And it’s all wasted time.

So, for those of you who don’t follow the news, we now have assurance that because the S59 amendment act is working properly, even our current government is willing to continue supporting it, and even they acknowledge the uselessness of the question.

This certainly brings up issues around our referendum process- for instance, there’s no requirement to state the question in a certain way, so often we have referenda where the desired answer from the groups that supported a referendum is actually “no” rather than “yes”, like the current referendum.

While I’m not a big supporter of referendums in the first place, (I think they’re usually either useless or they get used for majority groups to step all over the rights of minority groups) if we’re going to spend nine million dollars on a referendum, it might as well be a good one.

I think there are three good criteria to a referendum process we’re currently lacking in New Zealand:

  • It shouldn’t be harder to initiate a referendum than it is to win a political campaign. (Currently, it takes twice as many voters to initiate a referendum as it does for a list-only party to enter parliament)
  • It should be very clear what the status quo is.
  • There should be a very clear proposed change, rather than an ephemeral goal to be met. (Such as “hire more fire fighters” vs “allocate $2million to hire additional fire fighters”)
  • Referenda results need to either be bound directly into law or introduce legislation into the house of representatives to be useful. (Under the current system the results are mostly ignored)

There are already some good posts on other sites- Kiwipolitico comes to mind- that suggest viable alternatives. My personal favourite is the suggestion that groups actually have to submit a draft law, and then uses the purpose statement or explanatory note in the referendum question. Then you just need to figure out exactly what sort of majority you want to see before you consider the law implemented.