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Encouraging Signs

Written By: - Date published: 1:32 pm, March 3rd, 2017 - 25 comments
Categories: democratic participation, drugs, political parties, Politics, social democracy, Social issues - Tags: , ,

Direct democracy doesn’t mean a referendum, nor does it mean consensus. It can take a number of forms depending on the issue.

That’s something I could, and have written in discussions about democracy here on ‘the standard’. And of course, it’s a million blue miles away from what any political party is talking about when they bandy the term ‘democracy’ about. Or at least it was until now.

The quoted bit of text comes from The Opportunities Party. It seems they’re making an honest bash at injecting some form of direct democracy into their decision making processes around policy. Will it be problematic? Probably. Will mistakes be made and will tuning, both fine and more coarse, have to be made to make direct input an effective tool of policy formation? Probably.

But it’s a start and a direction of travel that ought to be lauded and encouraged. Straight off the bat, my concerns are that the framework they’ve set in place invites an obvious degeneration to a position of democratic centralism – ie, an authoritarian system of decision making.

Bearing that in mind, I had a look at their attempt to formulate a member driven Cannabis Law Reform policy. It’s fairly comprehensive and asking for considered feed-back. As well as the usual ‘tick box’ preferences, it asks why a particular option is prefered and there’s a fair amount of cross referencing embedded within the questionnaire template. I’m sorry I can’t link to it. It appears you have to have registered an interest in the party to access it. But here’s a partial reproduction.

On possession/use.

What do you think appropriate penalties for cannabis use are (if any)?*  (Six graded options and a box to explain why you have ticked the option or options you have – an explanatory panel)

Personal Production.

What do you think appropriate penalties for small-scale cannabis production are (if any)?* (Seven graded options and an explanatory panel)

Scale/Commercial Production. 

What do you think appropriate penalties for cannabis production at scale are (if any)?* ( Four graded options and an explanatory panel)

If production is legal, who sets standards and checks growers and manufacturers are abiding by the law? Who can produce, under what conditions, where?* (No options. An explanatory panel)

Distribution and Sale

What do you think appropriate penalties for cannabis sale are (if any)? (Four options and explanatory panel)

If legal, how would you manage distribution – advertising, licensing and placement of outlets, online, labeling, dispensary with trained staff, eg pharmacy?* (Explanatory panel)

Criminal Justice System

What do you see as the likely impacts on the criminal justice system from your proposal? How much criminal justice resource would be freed up and what are the likely benefits of that? Or if extra resources will be needed, how would you fund that? What is the likely impact of your proposal on criminals and gangs?* (Explanatory panel)


What do you see as the likely impacts on the taxation revenue from your proposal? What would you spend any revenue raised on?* (Explanatory panel)

What do you see as the likely impacts on creating a cannabis growing/ export industry (over and above hemp which can already be grown under strict controls)* (Explanatory panel)

Public Health

How would you manage mental health risks – addiction and use by young people (risk of triggering psychosis), and if relevant how should this be paid for? (Explanatory Panel)

How would you manage use? (user registration, price, quantity, e.g. number of plants people can grow each?) And quality (e.g. for strength, pesticides, mould etc). How should this be paid for? (explanatory panel)


What services do you think should be available to those that need treatment and how should this be paid for?* (explanatory panel)


Up until now, I’ve been keeping a quiet eye on TOPS and like others, wondering at the lack of discussion here or elsewhere. Now I’m thinking it’s time I paid more serious attention to them and spent some time reading through their literature properly, because what they’re attempting looks to be streets ahead in terms of empowerment and flexibility in relation to any other political party’s policy formation process I’ve encountered.

25 comments on “Encouraging Signs ”

  1. weka 1

    Interesting. Is the Keep Updated thing at the bottom of the Cannabis Law Reform page enough to get access? Would be good to see the bigger context.

    TOP are doing some very interesting policy development from what I can see across a range of policies. Lots of good ideas, but not so great on the detail. They look to me like conservatives with some social conscience. The big question for me is whether they would support a National govt, and as far as I can tell they would and it’s possibly their preference. In that sense I think there is a conflict between their ideas generation and reality (I doubt they will have enough influence in a NACT govt to gain much ground and would end up like the Mp but without the constituency). Which leaves NZ and the left in a tricky position, because while I’d like to support their ideas generation (including around democracy), their political positioning makes me want to stamp on the embers that could cost the left the next election.

