A referendum on referendums!

September 7th, 2009 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Press reports:

campaigner wants a , to run in conjunction with elections in 2011, on whether the results of referendums seeking repeal or amendment of any law should be binding.

The Kiwi Party leader and a leading organiser of the smacking referendum said the refusal of Prime Minister John Key to act on the result of that referendum raised questions about the abuse of executive power.

While I wish to see the law amended, and believe most of the public do also, the referendum was not a vote on repealing the anti-smacking law.

I, for one, would not vote in favour of repeal and returning to the old law.

I certainly would vote for amending the law, as outlined in the Borrows amendments in the Boscawen bill.

But the referendum did not specify that the law be repealed or amended. For Baldock’s proposal to work, the referendum would have to explicitly (instead of implicitly) state what law is to be repealed.

If we did have binding referenda, I’d be tempted to start one to get rid of the archaic criminal offence of blasphemous libel. should not be a crime – it should purely be an issue between a person and their church.

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51 Responses to “A referendum on referendums!”

  1. homepaddock (408 comments) says:

    Let’s have a referendum on whether or not we should waste money on referenda.

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  2. Ryan Sproull (7,095 comments) says:

    Binding referenda would have to be very clearly worded, I think. It would have to be like a kind of private members bill put forward by someone in the public and voted on by the public. (Though PMBs are not necessarily exemplars of clear wording.)

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  3. stephen (4,063 comments) says:

    NRT has a post on this suggesting if they did end up being binding, questions could be verified by the judiciary, so wording and ‘constitutional’ factors are taken into account.

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  4. fishe (153 comments) says:

    “If we did have binding referenda, I’d be tempted to start one to get rid of the archaic criminal offence of blasphemous libel. Blasphemy should not be a crime – it should purely be an issue between a person and their church.”

    Yes!

    While we’re at it, libel laws in general need a shake up. Not sure of NZ specifics, but a good example is the recent Simon Singh case in the UK where he was sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association for saying in a Guardian article that chriopractics promote bogus treatments for things like influenza and ear infections.

    Any lawyers here care to comment if this could happen under libel laws in NZ?

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  5. Cerium (23,434 comments) says:

    Looks like we will be having another referendum on referendums anyway – Key has said that MMP is being reviewed as promised and there will likely be a referendum or two on it by or as part of the 2011 election.

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  6. Brian Marshall (201 comments) says:

    “homepaddock (217) Vote: 3 3 Says:
    September 7th, 2009 at 11:14 am
    Let’s have a referendum on whether or not we should waste money on referenda.”

    It wouldn’t be wasted money if it was binding. I big fan of making referendum binding. Democracy at it’s most basic.

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  7. TripeWryter (715 comments) says:

    You are correct that the anti-smacking referendum did not specify that the law be repealed or amended. The referendum asked whether a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence. That was specific. The overwhelming answer by those who voted was ‘no’.

    That, then, should have focused the minds of our legislators that, “cripes, a lot of people don’t like this. More, in fact, than the minority who pushed this on to us.

    “What’s more, people don’t believe, or even want to believe John’s repeated assertions that the law is working well.

    “What’s more, people are not reassured by John’s attempts at placation that the police and the Ministry of Social Development will be asked to have a look at rules and procedures etc etc etc, blah-blah-blah.

    “What’s more, we detect a mutinous sullenness among the lumpen public that could explode and blow up in our faces.”

    So, with the legislators’ minds suitably focused by all that you would think they came to this conclusion: “Given the expression of opinion in the refendum result, how can we satisfy the majority’s wishes. Voila! The Boscawen bill!”

    Key, with the enthusiastic support of other MPs, and the anti-smackers who foisted this on us, passed up the opportunity.

    The MPs and their advisors and the anti-smacking cheer-leaders cannot hide behind the excuse that the referendum was not specific. It was specific in what it asked; the answer implied that the lawmakers needed to do something about it.

    It’s only hard and complicated if you want to make it so.

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  8. dime (9,791 comments) says:

    nice post Helen

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  9. Colonel Masters (409 comments) says:

    Key has made it plain he is not interested in hearing the public’s view (apart from at the ballot box). Can’t believe he has the brass neck to suggest any sort of referendum so soon after shitting all over the last one.

