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Against a four year term

Written By: - Date published: 8:27 am, February 8th, 2013 - 158 comments
Categories: elections, Parliament - Tags:

Key and Shearer want 4 year terms of parliament. Why? Efficiency, they reckon. 3 years is ‘too short to govern’. Well, they wouldn’t be the first politicians to argue that less democracy would be more ‘efficient’.

First, addressing the claims that there’s no time to govern in the three year term. It’s bollocks. The Government’s legislative programme stops for only a couple of months in election year.

But why do we need a three year term? In New Zealand, we are unique among democracies in the degree to which power is held by the Government.

We don’t a written, over-riding constitution; we don’t have a supreme court with legislative strike-down powers; we don’t have a second chamber of parliament; nor do we have state or provincial governments. Even local government is being defanged and side-stepped to concentrate power with Cabinet. No other Executive in the democratic world lacks all these checks and balances on its power.

Regular opportunities to vote the bastards out is all we have.

That’s why Kiwis rejected a change to a four year term by a margin of more than two to one when the question was put to us in referenda in 1967 and 1990. That’s why we would reject it again. Indeed, both the public’s adoption to MMP in the 1990s and our strong decision to retain it in 2011 show that we want more controls on the power of government, not less.

If there is a referendum on a four-year term (and woe betide any government that would try to pull that shit without a referendum) it will fail just like the previous attempts.**

(* the other, contradictory, argument you hear is that because the 3 year term is so short and voters are loath to admit a mistake so soon after electing a government, they effectively give governments a ‘free hit’ in their first term. In truth, 2 of our 10 governments in the modern era have been one-termers, same as two-termers and four-termers. And 30% of people change votes between elections – 3 years isn’t too short a time for people to change their minds.)

(** And with both National and Labour having put themselves on the wrong side of public opinion on this, if there is a referendum in 2014 on a four year term, there’s big opportunities for parties that support a three year term.)

158 comments on “Against a four year term”

  1. Coronial Typer 1

    On a significant constitutional point like this, Shearer should have compelling policy reasons, and be able to explain them. Where are they?

    And honestly, where was the consultation? Or is it just like the Housing policy; the actual Elected Labour Policy Council doesn’t get a look in, and it’s just the usual suspects making shit up in the office, on the day?

  2. Ed 2

    Shearer said that 3 years was too long in opposition, and _may_ be to short in government. That doesn’t sound to me like an enthusiastic endorsement of a lengthening of a term, and I didn’t see that he had mentioned efficiency at all. We do need to be careful not to read too much into sub-editors headlines . . .

    The proposal from Key does highlight the general National desire to do away with elections – accompanied by reducing the time for submissions,( or doing away with consultation at all) and their desire to reduce the scope of what local authorities can do in their communities, regardless of teh wishes of those communities. In contrast what Labour governments have tended to do is delegate more decisions to local communities, and embrace consultation (with the messy and slower decision-making that can involve), but as a result making better decisions.

    Now Shearer, or any other individual member of Labour or the Green Party or indeed any other party may think a longr term is a good idea for a range of reasons, but we did not hear one from Key or Shearer. What I hope to hear from Labour is that general principle that Labour supports democracy, that they treat it seriously, and that they value consultation and delegation of decisions to local communities where appropriate.

    So if at first you see something surprising from Labour or Shearer, it sometimes pays to look more closely – we know Key makes shit up, but in this case it appears to be the news media that was “making shit up” – possibly through not understanding a dry joke. . .

  3. I’m against it, just imagine having to have 4yrs under this blue team,followed by a 4yr term
    of light blue ( if elected), 3yrs at least, shortens their grip and voters can have a re-think which is likely to be the best blue team and put in a greater dash of green,to even things up.

  4. Bunji 4

    The Greens and NZ First (&UF) leaders have said they support a 4 year fixed-term parliament in principle too. But I think all (including Key) have said things about it needing to have cross-party support, needing to take the public along with them etc etc… so if they’re true to their word it’ll be tough to make happen (by taking the public along with them…). If not, it’s easy – they all agree…

    I have some sympathy with the counter-intuitive argument that we might be ready to throw out a govt after 4 years, but not after 3 – National dropped considerably in the last year (but the election campaign started that trend…).
    But I think James is right – we need more checks and balances on our government – which is why I guess having this as part of the consititutional review (where we can also add checks and balances) makes sense. A fixed term is the first c&b, but having some legislation that is more authoritative – and needs a 2/3rds majority to pass / repeal (eg Bill of Rights etc) – that the supreme court can then strike down other legislation that contradicts it would seem a good idea. I’d also like much stronger, more independent select committees to scrutinise legislation (and less whipping by parties, but I’m not sure how you achieve that…).

    • Bunji 4.1

      Entrenched law was the word I was looking for…

      And Graeme Edgeler’s just convinced me against a four year term…

      • Pascal's bookie 4.1.1

        He has a way with words.

        I could be convinced, but itw ould take extra checks being added. And that’s not going t happen so they can piss off as far as I’m concerned.

        The quid pro quo on offer is the laughable ‘fixed term’. there is sod all advantage in being able to name the election date for starters, and for the main course, proponents argue that MMP coalitions provide a check on the executive. That’s stupid on its face ( coalition partners are a part of the executive), but even if it wasn’t it would mean that the fixed term gets thrown out when the coalition collapses.

        proponents need to come up with something that isn’t derp.

  5. just saying 5

    No other Executive in the democratic world lacks all these checks and balances on its power…

    This.

    In conjunction with the continuing loss of democratic freedoms and rights, wherever they were once found, along with the many steps towards NZ becoming a police-state: It is essential that the left has a comprehensive strategy to join the dots on what this means, and for how to repair, restore, and augment the mechanisms that enable democracy.

    It’s really ironic, the people who were jumping up and down about lightbulbs nodding approvingly, as the elites gain ever more control over every aspect of our lives, and simultaneously shut down our ability to dissent. We’re a nation of ‘Stepford Wives’ (and husbands) when it comes to the freedoms that really matter.

    As far as I’m concerned, the polys can have their four years as soon as they’ve implemented democracy

  6. Pascal's bookie 6

    Graeme Edgeler lays out the weakness of the 4 year case and asks that proponents convince him. No takers as yet.

    http://publicaddress.net/legalbeagle/a-four-year-parliamentary-term/

  7. geoff 7

    Politicians are as likely to vote against 4 year terms as they are to vote against increasing their own salaries.

  8. Anne 8

    Why we must have a four year term:

    http://www.imperatorfish.com/

  9. AmaKiwi 9

    Elitism versus democracy.

    Elitists feel in their gut they are best qualified to govern. The public are fickle, uninformed.

    Democrats trust the public to decide because:

    1. The entire public has a more balanced perspective than a few MPs.
    2. The public must live with the consequences so they should decide.
    3. Decisions made in referendums cannot be tinkered with by future parliaments.
    4. The public is much more capable of reversing a referendum decision if it is wrong. Representatives never admit mistakes for fear of losing face.

    I have NEVER met a top Labour MP who had anything except scorn for binding referendums.

    Lange, Clark, Shearer, Robertson, Cunliffe. ALL have told ME personally a wider use of binding referendums is a stupid idea.

    Labour MPs are elitists, NOT democrats. Don’t be fooled.

    • Ed 9.1

      In reality most past referendums have attempted to take guidance on a complex issue from a simplistic yes/no response to a misleading question . The most appalling may well have been the “pro-smacking” referendum where either a yes or no response could be argued as supporting whatever view any individual held.

      Your world view may be different of course – for example you may well believe that the purpose of The Standard is to find any excuse to attack Labour, and by omission, tacitly support National – I suspect most posters and readers are a little more balanced. Democracy has not been well served by referendums in this country, but it has been even less well served by the blatantly anti-democratic stance of National and National-led governments.

      All of which takes us away from discussion of a possible 4 year term – but then the idea was only floated as a distraction from falling employment / increasing poverty / a lack of economic ideas or competence, wasn’t it?

