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On Democracy

Written By: - Date published: 2:54 pm, August 14th, 2012 - 97 comments
Categories: democracy under attack, democratic participation, political alternatives, political education, Politics - Tags:

I find myself on the Standard again defending the principle of Democracy against the same old arguments.

Most of the objections apply to any system which allows the public a say in Government.

As again we have the party in Government telling us, “We won the election. We can  do whatever we want. A dictatorship.

My answers to common objections to democracy in italics.

  1. “On top of that is the very real threat of Tyranny of the Majority.”That is a joke! At the moment we have a tyranny of a very small, wealthy minority.What is worse is Government by minority in the USA, UK and NZ keeps voting for less taxes for the wealthy, putting the economy in deficit, and shutting our society down.

    Looking at two BCIR decisions in California is cherry picking unless you look at how it has worked fine elsewhere.

  2. “Transfer that scenario to NZ and I wonder if the Homosexual Law Reform Bill (1986) would have been passed had it gone to referenda?”Judging by the polling at the time the majority in NZ supported the bill. It was parliament who held it up. A  majority are also happy about gay marriage.It is a minority of religious people, supported by Government, who are too scared of them to revisit the issue, who are holding up a sensible abortion reform law.
  3. “Or the Prostitution Law Reform Bill of 2003?”Maybe, maybe not. I suspect the majority could have been persuaded by sensible argument. But it is not a consideration against democracy that some people do not like the decisions. Many more do not like most of the decisions of our present Government.
  4. “Heck, women didn’t get the vote in Switzerland until 1971!! Until then, numerous referenda on the issue had been voted down.”Again in NZ it was Parliament that held this up. Indications were that the majority view was women should have equal rights. The decision in Switzerland reflected their society not their political system. The same thing would have happened no matter what form of Government they had.
  5. “I have a very real fear of lawmaking-by-referenda – especially law that is complex. For example, who can forget Norm Withers’ referendum held in 1999, which asked, “Should there be a reform of our Justice system placing greater emphasis on the needs of victims, providing restitution and compensation for them and imposing minimum sentences and hard labour for all serious violent offences?”?”The Government censored the senior judge who argued against more severe sentencing. Preferring to dog whistle to the ‘Sensible (sic) sentencing trust’ and their fellow loonies.Again this needed a more informed level of public discussion, instead of point scoring politicians.
  6. “You mean the majority may not agree with you! If you think you have a better way it is up to you to prove it will work.”Who are you to say you can understand complex issues but the public cannot.The majority did oppose section 59. Not I suspect because they wanted to go out and beat their kids, but as I did, because the police already have more powers than the level of maturity and skills of the average police-person can handle.

    Given more discussion and less of the disgusting name calling and BS from both extremes we may have got a better law.

    Similarly with the FS and SB law a lot more discussion and time was required to make a durable solution which was OK for the majority of both ethnicity.

  7. “Lawmaking by referenda, to me, is a lazy way to make law. It involves little thinking; very little participation by the public; and only superficual knowledge of issues – usually by media. Complex issues devolved to a simple “Yes” or “No” tick.”Doesn’t work that way in Switzerland. Politicians have to work hard at getting views across, proving that it is good legislation and making legislation work or it will be voted out.Research shows that on the whole BCIR makes better decisions than politicians.

    New Zealanders have shown over time that, contrary to your belief, the majority believe in fairness and equality for minorities. How many really oppose fair treaty settlement,  for example.

  8. “It would be like handing over the justice system to internet messageboards/Fora, for a verdict. It would be the ultimate ‘McDonaldisation’ of our political system.”And handing it over to the prettiest politician on TV is not!
  9. “Would you like fries with that “No” vote to adequately fund criminal rehabilitation programmes?”I suspect given the evidence of increased crime figures, if they are abandoned, the public would quickly vote them back.When people know that they will actually make a difference they will take more interest and demand they are properly informed.

    Why would anyone fully consider how they vote in a referendum when they know it will ignored.

    Like most people your objections are really. “We cannot have democracy because the decisions may not reflect the ones I would make”.

    You can make the same arguments against allowing the public any say at all.

    Well. I am happy to test my ideas against the collective intelligence of the public. Are you?


lprent: Reformatted this into points to make the discussion easier.

