposing of Malcolm Turnbull adds to the procession of Australian Prime Ministers who have failed to see out a term in office.

See Out with the not very old Aussie PM, in with the new.

The change of leadership looks like a bit of a move right, but looks likely to be tested at an election soon, if Turnbull resigns and the Government loses it’s one seat majority.

Labour’s left has been riven by ructions in the not very distant past.

Depressing

This could be quite depressing for those who yearn for healthy democracies and competent politicians and parties. Is democracy self imploding, or can it recover?

Meanwhile, New Zealand

Here we have a three party government that has it’s challenges, and it’s critics, but the big local political stories of the week have been about the leak of expenses details several days before they were due to be released, and the semi-demotion of a Minister who didn’t properly record or advise having a meeting with someone who could potentially be a big benefit to the country.

“Freedom of expression is often one of the first victims of a successful socialist revolution”

The source of that headline quote might surprise some people.

Nándor Tánczos is probably best known as a rasta Green MP  from 1999 to 2008 – he lost his place in Parliament after the 2005 election, but as next on the list got back in soon after as Rod Donald died just before the new Parliament  met for the first time.

His current Twitter profile: Rastafarian social ecologist with anarchic tendencies

Nandor Tanczos

So this tweet is interesting.

This prompted a series of tweets from @LewSOS:

The trouble with revolution, socialist and otherwise, is that it *requires* suppression of free expression to prevent counter-revolution. Such repression is not merely a side-effect of revolution, but is intrinsic, and must be backed by violence if the revolution is to persist.

Lenin and Mussolini and Castro and Mao and Franco were all perfectly clear on this point. A revolution without repression and violence isn’t a revolution. It’s just an advisory campaign.

A democratic revolution is no such thing. It’s a nonsense. What the people vote for, the people can vote against, if they are allowed to vote again. So for the new regime to persist, they must not be allowed to do so. This is why I am neither a socialist nor a revolutionary.

At a basic functional level, it isn’t really. But the specifics matter. Popper was about very specific lined restrictions to safeguard the open society, but the revolutionary praxis in real life has tended to involve a great deal more murdering of dissidents

If socialist policies are adopted freely and maintained democratically, then at a regime level, for me there’s no very meaningful difference with any other democracy. The socialism bit is incidental and nearly irrelevant as it can be reversed at any time by a change of government.

(Whether it could be reversed in practice is another matter, because in principle capitalism could be reversed in the same way, and yet it has not been, because norms and institutions have power of a sort)

Some interesting and thought provoking stuff there.

So is it possible to have a revolution while retaining democracy?

Perhaps revolutionary change without having a revolution is possible.  Jacinda Ardern’s idea of government is revolutionary perhaps?

Too revolutionary for some. Not enough of a revolution for others. (Some thing it is little more than a softer same old).

Viva Jacinda?

Results of Māori Electoral Option

there have been small movements of voters from the Māori Roll to General Roll and vice versa, and small increases in the total number enrolled on the Māori Roll , with 52% of Māori on the Māori Roll.

Electoral Commission:

The 2018 Māori Electoral Option ran from 3 April to 2 August and gave all enrolled voters of Māori descent the opportunity to choose whether they wanted to be on the Māori roll or general roll for the next two general elections.

Changes to electoral roll type

  • Māori Roll to General Roll: 10,163
  • General Roll to Māori Roll: 7,956

New enrolments of Māori descent

  • General Roll: 1,808
  • Māori Roll: 3,407

Impact on rolls

  • Net Impact on Māori Roll: +1,200
  • Net Impact on General Roll: +4,015

Total rolls at end of option

  • Māori on Māori Roll: 247,494 (52%)
  • Māori on General Roll: 224,755 (48%)

So that’s fairly evenly split.

I don’t see a big deal with the Māori seats remaining.

66.4% vote yes to amend abortion law in ‘quiet revolution ‘ in Ireland

The final result in the Irish referendum on abortion:

The Eight Amendment to the Republic of ireland’s constitution was introduced after a referendum in 1983. It “acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right“.

Just one constituency, Donegal, voted against change with No 51.9% to Yes 48.1%.

The next closest was Cavan-Monaghan with No 44.5% to yes 55.5%.

The Yes vote in the ten Dublin constituencies ranged from 73.1% to 78.5%.

BBC –  Ireland abortion referendum: PM hails ‘quiet revolution’

The Irish prime minister has hailed his country’s “quiet revolution” as early results point to a “resounding” vote for overturning the abortion ban.

Leo Varadkar was speaking after exit polls suggested a landslide vote in favour of reforming the law.

“The people have spoken. They have said we need a modern constitution for a modern country,” he said.

Mr Varadkar, who campaigned in favour of liberalisation, said: “What we’ve seen is the culmination of a quiet revolution that’s been taking place in Ireland over the past 20 years.”

The taoiseach (prime minister) added that Irish voters “trust and respect women to make the right choices and decisions about their own healthcare”.

BBC – Timeline: Ireland and abortion

1861 – Abortion is first banned in Ireland in 1861 by the Offences Against the Person Act, and stays in place after Irish independence.

1983 – The Eighth Amendment to the Republic’s constitution, or Article 40.3.3, is introduced after a referendum.

