Citizens initiated referendum

One of the main issues around citizens initiated referendum in New Zealand is that it is not binding on the Government. There are a number of advocates for Binding citizens initiated referendum (BCIR). I oppose BCIR for a number of reasons:
1) Minority rights. A majority can outvote an ethnic or other minority to prejudice them. Although this can be protected against by a Bill of Rights review and other balances, it can not be eliminated entirely.
2) Bad policy. Some matters, such as the economy and health require a high level of specialised knowledge to deal with the issues involved that ordinary people may not have. This may sound arrogant, but take the issue of 99 MPs. MPs like car salesmen have a devious reputation (well justified by the pledge card, Electoral Finance Act, Taito Phillip Field e.t.c) and there is a knee jerk reaction to thinking fewer of them would be good. But it certainly would not be good for preventing overhangs and keeping proportionality in place, ensuring there are adequate numbers of MPs to staff cabinet and select committees, and serve community needs. In fact, I believe that there should be more MPs, around 150 of them. In a 1999 CIR, most of the public voted to reduce the number of politicians to 99. Would the same yes vote have been achieved if it was to lower the number to 80? probably. Could you get 50% to vote to lower the number to only 50. Maybe, and then over half the Parliament would be government ministers, and imagine how big each of the 25 electorates will be. Governing is a complex task, and it requires a large amount people with the right talents to do it, no a mob with knee-jerk reactions.

Without BCIR there is still a crucial role the public can play a role in elections. If the Government ignores the will of the people, it can be voted out. And we might see that happen this year.

Despite my opposition to to BCIR, I am a big fan of CIR, and sadly we don’t have enough of them. CIR are good as they allow for direct public participation into the policy process (submissions to select committee do this to a certain extent, but the process is more bureaucratic and time consuming) and can raise issues neglected by politicans to the policy agenda. One may ask what the point of CIR is if they are not binding, but any Government that chooses to ignore the result of a CIR will suffer in the polls. So what should be done.

Fistly the 10% threshold is too high. There have been many CIR atempts, some gathering hundreds of thousands of signatures, but still failing to make the ballot. The high threshold is also time consuming and requires a lot of resources. 5% would be a much better figure. The second key change, and this will cost money, is that when they go to the ballot, it isn’t as part of an election. Then, only those who are concerned about the issue (and more informed about it) will vote. And it won’t get clouded about by all the election coverage on the media. Also the $50 000 campaign figure is rather low, and to the best of my knowledge hasn’t been changed for inflation. Lets hope some of these changes can occur, and long live CIR.

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