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  10. big bruv (13,674 comments) says:

    If anybody heard Neville Key on Radio Live last week you would have left with the impression that Key is wavering on this issue.

    The message is clear people, keep sending your local MP emails and keep the pressure on the bastards, those of you who are getting fed up with the whole thing should look at it this way, even if you have had enough of the debate you can still take satisfaction from knowing that if we manage to change the law Comrade Bradford is going to be highly pissed off.

    Anything that gets under her skin is worth doing.

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  11. dave (987 comments) says:

    DPF, while you correctly said that for Baldocks proposals to work, the referendums will have to be more explicitly directed to legislation, you could have at least said that for it to work, Baldocks referendum would also have to be binding or the government would have to agree to the wishes of the voters. Would you support legislation providing for binding referenda initiated by citizens or not?

    [DPF: No generally I do not support binding CIR. I would support some sort of provision though where the head of state could refer to a referendum a proposed law that breaches the Bill of Rights Act]

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  12. James (1,338 comments) says:

    “It wouldn’t be wasted money if it was binding. I big fan of making referendum binding. Democracy at it’s most basic.”

    And another form of tryanny….no thanks.People are under the mistaken belief that democracy is freedom….its not.Genuine human rights stand above any vote…..it matters not the numbers of your fellow man who want to violate your rights by the use of the vote…you still have them.

    “Democracy is like two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner”

    Democracy is simply the iron fist fist of oppression and State violence dressed up with a velvet glove…..don’t shake hands with it!

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  13. Lucia Maria (2,278 comments) says:

    Big Bruv,

    I listened to that interview on Radio Live, and I concur, Key did sound like he was wavering. He admitted that the law was a “dog’s breakfast”. However, continuing to assert that changing the smacking law would be devastating to Parliament (can’t remember the exact phrase) is just plain weird.

    DPF, I strongly disagree with your statement that “the referendum was not a vote on repealing the anti-smacking law.” That’s just wishful thinking on the part of the politicians. Using the power of simple deductive reasoning, any person with half a brain could figure out that if the public don’t want a particular activity criminalised, and it is currently against the law, then population is voting against the law.

    Makes me think we ought to be agitating for formal logic courses for high school students, media people and politicians, just so they are not behind the eight ball on this one.

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  14. Cerium (23,434 comments) says:

    “Makes me think we ought to be agitating for formal logic courses for high school students, media people and politicians, just so they are not behind the eight ball on this one.”

    Shouldn’t you include referendum question writers?

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  15. Ryan Sproull (7,095 comments) says:

    And another form of tryanny….no thanks.People are under the mistaken belief that democracy is freedom….its not.Genuine human rights stand above any vote…..it matters not the numbers of your fellow man who want to violate your rights by the use of the vote…you still have them.

    So you’d want to balance any binding CIR with a written constitution that enshrines those rights in law.

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  16. Lucia Maria (2,278 comments) says:

    Cerium,

    I take it you are basically admitting to needing a logic course yourself?

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  17. Ryan Sproull (7,095 comments) says:

    Makes me think we ought to be agitating for formal logic courses for high school students, media people and politicians, just so they are not behind the eight ball on this one.

    Lucia,

    I couldn’t agree more. It’s ridiculous that we have classical studies and minimally useful languages taught in high schools, but no critical thinking classes. No one should graduate from high school without being able to name and identify logical fallacies and be able to form and critique structured arguments.

    It’d knock the fucking advertising industry for six, of course. “Brushing the whole mouth.” GEORGE IS GETTING ANGRY.

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  18. KiwiGreg (3,234 comments) says:

    “It’s ridiculous that we have classical studies and minimally useful languages taught in high schools, but no critical thinking classes.”

    The teachers union would love to teach “critical thinking” I am sure. Two legs bad, four legs good.

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  19. annie (539 comments) says:

    “…the referendum was not a vote on repealing the anti-smacking law”

    Bit of hair-spitting there, Sir.

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  20. GPT1 (2,116 comments) says:

    There was nothing wrong with s59 as it was. The anti smacking group could only point to 3 or 4 cases over a number of years where it looked a bit iffy. And frankly, when reading the cases, I suspect that the jury just decided to ignore the law and go not guilty because of the extreme circumstances).