  10. Draco T Bastard 10

    What we really need is to able to hold the MPs to account and we can’t presently do that.

    We need to be able to not just kick them out of parliament but to throw them in jail when they do things that are detrimental to NZ, such as selling state assets. To have such actions seen as what they are – treason.

    We also need to be able to ensure that the will of the people governs and not the will of the corporates and the business lobby. That means binding referendums held for major policy shifts. The lawyers and politicians would still write the policies but we would determine what the policy is.

    And, yes, I think we need a written constitution.

    Neither Labour nor National will ever countenance such things and will go on about mob rule if ever they were mentioned.

    • TheContrarian 10.1

      “We need to be able to not just kick them out of parliament but to throw them in jail when they do things that are detrimental to NZ, such as selling state assets. To have such actions seen as what they are – treason.”

      If an party won an outright majority, say 55%, on a campaign based on the idea of asset sales then how can you say it is treason if democratically elected on the basis of that particular policy?

      Not to mention that all policy is going to be detrimental to someone. You can’t please everyone all the time.

      • Draco T Bastard 10.1.1

        If an party won an outright majority, say 55%, on a campaign based on the idea of asset sales then how can you say it is treason if democratically elected on the basis of that particular policy?

        I can say that it’s treason because the facts show that selling state assets is detrimental to NZ. I thought that was obvious. What I’m asking for is that such policies then be put to referendum. This government got elected with selling state assets as policy but the majority of people are against it and if it went to referendum it wouldn’t pass. Just because a government got elected with such a policy doesn’t mean that the majority of people want that policy.

        Not to mention that all policy is going to be detrimental to someone.

        I didn’t say anything about individuals but about the nation.

        • TheContrarian 10.1.1.1

          I am asking you a hypothetical Draco – if a govt. got a majority and polling indicated a majority supported sales (more than a margin of error) then you can’t call it treason (you can personally if you wish). The people voted for it and the people support it.

          Secondly what if you were elected and you implemented a policy which actually turned out to be very detrimental to the nation, would you then submit to being thrown in jail?

          • Draco T Bastard 10.1.1.1.1

            I am asking you a hypothetical Draco – if a govt. got a majority and polling indicated a majority (more than a margin of error) then you can’t call it treason (you can personally if you wish). The people voted for it and the people support it.

            Then they’d still support it in a referendum wouldn’t they and thus the government would be doing what they were told and so couldn’t be held accountable.

            Secondly what if you were elected and you implemented a policy which actually turned out to be very detrimental to the nation, would you then submit to being thrown in jail?

            Comes back to those pesky facts again. If the facts had indicated (we don’t know everything) that that policy would be good and not detrimental then it couldn’t be considered treason. It’s only when they do something that has already been proved detrimental that treason applies.

            Besides, If I was elected I’d immediately look to implement the above policies of accountability and so it would have gone to referendum.

            • TheContrarian 10.1.1.1.1.1

              “Then they’d still support it in a referendum wouldn’t they and thus the government would be doing what they were told and so couldn’t be held accountable.”

              So what you seem to be suggesting is that nothing a government campaigns on can be instigated without a referendum to make sure that is what the people want?

              • Draco T Bastard

                Yes. Especially considering that not everybody votes. This government doesn’t have a mandate for selling state assets or anything else simply because only ~35% of the populace actually voted for them.

                • TheContrarian

                  So the government goes “If elected we plan to put Bill x, x and x to referendum” whereas the other party says “Vote for us and we’ll put bills y, y and y to vote” and then whomever wins gets to out there bills to vote.

                  That sound about right?

                  • Draco T Bastard

                    Yep. Remember, there’s still the crafting of laws and the everyday running of the country to do and I’m sure that the people want a choice in who does that. They just may have some consideration as to who they trust the most to be in those positions of power.

                    • TheContrarian

                      You do know 249 bills were presented in the last year alone. How much time you got Draco? Are we going to have referendums on all of them?

                    • Draco T Bastard

                      And how many of those were major policy changes and how many minor changes to existing policy?

                      Did we really need 249 policy changes last year?

                      And then there’s the question: Why is it that in today’s world with such high productivity that we don’t have enough time for everyone to participate in their own governance?

                    • TheContrarian

                      “And how many of those were major policy changes and how many minor changes to existing policy?”

                      What’s the difference? It’ll still matter to some and it is still policy decision.

                      Why don’t you go through the list and tell me which ones you think should go to referendum and why.

                      “Did we really need 249 policy changes last year?”

                      See the link – tell me which ones you think weren’t worthwhile.

                      “Why is it that in today’s world with such high productivity that we don’t have enough time for everyone to participate in their own governance?”

                      Do you have time to investigate and make an informed decision on 249 bills?

                      http://www.parliament.nz/en-NZ/PB/Legislation/Bills/Default.htm

      • Wayne 10.1.2

        While I agree that a govt needs to be able to implement policy that it is elected on, there are limits. It would not be OK for a govt to say confiscate peoples shares without compensation, or effectively suspending free speech by nationalising all radio stations, even if that was a policy. That is why the rule of law and a Bill of rights is essential to protect our rights against govt.

        Now of course part privitsation of SOE’s is not in the same category, since the rights of induividual citizens are not affected. Neither their liberty or their property are affected by such a policy. However we will have to wait to see what the Supreme Court says about iwi (a category of private rights) interests in water in relation to the policy.

        • Draco T Bastard 10.1.2.1

          Now of course part privitsation of SOE’s is not in the same category, since the rights of induividual citizens are not affected.

          Actually, they do. Their rights to have a say in their government is being bypassed by not having a binding referendum.

          Neither their liberty or their property are affected by such a policy.

          We presently own those power companies and they’re being sold without our permission.

          However we will have to wait to see what the Supreme Court says about iwi (a category of private rights) interests in water in relation to the policy.

          Yes, it’s a travesty that our rights and properties are protected by such slim legalese.

      • Green machine UpandComer 10.1.3

        It’s treason/detrimental to NZ, factually, if Draco disagrees with it.

    • AmaKiwi 10.2

      Draco T Bastard, +++++++ 1

      I agree but for tactical reasons I have of late been arguing for “veto referendums.” If parliament passes a bill we can have a referendum to veto it.

      We in NZ have been culturally brainwashed into a deep distrust of our fellow citizens. Time and again someone will say how stupid the government is. I reply with a suggestion of referendums. They pull back in revulsion as if I am inviting the Barbarians to take over Rome.

      Very successful brainwashing by the NZ education system.

      • geoff 10.2.1

        I was just thinking about this concept myself. Just keep the present system but allow the public a veto for highly unpopular things.

  11. gobsmacked 11

    Larry Williams on Newstalk ZB said (and I promise I am not making this up) that we didn’t need a referendum on a 4 year term, Parliament should just get on and do it “overnight”.

    When influential idiots (well, he does have an audience) are proposing an Enabling Act, presumably in the name of efficiency, then we should worry. And defend what little democracy we have.

    (and I don’t want to constantly be having a Shearer-swipe, but for God’s sake … think, man, think. You don’t have to chase after every stick Key throws)

    • AmaKiwi 11.1

      Yes, as I just said in reply to Draco, we have been acculturated to blind obedience to the elite.

      Our NZ/English culture has not had a violent revolution which overturned aristocratic autocracy.

      Modern French governments get very nervous when there is a mass street demonstration in Paris. It may have been 220 years ago, but in their guts they remember street demonstrations started the French revolution.

  12. bad12 12

    Yep when a major employer goes belly up taking the livelihood of at least hundreds of workers down with it,(more than a few of whom will lose their homes), having not a clue about what to say or do about such a dire situation the fall back position is to have a ‘distraction’,

    Enter stage right Slippery the Prime Minister dragging with Him the big red herring of a 4 year Parliamentary term,

    It aint going to happen as Slippery knows He just spun that line because the trail of destruction being exhibited in the Depression Economy which His mate Bill from Dipton is running just began to seriously bite the arse of the middle class…

  13. Wayne 13

    Actually the arguments for 4 years are reasonably strong, and relate primarily to the impact of MMP. The last two referenda were held under FPP. In 1990 there had been recent experience of the Govt acting beyond its mandate.

