Ill-informed du Fresne attack on Drug Foundation’s Bell over cannabis referendum

Karl du Fresne (Stuff) has taken a swipe at Ross bell of the NZ Drug Foundation, claiming “Ross Bell is not worried about decriminalisation of cannabis but by the thought of the drugs trade being contaminated by the profit motive”: If corporates are best-placed to deliver a safe cannabis market, is that so wrong?

Oh, dear. Ross Bell of the New Zealand Drug Foundation, after years of agitating for relaxation of the drug laws, is fretting that liberalisation might open the way to corporate domination of the cannabis trade.

Hmmm. Perhaps he should heed the old saying about being careful what you wish for.

Bell has long advocated a permissive approach to so-called recreational drugs.

His argument is that drug use should be treated as a health issue rather than criminalised. So you’d expect him to be thrilled that the Government has promised a binding referendum on decriminalisation of cannabis.

You can take it as read that the activists’ ultimate goal is decriminalisation of the drug altogether, and perhaps other drugs too. That’s how advocates of “progressive” social change advance their agenda: incrementally.

That’s a big step from the cannabis referendum, and a major ‘assumption’ based on nothing.

It’s a strategy that relies on a gradual softening-up process. No single step along the way, taken in isolation, is radical enough to alarm the public. Change is often justified on grounds of common sense or compassion, as the legalisation of medicinal cannabis for terminally ill people can be.

But each victory serves as a platform for the next. Once change has bedded in and the public has accepted it as the new normal, the activists advance to the next stage. The full agenda is never laid out, because that might frighten the horses.

That sounds like nothing more than general scare mongering based on nothing.

Now, back to Bell’s misgivings about where the cannabis referendum might lead.

It’s not decriminalisation that worries him. Why would it, when for years he’s been using his taxpayer-subsidised job to lobby for exactly that outcome?

No, what upsets him is the thought of the drugs trade being contaminated by the profit motive. A liberal drugs regime is all very well, just as long as the trade doesn’t fall into the hands of wicked corporate capitalists.

A stupid way to put things. there are legitimate and I think fairly widely held concerns over the commercialisation of cannabis. Alcohol is a good example of how an intoxicating substance can be legally pushed for profit.

Bell’s vision, obviously, is of something much purer and more noble, although it’s not entirely clear what model he has in mind. A People’s Collective, perhaps.

Another baseless assertion.

The parallels with alcohol are obvious. Both can cause great harm to a minority of users, although activists like to play down the adverse consequences of drugs other than alcohol. We don’t hear much, for example, about the devastating effects cannabis can have on the young or the mentally unstable.

I’ve seen and heard quite a lot about that. It’s a primary reason for suggestions that there be an R18 on cannabis – similar to alcohol age restrictions, where even 18 has been controversial.

But if we’re going to have an honest national debate about cannabis, the important thing, surely, is that it should focus on social wellbeing rather than being distorted by covert ideological agendas.

No evidence of ‘covert ideological agendas’, just an assertion targeting someone who has been quite responsible in promoting drug law reform.

Stephen Franks responds:

Russell Brown, one of the best informed advocates of drug law reform in the media joins in.

Going by this (and other ill informed people with their own agendas like Bob McCoskrie (Families First), I think we can expect a fairly knarly debate on the cannabis referendum.

We should welcome robust arguments against too much liberalisation of drug laws, but I hope we get a lot better attempts than this by du Fresne.

The ‘grey area’ of political and non-political work done by parliamentary staffers

When politicians talk about ‘grey areas’ in separation political from non political work done by the staff of MPs they to an extent are correct – much of what an MP does has political connotations. But I think that MPs and parties have also used ‘grey areas’ as a way of excusing pushing boundaries on what work staffers can do. I know that at times these boundaries have been deliberately exceeded.

This can get tricky for parliamentary staff, whose jobs caan be reliant on the political success of the MPs they work for.

Misuse of parliamentary staff is one of the issues raised in the allegations of bullying and inappropriate use of staff made against National MP Maggie Barrie.

NZ Herald: Bridges says Barry management was no cause for concern, welcomes advice on definition of ‘political work’

National Party leader Simon Bridges said there is “an area of grey” in terms of what constitutes political and non-political work by parliamentary staffers and he welcomed scrutiny by the review into bullying at Parliament.

