Meaningful referenda

datePosted on 06:00, February 5th, 2009 by Anita

Later this year we will have the opportunity to vote on a referendum asking:

Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in NZ?

There are two pretty serious problems with the question. Firstly, it has rolled two ideas together but we only have one vote. What say I believe one should not criminalise good parenting (“No” to the explicit question) but I believe that smacking is not good parenting and should be criminalised (“Yes” to the implicit question)?

Secondly, if the referenda succeeds what should the government do? The referenda is intended to be about repealing the current section 59 and replacing it with an explicit permission to use physical discipline for correction, but that’s not what it says. The government would be entirely justified in saying that the law as it stands is not criminalising good parents.

So we have a question that is not straightforward to answer and which doesn’t actually say what it wants.

I believe we should change the process for setting the question for referenda so that they are clear simple questions which provide an unambiguous direction to government. This probably means groups providing a description of the issue as well as possible questions if they wish then the Office of the Clerk getting the possible questions checked or new questions drafted so that the group can be given a choice of questions which are simple, clear and directive.

RfP: Electoral systems

datePosted on 14:56, February 4th, 2009 by Anita

National has promised us a pair of referenda over the next 5-ish years on whether to retain MMP or move to a non-proportional system.

Many of us have strong feelings about how our system should word: proportional or not, electorates or not, how much parties should have, and so on. So this is a request for posts, would you like a chance to put up your opinions for discussion? 

If you’re interested please email us at or put a comment onto this post.

And with further ado I’ll put up our first post in the series. Many thanks to Ari for kicking this off with the first of two posts arguing for open lists.

Why would someone give $100,000 to a political party? Because they know that money makes a difference in politics, even if they don’t want a personal pay back, they believe that the money will help the party advance its agenda. 

One of the principles of democracy is described as “one person one vote”, which is to say each voter should have equal influence. If money can help buy a party influence, then the amount of money each person can given to political parties should be equal. This requires capping political donations to a level everyone can afford, which is going to be pretty low.

The usual counter argument is that I’m suggesting restricting free speech, but I’m not. Everyone can speak as often as an loud and as enthusiastically as before, what they can’t do is buy political influence: that’s not free speech.

Principle III: equal money for equal influence – individual’s donations to political parties should be capped at a level every voter can afford.

RMA – National’s changes will go to Select Committee

datePosted on 17:44, February 3rd, 2009 by Anita

Well the broad outline of the changes has been announced, and it’s looks pretty ugly for both sustainability and community involvement, so no surprises there.

On the plus side, firstly and this is a huge plus given National’s behaviour last year, the changes will go to Select Committee. Last year’s arrogant undemocratic practice of major changes without public consultation might, hopefully, be over. That said whether the committee will listen to the public remains a pretty big question.

Second good news, again genuinely good, according to the Greens’ analysis the ludicrous loophole allowing the Crown to breach consent conditions and preventing Councils from stopping them looks like it will go.

Other than that… it looks like we’re trading community voices and a sustainable future for a chance to pave our way out of a global recession.

P.S. As usual the best analysis is over at No Right Turn

A secular state is not an atheist state

datePosted on 06:00, February 3rd, 2009 by Anita

Like most New Zealanders I believe in a secular state, like most New Zealanders I have religious faith.

A secular state is one which does not privilege one set of religious beliefs above another, and in which religious institutions do not control its affairs. Yet more and more often I hear our state described as if it should be an atheist one – one where religious belief is not permitted to influence policy or action.

When people spoke out for and against section 59 from a position of faith their views were real and deserved to be heard and valued, not dismissed or ridiculed as religious.

When I argue against genetic engineering from a faith based position (humans have no right to alter the fundamental building blocks of other species) my view is real and deserves to be heard and taken into account.

When people speak out against a development from a position founded in spiritual beliefs their view is real and deserves to be heard and taken into account.

There are two reasons that our secular state must taken into account views that are founded in faith. This first is that our society was built on Christian principles and they remain entwined in our morality today, denying those foundations in faith would leave us unable to examine them. Secondly, the majority of the people who make up this country do have strong personal belief – ranging from Catholicism, to atheism, to Buddhism – when we speak the state must listen to our whole voice.

The SIS burlesque

datePosted on 00:14, February 3rd, 2009 by Pablo

The decision by SIS Director General Warren Tucker to authorise release of decades-old secret files on activists, unionists and academics is a welcome, albeit small step towards instilling a culture of accountability and transparency in that agency. But the documents released are at best no more than of personal interest to the individuals involved and historians of the Cold War era (as they show the anti-communist paranoia of the times), and at worst a diversion from SIS activities in more recent days. It is all titillation, with the real items of interest left to the imagination. 