    Under MMP the process of government is more drawn out. Pretty much everything is subject to negotiation by the coalition partners. The Select Committee process is much more robust, which extends the time legislation takes. Of course Select Committees don’t make govt policy, so they do not veteo govt, as some here seem to expect.

    Based on my experience it seems that it now takes 4 years to do what used to take 3 under FPP. While in most respects that is actually a good thing (more critical examination of govt policy), it also means a 4 year term makes sense.

    As an example, compare how easy full privitisation was under FPP, compared to the lengthy process of the Mixed Ownerdship model where only 49% is intended for sale. Now I know this site wants delay on this issue, but there will bound to be a key policy of a future Labour/Green govt that will be subject to a similiar delay, which will have commenters on this site being very frustrated.

    One of the results of a 4 year term is that Govts would routinely have two terms rather than the current three terms, which has been the most common situation for the last 70 years. I think that would be a good thing, and produce a better govt. The last term of three term govts is usually pretty dismal; think of Muldoon 1981 – 1984, Bolger Shipley 1996 – 1999 and Clark 2005 – 2008. In contrast think of the energy that the Obama administration is bringing to its second term. Of course he is term limited, which is not the parliamentary model.

    You just cannot assess the merits of this issue by what you think of the Key government. One does have to recall that the people actually expect a government to govern according to its mandate, and by and large that is what the Key government has done. Your turn will come, and you will expect to be able to govern.

    An extension of the term should not be linked with having a supreme constitution, giving an unelected Supreme Court strike down powers. That is not part of a parliamentary democracy, and does not feature in comparable jurisdictions. In any event the courts have progressively become more influential, as can be seen with Bill of Rights decisions and “principles of the treaty” decisions.

    However, I do think we could have a modernised and more complete Constitution Act to repalce the 1986 Act. Such an Act would cover all the fundamentals of the constitution, and would be more accesible than the current act. It would also have a Preamble that covered our most important values. I will be making a full submission on this to the Constitution Review Committee.

    • AmaKiwi 13.1

      @ Wayne

      “People actually expect a government to govern according to its mandate.”

      What f*cking mandate? After the election they pull all of their surprises out and jam them down our throats.

      Key & Co. destroyed local government in Auckland and Christchurch. They had no mandate to jam a Super City down our throats? Never whispered a word about it in the election campaign.

      “Mandate” my a*se.

      • Draco T Bastard 13.1.1

        Key & Co. destroyed local government in Auckland and Christchurch. They had no mandate to jam a Super City down our throats? Never whispered a word about it in the election campaign.

        And removed the requirement of a referendum so that they could ram down our throats as well. This is the type of action that should have had every MP that voted to remove that referendum in jail for a minimum of 20 years.

        • Tim 13.1.1.1

          +1 Indeed.
          Can any lawyer type fellas remind me of what the legal definition of treason is/was?
          It used to be something like jeopardising the physical/economic/etc. wellbeing of the state yea?

          I could never understand why the likes of Messrs Fay & Richwite (among others) were not thrown in the can.

          • TheContrarian 13.1.1.1.1

            This might help Tim:

            http://lmgtfy.com/?q=what+is+treason

            • McFlock 13.1.1.1.1.1

              Most humourous. Shame it delivered a non-new-zealand-lawyery response. But ten out of ten for being a dick (again).

              Treason falls under the Crimes Act 1961:

              73 Treason
              Every one owing allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen in right of New Zealand commits treason who, within or outside New Zealand,—
              (a)kills or wounds or does grievous bodily harm to Her Majesty the Queen, or imprisons or restrains her; or
              (b)levies war against New Zealand; or
              (c)assists an enemy at war with New Zealand, or any armed forces against which New Zealand forces are engaged in hostilities, whether or not a state of war exists between New Zealand and any other country; or
              (d)incites or assists any person with force to invade New Zealand; or
              (e)uses force for the purpose of overthrowing the Government of New Zealand; or
              (f)conspires with any person to do anything mentioned in this section.

              • TheContrarian

                It was for amusement purposes, McFlock.

                learn to relax. You don’t always have to be an angry old fuck.

                Can anyone point out which section of the above would relate to asset sales?

                • McFlock

                  It’s always for your amusement.

                  And to answer your question: none of it. Which is why they aren’t in gaol for treason.

                  Although your little google thing showed a variety of “treason”definitions around the world, and some of the broader ones along the lines of “damage to the safety or security of the state” could conceivably include things like aiding a rush on the dollar or conspiring to privatise assets. Bit of a legal loophole there, in my opinion. Not one I’d expect pollies to fix any time soon, though.

                  • TheContrarian

                    As long as you can amuse yourself everything is else is supplementary (or some other gibberish I can just make up).

                    It would take a pretty cunning lawyer to have Key et al. up on treason charges.

                    • Akldnut

                      “Can anyone point out which section of the above would relate to asset sales?

                      The answer is definitely B
                      These assholes have been waging war on ordinary New Zealanders since they got into office.

    • Draco T Bastard 13.2

      As an example, compare how easy full privitisation was under FPP, compared to the lengthy process of the Mixed Ownerdship model where only 49% is intended for sale. Now I know this site wants delay on this issue, but there will bound to be a key policy of a future Labour/Green govt that will be subject to a similiar delay, which will have commenters on this site being very frustrated.

      I’m sure there would be such commentators but I’m also sure that slowing down legislation is far better than speeding it up which is what you seem to be arguing for.

      • Wayne 13.2.1

        I accept that delay is inevitable (and by and large appropriate) under MMP, which I voted for in both the1993 and the 2011 referenda. I was using it as an example of why a 4 year term is desirable.

    • Pascal's bookie 13.3

      Those aren’t strong arguments, they are a confused mess.

      On the one hand you say that government’s need more time to get things done, and on the other hand that a 4 year term will force them to be more energetic because they will only get 8 years instead of 9.

      And the MOM policy wasn’t held up because of ‘MMP’, but due to court cases. The original idea was to have them all done and dusted in a roughly two year window.

      • Wayne 13.3.1

        Yes it will lead to 8 years rather than 9, but the two terms will mean a better govt for the 8 years, rather than the usually wasted and divisive third term.

        It does look likely that we are going to get a referendum on the issue in the 2014 election. If it passes it would presumably affect the 2017 election, so the next election would be 2021, rather than 2020.

        • Pascal's bookie 13.3.1.1

          Why will it lead to better government in the eight years? You didn’t actually explain that

          Is the country going to look at those 8 years of good government and decide to throw them out? Or will they throw them out after a shit term in government?

          • Wayne 13.3.1.1.1

            My view on why two 4 years is better is because most three term govts seem to be able to manage two good terms; sufficiently so that they get relected for a third term. But a four term govt is rare, so clearly most voters are not impressed with the third term. In fact the result is usually quite decisive.

            In the last two govts, the Opposition actually went backwards in the second election; the Nats in 2002, and Labour in 2011. So the voters obviously thought the Govt of the day was doing something right. The second election is very much an assessement of how well the Govt has done, rather than an assessment of the Opposition, who is not usually thought to be a credible option anyway, unless the Govt has been a real disaster.

            I appreciate that the above is really an electoral assessment, rather than an analytical evaluation of the quality of govt.

            In this regard I would say that most governments have a six year view. They have an agenda, which they know will take more than 3 years to implement and deliver. They also know they absolutely must have been seen to deliver within two terms, since by the second term voters will essentially decide whether you have suceeded or not. They will have very little interest in a govt that keeps saying the problems present after 6 years in government were caused by the previous govt.

            Few govts in NZ have a 9 year plan, even though it might make sense to have one. The third term is just too conjectural when first elected to be able to have such a view. But two terms are not. In fact one plans at the outset on getting two terms.

