Helen Clark asserts abortion issue doesn’t need a referendum

The resounding vote for women’s rights in the Irish abortion referendum has raised the positing that a referendum on abortion in New Zealand may bring our laws into the 21st century (if that’s what a majority wants).

But Helen Clark doesn’t think this is necessary – a bit ironic given her lack of action as Prime Minister.

A curious comment given that Helen Clark led the New Zealand Government for nine years without promoting any consultation or policy or legislation that address the archaic and largely ignored abortion law.

Governments and parties have proven to be very conservative on a number of important social issues, like abortion, cannabis and drug law reform, and euthanasia. Some may say gutless.

A push for referendums may be a way to push the Government to actually do something. Nothing much else has worked, apart from private members’ bills, so threatening to take some of their power (and give it to the people) might be what it needs to get them to actually do something rather than say they could have like Clark has.

And a referendum doesn’t take away the need for “Policy and legislation can be developed in a consultative way” – that is required with or without a referendum.

I’d be quite happy for the Government to just fix our demeaning abortion law and our disastrous drug laws, but if those changes were confirmed by popular vote it would strengthen their standing.

I think that euthanasia should go to referendum anyway.

Ireland abortion vote puts New Zealand law to shame

Ireland has just resoundingly voted to modernise their abortion law, giving women the choice the should have.

This highlights New Zealand’s shameful persistence with law that is not fit for purpose to the extent that it is virtually ignored in practice, although it forces women into a demeaning process.

We should add abortion to the referendum list for next year, along with personal use of cannabis and euthanasia.

The last Government was not interested in addressing the abortion anomaly.

Abortion was not addressed in either the Labour-NZ First or Labour-Green governing agreements.

However Jacinda Ardern campaigned against the current law – Abortion ‘shouldn’t be a crime’ (September 2017):

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern says abortion should not be in the Crimes Act and she would change the law.

Access to abortion is governed by the Crimes Act 1961 and the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977.

“It shouldn’t be in the Crimes Act. People need to be able to make their own decision. People need to be able to make their own decisions. I want women who want access to be able to have it as a right.”

At the same time Bill English supported the law as it is but also supported a conscience vote:

Prime Minster Bill English, a conservative Catholic, said he supported the law as it was and he would be opposed to liberalisation. He described the current set-up, where a woman has to get a certificate from two separate medical professionals saying she needed an abortion, was “broadly acceptable” and was working.

However, English said it would be a “conscience decision”, so his MP could vote freely on it.

Why not let the people vote on it?

February 2018: Labour moves to legalise abortion

Andrew Little surprised observers today when he revealed that a draft referral on reforming New Zealand’s abortion law had been circulated to New Zealand First and the Greens. Little said today that he received a letter from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern after the coalition was formed directing him to begin the process of reforming the law.

Once the two parties give feedback, the referral will be sent to the Law Commission to make a recommendation.

New Zealand is not just out of step with modern law, it is also out of step with modern practices.

New Zealand is an outlier among OECD countries for the time it takes to get an abortion and the way abortions are provided to patients.

In New Zealand, a patient must be referred to two specialists to sign-off on the abortion. If one refuses, the woman may need to find a third specialist. The average time from referral to procedure is 25 days.

In other countries the it can take just a week from referral to procedure. This makes it more likely for New Zealand patients to require a surgical, rather than a medical abortion, as they have passed the nine week mark.

In New Zealand, only 15 percent of abortions are medical abortions. By contrast, 62 percent of abortions in the UK are medical abortions and 45 percent of abortions performed before nine weeks (two-thirds of the total number) in the United States are medical abortions.

Terry Bellamak, President of the Abortion Law Reform Association…

…said that she would like to see abortion wiped from the Crimes Act and the restrictive grounds for abortion abolished.

Currently, abortion can be granted on the grounds that the pregnancy is a risk to the physical or mental health of the mother; that there is a substantial risk the child will be seriously handicapped; that the pregnancy is a result of incest; or that the woman is deemed to be “severely subnormal”.