    The other main problem I have with the policy development is that it often looks good at the ideas level but once you get into the detail it looks more and more conservative or regressive. Hence Morgan’s pre-TOP UBI proposal would throw solo mums and disabled people under a bus for the good of the economy. I’ve seen that juxtaposition in a number of policies. It’s like the good ideas need to be run through someone other than Morgan’s world view, but he doesn’t like doing that. So I’ll be interested to see what happens with the membership-driven bits.

    What are they doing with the answers to the questions on cannabis? What does the party structure say about final control of policy?

    In a sense their using their membership might be really good, but that would largely depend on who their membership is. When I see Morgan and TOP talking seriously to beneficiaries and other vulnerable people who are affected by the policies, I’ll start to see them in a kinder light.

    tl;dr yay better democratic processes, but only if they are actively inclusive, and I don’t see that built into their political culture yet. That’s risky.

    • weka 1.1

      Ok, it looks like they are taking feedback on those questions from anyone registered as interested (so not just members). The form is at the bottom of this page,


      • weka 1.1.1

        Would be good to hear from IP members how this compares with the process IP used. Draco?

        • Draco T Bastard

          Very similar.

          We had discussions on drug policy reform starting from the idea that we’d support legalisation of marijuana for medical purposes. That got shot down by the membership pretty quickly with everybody supporting full legalisation. Ideas got discussed and voted up or down and then the leadership put it all together into a comprehensive and coherent policy of full legalisation.

          It’s still the best policy of full legalisation that I’ve seen. Even better than that of the Legalise Marijuana Party IMO.

    • Bill 1.2

      The big question for me is whether they would support a National govt, and as far as I can tell they would and it’s possibly their preference.

      They say they will sit on the cross benches and don’t seek to be in government. So I’m not understanding why you conclude that they would support a National led government and would prefer to support a National led government. Given that the Greens have already accused them of nicking some Green environmental policy, isn’t it reasonable to assume they align more with the parties they have policy over-lap with?

      The other main problem I have with the policy development is that it often looks good at the ideas level but once you get into the detail it looks more and more conservative or regressive.

      Do you have any specific or detailed examples you can give? Seeing as how they would appear to be wanting to shake things up quite a bit, ‘conservative’ seems an odd label to attach to them.

      When I see Morgan and TOP talking seriously to beneficiaries and other vulnerable people who are affected by the policies, I’ll start to see them in a kinder light.

      Then maybe the upcoming “Struggling Families and a UBI” Policy release will be that moment.

      For me, the unfortunate use of the word “Opportunity” in their name gives me a bit of the heeby jeebies given that it’s a catch-word of liberalism. (Ie – equal opportunity as opposed to fair outcomes).

      As for how they’re processing feedback on policy formation – I have no idea. Like I say (and I have the same problem with most deliberately constructed frameworks that seek to achieve scale) the seeds of democratic centralism have already been planted. That means or would mean that a small group of people get to determine the internal discussion and decide on what is and what is not incorporated into policy. Bad as that is, it’s still streets ahead of what I’ve seen of other political parties in NZ – ie, they are at least attempting to be inclusive and direct (no cumbersome and captured ‘committee processes’ etc.) I also note that they want to use the same technique to change their constitution – which has the potential to iron out some wrinkles around ‘capture’.

      Anyway. All of that aside, it’s going to be their Climate Change policy that I’ll be looking to.

      • Carolyn_nth 1.2.1

        Actually, Geoff Simmons did say the TOP would work with the National government – until September at least, and then with government of the day, which could include National:

        From TOP website:

        Only Geoff Simmons of The Opportunities Party is able to credibly make the pledge that he will work for the people of Mt Albert with the National government that is our government – like it or not – until September at least. Why would you vote for anyone else?

