Prue Hyman’s Column

1a prue hymanSix weeks to election day !

by Prue Hyman

The recent death of my partner Pat Rosier which I wrote about in my last month’s column has reduced the time I have available to be active in campaigning but not my enthusiasm for the result to be a change of government. And indeed while it is for me a very minor aspect of the sad impacts of Pat’s death, I have certainly noticed that it means one less party vote for the Greens.

On one much discussed aspect of the election, the declining turnout, I feel somewhat ambivalent. Of course, I would like to see it much higher and worry about the groups that score worst on proportion enrolled and voting, including the young, the mobile, and non-Pakeha.

And if just a small proportion of the non voters last time had exercised their right (responsibility?) we could have easily have avoided what I consider to be one of the worst New Zealand governments in recent history – if as many commentators suspect, the non voters would have swung the result towards the left.

So I warmly welcome the trade union campaign to get the vote out, and the Electoral Commission’s resources and attempts to encourage and inform community groups and especially young people.

But I am not keen on compulsory voting (even with the get-out option of spoiling your ballot paper) and my perhaps unfortunate elitist tendency is to want people to be very well informed when they vote.

I am alarmed if votes are based on very little – appearance, instinct, suggestions from others or superficial advertisements.

There is ample chance to attend meetings, read websites on policies, and use information from groups whose aims you respect. But of course many people will have neither the time nor political commitment to become well informed.

Hopefully the education programme for schools and young people will interest a new generation in the political process and its vital role in our lives and start them on the habit of taking it seriously and voting.

But I am even elitist enough sometimes to doubt Churchill’s maxim that ‘democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time’ and instead to dream of benevolent autocracy (me choosing the group of course!)

That nonsense is because at least I think we need massive reforms in our forms of democracy. I despair of public opinion when the Prime Minister remains so popular according to polls when he and his government have committed so many egregious sins.. And much of the media seems to be in his pocket.

It seems that we really have dictatorship by the main party in a coalition. Once elected, they can and do ignore when they choose election promises, public opinion, and referenda.

I gave examples of this in my March column – the most relevant now, of course is their refusing to act on the recommendations of the 2012 Electoral Commission report on MMP which included abolishing the one electorate seat or coat-tailing provision. And as usual they are using it to try to get ACT as a coalition partner. The claim of no consensus among political parties simply meant that National was opposed because they benefit from the status quo.

I don’t have perfect solutions to any of this – binding referenda, for example, have the problem of low turnout and difficulty in phrasing the questions on what are usually complex issues. But we are supposed to be in the middle of a wider ‘constitutional conversation, but the November 2013 report of the Constitutional Advisory Panel seems to have sunk without trace.

It is well worth a read (see http://www.ourconstitution.org.nz/store/doc/FR_Full_Report.pdf). It “provides a snapshot of a developing conversation about New Zealand’s constitution.” The report summarises the conversation, discusses common themes and makes recommendations on each topic – including the issues of a written constitution and the role of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Other important themes included justice and fairness, having a voice, and meaningful participation in decision-making – beyond just voting.

On the electoral system, it wanted consideration of a fixed election date, a process to reduce discrepancies in the geographical size of electorates, and a process to consider a longer term than three years between elections, but only if a referendum supported this

So let’s all vote on September 20th (or earlier – we can now vote up to two weeks in advance) – and let’s be as educated as we can possibly be on the issues.

In my September column I’ll say why I dream of a Greens 45, Labour 20 seat government, but would settle for the other way round.