97 comments on “On Democracy”

  1. Kotahi Tāne Huna 1

    “When people know that they will actually make a difference they will take more interest and demand they are properly informed.”

    Oh really. Will they? Have you ever heard of confirmation bias? Been paying attention to recent events on the periphery of Climate Science?

    As you say, “this needed a more informed level of public discussion,” and again, where is it? The internet provides the medium. Are people better informed as a result? Of course not.

    I think making the select committee process more robust – especially with regard to quality of evidence and the duty of committee members to consider it – would deliver far more benefit.

    • KJT 1.1

      Yes. I have been paying attention to AGW and the lack of effort by politicians in doing anything to mitigate it.

      Including US Republicans legislating AGW into non existence. A King Canute moment.

      A prime example of poor decision making by group-thinking, corporate sponsored, politicians.

      • SoSoo 1.1.1

        There are some things it is impossible for the public to give informed consent to, because to be informed would require an unreasonable amount of time, specialisation and effort. AGW is like that. In the end it comes down to which set of experts you trust (I happen to think the “warmists” are right). Democracy isn’t great at dealing with these.

        Then there’s cyclical majorities, short termism, etc. Democracy is pretty good most of the time, but sometimes it is hopeless. But that’s life.

        • KJT

          “Democracy is the worst political system, except for all the others”.

          We can see how well a representative system deals with AGW in the USA, right now.
          Hard to see how democracy could do any worse.

          Eventually as Democracy develops the ability of one small wealthy clique to own the system can be nullified.

        • Draco T Bastard

          There are some things it is impossible for the public to give informed consent to, because to be informed would require an unreasonable amount of time, specialisation and effort.

          That’s why we have ministries. the people don’t need to do the research themselves – just read the research and recommendations from the ministries and other places.

          AGW is like that. In the end it comes down to which set of experts you trust (I happen to think the “warmists” are right).

          As far as AGW goes there’s only one set of experts and they tell us that the Earth is warming due to human activity. All the rest, the deniers, are just noise machines put in place to confuse people and should be shut down with extreme prejudice as they’re simply lying.

          Democracy isn’t great at dealing with these.

          Nothings perfect – we’re only human after all. That said, I think direct democracy would actually be better than what we’re getting from representative democracy.

  2. Bill 2

    Unfortunately KJT, by limiting your view of democracy to that which can function within an over-arching framework of heirarchical authority and that is based solely on voting procedures (ie, parliamentary social democracy), you’re only ever going to be able to propose some washed out or diminished form of democracy.

    I know people point to Switzerland as a better form of S.D. than exists in NZ. And I’d agree that is the case. But even taking that as a given, didn’t Switzerland manage to vote on banning minarets? And doesn’t Switzerland have a woeful history with regards its treatment of gypsy minorities?

    In the end, I don’t see your post as defending the principle of democracy because, sadly, the very principle you claim to defend is basically absent from your argument.

    • KJT 2.1

      Don’t really see your point. Because the power in Switzerland still resides with the voters, not politicians, as in NZ. The Swiss have as close to real democracy as it is possible to get within practical constraints.

      Our system is effectively, a dictatorship.

      As for oppression of minorities, that is a reflection of the society, and occurs whatever the form of Government. Less Democratic Governments tend to treat minorities much worse. Except for the elite that controls the Government, of course.

      I think we have already shown that even a limited form of direct democracy, BCIR, would have been better for minorities, in NZ, than our present system.

      • Bill 2.1.1

        I think we have already shown that even a limited form of direct democracy, BCIR, would have been better for minorities, in NZ, than our present system.

        Really? Because you see, in Switzerland, gypsy children were forcably removed from their parents til up through the early 80’s (I believe the practice has stopped now). Now, I’m not aware of Maori children being systemically removed from their parents, are you? Although I am aware of the ‘lost generation’ of aborigines in Australia – which just happens to have a system like the one we have here in NZ.

        But whatever. Voters in Switzerland certainly have more say on matters. But do they really have more power? I don’t think they do.

        The system of (non) agency in both countries is exactly the same. It’s just that in Switzerland you get to have a 1/2 000 000th (or whatever) of a say on more stuff than here. But that say doesn’t really mean anything in terms of empowerment, does it? I mean I can see how it would work to limit the power of ‘representatives’ in parliament. But limiting anothers power isn’t quite the same thing as being empowered.