        From Spinoff:

        Gareth Morgan’s TOP is debuting in Mt Albert. Candidate Geoff Simmons says they’re “blue-green”, “radical centrist” and “pro-business with a heart”. With no National Party candidate he could do quite well, although even the greenest and most liberal of National supporters may be sorely tested by TOP’s plan to remove all incentives to investing in property.

        And Spinoff again:

        Geoff Simmons: Well, in case it’s not already obvious, I’m the only person at this table that’s not already in Parliament, so the question is – if you vote for these guys, who are you really voting for? And also, we are prepared to work with the government of the day, neither of these guys is prepared to do that. So what voice is Mt Albert going to have over the next seven-to-eight months?

        From NZ Herald:

        Geoff Simmons, The Opportunities PartyOccupation: Economist
        Age: 42
        Lives: Westmere (temporarily)
        Both the Labour and Greens candidates are already in Parliament and neither is willing to work with the National Government for the next 7 months. By voting for me you could have 3 MPs for the price of 1; and some real influence to boot as I would work with the government of the day. As an economist I am the natural choice for anyone interested in a strong economy. My priorities are getting house prices and rents under control, clean beaches and fixing the infrastructure that is creaking under the strain of rapid population growth.

        • Bill

          “We are neither left nor right and will work with whichever major party is open to our policies.”

          Hey Geoff Simmons from TOP here to do an AMA from newzealand

          Which kind of leaves me wondering if other little ‘descriptor nuggets’ were left off the list of quoted descriptors that ‘The Spin-off’ used seeing as how everything they quoted is very weighted to the right. (I admit to being wary of the Spin-off)

          Or it could be that Geoff Simons is just a right winger who doesn’t know it? What indication might be garnered from the Morgan Foundation, seeing as how he was the General Manager of that?

          As for working with National for seven months…does that necessarily mean propping them up? I’d have thought they run through to the election no matter what at this point. (shrug)

          • Carolyn_nth

            That we are not left or right, fits with their “we are radical centrist”, and calling themselves blue-green, and pro-business. Really, they don’t look left wing to me.

            I am always suspicious of people saying they are neither left nor right. Puts them more around the centre, and these days that is pretty much neoliberal.

            And the 2nd spin-off link is under the video of a debate with some of the Mt Albert candidates.

            There seems to be quite a bit of similarity between the different website’s statements allegedly by Geoff Simmons, as well as with the statements on the TOP website.

            The rest of the quote after the bit you quoted in the above po\st:

            Regardless, The Opportunities Party won’t take on a policy position that isn’t evidence based. Involving people is fantastic for deciding our values, but evidence is determined by expert input. This process will need to bring the two together.

            So, basically, it’s not looking that much different from a business market research. It doesn’t sound like the more collaborative determination of policies as described by Green Party members.

            And it doesn’t even look as collaborative as the Labour Party conference remits – albeit that the parliamentary LP then makes it’s own decisions about policies.

            It also doesn’t look as collaborative as the Loomio online discussions by the IP last election.

            TOP looks more like a CEO and directors, asking for input from customers, then developing their own products/services based on their own biases and aims.

          • weka

            “We are neither left nor right and will work with whichever major party is open to our policies.”

            Yep, they’re probably what Lynn calls orthogonal to the L/R spectrum.

            NRT: Fundamental incomprehension

            However the Greens have done a number of things that TOP haven’t. In their positioning beyond L/R they have ended up with a fair few policies that are also left wing and have thus ended up being the most left wing party currently in parliament. TOP’s policies are a new breed IMO, but we need to not assume that because some of them, or aspects of them are attractive to lefties that they would be left wing policies. The devil is in the detail (my other comment upthread).

            The Greens also used their internal democratic processes to reach a position of theoretically working with any party, but in reality they can’t form a govt with National at this time because of where National are at. This was decided by the membership and from what I can tell it was probably against what some of the MPs, senior party official and one co-leader wanted. So when I see TOP going through this kind of process and making it public, I’ll be more inclined to trust them. In the meantime they look like they know how to say the right things.

      • weka 1.2.2

        “The other main problem I have with the policy development is that it often looks good at the ideas level but once you get into the detail it looks more and more conservative or regressive.”