Bellamak said she would like New Zealand’s law to be reformed along the lines of Canada.

“Canada has absolutely no abortion laws and no regulations around abortion. They simply trust women,” she said.

Andrew Little refused to give much detail on what reform might look like…

…but suggested it might be broader than taking abortion out of the Crimes Act.

“There are more issues than just what’s in the Crimes Act … it’s also the hurdles that have been put in the way of women who are faced with making that decision”.

The vote would be a conscience vote, meaning MPs would be given the ability to vote freely without following a party line.

Why not a people vote, in a referendum along with cannabis and euthanasia?

Ardern and Little support reform.

Greens have actively campaigned on reform: Abortion – it’s time to decriminalise

The Green Party supports the decriminalisation of abortion because we trust women to make decisions that are best for them and their whānau/family. We want to ensure equal access to all potential options are available to pregnant women.

We want to change the abortion laws because:

  • The fact that 99% of abortions are approved on ‘mental health’ grounds reveals the dishonesty of the current legal situation.
  • The time taken to see two consultants means abortions happen later in the pregnancy. This is more dangerous for the woman, and it makes it difficult to access medical abortions (those which are conducted using medicine rather than surgery), which can only be performed at under 9 weeks’ gestation.
  • Rape (sexual violation) is not grounds for abortion under NZ law.
  • To reduce the stigma and judgement that happens over the reasons a woman chooses to have an abortion (e.g. rape being seen as more justified grounds for abortion than poverty).
  • Abortion’s continuing criminal status helps reinforce geographical variations in access to abortion services.
  • The current laws are discriminatory towards people with disabilities.

We also want to change the presumption that currently exists within medical culture and wider society, encouraged by the wording in the legislation, that if there is a significant disability diagnosis then an abortion is assumed to be desirable.

While English supported an MP conscience vote on abortion Simon Bridges could be different. In February when he became National leader:

Bridges told Mediaworks abortion should be “rare, safe and legal and I think the emphasis there is on rare. I think that’s where the vast majority of New Zealanders are”.

If that’s his view I think Bridges is out of touch with new Zealand.

Vice have noted he: “Voted to appoint a doctor strongly opposed to abortion to the Abortion Supervisory Committee.”

In principle NZ First supports people deciding things by referendum. In March last year Tracey Martin pointed this out in Politically, Abortion change rests with NZ First so what does that look like?

What’s our view on abortion legislation?

Abortions should be safe, legal and rare.

We have a policy of citizen-initiated binding referendum, held at the same time as a general election – a policy we have had for 23 years – this is one of those issues for such a referendum. It should not be decided by temporarily empowered politicians but by the public.

We need a 12 to 18 month conversation around this issue and then let the people have their say.

Topics that we would be suggest be associated with this discussion would include: Moving the issue from the Criminal Act to the Health Act, ensuring women get the best possible advice, getting more research into “why” women find themselves needing to seek this service and how can we assist them to avoid having to seek this service.

It makes more sense to me to have a referendum a year before the election. It separates issues decided from the politics of general elections, and is a very good way of engaging the public in democracy.

 

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).

Possible double referendum – cannabis and euthanasia

The prospect of a referendum to accept or reject legislation decided in parliament for the personal use of cannabis has already been raised – with the referendum possible by late next year. See Cannabis legislation and referendum in 2019?

Now it has been suggested that a similar democratic process be used for euthanasia.

Newshub: Kiwis could vote on euthanasia and cannabis at the same time

New Zealand First said it would support the voluntary euthanasia Bill currently before Parliament if a conscience vote allowing a binding referendum on the law could be held.

Justice Minister Andrew Little said if the referendum goes ahead, it could make sense to combine the two referenda.

“If you’re gonna do one, you might as well do a job lot,” he explained. “It would make sense to not have to spend a lot of money on a succession of referenda.”

It does make sense to have a combined referendum.

And for conscience issues like these it makes a lot of sense to have Parliament decide on possible legislation – with the usual public input via submissions and lobbying – and then to put that to referendum to let the public vote to accept or reject the legislation.

