Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Steve Baron: We need the power of veto over new laws

I’m going into business as a clairvoyant and I think I will make a fortune once word gets out on how accurate my predictions are! I don’t expect to get employment with any government unfortunately because they already seem to know everything—or so they think.

Here are my first three predictions so you can judge my remarkable powers. 1. Grey Power and its collaborators will collect enough signatures within the next twelve months—probably much quicker, to trigger their citizens’ initiated referendum in the hope of stopping asset sales. 2. The vast majority of New Zealanders will say ‘no’ in this referendum—therefore rejecting asset sales. 3. More than $10 million taxpayer dollars will be wasted, when yet again, another supercilious government will ignore the results of a citizen’s initiated referendum.

The government can do that because in New Zealand, unlike Switzerland and twenty-four US States, referendums are not binding. The people of New Zealand can simply be ignored as inconsequential minions—only to be pandered to on one day every three years.

Like all governments before them, this government thinks it knows what is best for New Zealand and only their policies can fix New Zealand’s woes. We will hear all the worn out phrases; voters knew what we stood for; we have a mandate; it’s the governments’ responsibility to act in the best interest of all New Zealanders; an election is the best referendum. These arguments are arrogance personified and they don’t hold water. 

Representative democracy may have its advantages in that someone has to do all the donkey work of politics, very few would want to do that day in and day out. But the weakness with this political system is that it’s a package deal, all or nothing; voters can’t pick and choose the best policies from all political parties. Voters have to take all the policies the government of the day offers—even if the majority of New Zealanders didn’t support that government on election day.

As joint referendum campaign spokesperson and CTU President, Helen Kelly said; “The Government does not have the mandate to sell our strategic assets and it is time the public had their say”.

While many citizens’ initiated referendums in the past have been ambiguous, misleading, biased and confusing, this cannot be said about the current referendum which is straight to the point, ‘Do you support the Government selling up to 49% of Meridian Energy, Mighty River Power, Genesis Power, Solid Energy and Air New Zealand?’

What irks me about this referendum is the hypocrisy. We now see the Greens and Labour jumping on the bandwagon because it supports their cause—this time. Neither of these parties support referendums being binding on the government—anyone remember the Greens anti-smacking Bill under a Labour government? In fact the only two political parties of any consequence at the last election who do support binding referendums are NZ First and the Conservative parties.

The question we need to ask ourselves as New Zealanders is what sort of a democracy do we want? If the government of the day is not prepared to listen to the majority of citizens on important and contentious issues, all we have is a tyranny of the minority. As the old saying goes, two heads are better than one and the collective wisdom of over three million voters is better than the collective wisdom of just 121 MPs. It’s time politicians bowed to the people and not the people to politicians. It’s time New Zealanders had the right to reject new legislation, or changes to old legislation, in a binding veto referendum—a political tool not at our disposal yet.

Just for the record, this clairvoyant voted against the smacking referendum and will vote for asset sales. That is democracy and I simply accept being in the minority!

Steve Baron is a political columnist, published author, former businessman, independent political candidate, Mayoral candidate and Founder of Better Democracy NZ. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science & Economics.


Dominic Baron said...

As usual, Steve, you hit the nail on the head. I too was amazed by the effrontery of Labour and the Greens openly campaigning to garner support for the CIR against the sale of NZ Assets. But they are simply exhibiting the normal attitude of the political class: referendums are valid only in favour of their point of view. Moreover they simply do not want to understand that referendums, to be valid referendums, must intrinsically be binding. A non-binding, so-called indicative "referendum" is only a super-sized opinion poll paid for by us tax payers. As you point out, Steve, *all* referendums in Switzerland are by definition binding at Federal, Cantonal, and yes even Communal level.

I have come to loathe the dilapidated, moth-eaten apology for a political system that is the so-called "Westminster" model. I long for the day when we can have a grown-up political system like the lucky Swiss do. Little wonder that they look with contempt on the grotesque, bureaucratic dictatorship that squats in Brussels! The Swiss will *never* join the EU. A referendum attempting just to start negotiations with Brussels was squashed flat in 2002 by a thumping 75% NO.
Supposing we had had the same veto rights that the Swiss have at the time when the Lange administration took us out of the alliance with the US we too would have said NO.
The super-opinion poll that we had about Sue Bradford's cretinous amendment to Section 59 was, in essence, a Veto referendum which, in a real democracy would have been obeyed by the administration of the day.

Ange, Ray & Sean said...

Not everything works wonderfully when the majority always rule. I seem to remember the swiss (or at least one part) banning minarets for instance.
Would we have kept homosexuality illegal if the majority chose to?
Referenda have their place and yes they should be binding but we also need some way to prevent tyranny being exercised by the majority. Maybe an overriding bill of rights enforced by the judicial branch. Unfortunately I don't have great faith in them either. Completely agree that having expensive 'opinion polls' is stupid and John Key's argument that the election gives him a mandate for everything is equally crazy. After all everyone got at most 2 votes which is hardly enough to allow more than a general preference to be noted.

Rodney said...

I have been lucky enough to recently obtain and read ' The Truth About New Zealand ' written in 1939 by A N Field. First published in the Examiner in May 1939 and revised and printed in book form in June 1939.

It is right up to the minute in all circumstances still and show exactly what has and is being done to New Zealand at the upper level.

Couple this with the new publishing of ' To The Ends of The Earth ' by Maxwell Hill, Gary Cook and Noel Hilliam and we could ' kick maori to the curb ' in very short order as the frauds they really are!Melinisian gangs, yes and not much more.

Anonymous said...

Just because a policy is unpopular does not mean that it is wrong for the government to enact it. The problem with direct democracy is that the opinions of those with the least knowledge and understanding of complex issues carry more weight at teh ballotbox than the reasoned analysis of experts, simply because of the weight of numbers.

By way of analogy, as a parent I have to take decisions that are not popular with my children - for example, selling a house in one town and moving to another in order to take up a promotion that will eventually leave the family in a stronger financial position. This move is very unpopular with the children, and if put to a vote, they would (with their limited understanding only of what they have now, and not of what the future might bring) almost certainly veto my decision (as with three of them and only one of me, I'll alwasy lose such a plebiscite). The outcome is 'democratic' but certainly not 'wealth- and welfare-enhancing for the family'.

The difference between direct and representative democracy is that with representative democracy, you expect your representatives (agents) to use their better access to information and analysis to make the 'right' decisions, even if it is not popular. Indeed, if politicians in a representative democracy only implement 'popular' policies, they have failed in their fundamental representative duties. The more complex the decision, the more egregious it is for the politicians to fall back to popularism (popular support) to justify their actions/inactions.