“Where there is a parliamentary purpose, it is clearly acceptable,” Bridges told the Herald.

“But it is really important the Parliamentary Service ensure that MPs and staff know where the line is so that the rules are followed.

“That does require Parliamentary Service to make sure they are educating and showing us the way.”

That’s putting the responsibility on staff. They should be clear about what sort of work they are required to do, and what sort of work is outside their job description.

He was commenting in the light of claims by a former staff member of North Shore MP Maggie Barry, that staff were expected to conduct party-political work such as writing the MP’s regular column including on the Northcote by-election and pamphlet for a National Party conference for over 60-year-olds.

Electoral law expert Andrew Geddis…

…says that MPs pressing their staff into doing political work gave them a far greater advantage in elections than non-MPs and the situation may need closer scrutiny.

“Taxpayer funding to hire MPs’ staff is given so that they can do their jobs as elected representatives, not to help them win re-election,” said Geddis, a professor of law at Otago University.

“If it gets misused for party purposes, sitting MPs get a massive advantage against their unfunded challengers.”

This is one of many financial and logistical advantages for sitting MPs and established parties. Free travel is another.

This can get tricky. Bridges was criticised for clocking up a big travel bill in his tour of the country earlier this year. It is important for the Leader of the Opposition communicate and connect with people around the country, but this is also a form of preliminary election campaigning. And their staff are involved in this.

Another electoral law specialist, Graeme Edgeler, said staff were allowed to be political to quite a large extent and it would boil down to what been in their employment contract.

A press secretary working for the National Party would be writing political press statements attacking the Government and calling for, say, Minister Iain Lees-Galloway to be sacked.

A primary role of an opposition MP is to criticise and attack Ministers, so staff helping with this are an integral part of the political process.

That would be a parliamentary staffer paid by Parliamentary Service doing a clearly political job.

“You are allowed to employ people to be highly partisan…according to parliamentary rules, the employees that you have can be expected to be highly partisan.”

He said there would be limits about how partisan a staffer could be and that assisting an MP for a parliamentary purpose would exclude seeking votes for the MP or fundraising.

Being political is what politicians do, so their staff can’t be disconnected entirely from it.

As Edgeler points out, the biggest issue here may not be that staff do political work, but the imbalance of power and the advantage this gives incumbent politicians over candidates who wish to challenge them – another very important part of our democratic process.

And incumbent MPs are the ones who are involved in making the employment rues for their staff.

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.

Jami-Lee Ross gives proxy vote to National

After over a week of absence Jami-Lee Ross resurfaced yesterday with a notice that he has given his proxy vote to National. He is now an independent MP but hasn’t been in Parliament since he was hospitalised a week and a half ago.

Making a point about ‘the maintenance of proportionality’ may be an attempt to thwart possible attempts to have him removed from parliament under the new waka jumping bill (Simon bridges recently said he has no intention of trying to invoke that at this stage).

 

 

Electoral law wrongdoing “doesn’t amount to much” – yet

If there is an end game, it won’t come this week. And if it won’t come this week, the political shocks for National may just keep coming.

Bridges admitted as much. “I think he has been recording me, and potentially many other members of Parliament, for a very long time.”

If Ross doesn’t crash and burn he could drag this out, just out of spite because his political (and employment) future looks very shaky.

Ross said on Tuesday: “The Electoral Act clearly states knowingly filing a false return is a corrupt practice. I know Simon filed a false return because Todd McClay and I spotted that false name in his return in January and suggested it needed to be tidied up.

“Simon Bridges knows exactly what Cathedral Club is. It was a name he used to hide a donation from a close friend of his. He claimed it was a clerical error. I call BS on that.”

The Herald further uncovered evidence showing Bridges knew what the Cathedral Club had been – because he attended dinners with Ross back in 2006. A photograph from one dinner shows Bhatnagar, Bridges and Ross together.

But if the donation was meant to be to the National Party – and not to Bridges personally – then what of it?

Ross says mistake or not, Bridges signed it and would have done so knowing the name would have meant Bhatnagar.

Geddis? Yes but no, says the law professor.

There is a possible argument of a “technical” breach but it would be extremely unlikely to hold water.

The Electoral Commission has an unofficial grace period, he believes, during which those who submit returns are afforded an opportunity to get the information right.