This is a very good way to improve public participation in politics.

It should also help focus MPs in Parliament on coming up with the best possible legislation for any given issue.

There’s no decision yet on when the referendum on cannabis will be held.

“Cabinet just hasn’t got around to considering the details of it,” Mr Little told Newshub.

“Obviously, when we consider a date for it, we need to weigh up [whether] we run it at the same time as the general election – there would be some cost saving with that – or the other question is, do we want the general election dominated by the referendum?”

Important public issues like cannabis and euthanasia would be better addressed in a referendum separate from an election, so that the influence of party politics, by design or by association, was minimised.

The Greens have different preferences on when the cannabis referendum should be held.

Green Party leader James Shaw would prefer to hold the referendum at the same time as the election.

“People are going to be going to the polling booths anyway,” Mr Shaw said.

Shaw should rethink this – he should consider what is best for public participation in democracy rather than what he thinks might work best for the Green Party.

As to whether the referendum could end up dominating the election period, Mr Shaw said “there are ways you can stay out of the politics of it.”

Get real. There is no way of avoiding politics dominating general elections, and it is unlikely any party – including the Greens – would not put their own interests ahead of referendum choices.

Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick has shown some support for a separate referendum.

Greens spokesperson of drug law reform Chloe Swarbrick said if it’s held in 2019, that could avoid politicising the issue.

“If we hold it in 2019, it may not be deeply politicised, polarised or pigeon-holed – and we are hopefully able to have more of an evidentiary discussion.

“If we hold it in 2020 we might end up with something where it dominates the issues and we don’t end up talking about things like housing, criminal justice or healthcare.”

She also liked a Tweet of mine yesterday that applauded the legislation-referendum approach separate to the general election.

I think that it would provide a very good template for improving public democratic participation, and and excellent way to decide on what to do about cannabis and euthanasia law.

And I think that having two issues to vote on at the same time would enhance the process, as long as it was separate from a general election.

Cannabis legislation and referendum in 2019?

The Government are considering legislation and referendum on the personal use of cannabis in 2019 – they are committed to a referendum by 2020, but legislation followed by a referendum next year would be an excellent approach.

This sounds very sensible. The Government should be encouraged to take this approach.

The Labour-Green Confidence and Supply Agreement guarantees a referendum by 2020:

19. Increase funding for alcohol and drug addiction services and ensure drug use is treated as a health issue, and have a referendum on legalising the personal use of cannabis at, or by, the 2020 general election.

Now RNZ report: NZ may vote on cannabis legalisation in 2019

(Note – RNZ repeatedly referred to ‘marijuana but I have replaced that with ‘cannabis’)

The government is currently debating whether to hold the referendum in 2019 because it’s not sure holding it at the 2020 General Election would be a smart move politically.

The referendum on legalising cannabis was part of the confidence and supply deal struck between Labour and the Greens – although Winston Peters’ backs one too.

I don’t think there can be any guarantees about whether Winston Peters or NZ First would support this. Their stance on cannabis has been vague and variable over the past few years. NZ First back using referendums in general, but with notable exceptions – Peters was strongly opposed to the flag referendum.

Justice Minister Andrew Little said the government’s contemplating holding it next year, rather than in 2020.

“There’s two competing issues, one is it would be convenient to have it then (2020) we’ve got a General Election so we’re already running a ballot there.

“On the other hand, there would be other colleagues who would say ‘well we don’t necessarily want a General Election run on this particular sort of issue, so let’s have it at a different time’ – that issue hasn’t been resolved and it will be a little while before it is, I suspect.”

Campaigning on cannabis could be a major distraction in a general election – but it could improve voter turnout.

Mr Little acknowledged the government had a lot of work to do before any vote.

“We need to make sure there is good public information out there, good events for people to express their views, so that would dictate a timing that would be no earlier that late 2019.”

He said the government still did not know what sort of legalised cannabis system it will propose putting in place.

“We simply haven’t got anywhere near that, I think it’s about getting the mechanics of the referendum sorted, then I think obviously some discussions around scope and maybe some options there.

