Wednesday, November 25, 2009

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?"

"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."
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.

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?




Blogger Chuck Bird said...

Dave, you raise some very good points. However, I think that you are being rather unfair on Colin Craig. When Colin says, “I don’t have that agenda” I accept his word. I think he is very passionate about how a law such as the anti-smacking got passed against the will of the vast majority of good parents. In his passion he may not thought through all the pluses and minuses of different options. If this is the case it is better not to comment than come up with some half baked idea.

In regards Richard Ekins, I went to his lecture and read his paper. It would be great if he could contribute to this important debate. He raises many valid concerns about CIR. After the lecture I asked he about the option of vetoing stand alone legislation that is normally decide by a conscience vote by way of a binding referendum.

He said he had not given the idea much thought but thought it had a lot less downside than binding CIR. Can you show the downside of my proposal which is very different from binding CIR?

November 25, 2009 at 9:28 PM  
Blogger Swimming said...

I assume you mean using a binding referendum to veto legislation that representatives decide with their (unwhipped) conscience votes.

We elect representatives to represent us, We allow them to use conscience votes in our best interests with the hope that they are aligned with our wishes. Your question relates to conscience votes that are not aligned with our wishes. If my representative is among the 45 percent of representatives who votes in line with my wishes, but is in the losing side in the vote, why would I want a referendum because other representatives didn't represent their people in line with my wishes, but may well have done withe their constituents' wishes? Also, why just a conscience vote - what makes them so special?

November 25, 2009 at 9:39 PM  
Blogger Chuck Bird said...

Dave, thanks for your reply. I am not feeling very well and will be off to bed when I get a few urgent jobs done. I will reply when i am feeling better.

November 26, 2009 at 8:27 AM  
Blogger Chuck Bird said...

Dave, yes I mean using a binding referendum to veto legislation that representatives decide with their (unwhipped) conscience votes.

Firstly, there was some justification for MPs deciding on conscience issues under FPP. The theory was that the MP represented his or her electorate and was answerable to them. That was the theory. It did not always work in practice particularly if the MP had a strong majority. However, it did work to some extent. Under MMP half the MPs do not represent an electorate.

In regards why only on conscience votes the best way I can explain my view is that many conscience issues stand on their own. Also many are private members bills and voters would be unaware of most of them before an election. They would not have been in the party’s manifesto. It would not be acceptable for voters to reject legislation in relation to trade or military agreements. I do not know if even Switzerland does.

One would hope that on average the most MPs would generally be more competent than the average voter. You just could not put a group of labours in charge of running a medium or large business. They do not have the necessary skills. However, even businesses allow share holders to decide on certain issue. In the case of unions the members elect delegates and officials to represent them. However, they can vote against a proposal. But, they would be foolish to do so very often. In the case of clubs members can raise most issues in general business and it can be voted on by the members.

While I concede that MPs are generally more competent to decide on most issues than the average voter for reasons Richard Ekins has stated, on issues like the anti-smacking legislation, abortion and euthanasia I do not think their opinion is any more valid that yours or mine.

I guess that is the main issue of this debate.

November 26, 2009 at 11:28 AM  

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