Curran’s emails an ongoing issue

Clare Curran resigned as a minister last week, but issues remain and look like continuing to receive attention.

Andrew Geddis (@acgeddis):

Re Claire Curran’s gmails … I think people are barking up the wrong legal tree. The question isn’t direct application of the OIA, but rather whether she complied with the Public Records Act 2005. Obligations under that legislation don’t end with her resignation.

If she didn’t so comply, then the Chief Archivist can direct Curran to properly record emails that are “public records” … whereupon they will become “official information” that can be accessed.

Now that Curran will no longer be subject to ministerial scrutiny at Question Time in Parliament, attention may switch to Jacinda Ardern and her handling of the Curran failures.

Geddis on why the Hager apology matters

Law professor Andrew Geddis writes on Why the police’s apology to Nicky Hager matters (this has also been published elsewhere) – apologies for a near full repost but I think is important enough to warrant it.


In the wake of the publication of Dirty Politics back in 2014, the New Zealand Police undertook multiple unlawful breaches of Nicky Hager’s privacy. They’ve now apologised for that – but the important thing is to make sure it does not ever happen again.

Nicky Hager’s book was based on material obtained from the mysteriously named “Rawshark”, who in turn almost certainly obtained it by way of a criminal computer hack. Much was made of this fact at the time, with Mr Hager accused of using “stolen” information. If interested, you can read Mr Hager’s response to that charge here (at question #5).

Irrespective of the ethics of using the material, however, it was clear that Mr Hager had committed no crime. While we still do not know who Rawshark is, no-one seriously believed it was Mr Hager himself. Equally, there was no evidence that Mr Hager colluded with Rawshark in carrying out the original, unlawful hack.

Nevertheless, if you wanted to uncover Rawshark’s identity, Mr Hager was the obvious place to start. And the New Zealand Police decided they very much wanted to find out who Rawshark was – they very, very much wanted to do so. Quite why they felt such a desperate need to determine the perpetrator of this particular crime out of all those committed daily in New Zealand remains something of a mystery, but felt it they did.

For the police embarked on a really quite remarkably terrible investigation to try and trace Rawshark through Mr Hager, which today has led them to issue a comprehensive and I am sure highly embarrassing apology (along with money damages and payment of legal costs). Here’s what they now admit they did wrong.

First of all, they went to Mr Hager’s bank – which was Westpac, if you really want to know – and asked them to please pass over 10-months-worth of Mr Hager’s financial records. Which the bank then did quite happily, despite the police having no legal right to the information. You can read what the Privacy Commissioner thought of that behaviour here (spoiler alert: he was less than impressed).

Then, without even trying to talk to Mr Hager, the police decided he was an “uncooperative witness” in their investigation. In what appears to be an action without precedent in New Zealand, they instead went to the District Court and asked for a warrant to search Mr Hager’s house and remove all papers and electronic devices that might provide them with information that could identify Rawshark.

The problem being that they failed to tell the Court their target was a journalist whose material may be subject to journalistic privilege, as it had been obtained under a promise that its source would remain confidential. The High Court subsequently found that this failure breached the police’s “duty of candour” to the courts, thus rendering the warrant unlawful. In addition, the police now admit that their warrant was overly broad in the material it sought and should have contained conditions to address the possible privilege issues.

So, the search of Mr Hager’s house and removal of his property was, the police admit, unlawful. What is more, by a remarkable coincidence the police search took place at a time when Mr Hager was in another city, meaning that it was an hour before Mr Hager was able to assert journalistic privilege over that property. Despite being alerted to that claim of privilege, the police nevertheless used photos they had taken of an email exchange and website login information to try and track Rawshark down.

Let’s just pause and recap at this point. The police admit that they misled a court by omission into giving them apparent legal authority to raid the house of not a suspect in a crime, but a witness to it. That witness, they knew, was a working journalist whose efficacy depends upon being able to assure his sources (be they law abiding saints or malefactor demons or somewhere in between) that their identity will remain confidential. And despite being alerted that there may be a legal bar on presenting in court the information they had seized, the police admit they went ahead and used some of it anyway to try and unmask their suspect.

