Friday, August 2, 2013

Have We Really Got Democracy?

I'm uncomfortable with extremes. While being a bit of a lefty, I don't think socialism is the answer to all of our problems. So far, attempts at communism, have resulted in things stalling - the system has never been fully implemented and it doesn't work in isolation anyway i.e. the rest of the world needs to be following the same path.

Something occurred to me. A system isn't a destination. We may say we've got a functional, if only in comparison to America's, democracy. But it's just not enough. We've got voting... but so what? It might have been seen as democratic, but nowadays we know more. We have the technology. We have the means to communicate like never before.

What does this mean? The people, at large, can have more of a say. To me this looks quite different from people only talking to politicians or particular political parties. To me we can start to really have a say. Someone at Tangleball was talking about the idea of binding veto referendums. The idea is this. Say the government try to push through a bill, such as GCSB (under the guise of catching those trading in child pornography and terrorism), and the bill is controversial. The public should be given the opportunity to research and come to an opinion themselves as to whether they really think it to be necessary. While the public still need to go through their elected officials to get ideas out there, they can veto those bills that are not in the best interests of the people at large.

I also think that if a bill is as closely contested as the GCSB bill (there was only 1 vote in it) then it should trigger a referendum. Why should we trust our politicians to decisions that hotly contested? Should we not have a voice?

And yes, there are problems with referendums. We need some serious checks on the questions. For example, the anti-smacking referendum was so badly written as to be horribly biased. However, if they're binding, then I think those checks will happen as a matter of course.

I also have a problem with party votes. I am of the opinion that conscience votes need to become more common place as our elected representatives. I have more faith in an individual's conscience than a party line.

Will that give us democracy? Probably not. It will make it more functional, but if it's all about a journey, rather than a destination, then chances are we will see more things that bring us closer to a system whereby the people have a voice...

Meanwhile, I was disgusted when I flicked over to Parliament TV to find a National Politician telling parliament in the debating chamber that New Zealanders want the GCSB bill using a whole lot of hyperbole around child pornography and terrorism. That may be their intent, but that's not what the bill says...


  1. I'm wary of referendums after living through the citizens initiated Prop 8 ban on gay marriage in California, and the long court battle that resulted to get it overturned. But then again, I don't have a better solution to offer. I think we need much higher levels of civic engagement before we make many changes though.

    1. There's a whole other discussion in here. While I'm weary of referendums myself, I'm also wondering the different stages. I think comparing Americans to New Zealanders may be erroneous in that the attitude between residents of the different countries differs significantly. It's a bit like saying National is like the Conservatives and Labour is like the Republicans. Both NZ parties are left of either of the main American parties.

      The bit I really like about referendums is that I think they will result in conscious votes rather than following a party line - assuming a certain amount of intelligence (people are informed. During the GCSB debates, there was hyperbole from both sides. National kept coming back to child pornography and terrorism. The other side of the debate brought in the idea of a police state into the debate).

      I'm never entirely sure if Labour (I'm more trusting of the Greens for no other reason than I'm hoping hippies have more integrity) are supporting a position that I'm taking because they believe it will get them more votes or if it's because they genuinely object to a bill.

      What sort of engagement though? So far, all I've seen is Labour propose the idea that people have a say in their proposed bills (I got an early preview of a proposed bill from a Labour politician and told the politician in question why I thought it was going to have people not take it seriously and why they really shouldn't take it seriously) and suggestions that we should all get on twitter and get our thoughts out there in 140 characters or less....