    Any attempt to define “reasonable force” will only cause more confusion and solve an issue that didn’t need solving. What sounds great in the chamber and looks good on paper tends to only cause havoc and more work at ground level.

    Juries know what reasonable force is. They are 12 representatives of the public at large and reflect the attitudes on what is and is not reasonable. As an example, I would suggest that under s59 a caning, routine 30 years ago, would fall outside what is reasonable.

    I cannot help but recall the article penned by a former prosectutor noting how many times s59 had been pleaded in cases she had done – never successfully.

    The debate has been clouded by compromise. Make no mistake. Sue Bradford and co want to ban smacking. They are entitled to that view. As are this side of 90% of the public who were quite happy with the way the law was and aren’t really that thrilled about a compromise.

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  21. Fletch (6,254 comments) says:

    Makes me think we ought to be agitating for formal logic courses for high school students, media people and politicians, just so they are not behind the eight ball on this one.

    According to an article in today’s Herald, students are leaving high school without even a basic understanding of finance – eg, how to work out compound interest.

    Educators are filling up students’ heads with climate change and socially engineered rubbish rather than the basics of what they need to survive in society.

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  22. Cerium (23,434 comments) says:

    A major problem with the CIR process has been highlighted by the recent referendum. One side of the argument gets to frame the argument in their terms. Bradford can easily be criticised, also the past government and to a lesser extent the current government. But the mess was accentuated by trying to be too clever with the wording of the question to ensure a favourable result – a natural sort of approach albeit flawed.

    There could be better ways of getting a meaningful result instead of a many meanings result. Either have a question proposed by someone neutral – if the last referendum had asked:
    “Do you prefer the Boscawen amendment to the new version of S59?” the result would have been clear.

    Or, alongside the question put forward by the initiators allow for an alternate question. What would have been the result from:
    “Should children have the same legal protection against assault as adults?”

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  23. Cerium (23,434 comments) says:

    “According to an article in today’s Herald, students are leaving high school without even a basic understanding of finance – eg, how to work out compound interest.”

    Nothing new. I was channeled away from typing (boys never did that) and commercial practice (for the “slower learners”). French was one I did and have never needed it. And I have ended up working with a keyboard and accounting and accountants.

    The most memorable thing I remember from English could have been regarded as social engineering – we listened to Alice’s Restaurant. That was a lot more interesting than Macbeth.

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  24. peterwn (3,239 comments) says:

    fishe – The worst that would have happened to Simon Singh in New Zealand is he would have had to publically withdraw and apologise for the ‘bogus’ aspect and pay the Chiropractors’ Association legal costs of a few hundred dollars. He probably could have argued that the Lange v Atkinson defence should apply to commercial interests as well as politicians. Alternatively a NZ court would probably accept the ‘bogus’ aspect was fair opinion especially in the context of the general thrust of his article that chiropractic treatment of certain childrens ailments was useless if not potentially dangerous. The Chiropractors Association in UK, like McDonalds are now wishing they had never sued him – the consequential attention is far more damaging to both outfits than the original alleged libels were. I applaud Minter Ellison law firm in Melbourne for advising corporate clients to be very wary about embarking on defamation suits. This was in the context of the Gunns (Tasmania) threatened defamation suits.

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  25. stephen (4,063 comments) says:

    “According to an article in today’s Herald, students are leaving high school without even a basic understanding of finance – eg, how to work out compound interest.

    You get that in maths class, but by the time you drop maths after 5th form/year 10 and leave 2 years later it’s gooooone, unless you’re the business studies type buuut *yawn*.

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  26. Ryan Sproull (7,095 comments) says:

    Money management, time management and critical thinking are all sorely missing from high-school education.

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  27. Patrick Starr (3,674 comments) says:

    “But the referendum did not specify that the law be repealed or amended’

    I dont know why so many people have so much difficulty with what the referendum wanted.
    Responsible parents do no want to be considered criminals if they spank their children. That is quite simple.

    Most dont give a fuck how the government resolve it, but just resolve it

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  28. dave (987 comments) says:

    According to an article in today’s Herald, students are leaving high school without even a basic understanding of finance – eg, how to work out compound interest.”

    How many of these students know what compound interest is?