“The critical question is going to be, what is the question to go to the electorate with, one that makes sense and gives a meaningful answer and gives a mandate if it is approved to proceed with further work – if it’s not approved of course it’s all over.”

Having fair and clear referendum questions is very important.

Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick said other aspects of how the referendum will be run are still being hammered out too.

“The first thing we have to consider is whether we put legislation before the House first which will then be triggered by whatever the threshold may be of that referendum turn out.

“We’re still working through that, so we’re working with other government parties and inside our own caucus to discern what the best course of action will be,” Ms Swarbrick said.

Swarbrick generally seems to have stepped up capably and done a very good job as a first term MP in a party in Government.

Having legislation before Parliament, with public submissions and a conscience vote, makes a lot of sense. Then let the public approve or disapprove of the legislation via the referendum.

The problem with having the referendum first is that the subsequent legislative process in Parliament could then either be restricted by the referendum question, or could move away from the intent of the electorate.

The legislation then referendum approach could establish a very good model for engaging the public in the democratic process.

Legislation on personal cannabis use next year, followed by an approve/disapprove referendum late in the year, sounds like an excellent option for both cannabis and drug reform (whether it happens or not), and also for democracy.

This doesn’t mean the personal use of cannabis would become legal, but it means that the public would properly get to make the decision.

Greens want to dump referendums so they can force separate Māori wards

Several local bodies have failed in their attempts to impose Māori wards on their constituencies, with voters initiating petitions forcing referendums that subsequently voted strongly against separate democratic privileges – see Māori wards and democracy.

Undeterred by determination through the current democratic process, Green co-leader Marama Davidson is promoting “a movement”  for  “Māori wards right across the country”.

NewstalkZB: Green Party not giving up on Maori wards

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson is refusing to give up the fight to create separate Maori wards, after Whakatane and Palmerston North both voted against the wards in binding referendums.

Davidson says it’s wrong for the majority to be setting the rules for minorities.

“Passing my law, which would have removed that referendum step and which would leave the decision in the hands of the elected councillors, is what is sorely needed.”

She has a law to take a means of democratic decision making out of the hands of voters.

Last year: Greens introduce Bill to make local wards process fair

The Green Party has today entered a Member’s Bill into the ballot that would make local government representation more equitable by ensuring that the establishment of both Māori and general wards on district and regional councils follows the same legal process.

“I’m really excited to be launching my new Member’s Bill today, which will ensure that the process for establishing Māori wards at a local government level is equitable and fair, and honours our commitments under Te Tiriti o Waitangi,” said Green Party Māori development spokesperson Marama Davidson.

Green Farm: ‘All votes are equal…but some vote should be more equal than others’.

“This unfair double standard in our electoral law works to limit Māori representation at local government level throughout the country.

Māori currently have the same opportunities for representation as everyone else. Davidson wants them to have separated representation. Davidson is promoting one standard for Māori the is different for the standard for everyone else.

Why just Māori wards? Why not women’s wards, LBGT wards, immigrant group wards, and white male wards?

“Removing this discriminatory provision is the right thing to do.

With a more discriminatory, less democratic provision?

“The Green Party has a proud history of standing up to honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi. This is a continuation of our work as the political leaders on advancing kaupapa Māori and honouring Te Tiriti,” Ms Davidson said.

By promoting separatist local body democracy. I’m not aware of Te Tiriti o Waitangi stipulating separate democratic rights. There are valid historical reasons for the establishment of the national Māori electorates, and there is no strong indications that voters want that changed – but there are strong indications in New Plymouth, Manawatu, Kaikoura and Whakatane that separate wards are not wanted.

Having lost out in the democratic process Davidson wants the rules changed so she can have what she wants. This is alarming from a party leader.

From the Green’s Open Government and Democracy Policy:

Vision

  • We have a proportional electoral system that is transparent and fair.

This refers to ‘a proportional electoral system’, not dual systems. Fair for all, or ‘more fair’ for some?