            So I consider that two terms leading to an eight year plan would lead to better long term govt. For instance a creative Innovation agenda will take 8 years to implement. The Callaghan Institute would have started in 2011 had it not been for the Christchurch earthquakes. Instead it is starting in 2013. It will be barely off the ground by 2014. Even if it had started in 2011, the new facilities would have taken till 2014 to be built and to deliver even the first results.

            • Pascal's bookie 13.3.1.1.1.1

              Thanks. I think I’m getting you a bit clearer now.

              To start with, I agree that governments will have a plan for two terms. But I also think that by the time of the second term they will be thinking about the third. Basically, I think they plan for the next term as well as the one they are in. Consequently, I don’t think changing the length of the term will have much effect.

              I think that governments have often lost popularity in the third term due to the fact the opposition will have got their shit together, and have a coherent message to sell that is in response to the what the government has been doing. Combine that with the fact that the government has been in long enough that they can’t blame their predecessors, and the third term becomes a defensive nightmare.

              A lot of the things that take a long time to do, actually finished by a different government than the one that started them. If it is a popular thing, the opposition will usually be swallowing it as a dead rat and pledging not to change it, but even more often there is consensus between L and N, except for at the margins.

  14. Rodel 14

    ‘……….Key and Shearer want 4 year terms of parliament……….’? What a surprise!

    Q: Why do they keep bringing this up when we (the people) have rejected it twice before ?

    Answer 1: I’d like my job for longer than 3 years thanks…. say….4 years…. Hey what about 6 years?…..8?… 10?…. Permanent tenure would be nice.

    Answer 2: It gives indolent media something easy to write about and distracts their attention from the real issues.

    • Ed 14.1

      Agreed re indolent media – they appear to have misrepresented Shearer’s position though – perhaps that is all part of the attempted distraction.

  15. Tiresias 15

    Consider a really radical Government elected, say, to make sweeping changes to our existing well-embeded capitalist system. Three years would be far too short for that, and if it jumped in feet-first with sweeping legislative changes in its first year the deep societal shifts resulting would still be underway when year three comes around with perhaps a spooked electorate voting for a return to the status quo ante.

    We might think that a good thing if it was a Right-wing agenda being imposed, but I would argue that from where we are now it would take longer to move the nation to the left while retaining popular public support. Don’t forget the damage Douglas caused in less than three-years, before Lange called for a cup of tea.

    Why do we even have General Elections? They bring the country to a standstill for months, saturate us with political snake-speak and baby-kissing but mean the politicians can ignore us all the rest of the time. And they often result in major policy shifts that are only just working themselves out when it all changes again. Why not divide the country into, say, 20 constituences each with 5 MPs one of which has to stand for election on a five-year cycle, so that every year there are 20 elections covering one-fifth of Parliament. The Government would have to govern on the basis of an annual approval.

  16. George D 16

    Major constitutional changes to policy should have the backing of the party which proposes them.

    • AmaKiwi 16.1

      George D

      “Major constitutional changes to policy should have the backing of the PARTY which proposes them.”

      And the public? By what principles of democracy is it legitimate to implement ANY policy which is opposed by the majority of the people?

      The political party system has failed. Why shouldn’t we be able to pick and choose which policies we prefer from which parties? That’s called democracy and it requires referendums.

      I like Party A’s education, race relations, ACC, and trade policies.

      I like Party B’s welfare reform, prison reform and CHC re-build policies.

      I like Party C’s environment, tourism, drugs, health, and trade policies.

      I like Party D’s foreign policy and opposition to involvement in foreign wars as well as their plans for retirement care.

      With referendums we can have the policies the majority of us want. It’s our country. We decide.

      If the majority of the PEOPLE, think the policy was a mistake (legalizing drugs, lowering the drinking age), we can call another referendum. No waiting for 3 years for another government.

      You want prompt decision making, vote for binding referendums.

      • TheContrarian 16.1.1

        How much time you got AmaKiwi because last year alone some 249 Bills were introduced to Parliament.

      • fatty 16.1.2

        With referendums we can have the policies the majority of us want. It’s our country. We decide.

        How is this different from what we have? We vote every 3 years for new policies.
        Why would people vote differently in referendums, compared with elections?

        • Draco T Bastard 16.1.2.1

          Because they’d be voting for the policy.

          • TheContrarian 16.1.2.1.1

            249 bills were presented in the last 12 months. We gonna vote on them all?

            • AmaKiwi 16.1.2.1.1.1

              No. If a bill is passes parliament we have 90 days to collect 25,000 signatures to challenge the bill in a binding referendum.

              In places which have veto referendums, it rare for a bill to be turned down by the voters. The threat of a referendum causes legislators to write laws the people will accept.

              If we had binding veto referendums, we might have an Auckland Super City BUT it would not in any way resemble the fiasco that has been foisted on us.

              • TheContrarian

                Hope you got a lot of time on your hands then.

                249 bills passed/passing in 12 months….good luck

          • fatty 16.1.2.1.2

            I realise the vote would be on each policy, rather than a list of policies…apart from that, how would that be different?

      • Pascal's bookie 16.1.3

        we can call another referendum

        How would this work? What’s the threshold for calling a referendum?

        • Frank Macskasy 16.1.3.1

          10% of registered voters on the Electoral Roll. (Not 10% of voting-age adults, as some believe.)

          • Pascal's bookie 16.1.3.1.1

            Takes too long. the proposal seems to be that we’ll be having a lot more referenda, and that it will serve as a more effective check on the executive than waiting for elections.

            What we have now takes the thick end of a parliamentary term to cycle through.

          • fatty 16.1.3.1.2

            true…the ACT Party would love this.
            Say hello to their one law for all racist bullshit.
            Say goodbye to Maori culture.
            Say hello to corporations funding referendums – we’d be fracking within a month.
            Say hello to the bigotted, but determined minorities suppressing the human rights of other minorities.
            Say hello to money becoming even more powerful in shaping and pushing through policies.

            • Pascal's bookie 16.1.3.1.2.1

              Yeah, my main reason for not wanting binding referenda are civil liberties. It’s a nightmare. One shocking crime and we’d have the death penalty back on the books, till we execute some poor fucker repeal it, rinse , repeat.

              Treaty issues? Forget about it.

              • TheContrarian

                Yeah I was thinking along the same lines as PB.

                So many things could produce a knee-jerk reaction in the public.

              • Draco T Bastard

                Always someone going to bring out the BS of Mob Rule.

                • Pascal's bookie

                  Feel free to present an argument.

                  • geoff

                    So how do you stop shit like the unpopular sale of assets?

                    • Te Reo Putake

                      National claim they have a mandate for the sales. The referendum will prove they don’t. They then risk alienating the voting public going into the next election if they carry on flogging them off. And the next election comes down to a few percentage movement away from national to the left.

                      BTW, signatures are still needed for the referendum. Please help get as many as possible before it closes off. Cheers.

                    • geoff

                      Haven’t National said that they would ignore the results of the referendum? NZ has a history of politicians ramming through unpopular decisions, Rogernomics, Ruthanasia etc, John Key probably woudn’t be wrong to think he could get away with the asset sales in spite of their unpopularity. I personally think that the more likely reason he wouldn’t proceed would be if Rio Tinto pulls out of NZ, which would seriously effect the sale price of power companies.

                    • Draco T Bastard

                      National claim they have a mandate for the sales. The referendum will prove they don’t. They then risk alienating the voting public going into the next election if they carry on flogging them off. And the next election comes down to a few percentage movement away from national to the left.

                      And yet our state assets end up being sold making us poorer.

                      Haven’t National said that they would ignore the results of the referendum?

                      Don’t know if they’ve said that outright but, as the referendum isn’t binding and National are there to sell out NZ, then they will definitely sell our assets.

