By Winston Peters
There has been plenty of media coverage about New Zealand First’s calls for binding referendum on two issues: Same sex marriage and proposed changes to our MMP electoral system.
It has been suggested in some quarters that our position on proposing referenda is an attempt to avoid issues or muddy the political water. Nothing could be further from the truth.
New Zealand First’s manifesto states that we want to form a practical partnership with New Zealanders by the judicious use of direct public referenda.
We believe that ‘people power’ by referendum should, where possible and practicable, replace MPs' conscience votes. Our manifesto goes on to say that we will, given the opportunity, introduce legislation to enable the holding of binding referenda on key issues.
So calling for appropriate referenda is not a knee-jerk reaction. It is one of New Zealand First’s founding principles and a key plank in our return to Parliament at the last election.
The reason we have called for a referendum on same-sex marriage is simple: It is a moral decision that should be made by all voting age New Zealanders. It should not be left up to temporarily empowered politicians, particularly those MPs who are adamant that the public should not have its say.
Since Labour MP Louisa Wall’s Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill was drawn from the Members Ballot, it has been in the media spotlight. But if she truly believes she has the public’s support she should amend her Bill to first include a referendum.
We have already drafted two questions which we believe need to be included in the referendum. They ask whether the definition of marriage should be changed to include same sex couples, and whether the Civil Union Act should be amended to allow Civil Union couples the same rights as married couples.
Binding referenda – which unlike opinion polls don’t have a margin of error – is the only way to accurately gauge what New Zealanders want in regards to same sex marriage.
It is also our view that the Electoral Commission recommendations to alter our MMP voting system should also go to a referendum. The Commission’s proposals such as calling for the threshold for a party to win list seats being reduced from five per cent to four per cent are significant.
The Commission is also recommending the removal of the overhang rule where Parliament can have more than 120 MPs, and the removal of the existing coattail provision whereby a party winning an electorate seat can bring extra MPs into Parliament if it gets at least one per cent of the party vote.
A 1993 referendum confirmed that the public wanted the party threshold to be five per cent, and our current MMP laws are based on that referendum’s findings. To have today’s politicians fiddle with our voting system, founded on the voices contained in a few thousand public submissions, is anti-democratic.
The people spoke in 1993 and the way to find if their views have change is go out and ask them through the proper medium – a binding referendum.
Winston Peters is the Leader of New Zealand First