      • Policy Parrot 2.1.2

        CIR’s put significant power in the hands of those who control the flow of information, especially in a society such as New Zealand where there is no official media political identification.

        So, it comes down to the same argument that the whole Electoral Finance Act was about, that money buys political speech. We know this to be the case, circa Colin Craig and his Conservative Party by far achieving the highest vote for a new party since the Greens in 1999. Those organisations that have more money and more clout are more likely to succeed to bring their CIRs to a vote, and ultimately to fruition.

        A case in point – the Anti-Smacking CIR which sought to function as a veto to the removal of section 59. Ultimately successful in terms of it getting a CIR and a positive vote. Arguably a CIR brought more by the right than the left.
        However, the CIR on raising the minimum wage to $15 which started a year later, an issue which has significant public support did not make the grade, simply because it arguably did not have the same resources as the backers of the anti-section 59 bill.

        So, no I dont support BCIRs and direct democracy. Because that is what we have the ballot box for, for elected politicians and a parliament. If issues passed by the Government antagonise the public sufficiently, they will simply not survive more than one change of government. While it is true once changes are bedded in and become the new norm, it does become harder to reverse them – we only have to see the success of the Australian Opposition in 2006 and 2007 to oppose (and ultimately reverse) the Howard Government’s flagship anti-worker WorkChoices platform as an example that successful reversals of unpopular policies can and do occur.

        • KJT

          “If issues passed by the Government antagonise the public sufficiently, they will simply not survive more than one change of government.”

          You have sort of proved my point.

          All parties pass laws which antagonise a majority of the public. When they do our only recourse is to vote in another lot who also pass laws we do not like.

          As for CIR, the bar of enabling signatures, was deliberately set too high so as to make sure politicians were not to bothered by the wishes of the people affected.

          How is that democracy?

          Why do you think 61 people (or as we have found lately only 3 or 4) have the moral right to make decisions against the wishes of 80% of 4 million?

          How is that different from dictatorship?

          • Bill

            KJT. NZ is not a dictatorship. And NZ is not a democracy.

            The ‘representative’ prefix we add to ‘democracy’ to describe our system of governance is problematic because (as I think you agree) representative democracy is an oxymoron….the representatives being the roadblock to democracy. And okay, the mechanisms whereby representatives can be held to account are woeful and could be improved upon, but just because there’s room for improvement, that doesn’t mean we live in a dictatorship.

            What we live in is a hierarchical system of governance that allows citizens to chose who will occupy the upper echelons of the governance structures from time to time. And some people are happy with that (I don’t know why) and others, like yourself, would be happy with a variation on that same theme (and again, I don’t know why).

            • KJT

              What are you suggesting instead, anarchy!

              • Bill

                Is that ‘response’ a dogwhistle KJT? Yup, I think it’s a dogwhistle. Oh well.

                • KJT

                  You could say that.

                  Or you could say I am asking you to explain your position.

                  The other part of democracy, is if you want change you have to take people with you. Otherwise you are again being a Dictator. A Stalin or Hitler.
                  Most find it hard to cope with change in other than small increments.

                  True leaders are those who have a vision of what could be and bring everyone else with them. Democracy demands much more of a Leader because they have to be facilitators of our collective vision, not dictators following their own.

                  MMP was progress towards a more democratic society. BCIR would be more progress. Workers on boards even more.

                  Once the principle is established, and the power balance changes, other things will follow.

                  Change Management is one of my “things”.
                  You cannot make lasting changes in society or people from the top down.

          • Draco T Bastard

            All parties pass laws which antagonise a majority of the public. When they do our only recourse is to vote in another lot who also pass laws we do not like.

            And don’t reverse the law changes that got the previous government voted out as it’s traditional not to.

            As for CIR, the bar of enabling signatures, was deliberately set too high so as to make sure politicians were not to bothered by the wishes of the people affected.

            Yep, should have been 5% rather than 10%.

  3. BernyD 3

    As we all know Civilisation is full of unqualified people.
    Do we really want them writing the Law ?.
    All the hard work and thinking of previous generations could be thrown out the window on a whim.
    Like you say they might re instigate it, but at what cost ?