Were this the extent of the police’s actions, they would be bad enough. But wait, for there is more. Even after conducting the raid and being told in writing by Mr Hager’s lawyers that he asserted journalistic privilege over all information that may reveal his confidential sources (such as Rawshark), the police continued to approach third parties like Air New Zealand, Jetstar, Customs and Paypal for information about Mr Hager’s activities. Some of it was sought on an informal “please tell us” basis, while some was obtained through formal production orders (which were in turn obtained from the courts without disclosing that they related to a journalist with confidential sources).

And in what is perhaps the most damning indictment of the police’s actions, they now admit that they told some of these third parties they wanted information about Mr Mr Hager because he was suspected of fraud and other criminal activities. This was what is known in legal circles as a complete and utter lie.

Hence the complete and comprehensive nature of the apology to Mr Hager from the police. As I’ve had cause to say about it in a quote that Mr Hager’s legal team included in their press release about the settlement:

The series of failures admitted by the police indicates a deeply concerning failure to both understand the legal constraints on their powers and the fundamental importance of individual rights. This comprehensive apology hopefully indicates that the message has been driven home and such behaviour will not happen in the future.

Because I accept that a political culture where individuals routinely turn to criminal activity to try and unmask their opponent’s claimed wrongdoings would be a bad one. James O’Keefe would not be a welcome fixture in our democratic process. And even criminal hypocrites like the target of Rawshark’s original hack have a general right to privacy that the law ought to protect.

So, seeking to identify and prosecute Rawshark was not in itself an unreasonable response by the police. However, turning the journalist who used the information gained through Rawshark’s actions into a virtual criminal co-conspirator from whom information will be obtained by any means necessary is completely unreasonable and dangerous to our democracy. It should never have happened, and should never happen again.

Law Society drops action against Catriona MacLennan

The Law Society advised today that they would be taking no further action against lawyer Catriona MacLennan, who criticised a judge for discharging a man guilty of violence, saying it was an understandable reaction.


Standards Committee issues decision on lawyer who said Judge wasn’t fit to sit on the bench

A Lawyers Standards Committee has decided to take no further action against a lawyer who said it was inappropriate for a District Court Judge to continue to serve on the bench.

Auckland Barrister, Catriona MacLennan’s statements were the subject of an investigation following her public criticism of Judge John Brandts-Giesen.

Judge Brandts-Giesen discharged a Queenstown man without conviction in a domestic violence case last year. The man had assaulted his wife, a male friend and his daughter.

The judge said, ‘This is a situation that does your wife no credit and does the [male] no credit’ and ‘there would be many people who would have done exactly what you did, even though it may be against the law to do so.’

A member of the public complained about Ms MacLennan’s criticism of the judge, prompting the committee to investigate.

Acting Executive Director of the New Zealand Law Society Mary Ollivier says the Standards Committee considered the explanation Ms MacLennan provided for her comments.

“It accepted that lawyers can express their views on the performance of judges but that those comments must be considered and not cross a line that could cause the public to lose confidence in the role of the judiciary and the role judges play in the administration of justice. The committee did not consider that Ms MacLennan’s comments had crossed that line. Her experience as an advocate for victims of domestic violence and the sentiment in which the comments were made were factors in the decision,” Mrs Ollivier says.

Mrs Ollivier says the high level of interest in this investigation by the public and the profession warranted the rare move of releasing the full decision by the Standards Committee.


Newsroom covers McLennan’s response in Law Society ends inquiry over judge criticism

MacLennan wrote about the complaint for Newsroom in a powerful defence of her right to speak out.

“I am pleased the investigation has been ended. It should never have been started.

“I will be writing to Justice Minister Andrew Little to put my concerns before him and ask him to take action. The fact that a Law Society body would fail to follow natural justice and other basic principles of our legal system is deeply concerning.

“I am also alarmed that the Law Society appears to place so little importance on freedom of speech, which is guaranteed to every New Zealander under section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

“The case highlights the vital role of the media. I could not have fought the investigation without making it public and having the media scrutinising what was happening.

“My view is that the role of lawyers is to stand up for the vulnerable and disadvantaged and to speak out about injustice. My opinion is that the Law Society itself should have spoken publicly to criticise Judge Brandts-Giesen’s remarks and his decision to grant a discharge without conviction.

“Upholding the rule of law and the dignity of the judiciary does not mean unquestioningly supporting the judiciary even when they err.”

Newsroom also has comments from former Supreme Court judge Sir Edmund (Ted) Thomas…

…the decision completely vindicates MacLennan “but it is otherwise a treatise in self-justification”.