1992 – The X case – a 4-year-old suicidal rape victim is initially prevented by the courts from travelling to England to terminate her pregnancy. The ruling prompts demonstrations by both anti-abortion and pro-choice campaigners across Ireland, in New York and London. However, the ruling is later overturned by Ireland’s Supreme Court. It says the credible threat of suicide is grounds for an abortion in Ireland.

In November that year, as a result of the X case and the judgement in the Supreme Court appeal, the government put forward three possible amendments to the constitution.

The Thirteenth Amendment said the abortion ban would not limit freedom of travel from Ireland to other countries for a legal abortion. It passed Yes 62.39%, No 37.61%.

The Fourteenth Amendment said Irish citizens had the freedom to learn about abortion services in other countries. It passed Yes 59.88% to No 40.12%.

The Twelfth Amendment proposed that the possibility of suicide was not a sufficient threat to justify an abortion. It failed No 65.35% to Yes 34.65%.

Turnout 68%.

2002 – Another referendum, asking if the threat of suicide as a ground for legal abortion should be removed. Yes 49.58%, No 50.52% (turnout 42.89%).

2010 – After three women take a case against Ireland, the European Court of Human Rights rules the state has failed to provide clarity on the legal availability of abortion in circumstances where the mother’s life is at risk.

2013 – Abortion legislation is again amended to allow terminations under certain conditions – the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act is signed into law. It legalises abortion when doctors deem that a woman’s life is at risk due to medical complications, or at risk of taking her life. It also introduces a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment for having or assisting in an unlawful abortion.

2015 – The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recommends a referendum on abortion, saying it is concerned at Ireland’s “highly restrictive legislation” and calls for a referendum to repeal Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution.

2016 – The United Nations Human Rights Committee says that Ireland’s ban on abortion subjected a woman carrying a foetus with a fatal abnormality to discrimination and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

2017 – A Citizens’ Assembly votes to recommend the introduction of unrestricted access to abortion. It votes 64% to 36% in favour of having no restrictions in early pregnancy.

2018 – In March, Irish Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy signs an order to set the date for an abortion referendum.

And in big reversals of the 1992 referendum and Twelfth Amendment vote in 2002 the people of Ireland have voted resoundingly to modernise their abortion law.


New Zealand’s abortion law is still archaic but it is virtually ignored in practice. Time this is properly addressed – perhaps we should have an abortion referendum here too.

How a cannabis referendum might look

With the possibility of a referendum on personal use of cannabis, perhaps as soon as next year, there has been discussion on how a legislation followed by referendum approach might work.

In January Graeme Edgeler posted:

There is a good way to conduct government-initiated referendum, and there are bad ways to conduct them.

Yesterday he tweeted suggested wording for a cannabis referendum adapted the language used in the 1993 MMP referendum.

I think that would be a good approach on cannabis, and similar on euthanasia.

Parliament debate and vote on legislation, to be approved by a binding referendum  – binding in so far as a commitment by MPs and parties to abide by the result and allow the legislation to come into effect.

This wouldn’t stop later changes in law, as can happen with any law.

Dunne on cannabis legislation and referendum

Peter Dunne has his say on how best to organise a cannabis referendum (slightly edited):


Suggestions that the Government wants to bring forward the timing of the referendum on recreational cannabis make good political sense. The current plan to hold the referendum at the same time as the next General Election makes sense from a costs point of view, but has the potential to be a political disaster for all concerned. It would be inevitable in such circumstances that the election campaign would be dominated by the cannabis referendum, something none of the political parties would want.

Resolving the logistics of the timing of the referendum is but chickenfeed, compared to what the referendum will actually be about, and how, in the event of an affirmative vote, the outcome will be implemented.

Some form of independent, properly resourced, expert panel will obviously be required to ensure all the relevant information is put before voters in a credible and dispassionate way. Ideally, the panel should run for some time before the referendum to give as many people as possible the opportunity to interact with it. But this is not an impossible task.

The bigger issues relate to the type of regulatory regime proposed for cannabis, should the voters say yes. Ironically, the way we treat tobacco might be the way forward. Tobacco products are sold in a heavily regulated market, with no advertising or promotion permitted, and sales restricted to those over the age of 18, with heavy Government taxes applied. At the same time, the domestic cultivation of tobacco plants is permitted, but those plants can only be for personal use, and any form of supply to others is a criminal offence.

If the Government is thinking along these lines, then the referendum will need to be designed to reflect this, so the public can be absolutely clear what they are being asked to vote upon. If the Government has another regime in mind, then it will need to present that to the public with equal specificity.

The best way ahead for the Government would be to follow the example of the 1993 MMP referendum. In that case, the new regime was put in place by legislation passed by Parliament before the referendum, and which was only triggered by a positive vote in the referendum, meaning that MMP could be introduced for the 1996 election. Under a similar scenario, the new regulatory regime for recreational cannabis would come into effect once the referendum voted yes, taking the issue off the 2020 election agenda.

To get to this point, however, will require a great deal of very considered and precise work by the Ministries of Justice and Health, and a Bill to be in Parliament within the next three months or so, and passed by early next year, so that the regulatory regime and the public information panel can be established in time for a postal vote in – say – November, (bearing in mind that the August-October period will be dominated by the local body election campaign).