        Do you have any specific or detailed examples you can give? Seeing as how they would appear to be wanting to shake things up quite a bit, ‘conservative’ seems an odd label to attach to them.

        Morgan’s UBI proposal is basically a rearrangement of taxation to make the economic system fairer. Except that there will be vulnerable people that will get screwed over in the process (you and me included btw). The people that will be ok will be those on the dole/DPB etc who can pick up extra work. People that can’t work for whatever reason will be impoverished more than they are now.

        The reason his UBI doesn’t alleviate poverty for those people and in fact makes it worse, is because he is not designing a system with social justice in mind. He wants a system that appears fairer to his upper middle class mind. If he was interested in social justice he would be talking to poor people ad using them to develop policy.

        Someone who wants to fix the tax system over fixing welfare is IMO conservative.

        “Then maybe the upcoming “Struggling Families and a UBI” Policy release will be that moment.”

        Sure, I’m happy if they get this right. But there are other policies where they are basically following the same pattern. Another one is putting a capital tax on the family home and expecting elderly people with minimal income to take out a mortgage to pay for that. That’s inherently conservative and anti-social justice. For him a home is an investment, that’s why it’s ok to tax it. Making income-poor elderly home owners take on debt late in life in order to pay tax, that’s the policy of someone who wants the system to look fairer but at the expense of people.

        As for how they’re processing feedback on policy formation – I have no idea. Like I say (and I have the same problem with most deliberately constructed frameworks that seek to achieve scale) the seeds of democratic centralism have already been planted. That means or would mean that a small group of people get to determine the internal discussion and decide on what is and what is not incorporated into policy. Bad as that is, it’s still streets ahead of what I’ve seen of other political parties in NZ – ie, they are at least attempting to be inclusive and direct (no cumbersome and captured ‘committee processes’ etc.) I also note that they want to use the same technique to change their constitution – which has the potential to iron out some wrinkles around ‘capture’.

        I haven’t had a good look yet, but on the face of it all I can see them doing is consulting their email list. That’s not democracy. Without seeing what the mechanisms are internally, it looks like pretty standard middle management consultation processes where you gather feedback but don’t allow the people you are gathering feedback from to have control over what happens with the information. I’m happy to be corrected if they are doing something more than that. I’d be more impressed if the actual power structures were visible (but like I say, I haven’t looked yet).

        btw, in that link re democracy, they talk about their upcoming economic policy and consumers. That’s you and me. Again, this is classic management speak, albeit much shinier presumably due to all the money he throws at it. Lots of good ideas, but when I start to scratch the surface, there are problems.

        I think Carolyn covered the are they RW or not stuff.

  2. Draco T Bastard 2

    Hey, did you know that the Internet Party’s drug policy was almost fully developed through public online discussions on Loomio?

  3. Keith 3

    Come on.

    You can be reassured, encouraged even, and as Carolyn – nth has said above – The Opportunities Party WILL prop up this corrupt, lying, cheating National government.

    So getting nice and toasted legally to anesthetise one from that effect doesn’t encourage me.

    But if one is a liberal “lefty” and this National government hasn’t harmed you and silly things like not housing people is of no consequence or being working poor is all good then yep, vote for yet another millionaire of the ruling class who knows best, who thinks forming a political party will enhance his investments and one whose alter mission in life is to eliminate cats!

    • Bill 3.1

      Not a liberal “lefty”. Very much a cat person. Waiting for the CC policy. 😉

    • Carolyn_nth 3.2

      Agree, Keith. i am skeptical of another rich guy thinking his money means he can do politics better than others – and without having done the hard yards in electioneering, on the ground over time with a team of candidates and party members.

      I don’t see anything of a bottom-up left wing, collaborative approach to politics.

      TOP does describe it – TOP-down.

    • North 3.3

      Enjoyable level of justified hyperbole there Keith. Aspects of third paragraph sound delicious. The fat point comes in last paragraph. Thank you.

  4. I’m honestly waiting for some polling on TOP before I even bother giving them space. There is no indication they’re going to make a credible electorate run, and it looks like due to their lack of registration, polling companies have been dumping TOP respondents in the “undecided” category.