Key Principles

1. Key decisions on the shape of the nation’s electoral system belong to the people, not political parties.

And not councils. But Davidson wants this principle overturned so councils can ignore their constituents.

2. The votes of all electors are of equal weight in influencing election results.

Except Davidson wants added weight for a select minority.

6. The electoral system should encourage close links and accountability between individual MPs and their constituents or constituencies.

8. Active democratic processes require more than periodic elections and stronger mechanisms are needed for the ongoing engagement of informed citizens in the development and enactment of key national and local policies.

But Davidson wants to remove the right of local body voters to petition for referendums so they can have their say.

A. Changing the existing system

The Green Party will only consider supporting changes to the Electoral Act if:

1. The only effect of the change is to grant the right to vote to some group of citizens and permanent residents of Aotearoa New Zealand, who were previously ineligible to vote; or
2. The changes are adjustments to the existing electoral system that have been recommended by an independent commission, and that are consistent with our Key Principles.

Separate Māori wards are excluded by point 1. because Māori are already eligible to vote.

I’m not aware of any independent commission recommending Māori wards.

Māori wards are not consistent with Green Party Key Principles, but who needs to bother about principles when a party leader wants to override the current democratic systems?

Another Green democracy ‘vision’:

  • We are actively engaged in our democracy and are able to meaningfully participate in government decision-making.

That’s ok as an ideal, but you can’t make people actively engage in our democracy. Local body referendum turnouts were all close to 40%.

And Davidson wants to remove a petition/referendum means of meaningful participation because she disagrees with the democratic outcome.

Perhaps Davidson should try some meaningful participation and actively engage with Māori non-voters, and find out what would encourage them to engage and vote. That would be much better than trying to change the democratic rules when you don’t get the results you want.

It would be great if more Māori voted. It would also be great if more Māori  candidates stood, and if more Māori candidates were good enough to get voted on to local body governments.

B. Changing to a new system

The Green Party will consider supporting changing to a new electoral system only if:

1. The new electoral system is approved by a free and fair referendum of all people in Aotearoa New Zealand eligible to vote under the existing laws. The referendum should have the following characteristics:
a) The referendum process is determined by an independent commission not by members of parliament

Davidson wants to do the opposite.

Great to get more Māori  voting and standing and elected. But terrible for a party leader to try to change the rules to get what she wants.

Not only is Davidson promoting double democratic standards, she is promoting very different democratic standards to he party principles and policies.

Māori wards and democracy

Five regions have had or are having referendums on whether they should have Māori wards. Councils have decided to introduce wards but referendums have been forced.

Palmerston North result:

  • 68.7% AGAINST the establishment of a Māori ward or wards for Palmerston North City Council
  • 30.88% FOR the establishment of a Māori ward or wards for Palmerston North City Council

Initial voter return 37.21% so a majority didn’t vote, but of those who did a clear majority voted against.

Manawatu District result:

  • 77.04% Against
  • 22.76% For

Voter Return 44.47%.

Whakatane District:

  • Against Māori Wards 55.43%
  • For Māori Wards 44.33%

Voter return 44%.

That was closer but still a clear majority.

RNZ: MP surprised and disappointed Whakatāne rejected Māori wards

The MP for Waiariki says the rejection of Māori wards in Whakatāne is a huge disappointment.

Mr Coffey said the results meant Pākehā councillors would remain the voice of Māori in the Whakatāne District Council.

He said given the high percentage of Māori in Whakatāne, he was surprised at the result.

That suggests that he and the councils that tried to bring in Māori wards are out of touch with the electorates.

“I had thought if there was one place in New Zealand that was going to get it over the line it would be Whakatāne but sadly I was wrong.”

Mr Coffey said he was in talks with the mayor about other ways to have more representation for Māori in the area.

Instead of promoting separate wards for some voters, why not promote equal democracy for everyone?

All the time and effort put into trying to bring in an obviously unpopular ward system and campaigning for referendums might be better put towards encouraging greater Maori participation in democracy open to everyone.

I think it’s backward trying to give special democratic privileges to some people.

