Professor Martin Devlin

Those desperately reading the newspapers for something (anything) interesting over the Christmas period might have noticed an extraordinary article by constitutional lawyer and former academic, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, on Christmas Eve, in which he suggests that New Zealanders should not rely upon citizen-initiated referendums as an adjunct to our democratic process. (Actually, I prefer the Latin plural of referenda, myself). Sir Geoffrey dismisses this important element of our democratic process, stating that we (the people) are deluded (!) if we think that referenda will improve the quality of New Zealand’s democracy.

In an often contradictory and inconsistent argument, Sir Geoffrey rubbishes the Citizens Initiated Referendum Act 1983 on the grounds that (a) such processes have not worked elsewhere, (really? ask the Swiss people), (b) the Act has made no impact on public policy, (really? you mean we will see more partial asset sales in the future?), and (c) if binding, the effectiveness of government and political parties would be blunted (really? you mean the voice of the people as expressed in a referendum interferes with and blunts the effectiveness of governments and political parties?)!

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