For example. We still do not know why indigenous and anti-globalisation activists have been targeted since the 1990s (including the Urewera 17); why the SIS was unaware of the presence in New Zealand of a the Yemeni student pilot (and associate of some of the 9/11 conspirators) until alerted by (of all people) Winston Peters (who got his tip from a flying school manager months after the student pilot began his training); why, even though it is responsible for counter-intelligence matters,  it was unaware of the Israeli contract assets and their sayan (local Jewish liaison) Tony Resnick (who procured the identity of the individual in whose name the fraudulent–but official–passport was to  be issued, and who escaped to Israel before  the SIS was even aware of the operation (which was discovered by a low-ranking Immigration officer who notified the police, who set up a sting on the assumption it was a simple criminal matter)). We do not know why Mr. Tucker’s predecessor decided to concoct a worse-case picture of Ahmed Zaoui in order to justify his detention without charges for nearly two years–a picture that proved to be false and which forced the government to abandon its attempts to prevent Zaoui from settling in NZ after spending millions of dollars on Crown lawyers vainly trying to make the case against him (and then allowed the previous Director General to walk away with a golden handshake and another high level government job). We still do not why, in 2005, the SIS claimed that the greatest threat to NZ came from “local jihadis” akin to those in London and Madrid, but then a year later dropped any mention of local jihadis in favor of the claim that foreign intelligence agencies operating on NZ soil were the primary focus of its attention–this despite the fact that no “jihadi” arrests were made and no plots were disrupted, or the subsequent fact that, in spite of repeated defector claims that Chinese intelligence works with ease in NZ engaging in industrial and political espionage as well as monitoring Chinese expat dissidents, nothing other than computer security upgrades appears to have been done in response (and  no Chinese spies have been arrested, or if they were, were quietly deported in contrast to the Israeli case). We still do not know why the SIS attempted to smear its critics when confronted on issues of policy, politics and threat assessment (the Zaoui case is illustrative), when in fact that criticism is ostensibly a democratic right of all citizens ( a smear campaign that may well have included the deliberate and selective planting of false information in order to subsequently discredit the outlets that published it). In sum, by giving us old news the SIS avoids the hard questions about what it is doing now, or at least more recently.

The point is simple: it is great that Mr. Tucker has started to open up his agency to public scrutiny. On that score he is to be commended and encouraged. But he needs to do more. He needs to shorten the time window before secret files can be made public (say, ten years). He needs to address the SIS’s failures and explain what he proposes to do to remedy them, as well as why its expanded powers and organizational reach is justified (after all, the SIS has seen its budget almost double and its personnel increase by a third since 2001). He does not have to compromise any ongoing operations or past associations should the interest of national security require continued secrecy. But if public confidence in the professional competence of the SIS is to be maintained (or restored), then he needs to come clean on the why and how of the SIS’s spotty track record as well as how it proposes to embrace the intelligence challenges of the next decade. In order to do so, he may need a signal from the government, and for that to happen the government needs to have an understanding of the intelligence collection, analysis and dissemination process. That remains to be seen, no matter what Mr. Tucker’s good intentions may be. After all, good intentions are not enough to change a dysfunctional institutional culture, and that appears to be precisely what Mr. Tucker inherited.

Sometimes you are in…

datePosted on 06:00, February 2nd, 2009 by Anita

In many things in society there are (to paraphrase Heidi Klum) those who are in and those who are out. This contrast is necessarily judgemental (some are better than others), uninclusive and disabling. When addressing these divisions in society there are two possible approaches: one is to extend the “in” group, increasing the number of people in the dominant high status group and leaving a smaller number in the out group. The other is to dismantle the distinction altogether: decreasing the relative power of the old in group, and increasing the status of all members of the out groups so that their standing in society becomes level.

The two different approaches can lead to tension within people fighting for change: some set out to claim “normalcy” and consciously reinforce the way they are similar to the in group. Others in the same movement want to remove the normal/other distinction by reinforcing their difference and demanding acceptance.

This dichotomy exists between the older gay rights movement and the newer GLBTQ movement. The gay rights movement started off fighting for in group status; they aimed to be considered part of the mainstream – the orthodoxy – and to do so they showcased their similarity to the dominant group. They used older professional men in suits as spokespeople, they chose people who were either long time celibates or in long-term stable relationships: people who would fit in nicely at Rotary, church or Cabinet meetings. While they maybe have privately acknowledged the drag queens, the bi and trans, the public focus was on middle class gay men and, to a lesser extent, lesbians.

The more recent GLBTQ movement has taken the opposite approach, proudly showcasing difference and refusing the change to become part of the in group: “we’re here and we’re queer!”. The spokespeople would not get through the door, but that’s because they don’t want to be on the inside, they want to take the walls down.

