Why New Zealand needs binding referendums

Stuff.co.nz 21 January 2014 – Gordon Copeland
Former prime minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer is wrong to conclude that referendums endanger our democratic system (Opinion, Dec 24). Rather, I think our democracy will be enhanced by the selective use of binding referendums because I believe, to quote Abraham Lincoln, democracy should be government “of the people, by the people, for the people”.

My point of difference with Sir Geoffrey is shaped by the fact that my parliamentary experience has been under the mixed member proportional (MMP) voting system while his was under the old first past the post (FPP) voting system.

It is true that MMP has given us a more representative Parliament. The Greens and NZ First would not be there under the FPP system.

However, it is also true that MMP has given prime ministers greater power, and that is where the problem lies. They have always played a major role in the selection of the Cabinet, but under MMP they also determine the ranking of list MPs. MPs who cross the prime minister risk not only their chances of being a cabinet minister, but also of being demoted on the list at the next election.

The position was different under FPP. MPs, all of whom represented electorates, were then free to vote either way on conscience bills and that freedom was respected from the prime minister down.

During my time in Parliament, I saw that prime ministerial power exercised ruthlessly by both Helen Clark and John Key.

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