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  29. Cerium (23,434 comments) says:

    “I dont know why so many people have so much difficulty with what the referendum wanted.”

    It was easy wasn’t it, most people saw in it what they wanted.

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  30. Fale Andrew Lesa (473 comments) says:

    It’s not just economics that schools across the country are neglecting under the curriculum…

    Subjects like cooking, sewing, electronics and metal work have consistently been ignored – contributing even more to the current “trades shortage” in New Zealand and the need to bulk up its appeal by increasing the salary expectations and offering more apprenticeships in our own turf but also by campaigning internationally to encourage Trades people overseas to consider working for New Zealand.
    The Ministry of Education supported by John Key seriously need to get this in order because as someone like myself who only just graduated 7th form in 2007 – I am aware of the dangerous shortages and negligence that some schools are prepared to accept in favour of the more traditional core subjects of English, Maths and the basic Science.
    Most teachers are only focused on building up literacy and numeracy statistics (encouraged by the principles) and this is sadly causing the misgivings in other areas.
    People are buying more and more recipe books and fast food because they are ill equipped to cook, people are having to hire electricians to change a light bulb (an exaggeration that clearly fits here) and shirts are being disposed of over one missing button because they lack the knowledge to sew on a new one.
    I for one took up English, History, Geography, Classical Studies and Media studies but was fortunate enough to have older siblings and grandparents who were educated in other areas.

    Schools should be doing more to encourage interest by pupils for subjects across the spectrum – not just the traditionally core subjects of English, Maths and Science (because lets face it – New Zealander’s suck at the traditional subjects too).

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  31. Patrick Starr (3,674 comments) says:

    “It was easy wasn’t it, most people saw in it what they wanted.”

    was the question unclear to you cerium?

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  32. democracymum (648 comments) says:

    I see the Government have just announced a review into the Smacking Legislation

    “The review will be conducted by the Chief Executive of the Ministry of Social Development, the Commissioner of Police and well known clinical psychologist Nigel Latta.

    Mr Key asked Mr Latta to take part in the review because he voted no in the recent referendum and Mr Key hopes parents will be comfortable Mr Latta will bring an honest approach to the table.”

    Having Nigel Latta on board is a great idea! I wouldn’t stop there though, I would make sure he is given the role of Children’s Commissioner.

    Having read his book on raising teenagers, and watched his recent outstandingly funny series on parenting – this is someone who has enormous credibility and expertise on the subject of raising children. Not the least of which, because he is a parent himself.

    And he voted NO – enough said!

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  33. MikeNZ (3,234 comments) says:

    DPF, I strongly disagree with your statement that “the referendum was not a vote on repealing the anti-smacking law.
    I concur Lucia Maria.
    The referendum was about amending the law.
    It was about making sure kiwi parents didn’t break the law if they gave a smack for corrective purposes.

    David you look like you are running interference for the National party here.

    The referendum was clear to all who wanted the law changed.
    As an aside sec 59 was ok, the liars were believed and GPT1 is correct.

    Sorry I can’t be nicy nicy about this, I’ll not let misinformation stand, the law was ok and the present law makes parents criminals as they break a law.
    That’s why the referendum was so clear 80%

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  34. Fletch (6,254 comments) says:

    I want to see:

    1. The law on smacking changed so it is not illegal.
    2. A public apology from Sue Bradford for coming up with that rubbish in the 1st place.

    Yes, I know – not too likely, but one can dream – bwahaha!

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  35. Alan Wilkinson (1,868 comments) says:

    Larry Baldock is right that this is the correct tactical response to Key’s attempt to ignore the referendum.

    However, I hope that his wording demands that such repeal referenda be binding not only on our Parliamentary weasels but the courts. That will be immediately and properly effective.

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  36. kaya (1,360 comments) says:

    Huge obfuscation DPF – everybody with an IQ over 90 understands the issue and the solution. Fuck the politicking and shit talk, people want the law changed. No matter how you try to push the National view it is wrong.
    You may be technically correct in what you say but you are twisting words and talking nonsense. The majority want the law changed.

    For Key to come out today and say they will have a Government initiated referendum on MMP and it will be binding as long as 51% of the population vote for it is worthy of revolution. Who the fuck does he think he is? Is this presidential decree as to what is legal and what isn’t? Fuck him, if he ignores the last few referendums then we can ignore his one.
    Unbelievable.