                • TheContrarian

                  I’d like to hear this argument too

                • fatty

                  I’d like to hear an argument against mob rule too.
                  Sociology and psychology have covered the effects of the crowd, populism, moral panics, social movements, lobbyists etc extensively throughout the 20th Century. I am not familiar with the opposing argument

                • TheContrarian

                  Quite right, fatty.

                  One only needs to look at the extreme nationalism of fascist politics to find evidence.

                  Remember The Third Wave?

                  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Third_Wave

                  • fatty

                    Interesting – I hadn’t heard of it, just found a TV movie of it made in 1981, will watch that now.

                    In addition to that extreme, but possible example, I would say that our last referendum was disturbing enough. We had a repulsive lobby group – family first – who distorted the issue of child abuse for 2 reasons. One was to protect their right to smack children (Jesus must be proud), the other reason was to get Labour out of government.
                    They manufactured a moral panic by framing the debate as an issue of freedom vs government control, and they did it so well that it was impossible to bring logic into the argument.
                    That referendum was an extreme lobby group using fear for their redneck desires. They did it easily. That would become the norm if we moved to regular referendums

                    • geoff

                      So the argument is based on the assumption that the general populace is too ignorant to make reasonable choices and can be easily swayed by media manipulation?

                    • fatty

                      So the argument is based on the assumption that the general populace is too ignorant to make reasonable choices and can be easily swayed by media manipulation?

                      No, “ignorant” is a judgement call. I wouldn’t use that word, I would say the general populace can be seduced. See the 2008 and 2012 election as proof of that. How else would you explain John Key’s popularity?

                      Its not so much media manipulation, but more manipulation by some people who have the ability to use the media as the vehicle for their message.

                    • Pascal's bookie

                      There’s a fair amount of empirical evidence behind the assumption.

                      Whipping up a crowd against a minority isn’t exactly an uncommon tactic.

                      Example:

                      When the court ruled that iwi had a claim to be heard with regard to the foreshore and seabed, within 6 months the mainstream liberal position was the Foreshore and seabed act. I suspect that if it was going to a referendum we would have seen something far closer to Brash’s position, ie, flat out nationalisation. And who’s to say that’s all there would have been on the ballot. Maori seats? Principles of the treaty of Waitangi being excised from legislation?

                      The idea that when an event happens everyone will calmly and soberly view things is kumbaya wishful thinking.

                      Humans don’t work like that.

                    • geoff

                      I’m not disagreeing with the assumption I just wanted to clarify what your position is.
                      I think you guys have a point about mob rule etc but i still think there must be something better than the present system as it stands.
                      Out of interest, has anyone ever conducted a survey of NZ’ers to see if they would support the death penalty?

                    • geoff

                      Also, if the population is capable of being manipulated, is this a problem that can be addressed with education?

                    • TheContrarian

                      @Fatty

                      This one is much better.

                      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wave_%282008_film%29

                    • fatty

                      but i still think there must be something better than the present system as it stands.

                      For sure…I’m not defending our current system, I think its wrong in so many areas and I want change!

                      Also, if the population is capable of being manipulated, is this a problem that can be addressed with education?

                      Yes, I think that can work and it should be seen as part of the solution. But that just isn’t the case right now and that is why I think referendums are not the answer.
                      Most people are not educated on how our economic, social and political ideologies impact on society. That is not to say that people are stupid, greedy or ignorant…its just that people live their lives without being able to, or wanting to learn about them. If everyone was as educated about politics and inequality as most of us here, then referendums could be the best way of organising ourselves politically, but that would take education and a media that is not driven by advertising and profits (as you point out).

                      Just to clarify another point that AmaKiwi made above. I do not “distrust” my fellow citizens. I trust them to be nice to me, I trust them not to be violent, I trust that they would treat me with compassion and care. However, within today’s society, I do not trust my fellow citizens to be able to understand and explain the complex cause and effect of social & economic policies. I also don’t trust them to understand how our colonial history continues to shape our current race relations. I don’t trust that my fellow citizens understand the complexity of society when I look at our TV, newspapers and general chat around the water cooler.

                      I trust them as people, I do not trust their knowledge. I hope people don’t trust my knowledge of car engines.

                    • fatty

                      @ TheContrarian

                      Cheers…that 1981 film looked average.

                    • TheContrarian

                      It’s a very good film.

                    • geoff

                      @fatty:
                      Good comment, I agree.
                      So what’s your solution to problems like asset sales? How do you stop things like that without binding referendums?

                    • fatty

                      So what’s your solution to problems like asset sales? How do you stop things like that without binding referendums?

                      Without descending into my usual Labour are shite rant (which is a real problem), I would say it is political education and involvement. But that is not going to change much in a hurry. We are moving further towards a depoliticised society all the time.

                      I think its got to be education, but there also has to be an opportunity for people to feel as though they are being represented. I know we have the baby-boomer buldge and therefore they will dominate politics, and policies will generally benefit them, but we have to make politics more representative. We can’t expect young people to become politically active when they have no voice. We can’t expect democracy to work when people are excluded.

                      How do you stop things like that without binding referendums?

                      The assets are gone as far as I’m concerned, that happened after the 2011 election. I wish NZ didn’t vote that way, I can’t believe NZ would vote the Nats and then complain about every policy they bring in. Binding referendums could stop the asset sales, but then if we had binding referendums, our children would be the only people in society that could be legally subjected to physical pain as a means of control. All the problems that we have with our current political system will not be fixed with binding referendums, instead it will just become streamlined and more destructive.

                      I’d prefer to see civics classes in schools, heavy restrictions on election spending (so each party has the same amount of money to spend), no debates on TV, no putting up signs prior to elections…try to make it more policy-centric and stop this subconscious marketing.
                      Next time Labour are in they need to sort out broadcasting. Perhaps sell of all TVNZ shite and reduce it to two channels of advertising free TV. TV1 & TV 2 are not worth keeping at the moment. The tories won that battle, its full of shit and fosters stupidity, sell it and start again. Just don’t do that PPP rubbish again.

                    • TheContrarian

                      “I think its got to be education”
                      “I would say it is political education and involvement”

                      That’s all well and good – I think education is the most important thing – however John Key IS educated. And well educated.
                      The most influential thinkers of the neo-liberal movement have education that’d turn your lights out.

                      They are well versed in Marxism, Neo-Conservatism, Liberalism, Anarchism, Communism, Third Way, Christianity and Buddhism – just to name a few.
                      They choose their beliefs based upon their education and political involvement.

                      Differing opinions are innate in the personality.

                    • geoff

                      @fatty
                      …but then if we had binding referendums, our children would be the only people in society that could be legally subjected to physical pain as a means of control. All the problems that we have with our current political system will not be fixed with binding referendums, instead it will just become streamlined and more destructive.

                      Can yo explain what you mean by this a bit more?

                    • fatty

                      @ Geoff Can yo explain what you mean by this a bit more?
                      Sure, the part about the smacking law is the flip side of relying on referendums. Referendums would probably stop asset sales, but they would also be open to lobby groups perverting arguments to push through questionable policies.

                      This comment relates to where power sits and who oppresses us – All the problems that we have with our current political system will not be fixed with binding referendums, instead it will just become streamlined and more destructive.

                      I think using binding referendums will end up handing more power to those that oppress us. This is in contrast to the view put forward by AmaKiwi. I don’t mean to put words into AmaKiwi’s mouth, but I see AmaKiwi’s view stemming from the belief that politicians cannot be trusted and they control us. This is a Libertarian kind of view that sees Government as the problem.
                      I differ. I see those with money as the problem because it is them that steer the Government. If we take reduce the Government’s power, we are not addressing the source of our oppression. Corporations, businesses and lobbyists will be freed to create social movements that have the opportunity to create change far quicker.
                      I think that is the difference…do we see politicians as those with control and power, or do we see corporations, big businesses and those with money as our oppressors?
                      I am not defending our politicians, but I see them as puppets, not the puppet masters. If we limit the power of our puppets through referendums, then we are streamlining the puppet master’s power and influence.
                      Social movements can be created by corporations and become very powerful. The Tea Party Movement is the USA was seen by many as a grassroots movement, but it was a corporate driven movement for smaller Government.
                      Reducing Government through referendums means that our true oppressors can seduce us even easier.