These referendum results may make other councils think more carefully before trying to impose privileged democracy on their constituents.

Good ways and bad ways to conduct referendums

Our binding referenda on constitutional issues like MMP have followed good process.

There were some valid questions about how the two referendums on the New Zealand flag were conducted, but the main problem with that process was political interference with attempts to discredit the process by some because they didn’t want flag change, and by others because while they supported flag change they opposed it being initiated by John Key – in other words, the process was trashed by petty politics.

The smacking referendum was a waste of time, it was non-binding so was toothless, and the question asked was vague and therefore futile.

We will have at least one referendum during or at the end of this term, could have two and may have more.

Graeme Edgeler has posted about good ways and bad ways to do referendums in How not to waste millions of taxpayer dollars

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

During the course of this Parliament, New Zealand will conduct one or perhaps two, referendums – one of the legalisation of cannabis use (a result of the Green Party’s confidence and supply agreement with the Labour Party), and perhaps another on euthanasia. Unfortunately, indications are not promising that the process for either these referendums will be good.

During September, October and November last year Australia conducted a referendum. We should learn from its mistake. Australia’s nationwide “plebiscite” on the legalisation of same sex marriage, in an exceedingly useful example of how not to conduct a public referendum.

How it went is no longer breaking news: a sizeable majority of the voting public indicated support, and then the Federal Parliament passed a law providing for it.

The marriage vote asked Australia voters to give a yes or no answer to the question:

“Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?”

This is a perfectly reasonable question to ask to get a general sense of public feeling about a general issue, but is a stupid question to ask when wanting guidance on what a law should say.

So it’s better if a law change is defined then voted on.

How should you vote if you wanted politicians yet-to-consider a same-sex marriage bill to know that you would support changing the law to allow people of the same sex to marry, but would object to a law which might require churches to marry people in breach of church doctrine?

How should you vote if you wanted politicians to know that you thought people of the same sex should be able to marry, but would find offensive a system where a whole new law was created, setting up a separate same-sex marriage register, with separate same-sex marriage celebrants wholly separate from marriage celebrants?

You couldn’t. Holding a vote in advance of a bill being written makes that impossible.

This is a trap we should aim to avoid in both the cannabis referendum, and the potential referendum on euthanasia that New Zealand First is pushing for (and which David Seymour, the sponsor of the euthanasia bill, says he supports holding).

I hope the Government avoids these traps. They are fairly fundamental.

Will it be legal to sell cannabis, or just to possess and use it? Will people be able to grow their own, or will they have to buy it from specific government licenced dealers? Will you be able to smoke it outside in public places, like tobacco, or will that be prohibited, like the public consumption of alcohol often is? How will it be taxed? Will cannabis advertising and sponsorship be banned? Will councils have a role in regulating where it can be sold, or used? Will they be able to set up enforceable non-cannabis zones (like they can with alcohol), or only unenforced zones (like non-smoking areas)?

Will euthanasia be limited to the terminally ill? Will it need a judge to sign off a decision to offer aid in dying? What will a doctor who refuses to take part have to do, if anything? Will advance directives be able to be enforced, or will applications have to be made by people who are conscious?

Unfortunately, while the legislative process underway for the euthanasia legislation should work through the detail of the scheme, any referendum seems likely to be an afterthought.

I hope that Parliament (MPs) will have the fortitude to make a decision on medical cannabis without the need to then delay it by going to a referendum.

I think that in our system of representative democracy MPs can also decide on what is best for the minority that may want to consider euthanasia.

Fortunately, it’s not too late. The euthanasia law is still early in its early legislative process, and the cannabis referendum isn’t set up yet. Hopefully, we can avoid not only the mistakes Australia made, but also new ones of our own.

It may be a mistake to even have a referendum on euthanasia, but at least it won’t happen prior to legislation being debated and voted on in Parliament.

As Edgeler says, there are good ways and bad ways of having referenda – and there are also times when they aren’t appropriate, especially if used as a way for MPs to cop out of their responsibilities as representatives.