    If they start registering at 4% or more, then I can give TOP the time of day, which will mainly be to say that they’re an ersatz Green Party.

    • bwaghorn 4.1

      they got 4 % in the recent by election , i no its a very rough gauge and in a non party vote election but still it note worthy

      • It’s also a little deceptive as by-elections are pretty unrelated to the Party Vote in general, (ie. in modern history governments have always lost by-elections even if they go on to win the next General Election) and in this particular one TOP’s fraction of the electorate vote is an unlikely predictor of their party vote performance for two reasons:
        a) Some people who voted for Jacinda will support TOP.
        b) A lot of people who will vote National likely didn’t bother to turn out for the by-election, which will have inflated TOP’s percentage of the vote, either from Nat voters picking them, or from Nat voters not turning out at all.

        All in all, I’ll be surprised if TOP polls within sprinting distance of the threshold when they’re formally registered. In fact, I’m not even sure RM excludes them. I’ve sent them a tweet so maybe they’ll tell us they’re part of the 2% of “others.”

        • solkta

          In 1996 the Progressive Greens got 0.26% of the party vote. I expect TOP will do a little better. Founded 1995, dissolved 1996..

          • Matthew Whitehead

            Good call, because I got this in my notifications a bit ago:

            Basically, TOP is currently polling less than 2%, as they’re already counted in the Roy Morgan as an “other” party.

  5. weka 5

    Re their CC policy, I’m looking forward to that too, and again, I think they will bring in some pretty interesting things. But there are problems.

    1. if they get 5% of the vote, and this stops L/G from forming govt, or from forming govt without Peters, what kind of power will TOP have to make gains on their CC policies? Will they prioritise them in trading over other policy? I’d like to know that before the election.

    2. they might cost the left the election. The Greens already have CC policy that will set NZ on a completely different path in terms of mitigation and preparation, and that will only be possible with the maximum Green MPs in parliament.

    For both those reasons I’d take 5 more Green MPs over 5 TOP ones, because of the pragmatics of how parliament and government works. Which is a shame, because having more diversity in parliament would be a good thing in general. We need to ditch the 5% threshold.

    • Andre 5.1

      “We need to ditch the 5% threshold.”

      Didn’t we have a big review a few years back that recommended a few baby steps improvements, including lowering the threshold? Who was the Justice Minister that threw all that work away coz she couldn’t be arsed making the system more representative? It’s coming back to me now…


      • mosa 5.1.1

        Yes Andre Collins in her arrogance chose to ignore the MMP referendum that the public voted for in conjunction with the general election, voting to retain MMP with the changes put forward to make it fairer and more representative.

        But National does not do democracy when it does not suit them.

        And not a whimper from the MSM.

        A Labour government would never had got away with it with the media saying they had stolen democracy and ignored the voice of the people.

    • Yeah, I harp on this every election, but the appropriate threshold is winning a single list seat outright, (this is different than no threshold, as you can earn a list seat with very small party vote totals with no threshold at all) which with the current size of Parliament is about 0.83% of the vote. Clearing that threshold would be close to what you actually need to earn two seats, but it could allow for single-seat microparties who are just over the threshold. I would also settle for a 1% or 2% threshold.

      There is no evidence for the assertion that having smaller parties in parliament is destabilising, in fact governments of all stripes have managed well with single-electorate parties to date, there’s no reason to think they couldn’t work well with small list parties, which is essentially what the Māori Party was this term.

      If you can win a list seat, you deserve to be in Parliament full stop. It’s actually a higher threshold than winning an electorate, too- in the 2014 election, you would have needed over 20,000 votes (20,138) to meet such a threshold, and neither ACT nor UF would have qualified if they lost their electorates. (The Māori Party, however, would have been able to go list-only if they had needed to) In most electorates, this is roughly 120%-150% of the vote you’d need to win if the race were somewhat close, although there are a few where even the margin is actually larger than this amount due to them being ridiculously safe seats.

      If I were confident that TOP would get over the threshold and would support a Labour-Green government, I would have no problem with them tactically, as technically splitting the same vote among more parties that actually get in gives you more seats under our system. <.< >.>

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