Replacing Political Tyranny With Direct Democracy
12 November 2003
Rt Hon Winston Peters
Loaves & Fishes, Wellington
Wednesday, 12 November 2003, 12.00 noon
Replacing Political Tyranny With Direct Democracy
We are here today to debunk an old political myth in New Zealand and to explain how we are going to replace this myth with a new reality.
The myth we refer to is that we live in a true democracy.
Sure, we live in a democratic state in which we have the right to elect a government but that's about as far as it goes.
Our form of democratic process really only consists of placing ticks in boxes every three years.
We have the right of free speech but we know, sadly, that most of the time that no one is listening.
The politicians peddle their own agenda, or that of their bureaucrats, and most people are left muttering to themselves or complaining to talkback radio.
You see the democratic process that we take part in actually leads to a tyranny and we believe this is happening in New Zealand.
Most people thought we had solved this problem by choosing MMP as a way of breaking the stranglehold of the old two-party First Past the Post system.
We rejected FPP for MMP ten years ago, to dilute the absolute power held by minority governments and to stop politicians betraying the electorate.
MMP should have started reforming the democratic process but in a short time it has been perverted back into a First Past the Post system.
Under arrogant minority governments, the voice of ordinary New Zealanders is being lost.
The perversion of the democratic process has been perpetuated by the media, which has never learned to accept that New Zealanders voted out the old two party system.
The media are obsessed with creating coalitions among political parties and find it hard to accept that democracy should be more than setting up cliques of political power.
New Zealand First is NOT part of any coalition on the Opposition benches.
We oppose the Government on measures not in the interests of New Zealand and we support issues that are of some benefit.
We do not rush around holding hands with other parties because the voters did not tell us to. It is as simple as that.
Other parties are trying to embrace us but our advice to them is "paddle their own boat and stop trying to sink ours!"
ONE PARTY GOVERNMENT
In Parliament these days Labour is a minority government doing exactly as it likes with the support of United Future and the Greens.
The net result of this wimpish support is that once again, the majority of people are being left out of the democratic process.
In 1999 nearly 82 percent of the electorate, 1.7 million, voted to reduce the number of MPs to 99.
Even more voted for tougher sentences for criminal offending and for greater emphasis placed on the rights of the victim.
However, this government, and its allies, chose to ignore the wishes of the voters on these matters.
In their arrogance, they have decided that they know best and that the wishes of the people can be ignored.
In other words, we live under a system that amounts to a Labour dictatorship and MMP has made little difference to that.
It is not participatory democracy. There are virtually no checks and balances. No Upper House or written constitution to curb politicians and safeguard the rights of the people.
As a result, politicians do as they wish.
Instead of placing the interests of the people first, they put their parties first or pander to some self interest group in return for prejudice, cash or votes or all three.
Is it any wonder that ordinary New Zealanders feel powerless because they have no say in deciding the momentous issues facing their society?
Some of these issues go to the heart of what makes us New Zealanders and what gives us a special place in the world.
What say are New Zealanders having on these issues and who is listening?
- The foreshore and seabed;
- The abolition of the Privy Council as a final Court of Appeal;
- Legalising prostitution;
- Gender bending legislation in which women become fathers;
- The release of genetically modified organisms into the ecosystem;
- Killers, drug dealers and rapists on home detention;
- Closing hundreds of schools;
- Political representation based on race;
- The Treaty of Waitangi industry;
- Mass immigration;
- Sale of state assets;
- Speculation in large tracts of farmland, lakesides, coastline and high country;
- Road Tolls on public roads already built and paid for;
- Lower drinking age and social mayhem;
- Increased petrol taxes;
- A health system that is failing to meet even its most basic obligations; and
- Political correctness replacing commonsense.
The list is endless and the fact that New Zealanders have not been genuinely consulted on these issues makes a clear point.
Democracy is too important to be left to the politicians.
We say it is far better to rely on the commonsense of ordinary people to make decisions on the important issues facing New Zealand.
Why? Because politicians simply cannot be relied on to do the right thing and to act in accordance with the wishes of the majority.
They have forgotten that they should be the trusted servants of the people.
They must face the consequences of their memory loss.
New Zealand First has a solution for this serious affliction in our democracy.
It is simple but highly effective.
New Zealand First aims to make Parliament itself a more responsive and accountable institution, and to give real power to the people.
To achieve this aim, we wil:
- Introduce binding Citizens Initiated Referenda
- Reduce the size of Parliament;
- Reduce the number of MPs in Cabinet to 14;
CITIZENS INITIATED REFERENDA (DIRECT DEMOCRACY)
New Zealand First is committed to the introduction of binding citizens initiated referenda or "direct democracy" as it is known overseas.
Under this system, voters take ultimate responsibility for the health and wellbeing of society.
A healthy democratic society is not casting two ticks for three years of political tyranny.
Only the people can create a democracy that is of the people and for the people.
Under direct democracy the Government is constitutionally bound to accept the will of the people.
No ifs, no buts, no maybes.