    As Patrick Starr said – “I dont know why so many people have so much difficulty with what the referendum wanted.
    Responsible parents do no want to be considered criminals if they spank their children. That is quite simple.

    Most dont give a fuck how the government resolve it, but just resolve it”

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  37. Tassman (234 comments) says:

    Mr. Key has appointed that psychologist Nigel Latta to oversee the Anti Smacking law to ensure good parents are not convicted.

    For a start, this guy Nigel Latta has been a supporter of the Anti Smacking bill.

    Second, the Anti Smacking bill benefits a professional class including doctors and psychologists like Mr. Latta among lawyers, social workers, caregivers, and so on. It is a socialist economic plan.

    And thirdly, the word ‘good parents’ applies judgement; and how on earth can anyone who is a beneficiary of the law judge the subjects targeted by the same law is the most unintelligent decision ever by any PM – invalid, conflict of interests.

    Further, parents who have avoided convictions for anti smacking in the UK still end up losing their jobs and other community appointments because they were investigated by the police.

    There is something nasty about this law!

    [DPF: You seem confused. Nigel Latta has said publicly many times he did not support the original law change and furthermore he voted No in the referendum]

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  38. Tassman (234 comments) says:

    Thanks

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  39. thehawkreturns (162 comments) says:

    DPF, along with Key, has shifted to the left presumably to pick up more hits. Whaleoil holds the ground to the right.

    As before, I expect Key to flip flop on the issue. Keep up the pressure on smacking until one year out from the election and, lo and behold, Key will switch rather than be trampled by the polls with National’s vote splitting to Act and Labour. Perhaps NZ First making law change a policy will REALLY put the burner on Key’s already shrunken balls. The guy is a socialist soprano.

    Finally, blasphemy and the church…. this is supposedly a secular state. How come there are blasphemy laws?
    There is no God or Gods so how can it be illegal in NZ to state the truth? Oh, I guess its like smacking then.

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  40. Fletch (6,254 comments) says:

    You hit the nail on the head there Kaya –
    Mr Key tells us that 51% in his referendum is enough for a law change, but 86% in the smacking referendum is not??!!
    What’s with that?

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  41. Fletch (6,254 comments) says:

    Finally, blasphemy and the church…. this is supposedly a secular state. How come there are blasphemy laws?
    There is no God or Gods so how can it be illegal in NZ to state the truth?

    Hmmmm..
    Do you actually hold anything sacred at all? Anything?
    This WAS a Christian country once. We still have an opening prayer in Parliament; when an MP is sworn in they still put their hand on the Bible – so too (as far as I know) does someone before giving testimony in a court. “God defend New Zealand”, we sing in our National anthem. Wiki also asserts that the anthem has equal status with “God Save The Queen”.

    I’m sure a great number of the men who fought and died for us believed in a God. Check out the field of crosses at Gallipoli

    Is there any particular reason you need to blaspheme?

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  42. Zapper (1,015 comments) says:

    Fletch,

    So you have no problem imposing your beliefs on others? As long as no-one does the same to you with differing beliefs I assume.

    Your post does raise some interesting points though. It is time to do away with the bible in parliament. There’s enough fantasy in there as it is.

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  43. BR (79 comments) says:

    The law with respect to section 59 was adequate. It was in place for a long time and had been satisfactory for a long time. It was ludicrous for the anti-smacking brigade to blame section 59 for any increase in parental child abuse because it does not make sense to blame a worsening situation on something else that had remained constant. Section 59 should be restored to it’s original form. It is not perfect; no such law is possible, but there was no compelling evidence that tampering with it would yield any benefits at all.

    Bill.

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  44. Fletch (6,254 comments) says:

    Zapper, who is imposing upon whom?

    I am not imposing my beliefs. They are the shared beliefs (or were) of the country where I grew up. This country and it’s beliefs helped shape mine; it is those beliefs that gave our country it’s morals and values – the same values we shared with Britain, and the US (‘In God We Trust’). Like it or not, if you were born here, those values helped shape at least a part of who you are as well, just like a Muslim would be shaped and influenced by the beliefs of his country.