With every social change that we campaign for, whether it is rights for the disabled or the eradication of child poverty, we have to decide whether we’re asking for more people to be allowed into the in group – where they will be rewarded with high status provided they blend in – or whether we are asking for a radical change in the social order – which will allow and enable more diversity and change, but will require change by everyone.

The Second Job of Citizenry

datePosted on 06:00, February 1st, 2009 by Anita

During last year’s election campaign I was struck by just how few people actually care; the cynicism and distrust of politicians, no-one expects honesty. More and more often I hear people talking about just not bothering — “It doesn’t matter who you vote for, it’s always a politician who wins.” The reality is that if you don’t vote the politicians win too.

Overseas negative and attack campaigning to suppress the vote is a common tactic. It may not be possible to persuade your opposition’s supporters to vote for you, but you might be able to put them off voting altogether. In our context, National may not be able to get many working class women to vote for them, but if they can stop them voting at all, that’s nearly as good.

In a fascinating public lecture Therese Arseneau talks about what she learned from the use of consultants in US elections

their aim is to actually to suppress the vote. The aim of negative campaigning was to keep particular people away from the polls.

A study of US Senate races shows just how effective this tactic is at suppressing not only the targeted voters but the electorate as a whole. They found that in largely negative races turnouts were 4.5 percentage points lowers than in ones that were largely positive. In New Zealand a 4.5 percentage point drop is about 130,000 people.

Both major parties publicly stated they ran positive campaigns, yet the tenor was negative all the way. This is true of political parties, the media, the net and the whispering campaigns.

There has always been some negativity from the two main political parties, but volumes seems to have increased over the last two campaigns. From the National Party we see the increase in the build up to the 2005 election, with the Crosby/Textor strategy of targeting Helen Clark — arrogant, out of touch, childless — along with divisive rhetoric against traditionally Labour supporting segments of society. Labour’s negativity showed in some of the 2005 campaign — for example their anti-National mocked-up eviction notices. This time we saw attacks on Key, which didn’t looked well co-ordinated or thought through, but sure were negative. Read the rest of this entry »

Friends don’t let friends rape

datePosted on 06:00, January 31st, 2009 by Anita

Over the last week or so there’s been a lot of talk about the “It’s not ok” campaign (I recommend Luddite Journo and Russell Brown, I do not recommend Bill Ralston), at the same time I’ve been commuting past huge signs saying “Safe in the City – Stick with your mates” with a picture of young women out on the town.

With drink driving we have, over the last few years, learnt that the person drink driving is 100% to blame and that we can and should step up and help our friends and families not drink drive.

More recently we have at least started to learn that the person who is violent towards their partner, children, elderly parent or other family member is 100% to blame and that we can and should step up and help our friends and families not hurt the ones they love.

Yet when it comes to rape we hold the victim, at least partly, responsible and believe that women have a responsibility to stop their friends and family being raped.

The reality is that we all know people who rape, just as we all know people who have been raped. I’m talking about the fact some of the people we know have raped people they know, and they way they’ve talked about sex and dates and partners so we’ve had every opportunity to hear that true consent isn’t an issue for them.

This isn’t a women vs men issue – both men and women are raped, both women and men rape, and every single one of us is able to stop our friends and family raping.

Why don’t the ads say that?

[Hat tip to Queen of Thorns and her magical sexual assault pixies]

Whispering campaigns

datePosted on 06:00, January 30th, 2009 by Anita

For the last six years the National and their allies honed their skills at whispering campaigns; the question now is whether Labour will stoop to their level.

We all heard the whispers; the stories of sex, money and corruption. Largely personal they also targeted the partners and children of politicians. 

Of all the things National and its allies have done it the last few years the whispering campaigns sickened me most.

  1. The dishonesty. John Key never actually called Helen Clark a “heartless childless lesbian bitch”, instead he arranged for enough other people to say it so that he only needed to nod slightly and the attack was made but his hands remained clean.
  2. Personal attacks are just plain wrong. We saw them during the Muldoon administration, and we condemn him for them, so why was it ok for the Brash and Key National parties?
  3. Even if politicians could be argued to open themselves up to this, what about their partners, children and extended families? Many of the people smeared were not political actors and were hurt solely to damage others.
  4. The orchestrated whispering campaigns exposed and reinforced an undercurrent on bigotry. If being called a lesbian is a political attack what does that mean for women who actually are lesbians?

I am hoping desperately that Labour will step away from this tactic. They’ve had a few shameful moments of going there, but not to the extent of National. The question for them now is whether they will follow National’s lead and go for opposition gutter politics, or whether they will step back and fight a clean fight over policy.

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