                    • geoff

                      @ fatty
                      So you’re essentially saying that we would need to get rid of the Corporatocracy
                      before we could successfully use referendums?

                    • fatty

                      @geoff,

                      Yes. Once Corporatocracy is gone then referendums could be useful. However, it is not only corporations and the rich that would benefit from referendums. It is also lobby groups and think tanks that will abuse a binding referendum system.
                      How do you think family first would use binding referendums?
                      Also, Colin Craig’s Conservative Party pushes for binding referendums. If we introduced binding referendums, then we are handing more power to people like Colin Craig. Our referendums will not depend on the quality of the policy, instead it will depend on who can frame the issue by drawing on simplistic arguments that use terms like “freedom”, “Kiwi”, “family”, “values” etc.
                      The right wingers will destroy us when that kind of rhetoric is given more power.
                      How would policy aimed at beneficiaries get voted on by the public in a referendum? The victims of our economic system are hated on by the majority in our society.

                    • Draco T Bastard

                      “I think its got to be education”
                      “I would say it is political education and involvement”

                      I think there’s more to it than that. I think that there’s habit to be taken into account as well. As long as we keep people from exercising governance then they won’t get into the habit of governance and thus we will get bad decisions from referendums but, IMO, that can be changed through education and practice.

                      They are well versed in Marxism, Neo-Conservatism, Liberalism, Anarchism, Communism, Third Way, Christianity and Buddhism – just to name a few.

                      Doubt it. All they really need to know is what’s best for them and then they go out and get it usually through lying.

                    • geoff

                      @ fatty
                      Sadly, I think I’m starting to agree with you.

                    • TheContrarian

                      Doubt away Draco – these people aren’t stupid and are well versed in many aspects of political science and economics.

                      It is possible for people to be educated and disagree with you.
                      You don’t own what is right…despite your arrogance.

                    • geoff

                      Draco has a point about practice. If a system isn’t given a chance then you’ll never know. It’s a bit like the argument about the Green party should know its place and not grow too fast because it wouldn’t be able to handle it. It’s the kind of argument you’d expect from those trying to protect the status quo.

                  • geoff

                    @ TheContrarian

                    John Key IS educated. And well educated.

                    Government website says John Key has a bachelor in commerce.
                    What else has he got that makes him so well educated?


                    The most influential thinkers of the neo-liberal movement have education that’d turn your lights out.

                    Really? Who are these wunderkinds?

                    They are well versed in Marxism, Neo-Conservatism, Liberalism, Anarchism, Communism, Third Way, Christianity and Buddhism – just to name a few.
                    They choose their beliefs based upon their education and political involvement.

                    They sound like amazing, how did they manage to throw their lot in with such a load of bunkum?

                  • geoff

                    I’m not being stupid, I don’t know who you’re talking about.
                    Do you mean the Walter Lippman Colloquium???

                    To me it sounded very much like you were glorifying neoliberalism (and John fucking Key!) by associating them with higher education. Higher education being, of course, a very Good Thing®

                    • TheContrarian

                      You’re certainly sounding stupid. just because people disagree and having different opinions to you doesn’t mean they are uneducated.

                      Lets start with Francis Fukuyama.

                    • geoff

                      Right, so you were just glorifying neoliberalism?

                    • TheContrarian

                      “Right, so you were just glorifying neoliberalism”

                      Please identify where I have glorified neoliberalism.

                    • geoff

                      Ok TC, I’ve probably just misinterpreted one of your comments.
                      Out of interest, are you an advocate of Neoliberalism?

                    • TheContrarian

                      “are you an advocate of Neoliberalism?”

                      No.

              • Ditto, Pascal.

                Proposition 18 in the US showed the downside to binding referenda.

                • TheContrarian

                  It wouldn’t take much for a strong-man politician to whip up a frenzy in the voting base, a knee-jerk public, in order to pass a binding referendum.

                  People, as a group, are panicky and prone to coercion.

                  You said 10% to force a referendum Frank but I would go 33%.

                  • Te Reo Putake

                    40% seems popular in some quarters.

                  • “It wouldn’t take much for a strong-man politician to whip up a frenzy in the voting base, a knee-jerk public, in order to pass a binding referendum. ”

                    Yup. It’s a distinct possibility, Contrarian. Worst case scenario; a gruesome murder and/or child abuse case leading to death one month out from a general election and *bingo!* a ready-made panic-driven issue for at least one populist politician that we’re all aware off. :-(

                    Gawd help us.

                    When it comes to binding referenda, do we really want scenarios where the rights of minorities are decided by the Majority? To me that’s not democracy – more like a Fair-ground distorted-mirror verson of democracy.

                    With Referenda, I’ve no problem with the current system; it’s indicative and if it passes, it gives our elected representatives a bit of guidance – but without tying their hands to something we might regret later… (For example : state asset sales. Key sez he has a mandate from the 2011 election. But if the Referenda gives a resounding ‘No’ to asset sales – whilst his hands are not tied, his moral position is no longer tenable. So he has to then explain his position to the public.)

                    Personally, my thoughts on these complex issues is a mix of teaching civics in schools; a good public TV broadcaster that shows intelligent current-affairs programmes that challenges our thinking; and a society that takes an interest in current affairs.

                    That’s much harder than binding referenda – but hopefully we’ll get better results?

        • AmaKiwi 16.1.3.2

          Pascal’s bookie

          Ah, the devil is in the detail. The Swiss have twice our population and require 25,000 signatures for a binding referendum.

          Got that? 25,000 signatures in a country of 8 million. Meanwhile with 4 million we screw around trying to 300,000 signatures for a non-binding referendum.

          • fatty 16.1.3.2.2

            AmaKiwi:

            I have only heard a little about the Swiss are their referendums, they sound good, but how well does that relate to here? I often hear similar noises about the social democratic ideals of Nordic countries, but that is just not possible for us with our colonial history.
            A system that works in a mono-cultured country could prove to be disastrous here.
            Many of the great democratic ways of doing things in Northen European countries have been successful, but they are not replaceable here, especially while we’re so politically uneducated.

            • AmaKiwi 16.1.3.2.2.1

              Switzerland is as multi-cultural as you get in modern Europe.

              They have 4 official languages: 64% German, 20% French, 7% Italian, 0.5% Romansh (similar to the ancient Latin used in the Roman Empire).

              Most cantons (states or provinces) have one of these as its official language. Several have two. Fribourg/Freiburg has both French and German as its official languages. (It even writes its name in both French and German!) In areas of the southeast there are also bilingual communes (townships). Some are bilingually Italian and Romansh. Some are Romansh and German). In such places all official business and sign posting will be in both languages . . . ALWAYS.

              Religiously, the Swiss are almost evenly split between Roman Catholic and Protestant, but religion does NOT correspond to language. Many of the French speakers were French Protestants driven out during the French revolution.

              Mob rule! In 600 years of Swiss history no canton has ever asked to leave.

              In 1847, they had what is jokingly called “the Swiss civil war.” It lasted 26 DAYS and resulted in fewer than 100 casualties.

              In those 600 years there were repeated devastating wars between Germany, France, and Italy. The Swiss NEVER participated. They always remained neutral. Politicians can drag us into wars, but given a referendum the citizens are not stupid enough to send their sons and husbands overseas to fight for someone else’s lunacy.

              • Fortran

                Local dialect used by locals is SwitzerDeutsch, and it is difficult for any outsider to understand.
                I worked for them many years ago.

              • fatty

                Switzerland is as multi-cultural as you get in modern Europe.

                True, but almost all countries are multicultural these days. When I said mono-cultured, I didn’t mean they are all white, all the same religion and all speak the same language.
                I mean that they subscribe to a mono-cultured political ideology…in comparison New Zealand is a bicultural country, and our biculturalism has been a tinderbox for years. It could go up in flames at any minute (eg 2005 election)…I think binding referendums would be a dangerous spark.

