stv bicentennial morphs into march-stealing breakfast
Big business would be the biggest loser, was a Labour-led government to legislate to prosecute non-voters.
Currently, unlike Australians, New Zealanders are legally allowed to refrain from voting. But with global voter turnout in determined decline, New Zealand’s lack of compulsory voting is being increasingly mentioned—even at the Mahurangi Action-hosted stvsingle-transferable-vote bicentennial breakfast.
It is desperately important that the vast majority of age-eligible citizens vote, but as elections in Russia demonstrate, it is also desperately important that voters have wholesome options from which to choose. But even in Aotearoa and Australia, and in the United Kingdom and the United States, in fact in all established democracies, the candidates which voters must choose between are virtually all standing with the support of big business—the virtuous Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand being a shining exception.
It is astoundingly naïve to imagine that there is no quid pro quo. Some apologists like to point out the largesse is often given equally to the competing political parties, as if that proves more than the donor is sufficiently wealthy to ensure that all are in her or his pocket.
Ironically, if the New Zealand Labour Party was to legislate for compulsory voting, it would likely guarantee itself sufficient electoral support to radically reform the utterly corrupt practice of exchanging big-business funding for big-business-friendly policy. Although it has not been implemented anywhere, much less any country of scale, the most promising campaign finance reform model is that whereby the state matches dollar for dollar the modest membership fee prescribed for voluntary political party membership. The potential benefits are numerous, including that it doesn’t require an army of bureaucrats to decide, election by election, how much each party is to receive—no party should ever be helped to be re-elected after betraying its supporters, by being guaranteed the campaign finance that obtained its dishonest election.
As this year’s elections have reinforced, the need for local-body campaign finance reform is possibly greater than that at the national level. Candidates routinely flout the campaign-finance reporting rules with no fear they will be removed from the office they have fraudulently gained; much less be jailedTaito Phillip Field, a former New Zealand associate minister for Pacific Island Affairs, was sentenced to six years in prison after being convicted on 11 charges of bribery and corruption and 15 of attempting to pervert the course of justice, but, unlike Mayor Dalziel, for nothing that blatantly garnered him electoral advantage.. Given that the majority of local government candidates purport to be non-political-party-affiliated, a party-membership-based funding model might appear inappropriate for local-government elections. That so few have the honesty to declare party affiliation is a damning reflection of the abysmally low opinion in which political parties are held. The Green Party, again, is the exception. Its courage, and success, in fielding local-body candidates, contrasts with the practice of hiding affiliation:
This strongly suggests that the dishonest behaviour should be flushed out, and penalised by making campaign funding contingent on unambiguous affiliation with a transparent, members-based political organisation.
Campaign finance reform would need to be more than skin deep, and to include mandatory transparency and democratisation of party processes. Membership, of course, must be as private as the ballot is secret, but membership couldn’t be bogus—members would be required to be registered voters. The obvious benefit, of course, is that the power of political parties would be roughly proportional to the members that they attracted—big business would no longer be able to blatantly buy and sell politicians and policy. The argument would be made, of course, that big business would simply invent myriad invisible ways to assist political parties willing to do their bidding. But this goes to the wider issue of corruption, and its detection—robust protection for whistleblowers being one of the more obvious needs.
If Labour was to insist on putting the cart before the horse with the stick of compulsion, as it has every self-interest to, voters should not hesitate to retaliate by demanding that democracy first be made fit for purpose, as a fair part of that trade. After every election for the last three decades, there is much soul-searching as to the cause of the global decline in voter turnout. As the fictional Jane Fulton, in Sudden Death, saysRita Mae Brown, 1983. And no, not Albert Einstein—doesn’t even sound like Einstein!:
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.
Those who refrain from voting are invariably labelled apathetic, but this is lazy mainstream-media characterisation. Some refuse to dignify a practice that has long since passed corrupt, exceeded farcical, and now actively thwarts the beyond-urgent mobilisation needed to stand a chance of salvaging a survivable climate. But, that aside, rather than be an opportunity for ritual voter-turnout-decline handwringing, elections must be harnessed to generate an appetite for reform.
Being the world’s first full democracy provides a uniquely solid lynchpin on which to rebuild the expectation that Aotearoa will once again innovate, and once again lead. The Labour-led government’s laudable plan for teaching of New Zealand history to be made mandatory in all schools by 2022 is invoking a backlash that will only intensify going into the 2020 election—the populist dog-whistling will become deafening. That it would take a country until 2022 to begin to comprehensively teach its own more-than-700-year history is a major history topic in itself. But potential of teaching the trifecta of first indigenous enfranchisement, first female enfranchisement and first citizen-led proportional-representation reform is a winning backstory for introducing universal year-7–15 voting in schools.
Despite its putative antiquity, full democracy is a historically recent phenomenon, and very much a work in progress. Or at least it would be if those purporting to live by its tenants treated it with the respect its ideals deserve. The central tenant of democracy is, of course, choice. The people chose the policies, and politicians, they prefer. But New Zealanders, ignorant of their country’s stela contribution to the democratic project, are allowing their politicians to spin out a preference-voting reform that should have taken one electoral cycle to implement, to take, at the rate of progress to date, a century to implement. If the disquiet felt by Aucklanders about the blatantly undemocratic structures built into the post-2010-forced-amalgamation edifice could be channelled, and forced preference voting on their oblivious local government ‘leaders’, it would be game over for the legislatively-enshrined prevarication—it would be insane to prolong the stupidly expensive, council-by-council process, with New Zealand’s capital joined by its metropolis moved safely beyond the perversities of first-past-the-post.
Under fppfirst-past-the-post, Auckland’s incumbent mayor was re-elected by just 17% of registered voters…
Brutally simple George Monbiot describes his proposal for reforming campaign finance as:
…brutally simple. Every party would be entitled to charge the same small fee for membership (perhaps £50 or $50), which would then be matched by the state, with a fixed multiple. Any other political funding, direct or indirect, would be illegal. This would also force parties to re-engage with voters. Too expensive? Not in the least. The corruption of our politics by private money costs us hundreds of times more than a funding system for which we would pay directly. That corruption has led to financial crises caused by politicians’ failure to regulate the banks, environmental crises caused by the political power of the dirtiest companies, and lucrative contracts for political funders; and overcharging by well-connected drugs companies.
Great grout-graft scandal Unlike Mayor Dalziel’s alleged electoral fraud, nothing Taito Phillip Field was convicted of garnered him electoral advantage. Involving tiling goods and services worth less than $30 000, Field’s hefty six-year sentence contrasts with zero investigations, never mind convictions, into myriad corruption allegations surrounding billions in privatisation programmes since 1984.
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