Once lost, integrity in one’s democracy cannot be easily restored

Victoria University of Wellington Politics lecturer Dr Jon Johansson made an interesting observation is his submission on the Electoral Referendum Bill

The Report of the Royal Commission on the Electoral System (1986) rightly urged caution when considering political finance. The commissioners argued that “Nor is it fair if some in the community use their relative wealth to exercise disproportionate influence in determining who is to govern and what policies are to be pursued” …

 I urge the government and the select committee to reflect deeply about whether unfettered spending doesn’t risk undermining the integrity of our democracy. Transparency around who is spending does not go far enough on its own without also adopting an upper spending cap to keep the playing field as level as consistent with the protection of free speech. 

Despite the warning of the Royal Commission, unfettered spending was permitted for the 1993 electoral referendum.  An aggressive and expensive advertising campaign by big business interests eroded the substantial lead MMP had enjoyed for many months before the vote to a very close vote on the day.  

Had they succeeded in buying the 1993 referendum, the integrity of our democracy would have been seriously and perhaps irrevocably eroded. 

Hopefully the current Government will heed the warning of Dr Johansson and we learn from the 1993 referendum experience. 

The MPs on the Electoral Legislation Select Committee need to treat this threat to democracy seriously, and listen to New Zealanders urging spending limits for the 2011 electoral referendum.

8 Comments Posted

  1. “No matter whom you vote for, the Government always gets in.”

    … and of course we do McTap.

    “The rich are the scum of the earth in every country.”
    G. K. Chesterton, Flying Inn (1914)


  2. Had they succeeded in buying the 1993 referendum, the integrity of our democracy would have been seriously and perhaps irrevocably eroded.

    A bit like when Key ignored the outcome of the anti-smacking referendum. Quite a bit of erosion on that day.

  3. I think the fact that there is no spending cap in this bill strongly indicates that we have a plutocracy who are seeking to alter the electoral architecture in order to further appropriate power.

    If the cap remains it will show just how democratically illegitimate this NAct government is.

  4. Funny you should say Kerry – a quote from other times?
    I have to tell my other expat mates – they better not come home…

    The Second Treatise of Civil Government 1690

    “That the aggressor, who puts himself into the state of war with another,
    and unjustly invades another man’s right, can, by such an unjust war, never come to have a right over the conquered, will be easily agreed by all men, who will not think that robbers and pirates have a right of empire over whomsoever they have force enough to master, or that men are bound by promises which unlawful force extorts from them.
    Should a robber break into my house, and, with a dagger at my throat, make me seal deeds to convey my estate to him, would this give him any title?
    Just such a title by his sword has an unjust conqueror who forces me into
    submission. The injury and the crime is equal, whether committed by the
    wearer of a crown or some petty villain.
    The title of the offender and the number of his followers make no difference in the offence, unless it be to aggravate it. The only difference is, great robbers punish little ones to keep them in their obedience; but the great ones are rewarded with laurels and triumphs, because they are too big for the weak hands of justice in this world, and have the power in their own possession which should punish offenders.” John Locke-

  5. We do not actually have a democracy and probably never will because of politicians inability to give up any vestige of power and their contempt for the rest of us. Representative democracy is a contradiction in terms as we simply have a choice of dictatorship. (“Our only option is to vote for the other party. Then we get the lot we voted out last time” in another recent blog). What a real democracy looks like! http://direct-democracy.geschichte-schweiz.ch/ .

  6. Integrity is one of ‘those’ no?
    Can’t be a little bit dead, a little bit honest, a little bit pregnant…..and can’t have a Little Integrity either
    This is why NZ must have it’s Greens – good on you!
    If it wasn’t an issue here – I feel it would pass unremarked(?)


    I would like to see our main TV station make available an equal amount of time to all parties for free!

    As for newspaper and TV advertising of party elections I would like to see it banned altogether!!

    So that the public can evaluate the policies of each party.

    But unfortunately it is an SOE ready to be striped down and put on the market – – – – -real cheap!!!

  8. My bet is they won’t change it. The NACTs don’t like MMP, because it forces them to moderate the policies their big business backers want.

    If we ahd FPP or PV as an electoral system, the Nats would never have committed to “no privatisation in the first term”, because they would have needed only 30%=40% of the vote to form a governemnt, rather than get an agreement of over 50% of the elected Parliament.

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