    I think Law and democracy should remain separate.
    We should never allow some “ShowPerson” the ability to change the basis of NZ culture.

    Like I said that is Qualified work.

    • Bill 3.1

      I’m aware that this time period has been coming up a fair bit in recent comments, but hey….it’s getting another mention. In medieval times the law was indeed administered by ‘unprofessional’ people…ie, those directly affected – the peasants who constituted the vast majority of the population. And why not? It seems to have worked well and certainly wasn’t ‘the ass’ we have to contend with in todays technocratic/professional environment.

      • Kotahi Tāne Huna 3.1.1

        There is no shortage of intelligence among the people, but being able to apply the rules isn’t the same skill set as required to determine what the rules should be.

        The structure of the law is considerably more important than the structure of a building. CTV law anyone?

      • BernyD 3.1.2

        The Individuals law , enforced with violence , ratified by apathy.

    • KJT 3.2

      Unqualifie3d politicians write almost all our law.

      Not much of the common law left that hasn’t been codified by Parliament.

      • Kotahi Tāne Huna 3.2.1

        Those laws are subject to underlying principles that Parliament has endorsed – as affirmed by judicial review of ministerial decisions, and court rejection of crown arguments that contradict them.

        • Draco T Bastard

          Those laws are subject to underlying principles that Parliament has endorsed

          Nope, it’s a hodge-podge of ideology driven chaos.

          …as affirmed by judicial review of ministerial decisions, and court rejection of crown arguments that contradict them.

          And that would be how parliament can’t write laws that break the BORA…

          Oh, wait…

  4. New Zealand is a representative, parliamentary, democracy. 

    i.e. not a dictatorship 

    • KJT 4.1


      There is no such thing as a “representative democracy”.

      The fact that the party in power can do absolutely anything they like during their 3 year term, including something that 80% of the population oppose, is characteristic of a dictatorship, not democracy.

    • McFlock 4.2

      This again?

      Oxford English Dictionary:  


      2. Absolute authority in any sphere; dictatorial character or behaviour.  

      If National wanted to they could pass pretty much any law regardless of the wishes of the populace. That’s pretty absolute. 
      Oh, it’s an elected dictatorship, but they can easily choose to drop the “representative” ideal from “representative democracy”. Absolute authority.

      • BernyD 4.2.1

        One of those “Changes” they rushed through

        • McFlock

          well, you’d better take it up with the OED then. I’m sure they’ll give your comment the attention it deserves.

          • TheContrarian

            Hmmm, I am sure it was you McFlock that rubbished the idea of “slavish adherence to dictionary definitions”.

            Now here you are, basing an entire position on a single definition from a dictionary.

            • blue leopard

              The Contrarian

              “Hmmm, I am sure it was you McFlock that rubbished the idea of “slavish adherence to dictionary definitions”.

              Probably McFlock is doing so knowing you are only capable of taking in a sentence at a time.

              There are whole books written on the subject of how political agenda is being warped out of recognition, yet..well…a book consists of more than a couple of sentences to…bit rough for you. Kind McFlock

              • McFlock

                What cont was doing at the time was using uncited dictionary definitions that rested on obscure turns of phrase to provide a meaning to his words that was not in the normal parlance.
                All to pretend he wasn’t either A: being a dick; or b: shifting the goalposts of the debate. Can’t remember which. 

                • Obscure turn of phrase?
                  You mean “normal usage of the term ‘political mandate'”?

                • blue leopard


                  Look you might have to ignore him, The Cont [sic-think that’s sposed to be a “u”], I mean…go easy on him

                  Because it must be hard for him having such a…well…weak grasp…on tricky things like words

                  • Yes, because when discussing things like words McFlock prefers to be as unspecific as he can and rubbishes those who attempt to specify. Like you know, when I try to limit the debate about a word in politics it its meaning…in politics.

                    Nevermind, if I meet McFlock in real life I am going to vomit on him.

