Monday, September 07, 2009

The Neverending Referendum

Right at this very moment, up in bible belt Mt Roskill, Act MP John Boscawen is holding a meeting to discuss his borrowed Burrows private members' bill to define the smack for parental correction. Meantime, Section 59 petitioner Larry Baldock is flying very close to self-parody by calling for a referendum on the referendum.

This comes a few months after Rodney Hide suggested local body referenda as a sop to public consultation on the future Supercity. This point did not go down at all well. Right at this very moment, I'd say that the general electorate is getting heartily sick of hearing about referenda/dum full stop. Public intellectual Andrew Geddis has my full support in suggesting ditching the Citizens' Initiated Referenda Act altogether.

So it seems at bit weird timing for the MMP referendum question to raise its head right now. Yes, it was part of the Nat election promises. True, with two years to go before the next election, now would be sufficient foreshadowing to prepare the public for such a momentous decision (unlike the CIRs, this one would be binding). But still, a referendum-weary and leery public is a dangerous beast to approach.

I remember the electoral reform referenda in the 90s. I remember the impotent rage of a general electorate sick of being lied to by politicians, and venting it with a vengeance. Never mind the reason for that rage was largely fixed by Ruth Richardson's Fiscal Responsibility Act, a signal had to be sent all the same.

I also remember the attempts by the Electoral Commission sending out brochures trying to explain 5 different voting systems to the lay people, so they could make an informed choice. Needless to say, you'd have as much success teaching my cat to type.

MMP became the main contender against FPP mainly due to the earlier Royal Commission's recommendations. Not that the Commission's findings were followed to the letter. Maori seats remained. The threshold of 5 percent or one electorate seat was set, a higher barrier than the one recommended by the Commission.

But everything's changed since that choice. As mentioned on NatRad's Politics segment this morning, there's not exactly been marches down Lambton Quay on electoral dissatisfaction with MMP. Peter Shirtcliffe may still be miffed, but it's not as if he can realistically hope to regain FPP. That's dino's dead. Supplementary Member voting would have a hell of an uphill battle getting through to people, if for no other reason than the double entendre title.

The only realistic alternative to MMP is STV. Local body elections are already increasingly moving to this system, and changing the national system to match would greatly simplify informed decision-making for the citizens. Realistic but not practical. MMP is good enough and you can't keep mucking about with these things.

On the whole, I think Key will be treating the issue as a tick for things promised and delivered. Unless there's a lot of private money suddenly pouring into websites and pamphlets pushing for an alternative popular electoral system, I'd say that MMP will breeze through with barely a concern next election.

The alternative doesn't bear thinking about. Oh no, not another referendum after that. Even for a politics junkie like me, that's too much. It's good enough reason for me to tick MMP in two years time. And can someone please discreetly strangle the Citizens' Initiated Referenda Act?