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Referendum dangers highlighted by Royal Commission

Minister: Dangers of referendum highlighted by Royal Commission

Calls for a referendum to be held on the Civil Union Bill appears to be exactly the situation a Royal Commission warned against, says Associate Justice Minister David Benson-Pope.

Mr Benson-Pope says the use of referenda was considered in 1986 in the Report of the Royal Commission on the Electoral System – Towards a Better Democracy.

The Royal Commission concluded that referenda, whether binding or not, should not be more frequently used in New Zealand to provide a more direct public input into the general legislative and executive processes of Government.

The Commission noted a major concern that the use of referenda "can pose very real threats to minority rights and interests”.

Mr Benson-Pope says this was because referenda could be used for the expression of intolerance and employed by those seeking to manipulate public prejudices.

"The Civil Union Bill is human rights legislation and civil unions are about ending discrimination. The idea that the majority of society could decide the human rights of other people though a referendum is clearly not appropriate."

Mr Benson-Pope noted that the Civil Union Bill and its companion the Relationships (Statutory References) Bill flow from the requirements for the Government to comply with the New Zealand Bill of Rights 1990 and the Human Rights Act 1993. Neither of these Acts were the subject of referenda.

The last Government referendum, held in 1997 on superannuation, cost approximately $9.5 million.

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