                    • McFlock

                      I mean taking a single edition as gospel, and ignoring every other edition that suggests a mandate from the people is somehow connected to the will of the people, even though all editions are trying to describe the same thing. All to defend a government that no longer had the support of the people, yet had absolute power that the opposition could not defeat and was not limited by our smoke&mirrors unwritten constitution.
                      And now you’re suggesting that such sophistry is the same as actually looking at a reputable dictionary to find out what someone’s talking about.     
                      Fuck this – I’m off for dinner. Continue to jerk off in my absence, I might be back in a few hours. 

                    • What are you having? Can I come?

                    • By the way – I am trolling pure and simple. I should be banned for a month

                      [lprent: Really? I thought you were a paragon of debate. Perhaps I should show you what real trolling looks like as an example. You wouldn’t believe how good I can get at it especially with sysop advantages. After all I have seen rather a lot of it over the last three decades. When I have a bit more free time.

                      In the meantime, squirm…]

                    • McFlock

                      Jealous of Pete?

                  • BernyD

                    Get a room guys, it’s comment or conversationm yas need to “Chat” man

                    • BernyD

                      lprent should start a chat room, argument dot co dot nz
                      You could charge $10 a shot to them.

                    • KJT

                      Could have a contrarian thread.

                      For those who want to have endless pointless arguments about semantics.

                      I am certain that a large majority of New Zealanders feel that New Zealand is not a democracy, and the power of politicians to do whatever they want should be constrained.

                      That is why any attempt to increase the power of voters over parliament, such as MMP is always overwhelmingly popular.

                      Of course many politicians are happy in the knowledge they may get their turn in Dictatorship, even if only for 3 years.

    • mike e 4.3

      so who owns all the news media then contra.
      I suppose they don’t influence thinking.

  5. characteristic of a dictatorship =/= a dictatorship.

    there are several examples of the government not going ahead with policies based purely on public opinion.  Also possible legal challenges to the asset sales would never fly in a dictatorship not to mention the voting in parliament for the policy itself. If National lost the vote they couldn’t legally go ahead. Not a dictatorship 

     There is no such thing as a “representative democracy”.

    Really? Wow, so everyone else is wrong and your assertions are correct?

    • McFlock 5.1

      dictatorship, n […] dictatorial character or behaviour. .

      So characteristic of a dictatorship == dictatorship.
      Take it up with the editors of the OED.

      • I see, so a characteristic that can be described by somebody as dictatorial means that it is a dictatorship? That’s good news.

        You better let all those international bodies, political scientists, journalists, heads of state and professors know NZ is in fact a dictatorship because they have it all wrong it would seem


        • McFlock

          It would have to be a political characteristic epitomized by dictatorships, but essentially yes.
          The Roman dictators were elected by the Senate, which is what passed for democracy in those days (i.e. no slaves, women, poor people or weirdos allowed to have a say). Just to point that out.

          • TheContrarian

            You should probably contact the UN because they have incorrectly listed New Zealand as a parliamentary democracy:

            Click to access unpan023319.pdf

            Also the CIA World Fact Book has it wrong too:

            Better let them know of their error. How embarrassing for them – outwitted by the learned alphas at The Standard armed only with an OED dictionary

            • BernyD

              Alphas at the Standard … M8 ಠ_ಠ

            • McFlock

              Hey, maybe you should tell the OED of their grievous mistake.
              Alternatively, maybe the descriptions are not mutually exclusive. 
              Either way, I don’t give a shit. Anyone who calls NZ an elected dictatorship, especially with a government that routinely ignores the wishes of the majority of people, is using the word in a commonly accepted manner. And that’s without our cops’ penchant for OTT armed raids based on dodgy information, evidence and warrants. 
              Like I say, take it up with the OED.

              • Let me know how you get on with the UN.

                And remember, as you told me once, slavish adherence to the definition of words is a bad thing. And I have just discovered the democratic can mean “Of, characterized by, or advocating democracy” New Zealand has characteristics of a democracy so therefore it must be a democracy. Anyone saying New Zealand is a democracy is using the accepted definition of the word.

                BTW – electionsnz, wikipedia and the NZ parliament website also call NZ a parliamentary democracy. It is going to be a busy night for you.

                have fun!

                • McFlock

                  Why would I bother? Maybe both terms are being used correctly.

                  • I look forward to seeing the history books correct this egregious error and seeing the term “representative democracy” cast to the dustbin of history. All hail the learned alphas of the standard.