New Zealand First has long advocated real involvement by citizens in the political process by the judicious use of direct public referenda where:
- there is neutrality and impartiality in the question;
- there is fair dissemination of all the facts on both sides of the argument;
- there is certainty in the poll (i.e. the question can be clearly understood);
- there is appropriate time for the debate to be conducted;
- the referendum's objective can be met within the country's fiscal resources. In other words we have to be able to pay for it.
Remember, New Zealand First campaigned for the MMP referenda, gave a referendum on retirement savings and lived with the result, supported both the Withers and Robinson petitions and referenda.
HOW IT WORKS
"People power' by means of referenda should, where possible and practicable, replace MPs "conscience votes'.
Binding referenda will be triggered by a petition achieving support of 10 percent of the electorate.
Referenda will be conducted either on the first Saturday of November each year or in conjunction with a general election.
Referenda qualifying initiated prior to March 1 will be conducted in the following November to ensure sufficient lead-in time.
A revamped Electoral Commission with greater resources, will conduct up to four referenda each year.
The commission will be responsible for ensuring that balanced dissemination of all of the facts occurs in timely fashion.
A successful referendum result will be achieved by simple majority and may only be vetoed by the vote of 75 percent of all Members of Parliament within one calendar month of the result being declared.
This veto option was a hard call.
Initially we did not want Parliament to have any powers to veto a referendum but we accept the advice, at home and abroad, that there might be very rare and extreme circumstances that require a safeguard.
We also believe that it would be extremely unlikely under MMP to get 75 percent of the MPs to agree on any subject, which is another safeguard in itself.
Remember all MPs have to face the electorate at the following election.
The major benefit of CIR would be an end to a political system in which the inner circle of a political party secretly decides an agenda then forces MPs to fall into line.
If you don't believe this just look at the Maori MPs in the Labour Party who capitulated over the abolition of the Privy Council.
They went against the wishes of their electorate and followed the party line.
Citizens Initiated Referenda are not new.
They are common in Switzerland where the people have voted on 300 issues over the past hundred years.
And to give an example of CIR there, Switzerland had a referendum over spending money to upgrade the roading system.
It failed because voters wanted their hospitals upgraded first.
When the hospitals were completed, they voted to upgrade the roads.
Referenda can also be used by Government to seek endorsement or veto on moral issues and other important policy matters.
It should not be left entirely to citizens to do all the work in a democracy.
Their elected representatives need to be proactive in gauging the mood of the people on important issues.
And should that arise, in number, a government referendum would be over and above the four CIR.
A REDUCTION IN THE SIZE OF PARLIAMENT
In 1999 New Zealanders voted to reduce the size of Parliament to 99 MPs and the Commission on Electoral Reform said Parliament could operate with this number.
However, when MMP legislation was introduced, the two old parties, National and Labour, put the MMP number at 120 and FPP at 99 in the hope that people would reject the new, fairer voting system in favour of the old.
In short, the politicians at the time tried to deceive the people.
New Zealand First will honour the result of that 1999 referendum to reduce the number of MPs to 99.
The loss of 21 MPs would benefit the country and would actually result in considerable savings.
A REDUCED CABINET OF 14
Under Labour there are nearly 30 ministers and hangers-on with their trotters planted firmly in the public trough.
These people are not there for their political nous or administrative genius.
Most are political hacks who have hung out with Labour in the hope that their unthinking and uncritical loyalty to the party would be rewarded.
Just like in the bad old days of National.
A New Zealand First-led administration would promote to Cabinet MPs with particular talents and not necessarily according to party affiliations.
The most qualified person should get the job.
Do we really need an associate minister of arts or six ministers of social development? How does the minister in charge of the Public Trust manage to fill his day? And what has the Minister for Auckland ever done for Auckland?
Those who have used and abused power will not give it up lightly and there will be some violent objections to this policy released today.
It will be anathema to our political opponents and the entrenched bureaucracy.
Politicians of all political persuasions, belong to a group who believe that they, and only they, know what's best for the people.
Nowhere has this been more apparent than on the Privy Council vote.
The intellectually arrogant elite in government and bureaucratic circles did not want ordinary New Zealanders to vote on this hugely important constitutional matter.
They felt that ordinary people would "not understand it," although 80 percent of the people said they wanted a say!
This was a shocking abuse of power and a glaring example of WHY we should have Citizens Initiated Referenda.
We desperately need checks and balances and a system that makes politicians accountable.
We simply have to trust the people and to rely on their good will and commonsense.
In a democracy people have the right to govern themselves and take matters into their own hands when their MPs fail them.
When people elect a government to safeguard their society, their security, culture, their liberty and their future, their elected representatives must listen to them.
Democracy is lost when that elected government and its officials fail to hear the voices of the people.
It is then that ordinary people have a moral duty to rise up and restore democracy themselves.
New Zealand First will give the people of New Zealand the tools to break the political chains that bind them for three years between elections.
"We will go into a coalition with the people - the only true coalition we want or need in a real democracy."