“The committee seeks to justify a decision that should never have been made in the first place. The committee advances seven reasons for taking no further action. All those reasons would have been known to, or easily ascertained by, the committee at the time it launched its own complaint.”

Justice Thomas said the committee did not express regret “let alone proffer an apology” for the decision. “Yet it must know that an ‘own-complaint’ can have a devastating impact on the recipient.”

He said the MacLennan comments had been temperate, measured and responsible and the committee had been unduly precious.

“With respect, the committee needs training in the meaning of free speech.”

He planned to write to the Law Society president and council urging a review of the membership and procedures of its standards committee and whether it accorded with natural justice.

“Domestic violence is a serious problem in New Zealand. Ms MacLennan served the public interest in taking the Judge to task. It is the committee that is out of step. This is confirmed by the massive support Ms MacLennan has received from the profession.”

Andrew Geddis (@acgeddis):

Having now seen the Law Society’s National Standards Committee’s (NSC’s) report in full, here’s what I think happened.

Catriona made her remarks about the judge, which (most) everyone now says are OK (including the NSC). But some member of the public didn’t like them – so they complained to the Law Society, alleging the remarks called the justice system and the court into disrepute.

The NSC asked Catriona for a response, so she told it that the complainant did not have the legislatively required personal connection to what she said. The NSC agreed with this, so dismissed the member of the public’s complaint as they had no standing to bring it.

BUT, the NSC then decided to hold an inquiry into Catriona’s remarks on its “own motion” (i.e. off its own bat). Why? If we’re charitable, it wanted to avoid a lawyer escaping a breach of standards finding on what could be described as a technicality.

BUT, should we be charitable? The NSC can only commence an “own motion” investigation regarding “any act, omission, allegation, practice, or other matter that appears to indicate that there may have been misconduct or unsatisfactory conduct on the part of a practitioner.”

Could Catriona’s criticism of the judge in question, even given that it involved saying the judge was not fit to continue sitting, be thought to reach that level of seriousness?

Of course, the NSC stands by its decision, saying that it has a job to help protect the dignity of the judiciary from being undermined by lawyers because judges cannot protect itself (I guess contempt of court isn’t a thing any more?)

It also takes a snide swipe at Catriona, suggesting: “Had [she] provided the NSC with the contents of her written submissions dated 11 April 2018 in response to the NSC’s letter of 7 March 2018, it is likely that the NSC would not have set this matter down for a hearing.”

But given that Catriona’s submissions didn’t really say anything more than “the judge’s comments were manifestly terrible given NZ’s record of domestic violence and so he shouldn’t be a judge”, it’s not clear to me what they told the NSC that it didn’t already know.

SO … overall conclusion? The NSC overreached here, taking on an issue that it really ought to have left alone. Having done so, it’s now scrabbling to justify its initial decision to investigate given that everyone says there’s no way it ever could have punished Catriona.

 

 

 

Poll: 13% want Maori seats scrapped ASAP

A 1 News Colmar Brunton poll asked what New Zealander’s views on the Maori seats were.

  • They should be kept: 55%
  • They should be abolished some time in the future: 23%
  • They should be abolished as soon as possible: 13%

So there is not much immediate pressure to abolish the Maori seats.

1 News: Majority of New Zealanders want to retain the Maori seats

The poll tested opinion after Winston Peters announced three weeks ago that a referendum on the Maori seats was a bottom line for New Zealand First support after the election.

Maori Party co leader Te Ururoa Flavell says…

…he’s “pretty buoyed” by those results.

“I think that endorses the notion that New Zealanders see some value in those seats, number one, and rejects the notion that has been promulgated by Mr Peters”.

Winston Peters:

“The MMP promise was that in time it would demonstrate there was no need for Maori seats. And today we’ve got 24 per cent.”

I think he’s referring to 24% of MPs who identify as Maori.

Prime Minister Bill English:

“We’ve always said our preference is current coalition partners. We don’t rule out New Zealand First.”

An odd comment on this but that has a clear implication National value the Maori Party as a coalition partner and have no immediate plans to address the Maori Seat question.