                    • McFlock

                      … and now you’re off on some  tangent known only to you again. Have fun with that. 

                    • And you have fun advising the UN they have it wrong based upon your link to the OED.

                    • McFlock

                      Why? I don’t know that they have it wrong.
                       In fact, given that the OED also includes the  definitions:

                      a.  The position or office of a dictator; the (period of) rule of a dictator.
                      b. A system of government by the absolute rule of a single individual; a state ruled by a dictator.
                      c. dictatorship of the proletariat: the holding of absolute power by the proletariat, esp. (in Marxist political thought) as a supposed transitional state of affairs following the overthrow of capitalism and preceding the elimination of class; a system of government in which power is held by the proletariat.

                      So the UN and CIA are correct in the specific and precise use of the word dictatorship. And KJT is correct in their less precise use of the word. 
                      Everyone’s happy, yay! Except you, but then you can speak to the OED about that. 

                    • “So the UN and CIA are correct in the specific and precise use of the word dictatorship.”

                      Nope, nowhere I can find the UN or CIA using the term dictatorship in relation to NZ. Maybe they don’t have an OED handy?

                      “a. The position or office of a dictator; the (period of) rule of a dictator.
                      b. A system of government by the absolute rule of a single individual; a state ruled by a dictator.
                      c. dictatorship of the proletariat: the holding of absolute power by the proletariat, esp. (in Marxist political thought) as a supposed transitional state of affairs following the overthrow of capitalism and preceding the elimination of class; a system of government in which power is held by the proletariat.”

                      Which of these relates to NZ again?

                    • McFlock

                      Isn’t it funny how people wanting to provide geopolitical background or some other specific profession work use a tighter definition of  a word while someone in everyday language, or who wants to provide a more descriptive metamessage, might use a slightly looser definition? And so both definitions appear in the dictionary alongside each other?
                      And yet both, or even a multitude of definitions can be correct and in common use at the time.
                      Gosh, the wonders of language. 

                    • Which one relates to NZ?

                      A, B or C?

                    • McFlock

                      Definition 2 – the first one I mentioned. Which you’d know if you’d open a fucking book.

                    • New Zealand is under absolute rule of a single individual?

                      You should let the UN know.

                    • pssst…The G.General has reserve powers and can refuse to assent to the PM…..not to mention the PM cannot rule by fiat and is as liable to the laws as the public. Not really absolute.

                    • Pascal's bookie

                      pssst 2 |= 1b

                      The reserve powers don’t get used for a reason. We have a very large cabinet for a reason, ministerial warrants are held at the PMs favour for a reason, collective responsibility exists for a reason, as does whipping of caucus.

                      Power in NZ hasn’t been unbridled all that much since when Palmer wrote his book.

                    • Psssst I’d still like to see any evidential support from an international body that considers New Zealand to be anything other than a parliamentary democracy and nohing but (McFlocks OED definition not withstanding).

                      Anyway, when is someone going to ban me for trolling?

                    • McFlock

                      Normally, the Oxford English Dictionary is regarded as being pretty authoritative when it comes to using the English language.
                      When you’re telling them to correct the definition of “dictatorship”, remember to tell them they’re shit and that you know better than them. 

                    • Only after you have called the UN to advise them NZ is operating under dictatorship.

                      You realise McFlock that you are using a single definition from a single dictionary to put to bed the entire collective knowledge from a broad base of international bodies who consider NZ to be operating under a parliamentary democracy headed by a PM who does not enjoy autocratic rule?

                      I suggest reading chapter 4 of “Public Policy in New Zealand” by Richard Shaw (and some other guy who’s name escapes me). It is a level 200 political science book but may clear up these weird misunderstandings of yours.

                    • McFlock

                      That wouldn’t be very useful for diplomats who use the 1b definition in their professional work, rather than definition 2. In the professional diplomacy environment, using definition 2 might indeed be misleading, even if definition 2 is very illustrative and useful when it comes to someone discussing the shortcomings of our political system.
                      But  if definition 2 is incorrect, OED need to know as soon as possible 🙂

                    • In the professional diplomacy world NZ is not considered to be a dictatorship in any shape or form so your references to the OED are irrelevant. Unless you want to advise them that NZ is in fact a dictatorship in which case I’ll find some phone numbers for you to call.