                Do you think biculturalism would continue under binding referendums?

                • geoff

                  Interesting that you think our biculturalism is a tinderbox. My perception is more the opposite, that there is increasing tolerance and respect. My perception could be wrong of course, first time for everything :-P

                  • fatty

                    In many ways biculturalism has, but I was surprised with the 2005 election. In 2003/04 I would never have predicted that we’d come so close to Don Brash’s one nation rhetoric. When the economy going nowhere, people look for others to blame and racism is an easy target.
                    The problem for Maori is that things can quickly escalate the way it has for beneficiaries since 2010. Maori could wake up one day and see all other oppressed groups pointing the finger at them.
                    Remember how repulsive and unvotable Don Brash is, he almost pulled it off. And, that was alongside Brash’s crazy economic policies that would have dragged us back into the 90s.

  17. fatty 17

    I sit in the middle on this 3 vs 4 year term argument and am ready to be convinced either way.
    I have read through the arguments and have to say they are pretty unconvincing on both sides. I really don’t know. I am leaning towards 4 years.
    The argument to keep it at 3 years appears to be limited to a Libertarian driven perspective which claims that MP’s are self-serving dickheads, so lets not give them more time than we need to
    Although I agree with that to a degree, I think having elections every 3 years exasperates a major problem with our democracy – policies are designed for short term gain and with the goal of making parties/MPs look good for the next election.

    Is it just me, or would a 4 year term help to curb the problem that 3 year terms create?

    …and what’s up with Scott’s post? His reference to North Korea is painful to read, even by his standards

  18. Lefty 18

    There appears to be quite a lot of support for binding referendums as a way of increasing democracy among posters here.

    Binding referendums might work to increase democracy if we had a functioning democracy where people were accustomed to participating in the decisions that effect their everyday life and did so after examining accurate information and carefully considering the issue in question from the point of view of themselves as an individual, others who might be affected, and society as a whole.

    That is not the situation at the moment and I suspect we would end up with the most repulsive type of tyranny of the majority if we used them any more frequently than we do.

    • fatty 18.1

      There appears to be quite a lot of support for binding referendums as a way of increasing democracy among posters here.

      I think its just Amakiwi

    • Pascal's bookie 18.2

      Another concern about binding refs is that, counter-intuitively, they reduce accountability.

      Everyone gets a say in the privacy of the ballot box, and I don’t see any proponents of the idea saying that how they vote should be public knowledge, made available on a searchable data base.

      And yet I suspect that people would be rightly aghast at the idea that mps’ parliamentary votes should be secret.

      ‘People go mad in crowds, and they come to their sense but slowly, and one at a time.’

      Don’t know who said that off hand, but they were a clever bastard. Representative democracy provides a check on that madness. You can hide in a crowd, but you shouldn’t be able to hide in a parliament.

      • geoff 18.2.1

        Representative democracy provides a check on that madness.
        Like Rogernomics? or Ruthanasia?

    • Te Reo Putake 18.3

      Nicely put, Lefty. I don’t want us to have the right to beat our children or the return of the gallows, but, if put to a binding referendum a lot of kiwis would be pretty keen to take us back to last century.

      • Draco T Bastard 18.3.1

        I don’t believe that they would. We certainly wouldn’t have the somewhat more civilised society we have today if the majority of people hadn’t supported the changes needed to bring it about.

        • Te Reo Putake 18.3.1.1

          True enough, but the risk remains. And we should expect Parliament to take the lead on some issues; it’s what we pay them for. The removal of S59 defences to child abuse was clearly legislated in advance of public opinion. If it went to a referendum in 2007, the result may not have been too flash for the young ‘uns.

          • AmaKiwi 18.3.1.1.1

            It would have been our job to sell it to the voters. That’s democracy. Convince people to vote with you.

            If the USA had referendums, all this b.s. about things like outlawing abortion and no gun control would be mute. The VAST majority of Americans approve of abortion AND want reasonable restrictions on gun ownership.

            Americans aren’t stupid. They just have the best political system money can buy and a handful have tons of money to buy it. (The NRA was founded by the weapons manufacturers. Thank God we don’t make guns in NZ.)

    • AmaKiwi 18.4

      Lefty

      “Binding referendums might work to increase democracy if we had a functioning democracy where people were accustomed to participating in the decisions that effect their everyday life.”

      I often think the politically silent are the smart people and we on TS are the fools. They KNOW they have no say. We delude ourselves into thinking our words will make a difference to whatever gang of dictators run parliament this time around.

      If people can have an impact on government decisions, they will speak.

    • Tiresias 18.5

      Regretfully I agree with lefty. There is a strong moral obligation on Governments to protect minorities from the prejudice of majorities, and even to show some moral leadership at the cost of unpopularity. Governments can be good and bad at it as they are with everything else, but binding referendums would remove even that fig-leaf.

      I suspect a binding referendum as to whether smoking should be banned in public places would have been lost to smokers, the legalisation of prostitution would likely never have happened. What do you think the result would have been on a binding referendum as to whether Maori should be given/have returned to them ownership of the beaches and sea-bed?

      • AmaKiwi 18.5.1

        Tiresias

        Why do you have so little faith in your neighbors? Are your neighbors fools? When you disagree with them, are they open to reasoning? Can you not put forward persuasive arguments to win many of them over?

        That’s what referendums are about: dialogue with your neighbors.

        • fatty 18.5.1.1

          Why do you have so little faith in your neighbors? Are your neighbors fools?

          I have little faith in the political logic of my neighbours…when it comes to deciding how social & economic policies will affect us, my neighbours can be fooled, but I wouldn’t call them fools.
          Do you call all the people who voted for National in 2008 & 2011 fools?

          When you disagree with them, are they open to reasoning? Can you not put forward persuasive arguments to win many of them over?

          Sure, they are open to reasoning, but my arguments will not win many of them over in the face of a seductive leader and the power of advertising. Take the anti-smacking referendum as an example, I spoke to many people about that prior to the vote and almost all viewed it as a parental freedom issue, not a child welfare issue.
          I couldn’t put forward a persuasive argument in the face of misinformation that was designed to create fear.

          • TheContrarian 18.5.1.1.1

            The fool is the person who calls other persons foolish because they disagree with their ideology.

            It takes all types of people to make a world.When we assign labels to those who disagree with us it speaks volumes about ourselves.

        • AmaKiwi, my neighbors don’t need to be fools to not understand issues that don’t effect them, and that they don’t think effect anyone they know. Many people will bias their vote against any change in those circumstances, and that sort of bias is unacceptable when we’re talking about other people’s rights.

          While it’s great when we can win popular votes on rights, it should never be regarded as the only acceptable way to be granted them. The courts, parliament, and civil disobedience are all equally valid ways to claim rights that amount to decent and fair treatment in society, and shouldn’t be undermined by referendum. I wouldn’t want your rights to be gambled like that, and mine shouldn’t be either.

          • AmaKiwi 18.5.1.2.1

            Matthew, please see my recent posting above under 16.1….. regarding respect for other’s rights in Switzerland.

            “The courts, parliament, and civil disobedience are all equally valid ways to claim rights that amount to decent and fair treatment in society, and shouldn’t be undermined by referendum. I wouldn’t want your rights to be gambled like that, and mine shouldn’t be either.”

            Well they have been doing a shit job of it!

            Name one country with referendums that ever became a totalitarian dictatorship.

      • Draco T Bastard 18.5.2

        I suspect a binding referendum as to whether smoking should be banned in public places would have been lost to smokers, the legalisation of prostitution would likely never have happened. What do you think the result would have been on a binding referendum as to whether Maori should be given/have returned to them ownership of the beaches and sea-bed?

        Want to know why I’m not concerned about that? Because, over time, people will become aware of the injustices that exist and further referendums will correct for them.