Ardern’s comment in the 1 News item doesn’t relate to the Maori seat question, but she was clear on The Nation in the weekend:

Lisa Owen: OK, well, while we’re talking about the Maori seats, Winston Peters– This is another one of Winston’s bottom lines is to have a referendum on the Maori seats. Would you pay that price? Would you be prepared to pay that price to get into government?

Kelvin Davis: We’re not going to have a referendum on Maori seats. It’s off the table.

…Jacinda Ardern: The makeup of government will be determined by voters. So voters deserve to know what each political party’s position on those issues are. Labour’s position on that issue is that the Maori seats are for Maori to decide. Labour will allow only Maori to make the decision about those seats. That is our position.

Lisa Owen: All right. So, is Labour’s position, Labour’s policy, no referendum on Maori seats?

Jacinda Ardern: Only Maori should have the decision around whether or not those seats remain. We’ll stay firm on that…

…Lisa Owen: No, I’m asking you your policy. I’m asking your policy.

Jacinda Ardern: And I’m being very clear – only Maori will decide whether those Maori seats remain. We have no reason right now– I have not heard from–

Lisa Owen: That leaves the door open for a referendum of people on the Maori roll.

Jacinda Ardern: No, it does not. Maori have not raised the need for those seats to go, so why would we ask the question?

Andrew Geddis at The Spinoff:  The trouble with Winston Peters’ referendums

…his call to allow voters to decide the future of the Māori seats is superficially attractive. However, it ignores the fact that the five-yearly Māori electoral option already provides a de-facto referendum on this question.

During this option period, every voter of Māori descent can choose whether to be on the Maori or General electoral roll. If enough Māori voters decide to switch from the Māori to the General roll, then the Māori seats automatically will cease to exist.

Instead, 55% of all Māori voters prefer to be on the Māori roll. That point really needs emphasising; a majority of those Māori enrolled to vote consciously have chosen that the Māori seats should continue.

So most Maori prefer to be on the Maori seats, and most New Zealanders (78%) support retaining the seats or see see it as something to look at some time in the future.

Peters now is proposing the non-Māori majority will get to decide the future of these seats for Māori. That is just a really, really bad idea. Putting aside the sheer injustice of the proposal, it is a recipe for divisive social conflict.

And so, the Constitutional Review Panel charged with examining New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements concluded in 2013:

Although the Panel received a large number of submissions supporting the removal of the Māori seats this option is not recommended. It is inappropriate for longstanding rights of a minority to be taken away simply because that minority is outnumbered. The existence of the Māori seats does not impede or limit the rights of other New Zealanders to exercise their vote.

For the same reason the Panel does not support the view it heard that a general referendum should be held on the retention or abolition of the Māori seats. The question about options for the Māori seats and Māori representation requires a more nuanced decision-making tool that takes account of minority views. The Panel agrees that the decision about the future of Māori seats should remain in the hands of Māori.

That conclusion was right then, and it remains right today. Peter’s attempt to stir up some Don-Brash-Orewa-speech-era poll magic is a mad, bad and dangerous one.

An important aspect of a representative democracy (and a key reason why we have such a system) is that it is a responsibility of elected representatives to protect the rights of minorities.

That’s why we don’t have binding referendums on reducing taxes for the majority and putting them up for a minority, or having state subsidies on fuel, or banning minority political parties, or banning Catholics, or scrapping the Maori seats.

Winston’s referendums “daft” and “dangerous”

Winston Peters has said that having binding referendums on the Maori seats in Parliament and the number of MPs in Parliament is non-negotiable. Sort of. Winston-speak means anything can change if it suits him.

RNZ:  Peter’s referendum call would sideline Māori – Fox

At his party’s annual convention in Auckland, Mr Peters said the Māori seats should go and promised a mid-term binding referendum on whether to abolish the seven seats. Voters would also decide whether to reduce the number of MPs in Parliament to 100.

“My strategy is to tell everyone out there that you will not be talking to New Zealand First unless you want a referendum on both those issues – mid-term after this election.”

That effectively rules out both Labour and the Greens on the Maori seats. National has a policy to do away with the Maori seats but that’s on the back burner as they make use of Maori Party votes to maintain a majority.

But in The trouble with Winston Peters’ referendums Andrew Geddis says that “One is daft and the other is daft and dangerous”.

First, reducing the number of MPs from the current 120 to 100.

Even if you believe that voters generally should get a greater direct say on public policy, these are particularly silly things to promise a vote on.