                    • McFlock

                      Oh I’m sorry, are we in the UN security council debates now? Or in a senior analysts’ policy discussion at MFaT? 
                      Then why insist that the most precise definition is the only acceptable definition? 

                      Like I say, funny how two different definitions can both be correct depending on context, even if not at the same time. 
                      Still no luck getting yourself banned? 

                • BernyD

                  The UN would likely just ask M8, getting a straight answer from those bloody Alphas is the hard part.

        • higherstandard

          Yes, apparently according to some commenters here NZ has never been anything other than an elected dictatorship.

  6. blue leopard 6

    Great article thanks KJT

    I posted a similar link on another thread recently, yet think it is helpful in understanding the situation re democracy


    The information is in relation to the American “condition”, however, due to our ever increasing interdependancy, see a lot of relevance to what is occurring in NZ:

    “To reduce a complex argument to its bare bones, since the Depression, the twin forces of managed democracy and Superpower have opened the way for something new under the sun: “inverted totalitarianism,” a form every bit as totalistic as the classical version but one based on internalized co-optation, the appearance of freedom, political disengagement rather than mass mobilization, and relying more on “private media” than on public agencies to disseminate propaganda that reinforces the official version of events. It is inverted because it does not require the use of coercion, police power and a messianic ideology as in the Nazi, Fascist and Stalinist versions (although note that the United States has the highest percentage of its citizens in prison — 751 per 100,000 people — of any nation on Earth). According to Wolin, inverted totalitarianism has “emerged imperceptibly, unpremeditatedly, and in seeming unbroken continuity with the nation’s political traditions.”

  7. AmaKiwi 7

    Direct Democracy would mean ONE change ONLY to our present system.

    Once Parliament passes a law citizens have 3 or 4 months in which to collect enough signatures to put the new law to a referendum. The referendum decides if the law stands or is scrapped.

    The effect of this form of Direct Democracy is that Parliament is much more careful about the laws it passes. MP’s put a great deal of time and effort into writing any new law. They do not want their hard work to go down the tubes in a referendum.

    The argument that if we had referendums we would never have gotten “xyz” law is bogus on two counts.

    1. We might well have gotten a similar law, perhaps in a less extreme form.

    2. I can live with my fellow citizens wanting “xyz” law when I do not. That is OUR collective choice. I accept that my views are not always shared by the majority. What I cannot stomach is arrogance and bribes pushing through laws the majority do not want. We know our system is corrupt!

    Under Direct Democracy citizens are perfectly willing to change their minds and remove a law they previously accepted. I remember when Zurich experimented with de-criminalizing hard drugs in one downtown park. In no time it proved a disaster. The good people of Zurich quickly reversed their decision and no one’s political reputation was ruined. Our politicians defend stupid decisions long after they have proven a mistake. They must not allow themselves to be seen as “weak.”

    Direct Democracy helps to de-polarize politics.

    The ONLY change needed to our present system is that we have the right to collect signatures to have a referendum to decide if what Parliament passed remains law or is scrapped.

    ONLY one change. The right to reject a newly passed law.

  8. lefty 8

    The right to vote in referenda is not anything like approaching democracy.

    A meaningful democracy would start by giving people the right to vote on things that immediately affected them; how things were done in their workplace or how much they are paid for example.

    A meaningful democracy would control advertising and not allow the media to be owned and controlled by a few rich people.

    A meaningful democracy would not ration access to health, education and housing so people would have equal time to contemplate the universe from an informed and healthy position.

    Referenda in the existing system are neither democratic nor a healthy expression of well thought out opinions but rather an expression of who has the best advertising campaign, or bigotry. Furthermore they contribute to the illusion we have some control over our lives.

    Its a cop out to say we should put up with ignorance and prejudice if they are a genuine reflection of society. We would still be burning witches if we had relied on that idea rather than a combination of leadership, education and representative democracy to move us forward.

    • KJT 8.1

      Totally agree. But we have to start with the possible.

      • Colonial Viper 8.1.1

        Democratic worker owned co-operatives are highly possible, as soon around the world. Why should workers spend Half their waking hours in a true dictatorship, being told what to do and having very little real say in the affairs of their work place.