    Sure, you (and the country) can choose to discard those beliefs, but that doesn’t change our common Christian heritage – from the first missionaries sent to the Maori, to the Church charities still giving help and comfort today.

    If anything, you (and other PC liberals) are trying to impose YOUR atheistic values onto me and onto the country by wanting to change practices we have shared for hundreds of years.

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  45. Madeleine (230 comments) says:

    Direct democracy is a flawed concept. Legislating is a skill, it is not something that every person is capable of. This is why we must take care to elect skilled and capable and ethical people to parliament when we vote. We elect them to consider the issues, all of them and wisely legislate on our behalf. They should listen to the people but democracy is not mob rule, it is not and should not constitute bowing to the will of the majority. The majority can and have and continued to jump on the wrong bandwagons; the majority once supported slavery, circuses in Rome, they elected Hitler to power and in New Zealand if we held binding referenda today the removal of the defence of provocation would fly through – a position that is wrong (see here) that is held on the basis of knee-jerk emotionalism and ignorance about homicide law and its defences instead of reason.

    I agree with Larry’s frustrations, I agree there is a massive problem with our political system in New Zealand but the solution is that we need an upper house. An upper house vets legislation sent up by the lower house. It is typically elected by a different system so you get quite a different makeup. Essentially it means that all legislation gets a second look by skilled, knowledgeable eyes, gets re-debated, amended and tweaked before it becomes law. This is a far better safeguard that the option to call a binding referendum where only a vague conception can be communicated to parliament in the form of the referenda question to which one can only offer a yes or a no. A bill still has to be drafted in response to a binding referendum and who gets to write that or determine how much it is in line with the referenda question?

    If Larry’s petition was a clearly worded call for an upper house I would be behind him completely.

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  46. fishe (153 comments) says:

    peterwn,

    Not that you’re likely to see this, but thanks for your informed reply. :)

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  47. Alan Wilkinson (1,868 comments) says:

    Madeleleine, you must live in some parallel universe: “we must take care to elect skilled and capable and ethical people to parliament when we vote”

    When do you think that will ever happen? People who can’t be trusted to vote sensibly in a referendum certainly can’t be trusted to elect great people to Parliament, even supposing enough great people would be silly enough to want to be an M.P.

    Switzerland seems to have done well enough for itself over the years with direct democracy. Hard to see why it would be any harder for us.

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  48. Zapper (1,015 comments) says:

    Heh, first time I’ve ever been called a PC Liberal. It must be fun labelling people because of their beliefs, some good christian values there (that was truth wrapped by in irony by the way).

    I’m afraid you’re confused about what entails imposing beliefs. Forcing someone to swear on a bible = imposing beliefs. No bible = no imposing. Or do you assume that the absence of anything = proof of imposition? Wait, of course you do!

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  49. Fletch (6,254 comments) says:

    People swear on the Bible because for most people it is a sacred thing. Even if most people do not consider themselves Christian in this country, I suspect you’d find a very high percentage of people who believe in God.
    An article in the Washington Post says that 92% of people in the US believe in God, whether they be classed as Christian or not. I’m not sure what the stats are for New Zealand, but I suspect they wouldn’t be too far different.

    So, therefore, it makes sense to use a Bible to have people swear on, does it not? People are making an oath or promise based on something they believe in; it has nothing to do with “imposing” anything.

    If you were from a country where an Eastern religion is the norm, perhaps you’d swear on the Koran or something similar.

    Makes perfect sense to me.

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  50. Zapper (1,015 comments) says:

    So let the ones who believe in the (thoroughly discredited) bible swear on it. Don’t force the people who have critical thinking skills to do it. Easy.

    That says a lot about 92% of people in the US.

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  51. Chuck Bird (4,835 comments) says:

    It was suggested to Larry that the petition just call for a repeal of Bradford’s bill. This was before it was passed so I guess would to have to be worded awkwardly to cover before the bill was passed and after. In any he rejected that idea which is a pity.

    I believe the old S59 worked 99.9% of the time. Either reinstating s59 as it was or with Boscawen’s amendment would make smacking for the purposes of correction no longer a crime.

    In regards Larry’s latest petition it would work if restricted to just repealing recent legislation. It would make for better legislation as legislator’s would actually listen to submitters as they would not want their laws vetoed.

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