Take the number of MPs. Asking people if they would like fewer politicians has some immediately obvious appeal. So, it’s little surprise that at a 1999 non-binding citizens initiated referendum, 81.5% of voters approved of reducing the number of MPs to 99.

But a parliamentary backgrounder at the time of that referendum showed that there really was no justification for such a reduction in parliamentary numbers. That message then was echoed by Parliament’s Justice and Electoral Committee in a 2006 report on a members’ bill proposing to cut MP numbers in line with the referendum result:

“The current number of 120 members ensures proportionality and diversity in Parliament and thus contributes to its effectiveness; and we consider it essential that these benefits are not compromised. We do not consider that New Zealand is over-represented compared with other countries, especially given that it is a unicameral system.”

And the proposal is even dafter now than when it was when mooted at the end of the 1990s. Parliament last had 99 MPs back in 1993, prior to MMP’s introduction. At that point New Zealand’s population was 3.6 million, meaning we had one MP for every 36,363 people.

Today, our population is 4.8 million. If we want to use the apparently halcyon pre-MMP days as our baseline, today’s Parliament actually should have 132 MPs on a straight population growth basis.

So going the other way and reducing the number of MPs and would significantly reduce our representation.

Second, whether to retain the Māori seats in Parliament.

Similarly, his call to allow voters to decide the future of the Māori seats is superficially attractive. However, it ignores the fact that the five-yearly Māori electoral option already provides a de-facto referendum on this question.

During this option period, every voter of Māori descent can choose whether to be on the Maori or General electoral roll. If enough Māori voters decide to switch from the Māori to the General roll, then the Māori seats automatically will cease to exist.

Instead, 55% of all Māori voters prefer to be on the Māori roll. That point really needs emphasising; a majority of those Māori enrolled to vote consciously have chosen that the Māori seats should continue.

Peters now is proposing the non-Māori majority will get to decide the future of these seats for Māori. That is just a really, really bad idea. Putting aside the sheer injustice of the proposal, it is a recipe for divisive social conflict.

Peters thrives on promoting divisive issues. There’s votes in it, and his priority is getting votes, not what’s democratically sound.

Geddis has A little bit more on Winston’s proposed referendums:

Peters is flat out lying about the Māori seats. Today he told RNZ’s Morning Report that:

The vast majority of Māori, entitled to be on the Māori roll, are on the general roll.

Here’s the actual statistics from the Electoral Commission at the end of the 2013 Maori Electoral Option period (the last time that voters of Māori descent got to choose which electoral roll to be on).

At that time, there were 228,718 voters on the Māori roll, or 55% of all voters of Māori descent. On the general roll there were 184,630 voters of Māori descent, or 45% of that cohort. So far from the “vast majority” not being on the Māori roll, a small but significant majority of Māori voters positively have chosen to do so. And by making that choice, they thereby indicate their support for the Māori seats continuing in the future … because the more Māori on the Māori roll, the more such Māori seats there are.

He also has two additional reasons why the thinks it is bad to reduce the number of seats in Parliament from 120 to 100.

First of all, even if the number of parliamentary seats were cut to 100, the number of electorates would remain at 71. This is because the statutory formula that provides that number is entrenched – you can’t change it except by a 75% vote of MPs or a separate, stand alone referendum.

I guess Parliament could get enough support to change that.

That means there would only be 29 list seats to apportion in order to create overall proportionality in an MMP Parliament. And this simply isn’t be enough to do so – we will frequently see Parliaments that are distorted by “parliamentary overhangs” where parties win more electorate seats than their share of the party vote actually entitles them to.

Furthermore, at present there are 27 Ministers in the executive branch, or 22.5% of the total number of MPs. Cut the size of Parliament to 100, and that executive branch becomes some 27% of total MPs – tightening the stranglehold that it already applies to the legislative branch.

So cutting the number of MPs to 100 will not only damage how MMP functions, but it will lead to even greater executive dominance of Parliament as an institution.

So there are obvious problems with the proposed referendums.

There is also no guarantee National would agree to having them, and Labour and Greens would seem to rule out considering it.

And the reality is that Peters is unlikely to be able to insist on all his bottom line policies. He is extremely unlikely to get anywhere near a majority say in a coalition.

See  Number of Electorates and Electoral Populations: 2013 Census  –  Media Release