  9. Is it okay to say that I love the idea of a more direct and grassroots-style democracy but hate the implementation of people directly voting issue-by-issue on referenda? Democracy is about way more than voting- it is about informing, engaging, and participating in debate in the general public. Directly voting on EVERYTHING, (especially if you include “civil rights” in that everything, because civil rights should be granted in advance of public opinion if at all possible, not after it changes)

    BCIRs would have a place in reforming the current system if they had to propose a law to be introduced to parliament, for instance, but not if they’re just yes-no questions, especially if BCIRs had to pass consistency with the Bill of Rights Act. But real democracy is about person-to-person discussion, debate, and building consensus.

    • BernyD 9.1

      Which is why it should be part of the Justice system, as they “Hear” us everyday.

      So the violence of efforcement is not blind.

      Which places a lot of onus on the Police force on the front line.
      How are they going to enforce the “Laws” , By democratic election ?.
      Ultimately its a scary thought.
      They’re policing themselves at the moment..

    • AmaKiwi 9.2

      We would NOT vote on everything.

      In fact, we would hardly vote on anything because the threat of veto by referendum would cause MP’s to consult more widely with ALL of the public.

      No MP wants to pour their time and energy into a piece of legislation only to have it defeated, whether in Parliament or by referendum.

      Today we live in an autocracy or parliamentary dictatorship. What the PM decides, we live with. Like it or not.

      Why vote Labour? Because my Labour dictator will be better than your National dictator. Wow! That’s a real selling point.

    • Draco T Bastard 9.3

      Democracy is about way more than voting- it is about informing, engaging, and participating in debate in the general public.

      I’ve been wondering if it’s possible to get people to engage at the select committee stage, i.e, voting and discussing each clause. They’d have the full information available to them from the ministries of course.

      (especially if you include “civil rights” in that everything, because civil rights should be granted in advance of public opinion if at all possible, not after it changes)

      Actually, I think civil rights should be the first thing voted upon. Need to use the correct questions though.

      BCIRs would have a place in reforming the current system if they had to propose a law to be introduced to parliament…

      All the present law actually needs to be thrown out and have the whole lot rewritten. After centuries of new laws and amendments based around different principles it’s just a friggen mess.

      • BernyD 9.3.1

        It needs to be addressed somehow, like I said they have no acountability, a catch phrase of National when it comes to everyone else, but where and how are they acountable ?
        at the moment it’s themselves.
        This one keeps falling on deaf ears everywhere it seems.
        Some kind of “National Standards for the House”?
        A published website maybe 🙂
        Run by ….

        • Richard Christie

          Sleepy Hobbits and all that.

          Destruction of robust media.

        • blue leopard

          @ BernyD

          “It needs to be addressed somehow, like I said they have no acountability, a catch phrase of National when it comes to everyone else, but where and how are they acountable ?”

          …yeah, I would like to know the answer to this question

          Where, how are our politicians accountable?

          And WHO to?

          • BernyD

            Simple answer is they are not, they get elected out, they walk away

            America would use the constition to try and keep them honest while they work, which is a farce as well.

            The same for “Departments” that get evaporated with down sizing, the functional direction is changed without any regard for the historical reasons for doing it in the first place.

            That’s what I mean by “Qualified” to make those changes it should be documented somehow.

            Which would give us and them the ability to make the decisions properly, based on current “Law”

            At the moment, everything is a conscience vote judged by them and their perspectives

      • BernyD 9.3.2

        A bulletin board , you get a login when you enter parliament.
        You get to leave snide remarks for 3 years, then the public votes on a pass or fail for each mp.
        Failed mps must blog their way to favour before running again.
        Like and Hate buttons maybe.

        • BernyD

          I’ve always wanted a hate button, call me a centerist I guess

          Imagine that they’d have to publish all the work they actually did for 3 years and we get to see what it was!.

          Management level acountablility, the kind of thing they’d harp on about to us.

  10. AmaKiwi 10

    We do not have a variety of sources of political power. We have no states with powers of their own. Local government is entirely subservient to parliament, which has only one house.

    I favor the right of citizens to have referendums to veto bills passed by parliament. Get that and we can move on to other worthwhile issues raised here by other writers.

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