Democracy or demoCoskrie?There’s been a few rumours running around about the March for Democracy held during the weekend. A little one was there was only 1000 at the march. The biggest one was that $450,000 was spent on it. As David Farrar notes, spending an average of $100 a head to get 5000 or so marchers is not an encouraging turnout when $450,000 was spent.
Except $450,000 was not spent.
I was told by Family First's Bob McCoskrie, one of the march organisers, that the amount was around $200,000; so it was closer to $40-$50 a head for the march. The aim of the march was to protest against the government’s lack of responsiveness to certain referenda that got a high percentage of support for change.
March funder Colin Craig, who also supports Act MP John Boscawen's members bill aiming to alter smacking laws, was asked by a a TVNZ reporter what he hoped to achieve:
"What is your main agenda here? What do you want to see changed?"Craig may publicly deny he has that agenda, but he certainly supports that opinion: he wants to see citizens initiated referenda become binding. All the people in the organising committee for the March for Democracy are united in that view. Perhaps Craig's response was an understanding that binding citizens initiated referenda are unpopular with decision -makers, and he didn’t want to admit that the march was framed as one promoting democracy to purposely avoid the less palatable framing of binding referenda. Furthermore if a significant majority of votes - lets say two-thirds - support a certain position, many, if not all march organisers consider that the wishes of the people should trump representative democracy, even if the aggregate wishes of the people are in conflict with what parliament determines to be the voters’ best wishes.
"What I want to see changed is I want to see the government of New Zealand listen to large votes from the people of this country."
"Does that mean you want to see citizens initiated referendums become binding?"
"I don't have that agenda."
In other words, in these situations, unlike Auckland Law School lecturer Richard Ekins, they believe that Parliament should be told how to legislate. Furthermore they believe that Parliament should be accountable for these laws, even when passing laws based on biding referenda that they don’t agree are in the best interests of those whom they are representing.
Although McCoskrie told me that a referendum with two-third’s majority support should be translated to legislation irrespective of the size of the turnout, he was less clear, when prompted, as to what he expected the Government to do if 28 percent of voters participated in a referendum and of those, a higher percentage wanted a law change. That is not a mandate for change. Perhaps that is why the March for Democracy focused on referenda that both had larger turnouts and achieved more than 80% of the vote. It looks a bit silly promoting binding referenda when fewer than one in three voters participate.
Despite what some have said, McCoskrie has not turned his back on proportional representation. He doesn’t want to go back to First Past the Post: neither does he support MMP as it currently stands. His electoral system preference is STV. This is perhaps because, as he admits, he hasn't yet thought through the changes that can occur to make MMP work to his liking, and STV is more likely to eliminate vote wastage. His bugbear is that too many representatives are getting whipped for conscience votes. He clearly sees a distinction between getting whipped by party leaders and getting whipped by referenda voters, but considers that a good whipping by voters is more democratic than one by a party whip.
That’s because he believes citizen self-interest trumps the self-interest of governing representatives. But as Robert Dahl would say, who governs?