        In fact, one of the problems I see with top down governance is that people fail to learn the lessons that they need to because they can say that it wasn’t their fault, that it was the government that did it.

        • geoff 18.5.2.1

          Yes and also the endless left/right ping pong of successive Labour/National governments all while the centre drifts to the right.

        • AmaKiwi 18.5.2.2

          @ Draco

          Some years ago the good citizens of Zurich, Switzerland, voted to try an experiment. They would allow hard drugs in a small park near the main railway station. Very enlightened of them. Addiction is an illness, not a crime.

          Guess what? Almost from Day One “needle park” was a disaster area. Druggies poured in from all over Europe. Crimes, overdoses, you name it.

          The enlightened citizens promptly did a U-turn (via referendum). How long would it have taken city council politicians to admit they had made a mistake? How about all those city payrolled addiction experts lobbying to keep their jobs . . . “The social experiment needs more time.”

          Nope. Collect signatures. Vote. Needle park was here and gone in a matter of months.

  19. millsy 19

    4 year term?

    Not without some major devolution of political power.

    And where will this leave the local bodies, community trusts, consumer trusts and school boards? They will have to have a 4 year term so they can be in synch with the electoral cycle…

  20. This is conflation of proposals at its worst.

    Give us a clean vote on a fixed term.

    THEN give us a clean vote on a four year term.

    I can tell you which of those would win a referendum, and which parties would feel comfortable passing.

  21. Murray Olsen 21

    A four year term could work if the voters had a mechanism to recall underperforming MPs, or those who blatantly broke their campaign promises. Even a three year term would work better whit such a mechanism. Democracy has to be more than “We’ll let this party do what it likes for three/four years” and then elect a different one to do the same thing.

  22. Some issues to consider about more frequent use of binding referenda,

    1. Funding. As a public debatre ensues regarding a referendum-topic, would there be controls of how much funding each side (Pro and Anti) could use to promote their positions? How would funding controls relate to things like blogs, letters to editor, newspaper op-eds, etc?

    Or would it be open slather and if an referendum impinged on commercial issues, would the party with most bucks get biggest publicity bang? (I understandf there are laws already in place, but I suspect that legislation would be stretched to maximum degree as vested interests saw the power of referensa.)

    2. Are we, as activists prepared to campaign – on a regular basis – on referenda that carry heavily political implications and devote more time than we already do? In effect, it would be like campaigning on an annual (or more frequent) basis such as we do for election campaigns?

    I’m thinking that burn-out would take a heavy toll after a while?

    3. Is it fair for the Majority to vote on rights for Minorities? How do we protect the interests of minorities?

    Or do we just accept the Will of the Majority to give/remove rights according to each referendum?

    And what if the voter turn-out is small (bad weather, disinterest, voter burn-out, etc), but a majority of that small number still vote to deny a Minority certain rights?

    4. Does having binding referenda improve the public’s knowledge of political, social, environmental, economic, issues? Or is it a lazy way out when all that’s required is a tick in a “Yes” or “No” box?

    5. How long does a binding referenda bind us? Until the next referenda?

    6. What would be the effect of binding referenda on emotion-laden and often prejudice-driven issues such as social welfare? Could we live with a result, say, that limited welfare to recipients for only one year (as the Right would love to have)? See Point #3 above.

    In times of extreme economic/social stress – such as the current GFC and Recession – how do we protect the rights of victims of recessionary fallout from calls to limit welfare assistance?

    7. If the majority voted to do away with the Treaty of Waitangi – where does that leave Maori? Race relations? Treaty claims?

    8. What is the likelihood that politicians could (would) use binding referenda to drive through certain agenda that otherwise they might be reluctant to do personally. But if worded in a certain way, and with sufficient propaganda/media spin, could be left to the public to vote in a particular way?

    9. How are complex issues resolved with a simple “Yay” or “Nay” vote. (Eg; Norm Withers referendum question. See below.)

    10. How do we choose the wording of a referendum question that prevents emotion-laden terms being used that panders to prejudice and base-emotions?

    These are just a few of the practical things we need to consider when going down the binding referenda road.

    In case anyone thinks I’m being alarmist, it might be worthwhile to note the following;

    * Proposition 8 in California allowed a majority of voters to deny a minority the same right (to marriage) that the Minority already enjoyed.

    Challenges to the constitutionality of Propopsition 8 have been made to the California Supreme Court. The case has gone to the US Supreme Court.

    It should be noted that we have no formal written Constitution to protect the rights of minorities.

    And if we have to challenge unjust Referendum results that attack the rights of minorities – who pays for the lawyers?

    * In Switzerland, those with the Right to Vote (men) denied others the universal right to vote (women) until 1971. By all accounts, it was a hard slog. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women%27s_suffrage_in_Switzerland

    * Norm Withers referendum question contained many facets, all rolled into one statement,

    That should there be an urgent reform of our Justice system to introduce restorative justice which seeks to place greater emphasis on the needs of victims and includes hard labour for all serious violent offences?

    So did one vote for restorative justice? Or for “hard labour for all serious violent offences”? If one voted against “hard labour for all serious violent offences” – was one also voting against restorative justice and “the needs of victims”?

    Just a few things to ponder…

    • AmaKiwi 22.1

      @ Frank Macskasy

      My question to you: “How do YOU propose to end our parliamentary dictatorship?”

      I see only two options (but welcome more):

      1. Constitutionally protected local government bodies whose powers cannot be infringed upon by parliament.
      2. Referendums
      3. I am open to other suggestions.

      There are books about referendums which will answer your questions, assuming they are really questions.

      I have just posted a comment at 16.1. . . about the rights of minorities in Switzerland. Their history says you concerns are unfounded.

  23. AmaKiwi 23

    P.S. We are not “going down the binding referendum road” until this country is in such terrible shape the public demands systemic changes. That will likely come with Global Financial Crisis Stage 2. There will be demands for “strong leadership,” i.e., an invitation to a Kiwi Hitler. I want us to plan for democratic alternatives.

    • fatty 23.1

      I agree that our economic crisis can create an environment where a persuasive leader can create a moral panic and the bring in crazy policies…but how do binding referendums help prevent this?
      Don’t binding referendums just make it easier for people with resources and charm to push through policies? As in Colin Craig?

  24. AmaKiwi 24

    @ fatty

    Most elected leaders are persuasive. It is the laws they pass that worry me.

    – Create a super police data bank (Homeland Security). Have a referendum to vote it down.
    – Give police unlimited powers to spy, search, detain, etc. Have a referendum to vote it down.
    – Send 1,000 NZ military personal to join the Yanks in another ghastly Middle East war. Vote it down.
    – Employment laws . . . assuming it is possible for them to get worse than they already are.
    – Obliterate local government . . . too late. Already been done.

    It is said that Hitler, Stalin, and Mao never violated their own country’s laws. They re-wrote the laws to make anything they did legal.

    John Key is probably a darling person. But some of the laws he has passed are horrendous. I would like the public to have the option of vetoing some of those laws.

    Binding referendums won’t guarantee a government won’t pass stupid, unjust laws. But referendums sure as hell improve the odds we can stop them. At present the population is powerless. That is immoral.

    • fatty 24.1

      Binding referendums won’t guarantee a government won’t pass stupid, unjust laws. But referendums sure as hell improve the odds we can stop them. At present the population is powerless. That is immoral.

      No, we vote for these policies every 3 years. We choose these idiots. The shit policies that Labour and National have brought has been fairly predictable to all of us. We voted Labour back in after we knew they were killing people for oil. We voted National back in after they told us they were gonna have a garage sale.
      Kiwi’s vote without truly understanding the effects every 3 years. You want us to do it regularly.
      Sorry, you have given me no reason to believe why referendums will help. Instead of having a persuasive prick deceive us every 3 years, we’ll just do it on a more regular basis.
      Why do you think people will start voting with more logic?
      Referendums in NZ right now will be handing over power and control to RWNJ’s.

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